Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Did you think it was not there?
In your wife's lovely face?
In your baby's laughter?
Did you think you had to go elsewhere (simply) to find it?
- Judyth Collin "The Layman's Lament" from What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
"If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy. As a schismatic, you have torn and divided [the Sangha]. Choose heresy every time."
- Apologies to Bishop Peter Lee
The Buddha's attitude to apostasy is epitomized by his encounter with a man named Sunakkhatta. He was a disciple of the Buddha, but after a while became dissatisfied with the Dhamma and decided to renounce the Teacher and the teaching. Sunakkhatta came to the Buddha and said: "Lord, I am leaving you. I am no longer living by your teachings." The Buddha responded to this declaration by asking Sunakkhatta some questions: "Did I ever say to you: 'Come, live by my teachings'?" "No Lord." "Then did you ever say to me that you wished to live by my teachings?" "No Lord." "That being the case, who are you and what are you giving up, you foolish man?" (D.III,2-3).
- Buddhism A2Z
Here, then, are some of my reasons for turning away from Zen Center, as a practitioner, volunteer, parent and member:
Uphold all Forms and Ceremonies
This is the basis of the ceremonial practice of Zen, one of the most unfamiliar and challenging aspects for new participants, but one of the great strengths of the tradition: the ceremonial forms create a firm foundation and supporting framework for practice. They are the Dharma Gates we pass through most often, and they deserve the greatest care and maintenance as they have been carefully handed down to us from the deepest parts of human history.
I believe that Buddhas birthday is an important holiday and part of the traditional relationship of the temple to the community which supports it. The residents of Green Gulch has abandoned that relationship and the practice forms and ceremonies that support it. In the past three years that the Children’s program volunteer staff has maintained this important tradition (to the extent that we could given the literal bulldozing of the area previously used), I cannot recall a single resident of Green Gulch, or any of their children, to have attended.
The third precept is usually interpreted as prohibiting the selling of intoxicants (teetotalers will extend it to consumption). There is another interpretation relating to the way that the Dharma is dispensed: It is forbidden to sell the teaching of the Buddha as they are considered to have an intoxicating effect on the mind.
I think the concept of a "zen-a-thon" is probably a literal heresy and I'm ashamed to have participated in the event this past year, and find the very concept of “sponsored practice” to be frankly disgusting and crass. Asking friends to help support your religious practice and institution is strange and awkward, and the extension from sitting to other activities doesn’t really help.
While no priests can be found to support family practice, many priests at Zen Center are fully engaged with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. They are lining up to sell the intimate secrets of practice and perhaps dispense an indulgence or two to a company who’s track record touches the creepy line over and over again.
All of this would be just disappointing if we had not received a request to “quiet down” the children’s program on buddha’s birthday so that the paying customers from Google would not be disturbed in their inner search. Similarly, I head that there was a conflict between Buddha’s Birthday and zen-a-thon at City Center this past year, and the schedule for next year’s Children’s program (as of November 17, 2016) has the date for zen-a-thon set but not for Buddha’s Birthday.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this daily emptying of the purse, there is a bit of a merit rush going on, both at the administrative level and the individual priests.
Not Lying and Not Despising any Being in any State
Birth and Death are Serious Business, Arise, Wake!
[Edit: a few typos have been corrected in the original, Greed Gulch wasn't intentional even if it is hilarious.]
Monday, April 29, 2013
While staying at a Tendai temple in Lake County for a few days, I spent an evening visiting the Mt. Cobb Sai Sho Zen-Ji temple, just north of Cobb, CA, for their weekly public program. It was my first exposure to Rinzai Zen practice and an interesting introduction to the Rinzai sanga in California.
Sai Sho Zen-Ji is perhaps more of a retreat center than a temple. The resident community is very small, only four at the time of my visit, and two of them were out of town. I came with another Soto practitioner and we were the only visitors. The Zendo has seating for at least 32, and they hold sesshins here in the Rinzai tradition, when a teacher is available. The four of us had room to spare for the evenings program.
Rinzai Zen practice revolves around koans, the Zendo forms and meditation practice aren't wildly different than Soto as practiced at SFZC but the relationship with the teacher is almost completely focused on the student working on a koan and the master confirming their understanding in Sanzen, which is related to Dokusan. Soto emphasizes shinkantaza, or 'just sitting' while Rinzai practitioners spend much of their time in the Zendo working on a puzzle given to them in an effort to advance their progress towards enlightenment.
Both Soto and Rinzai place emphasis on samu, mindful work, or samu but the key difference is in the level of strictness and the marital aspect of Rinzai practice. The Japanese have a saying, "Rinzai for the Shogun, Soto for the peasants" which reflects the relationship between the two schools. The Samurai were chiefly patrons of Rinzai while the farmers supported Soto temples, and the two schools reflect this difference in their practice. Walking meditation is a slow and deliberate process in Soto, in the Rinzai Zendo we were in a tight formation, moving quickly and precisely, concentration focused on not running into the person in front of you or stalling the person behind.
A Dinner Koan
We arrived early and were invited to join the residents for dinner, a low carb meal featuring hamburger patties with no buns, and a smoked turkey soup. I was happy to have dinner (the Tendai temple observes the precept of not eating an evening meal, substituting a snack) but was surprised that it wasn't vegetarian as is typically the case in most Buddhist practice centers. Standing around the grill I made an observation about the first grave precept (not killing) being somewhat open to interpretation. Given the notorious violence of the samurai, who were required to wear two swords at all times which was necessary because any affront to their dignity was immediately punishable by death, a burger seems like a small thing.
Into the Zendo
On the drive over my companion gave me a brief introduction to the differences in form that I should be aware of: the mudras for gassho and shasho are diffrenent, one holds gassho while going to their seat, the forms for kinhin are much closer to the fast kinhin practice of Soto, and if you move there is an officer in the Zendo who's job it is to correct you and administer the encouragement stick if necessary.
I can imagine a full Sesshin feeling much more like boot camp than a Soto retreat of similar length. This is Zen for warriors, focused on delivering the sudden enlightenment of Kensho and tailored to an audience for whom stricture and obedience where critical to surviving day to day life. Sitting perfectly still for 25 minutes (vs. 40 in most Soto temples) is good practice for having to be perfectly composed in front of your lord, who could order you to commit ritual suicide at the slightest provocation.
A Singular Koan
In the months since my visit a scandalous story broke and has gotten the usual response in the small echo chamber of Zen in America: a flurry of blog posts and news articles and finally a set of statements issued by the larger organizations, including the Zen Center. I don't have anything to add to that debate but I do think that there's a more interesting story about the Rinzai School in America: there is no lineage.
Lineage is the blood line of the Buddhist tradition, we chant the succession of ancestors going back to Sidharta and the Buddhas before our great original teacher (they are given credit for achieving enlightenment but not for teaching, which is critical to the development of capital-b Buddhisim), during ordination we receive a document listing the lineage that carried the precepts to us. Within the relatively short history of the Zen Center the lineage has become complicated by the relationship between Baker Roshi and the Sanga, as he was the only student of Suzuki Roshi to receive transmission directly (a number of others were given transmission by Hoitsu Suzuku after his death).
The process of dharma transmission is an esoteric and a rarely bestowed gift which gives the receiver permission to teach and, in the case of a priest, to then ordain new members of the tradition. We have modified the form somewhat from the Japanese tradition at SFZC, only offering the rite to those with decades of experience in the community and a long track record of upholding the dharma, but nobody is perfect and there have been a number of scandals similar to the current one brewing with Sasaki Roshi.
The catch is that Sasaki Roshi is, at this writing, 106 years old. Withouth an appointed successor the lineage that he brought from Japan will not be transmitted through him. Given the current scandal and his reportedly failing health, transmission seems unlikely. Leaving the entire Rinzai-in Sanga with a critical and poignant koan to solve:
What is the sound of one teacher passing into Nirvana?
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Buddhist torrents is a web site which hosts links to many dharma texts online for free, check it out at: http://buddhisttorrents.blogspot.com/
My first though, looking at the site, was more or less: holy 2nd precept Sariputra! isn't downloading off the internet taking whats not given?
The Dharma Wants to be Free
But there's also the 3rd precept, which—a little surprisingly—applies in this case as well: no intoxication of self or other. We have a pretty good idea what this means in terms of drugs and alcohol: a good Buddhist is neither a drug dealer or liquor store owner and is moderate in their consumption so as not to carelessly violate other precepts due to lapsed judgement. But how does the dharma come into it? Some scholars think of the the dharma as a form of intoxicant, that it should be given freely and never sold, and that over zealous application of the sutras is a form of intoxication, this is part of buddhisim's internal defense against fundamentalism but how does it relate to modern copyright law?
A Test Case
I downloaded a pdf of Shobogenzo, Dogen's Spiritual Masterpiece, here's the copyright notice in the front matter:
First Edition—2007 © 2007 Shasta AbbeySo there's one with a license to redistribute, but many other works don't carry such 'copyleft' licenses, and many of the links have already been removed due to DMCA takedown request. Not every rights holder is willing to let their work be freely copied, most of these are large publishing houses who are accustomed to monitoring the Internet for leaked copies of their work as part of the cost of doing business in our information economy.
This work is offered for free distribution only.
You may print and distribute copies of this work
as long as no changes are made to the original.
Otherwise, all rights reserved.
Sutra copying is a Buddhist practice and a special way of doing Japanese calligraphy. It is the art of copying a Buddhist sutra with awareness and it brings together the ideals of genuine shodo [japanese caligraphy]. Shakyo harmonizes body and mind and through their integration creativity flows freely.
- Sutra Copying by Nadja Van Ghelue
I have personally spent some time copying my favorite translation of the Dhammapada from print into a text file for online reading, and the experiance of closely reading each passage and double checking to assure accuracy is completely different than just kicking back and soaking up some Dharma. However, the translation is still protected by copyright so I can't legally distribute my copy.
The Bottom Line
While access to the Dharma is important support of Sanga is equally critical to maintaining a healthy community of teachers. To that end I purchase as much as I can, but it seems excusable to me to take copies if the cost is prohibitive or the source material is rare, especially if one has renounced and has limited funds. Which is a bit of an odd position to take: violating copyright protection to access the dharma is probably OK for monks and those less fortunate. However, it seems clear that if you have the means, supporting the teachers is part of your duty as a member of the sangha.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Tassajara was the first of the practice centers to be established, in 1966, is the first Soto Zen monastery outside of Asia. It's history goes back to pre-Colombian use by the Essilan Indians who referred to it as a "place where meat is hung out to dry," which suggests that in one sense, things haven't changed there in hundreds of years.The Road