Re-Blogging Brad Warner
Four Zen monks were meditating in a monastery. All of a sudden the prayer flag on the roof started flapping. The younger monk came out of his meditation and said: "Flag is flapping" A more experienced monk said: "Wind is flapping" A third monk who had been there for more than 20 years said: "Mind is flapping." The fourth monk who was the eldest said, visibly annoyed: "Mouths are flapping!"
Another e-mail post please excuse the formatting.
On that note, if anyone would like to volunteer to be an unpaid editor of this blog, the position is open…
In the Shobogenzo Bendowa there is a line that some people latch on to that goes something like: We no longer need to read or recite Sutras, make prostrations, light incense. There is a lot of this kind of sentiment that arose out of my father's generation of western Buddhists. There is even a story in a book I recently read (Zen Ritual) that talks of a couple of westerners (of my fathers age) visiting a Zen temple and were shocked when their ideas of iconoclastic monks of spitting or pissing on Buddhist statues, using them as firewood,etcetera were totally smashed when following the abbot around while making his rounds making prostrations and chanting and lighting incense. They angrily confronted him and said something to the effect of "I thought Zen masters spit on Buddha statues, not venerate them by making bows, lighting incense and chanting." To which the Zen Master replied "If you want to spit. Spit, I prefer to bow."
The second Chapter of the Shobogenzo is a commentary about the Heart Sutra. It's a short sutra and it is really well known throughout Japan. Now to be clear that what I mean by well known here is not that people know what it means, just that people recognize it when it is being chanted and know it is the heart sutra. From my sampling of interviewing my Japanese wife's friends, I have come to think that very few people have a clue what even the words mean (Often due to them being chanted in Pinyin) and I think that even fewer people that have clarified the meaning of the Heart Sutra for them selves.
Of the people I asked, most seem to think it is some sort of Buddhist magical spell for health and prosperity. This reminds me very much of the situation thatoccurred in medieval Europe when the Catholic Church did not want the laypeople reading the bible.
In Dogen's Commentary he kindly walks the reader through the Heart sutra and admonishes:
"Remember, to receive and retain, to read and recite, and to think reasonably
about [prajnā] are just to guard prajnā. And to want to guard it is
to receive and retain it, to read and recite it, and so on."
And in closing he says:
"The realization of this prajnāpāramitā is the realization
of buddha-bhagavats. We should inquire into it, and we should experience it.
To serve offerings to it and to bow in veneration is just to serve and to attend
buddha-bhagavats, and it is buddha-bhagavats in service and attendance."
(excerpts from Shobogenzo Book 1 Nishijima and Cross translation available here:http://www.numatacenter.com/default.aspx?MPID=81 )
Now there are two things I hope I have conveyed with this posting.
The first being that no, we do not have to make prostrations, light incense, or recite sutras, but we should.
The second being that we should not take thes actions mindlessly but look deeply into them, when we recite the Heart Sutra we should know the meaning is more important than the words and we should discuss it with good friends and clarify it for ourselves (and all sentient beings will benefit.) It has been my experience that this small sutra can be a wonderful support to practice and, coupled with Zazen, can lead to an awakening of our own inherent wisdom.
E-mail post, kindly forgive formatting.
Beginning a sitting practice is tough work, particularly when we are
burdened with wrong conceit. Wrong conceit is the view that someone (either
self or other) is lower, higher or the same. Any of these views can be a
big hindrance to practice. I know because I have experienced this first
hand just observing my self. Especially when I hear someone say something
like "I practice sitting for 15 minutes a day" and my comparing mind goes to
work and tells me "oh I'm so much better than that." Or when some other
sitting champion says "I sit four times a day." And the comparing mind goes
to work and thinks: "Oh how can I compare to that, I'm not doing anything
compared to that." Or it can even be something like oh I'm sitting the same
as him so we are equals. I'm using sitting as an example but really this
can apply for any aspect of practice/life. Thoughts that we are better,
worse, or the same are not helpful and conversely can be harmful not only to
your own practice but also to others. Take a moment to think about it and
this becomes a no brainer, winning and losing can cause animosity, excessive
pride, frustration, etcetera. Saying someone is the same when they are not
can also cause animosity, excessive pride, frustration, etcetera. You have
probably seen this too. This path to salvation is not a competition.
Keeping that in mind, something I have enjoyed recently, and would like to
explore more, is sitting without a timer. Or allowing myself the room to
sit without any specific time allotted for it. It has really had a freeing
affect on my sitting. So I would like to recommend to everyone to try it
sometime, Not necessarily all the time.
But some time just don't rely on the clock, don't worry about the sitting
being long or short, if your legs get tired feel free to stretch out or take
a walk, forget about the rigid schedule and just enjoy the sitting doing
*A note to folks with families who are early morning sitters, I highly
recommend this be done waking up early in plenty of time for the family to
sleep away while you get your cushion squashing on, and you may run in to
problems getting to work on time if you try this on a work day morning.
Running late to work could lead you to not getting your lunch prepared on
time; which may lead to not getting the potatoes cooked prior to leaving;
which may lead to you trying to cook them in the lunch room in a
non-microwave safe dish; which may lead to a fire occurring in the microwave
which could be unpleasant in a number of ways.
If you have just started sitting-Zen there are some useful instructions to
be found here: