Thursday, November 28, 2019

Barlaam and Josaphat

"The spread of the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat in medieval Europe was a cultural phenomenon second to none at the time. Poetic and dramatized versions of the legend became what today would be called ‘bestsellers’. In Christian Europe these two names were commonly known and the Buddha as St Josaphat became a Saint with his own feast day in the Christian calendar: 27 November." (The Buddha's long journey to Europe and Africa)

That was yesterday the feast of the Christian saints appropriated by Christianity from Buddhism. Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, and I'm grateful for the spread of knowledge about the true Buddha.

Another interesting parallel is St. George and Manjushri. Both have swords in their icons, and St. George slaying the devil is similar imagery invoked by Manjushri's sword cutting through ignorance.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Ikkyu says:

Don’t hesitate – get laid – that’s wisdom. 
Sitting around chanting – what crap.

I'm appreciating more and more that within the Buddhist tradition you can find any kind of message you want. But I've come off a 30 day vow, and I wanted to think more about Brahmacharya.

"Yet there is so little writing or information about brahmacarya as it’s called in the Buddhist tradition. Why? Because almost no one is interested in it." Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010

3rd Precept: With stillness, simplicity and contentment, I purify my body.

Quotes from Celibacy and Buddhism

Sangharakshita in Seminars: "The Buddha did on one occasion say, according to the Sutra of 42 Sections, that if there had been another desire as strong as sexual desire, no human being would have been able to gain Enlightenment."

"If you look at brahmacarya in the strict sense, it is not only bodily, but also verbal and mental. You cannot really be considered to be fully practicing brahmacarya so long as your mind is not free from sexual desires. Even if you are celibate technically, your mind is not necessarily going to be free from such desires. So it is not a question of either being celibate or not being celibate. One might say that no one, probably, is so celibate that he could not be more celibate, and also that no one is so uncelibate that he could not be more uncelibate."

"brahmacarya as an ideal – that is to say, true, natural or spontaneous brahmacarya; and secondly, recognizing the obligation to work gradually towards that."

"You could be celibate because you were so absorbed by the beauty and attractiveness of the spiritual ideal, that sex just didn’t interest you. That would be a very healthy sexual mode. But then you could be celibate out of guilt, or for the sake of some material advantage. You could be celibate for all sorts of quite negative reasons, which would be neurotic. It certainly isn’t just a question of being celibate. Being physically celibate by itself probably has very little value. What is more valuable is being relatively celibate because the main object of one’s emotional energies is something of a higher order. You can’t be healthily and happily celibate unless you are celibate for the sake of a higher cultural, artistic, humanitarian or spiritual interest. You could even say that sexual frustration takes place when you don’t have at the center of your mandala an interest or an ideal which absorbs your emotional energies."

"Once Insight starts being developed, then of course you are attacking the craving at the source. The more you do of that, then the weaker any craving will become."

"Celibacy is unhealthy when it is too much of a discipline, when it results in the suppression, not just of one’s sexual feelings, but even of one’s emotions. That suppression can make one quite bitter and intolerant. I noticed this very clearly in the case of at least a couple of [Order members] when they were anagarikas [meaning they had taken a vow of celibacy]. It was quite obvious that the suppression of their sexual feelings resulted in the suppression of their kinder feelings, their human sympathies, and this came out in their quite cruel treatment of some people, and having rather harsh, negative attitude, in certain respects. This is a common phenomenon among celibates."

Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010:

"Tejananda says, ‘What we long for is the love that never fails.’ This is perhaps our deepest heart wish. Conditioned or fabricated love always fails. That’s its nature. What doesn’t fail is what’s beyond conditions: the True Refuge ... the awakened heart. Even in terms of our ordinary experience, the all-pervading compassionate nature is here and now as sensitivity. We are sensitive – sensitivity is our nature. This is why we can experience both pleasure and suffering. Our longing for unconditional and unfailing love is something very deep within us and at root it is genuine (not delusive). It’s a longing to return to the original sensitivity of our nature outside of dualistic distinctions. This longing is something we can get neurotic about, or we can cherish it as the seed of ...the Awakening Heart/Mind."

Pema Chodron:

"Sometimes [our] broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that, when accepted fully, can be shared with all."

... Now my heart
 Turns toward you, awake at last,
 Penitent, lost in the last 
Loneliness. Speak to me. Talk
To me. Break the black silence.
Speak of a tree full of leaves,
Of a flying bird, the new
 Moon in the sunset, a poem, 
A book, a person – all the 
Casual healing speech 
Of your resonant, quiet voice.
The word freedom. The word peace.

from ‘Loneliness’ by Kenneth Rexroth

Here is a video by Ajahn Amaro.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Entering The Mind of the Buddha

The above is in my kitchen, a reminder of the aspiration.

Entering The Mind of the Buddha by Reb Anderson is a retreat in a book. In my 17 years as a Buddhist I have been on many retreat, but my recent poverty has me not going as much. There's enough teachings on line and meditation is free, so you don't need money to practice. Just be ethical, kind and meditate. Chant if you want, get together with spiritual friends. Doesn't cost a thing, but as we know money does by experiences, and those experiences can be positive. Which is a long way to go to say I appreciate a retreat in a book, and a refresher on the 6 paramitas and from a Zen perspective. We have Karen Muller to thank for putting it all together and Reb Anderson for leading the retreat and providing the talks and final draft. That's how I imagine it, I could be reading into it.

The following are ideas I liked in the book about the 6:

Dana (Generosity): These first three can be taught to children, before they are ready for meditation. I've been noticing her when she is generous, patient, does the ethical thing.

There are 3 kinds of generosity. One is the regular kind, giving your subway seat to someone who needs it, that kind of thing. The second kind is the gift of fearlessness. Like when it's dark and I take my daughter into a room to get something. She is afraid of the dark and I share my fearlessness of the dark. You can do similar things for adults. The third kind is the gift of the Dharma, the Buddha's teachings. This blog is in part sharing my journey as a gift of the Dharma. You can also give the gift of yourself. By being present in my sons lives, I give them myself, my history, my wisdom, and all the good I can share with them. The gift of the self isn't part of the traditional list, but I thought Anderson was right to include it.

Here is a Tricycle Teaching on Generosity.

Sila (virtue): I've come to appreciate how a lack of virtue can sabotage my meditation practice, see how ethical living is the foundation of the spiritual life. I've also come to see being vegan as an integral thing in doing something to improve the world, it helps me work towards the gladdening.

For some reason Anderson does the 3 pure precepts (never heard of them, so that's cool to learn some new teaching). 1. Do no evil. 2. Do good. 3. Save all beings. I usually think in terms of the 10 precepts.

Kanti (patience): Allan Lakos has a good book called Patience. Made me think a lot about patience.

Virya (energy): I always wonder how much of my energy can really be said to be going to refuge to the three jewels. I once did a mandala where I wrote what I thought was expected, but not what was really going on, and I think of that mantra by Pema Chodron, "start where you are." I also think of the guy who stands up at a meeting and says I have no ego; Someone kicks him in the shins and he doubles over in pain. There you are. Spiritual posturing doesn't get you anywhere. I like authenticity.

Like say I'm watching Gilmore Girls. I try to think about impermanence, how unsatisfactory strivings can be, and how we are our circumstances. But I can't say more than 5% of my thinking is insight related.

I have also taken refuge in William Shakespeare.

Dhyana (focus): Wikipedia.

Prajna (wisdom): This is the "wisdom that leaps beyond wisdom". It is creativity not reactivity.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien

This book had some interesting synthesis of global history with spiritual history, great teachers and great literature, and the forces around various movements and trends. The scope of this book is immense. There is overlap with other traditions and other histories. There were lots of interesting pictures in the book. The book functioned on many levels.

My critique that there wasn't enough depth in areas, seems to vanish when you think that she wrote a history of Zen in 287 pages. Through India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and to America. My list of Zen books to read has swelled. I have limned some of the resources available on the internet, but this book in my hand has been quite a journey.

Read back through my thoughts in my post prior to this one. I found this a fascinating read. From the examination of the sex scandals, to what modern Zen needs most. Do you shuck off Japanese culture, or do you embrace it? So many questions. This book was great at raising questions and that is wonderful.

Mims Florida

Previous Posts

6. Chapter 5 Song dynasty
7. Chapter 6: Korea
9. Japan

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Zen in Japan

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen. I'm on the chapter where Zen comes to Japan. Reading about the beginning of Zen in Japan, I came to appreciate the separation of church and state. I know that's been weirdly eroded by someone who isn't religious beyond signing bibles for people.

For me the history of Buddhism is a history of great Buddhists. Now in politics and history, I see things more in terms of forces, and great men are not all they're cracked up to be. I see the history of literature, contributions to world spirituality literature to be great. I do recall some discussion of the Diamond Sutra, and the Vimalakirti Nirdesa but those are some heavy hitters, great contributions to Buddhist literature. The Heart Sutra is the most distilled sutra of awesomeness. The perfection of wisdom sutras are quite amazing.

The mist of time, the first gift statue, and governmental type wrangling it's all pretty vague. I like something I can sink my teeth into.

I was excited to read about Kukai, but there's only half a page on him (p. 188). I had a friend who dressed up in white pilgrim garb and walked around a island, staying in temples, on a Kukai pilgrimage. It sounded awesome. I guess he's not Zen, so he gets short shrift.

The Samurai are an interesting phenomenon. Apparently this was a time when temples needed to be guarded. They were kind of monkish, shaved their heads, but they of course did not abstain from violence. When you think about the evolution of humanity, it really has come a long way.

As the country turned into a "Degenerate Age" Honen and Shinran were about in the 12th and 13th Century, made Pure Land Buddhism an option. Chant Amitabha's name with faith was something a layman could do. Nichiren wanted you to chant the name of the Lotus Sutra.

Then Dogen (1200-1253) comes. He's the big guy in Zen Buddhism, founded the Soto Zen sect. He was ordained at 13 and studied at Enryaku-ji and Kennin-ji and then went to China. Dogen's literary legacy is big.

Ikkyu (1394–1481) is the rebel bad boy of Japanese Buddhism. He seemed to partake in devine madness, crazy wisdom.

There was a combination of Pure Land chanting of "Namu Amidha Butsu" and hautou, "who is reciting the Buddha's name?" called Obaku. They have a temple still in existence.

It's hard to imagine a time when temple abbots were murdered or asked to commit ritual suicide. There are all kinds of amazing sentences like, "One day, he coughed up a ball of bloody phlegm and experienced a great insight." (P. 230) The he is Bankei Yotaku. You can read all about it in Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 by Bankei Yōtaku.

Hakuin (1686 - 1769) is another Japanese sage with an interesting biography and spiritual journey. There is an article by Barbara O'Brien. You can see some of his art in a NY Times article.

There is all sorts of history to get through. Then we get into modern times with DT Suzuki, Watts and others. Zen at War is seen as an important book that O'Brien's teacher told her not to avoid, though she did for a while. And that leads into America's internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. There's a book on it that I'm dying to read.

Zen in Vietnam: Thien

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen, and she has half a chapter on Vietnam, where it is called Thien. When I googled the names in the book, I didn't find anything. She refers to 3 books in her bibliography.

For many years Vietnam was occupied by China. Later a Chinese master set up shop in Vietnam. There was a female monk I couldn't find any information about. Not a lot of history of Thien Buddhism. Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is from Vietnam.

Chapter 6: Zen leaves China: Korea

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, and she has half a chapter on Korea.

The story of Buddhism coming to Korea will be a complicated one. Maybe Sundo came from China in 372. Wonhyo and Uisang went from Korea (Silla) to China seeking teachings and Wonhyo had a realization on the way there and turned back. They were trudging through a muddy downpour and took shelter. Wonhyo found a gourd of water and drank deeply. In the morning they realize they were in a cipt and the gourd was a skull full of maggots. Wonhyo had a realization about how the mind makes the world and returned to Silla.

Uisang kept on going and returned later and founded a monastery. Wonhyo had an affair and a child and was defrocked. He kept writing about Buddhism and would travel around and play music to attract people to his talks. His writings work to make sense of the texts from China and making the doctrine into a coherent whole. After resisting it, the aristocracy embraced Buddhism, and the king was declared a Buddha.

There were all sorts of worldly struggles for power and the Buddhist monastic got involved in that. It was a reasonable life, avoiding peasantry and conscription, and there were times when families were limited to how many sons could join. When they gained too much power there was retrenching. There were exams, like civil service exams to become a monk. Women were not given power, but were also given more freedom to travel at times, and the women influenced things through being married to a rich man. There is a book on the influence of Korean women on Buddhism and Korea, in English.

Uicheon was the 4th son of a Korean emperor, and against his father's wishes went to China to study Buddhism, and propagated Buddhist scholarship in Korea. He did not like Zen.

Pojo Jinul lead a movement away from political influence to individual spiritual development (seen below)

Jinul wrote a fair amount. The book Robert Buswell, Jr., Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991) is quoted a lot by O'Brien and Wikipedia. I couldn't find his retreat center called Samadhi and Prajna Retreat Society, but they moved when it became overcrowded to Songgwangsa. The story of his awakenings involve 3 readings of various sutras, though he thought meditation was the center of his practice.

The last master mentioned is Taego Bou. Then Buddhism seemed to be in and out of favor. Supposedly in 1593 and 1598 Hyujeong led a monk army against invading hordes.

A later master called Gyeongheo (1849—1912) brought back a resurgence.

O'Brien mentioned Myori Pophui (1887-1975) as a dharma heir to Gyeongheo, but I couldn't find anything about her except reference to books.

Hyobong Hangnul (1888—1966) was a judge, until he couldn't judge Japanese rules any more during the occupation, and turned to the spiritual life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chapter 5 in O'Brien: Song Dynasty

I like it that neo-confucianism was against supernaturalism.

The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp includes Budai, the fat laughing Buddha, and women and the important people with interesting exchanges, "encounter dialogues".

O'Brien writes mostly about The Gateless Barrier, The Blue Cliff Record and The Book of Equanimity. These are the beginning of the koans.

I tried reading some of the book of Equanimity because I like the Brahma Viharas, but it's Zen stuff trying to confound your conceptual thinking. There are 100 short paragraphs, and I think I'll read it. Perhaps Yelu Chucai, who advised Genghis Khan after he invaded his lands is the author. He was very tall and had a deep voice, and composed the book at the request of the regional governor. The title literally means encouragement (hermitage) record = Congrong lu.

But it turns out later the systemization of koans leads in the original order I put forward. So I should start with the Gateless Barrier.

There are also longer puzzles and slogans that are called hautou. When Stephen Batchelor left the Tibetans over his skepticism about reincarnation, he went to a Korean Zen monastery and kept asking, "what is this?" That is an example of a hautou.

She also writes about the Ten Bulls. Pretty funky Zen version of the wheel of life almost. Lots of good commentaries on the Wikipedia site. I even found a manga version.

It was at the end of the Song dynasty that Nalanda, the first university, was burned, Odantapuri and Vikramashila, Somapura and Jagaddala were burned by Muslims. (P.154-5 The Circle of the Way)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trust In Mind

I'm finding all these sacred texts in the Zen tradition (and not finding them) as I read through The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien. On one level I feel like it's too episodic, just mention a bunch of names and lineage, and spurt a little of their thought and move on. I'd like to spend a lot of time on each one of these teachers and teachings.

Anyway, here are more resources of ancient Chinese texts for Zen from the Tang dynasty:

Trust In Mind (Xinxin Ming) is a text from the Oxheard School.

O'Brien quotes: The Record of Mazu and the Making of Classical Chan Literature by Mario Poceski

Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall (Wikipedia)

Baizhang Huaihai (Wikipedia) was a Chinese Zen master of the Tang Dynasty


Identity of Relative and Absolute, the Sandokai is chanted in Soto Zen centers every day supposedly. This book by Suzuki explains. (More Suzuki lectures)

Platform Sutra

The history of Zen is tied up in the history of China, and the An Lushan rebellion is part of it.

There were 3 famous women in Zen of the Tang dynasty. Liu Tiemo, Miaoxin and Moshan Liaoran. The book of reference is Sallie Tisdale's Women of the Way.

The Record of Linji translation and commentary by Ruth Fuller Sasaki edited by Thomas Yuho Kirchner or this edition, or this edition or this edition.

Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi (Wikipedia--there are many translations). This is O'Brien's favorite text and she recommends the book Just This Is It by Taigen Leighton

The chapter ends with the Huichang Persecution. They list it among the 4 persecutions in China, not counting China blowing up statues in modern times. Though China has by far the most Buddhists in the world, it is not a majority and they have a long history of persecution.

Here is a scholarly journal article: On Some Factors Responsible for The Antibuddhist Persecution Under The Pei-Ch'ao by Kenneth Ch'En

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Matrix and Buddha Nature

When you take the red pill and you lose your illusions, the desire to live in a fantasy world, to see the desire to scramble for what you want will ultimately be a scramble into death.

You start to believe, you believe in your Buddha-nature despite the gnarly state of the world, despite the improbability of it all. Reading everything as Dharma, then the Matrix is about Buddha-nature. Call it appropriation or whatever you want. Everything is harnessed towards the goal of liberating everyone from samsara. We are all Neo, the chosen one. When we see our own blood we fight harder. The imagined death is real death, even if it is all in our own head. You have to be willing to really die and not be reincarnated on the path. You're conditions will live on in others memories, to the extent they celebrate the day of the dead exercises. Or maybe you postpone nirvana to collect everyone, get everyone in.

Intense spiritual movements water them down to keep them alive, because most people want to get to the next meal, get home, keep things as good as they can get for as long as you can keep them. When you take the red pill you don't care about all that. The matrix is shattered. Who cares if I starve to death. The person willing to die has courage, like a Klingon, today is a good day to die. The death of the ego, the death of the fixed self, the death of everything you hold sacred, which is going to happen anyway. Death makes Buddha-nature important and irrelevant.

The Theravadan criticism of Buddha-nature is that it's smuggled in Hinduism, the worship of atman. But if you assume that Buddha-nature is neither temporary or eternal, it's just the potentiality to become enlightened, for circumstances to coalesce in you. To minimally progress along the path. And yet as the Zen people say, nothing special, you have to power through the dark night of the soul.

I don't have any experience of reincarnation, except to get up every day, and that means I've got to do it in this life, like Milarepa, who's final teaching was to show his ass to a disciple, to show the callouses from meditated all the time. Pedal to the metal. All in. With kindness and love and concentration understanding the true nature of reality, taking the red pill. 

Further thoughts on O'Brien's book The Circle of the Way after finishing 2 chapters

I can't help but feel this obsession with lineage and doctrine are fairly misguided. I'm not sure how it helps me to practice. Feels like professional jockeying, not true spirituality. I think at the end of the day sutras can inspire one to practice. I'm not sure how much this book is inspiring me to practice. It's interesting, but not sure how important it is spiritually. The intensity is muted by brevity and the amount of time she wants to cover. Also the distance of time and language are pretty formidable.

I'm feeling more and more strongly that lineage is bullshit, we can't really know much through the mist of time. We can be inspired by all the Buddhists texts that reach us, and knowing the historical circumstances always helps us to interpret the texts in the milieu they were composed in.

I know a sangha can be a pretty amazing cultural force that carries forward the tradition, I'm not trying to downplay the sangha. Infact, without lineage, the sangha becomes more important. It urgency will be in the here and the now, not mythology about the past. Maybe the here and now needs some mythology.

In the books I like about Buddhism, the spiritual intensity leaks through. I feel everything tips one towards intensifying the practice. Go for it. Quibbling about sudden versus gradual enlightenment or what those original words really meant, feels pretty remote. I can remember a buzz from my favorite texts leaking through.

The legend says Dazu Huike offered his arm to practice with Bodhidharma. There's a pretty painting of it by

Links and resources:

I found The Gateway to Understanding Mahayana. There are quite a few texts on the Zen Center at Sunnyvale in California.

There are some amazing pictures of Longman Grotto.

The Gateless Barrier

Memoirs of Eminent Monks


When I study something, sometimes I read outside the area so I don't feel claustrophobic. I read this Wikipedia article about an obscure sect of Japanese Buddhism that has only one temple, called Risshu. Here is a book published in 1886 about the twelve sects of Japan. That leads to all the various schools of Buddhism.

Guoqing Temple: Built in 598 founded by Zhiyi. I don't think this is the temple supposedly built by the Oxhead School of Buddhism

Friday, November 15, 2019


Should Buddhists be antinatalists? Here's an article in the Guardian. Or you could be antinatalist because of the environment. The photo is a quasi wheel of life, and I wonder if it was Buddhist inspired. Anyway, stopping the wheel of life is stopped by not having children. I've always thought that Buddhism isn't going to take over the world because it doesn't have the evangelism and because it subtly suggests not having children would prevent suffering.

"Anti-natalists, however, believe that procreation has always been and always will be wrong because of life’s inevitable suffering." Writes Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in the Guardian article "I wish I'd never been born: the rise of the anti-natalists"

I don't actually know what the optimum sustainable population is. And I know that in advance societies we are not reproducing to replace, but in the 3rd world having more children is like having more workers and more of a retirement plan options. So while france gives out medals for having children, the population of America is growing because of immigration, not because of birth.

My question to people who want people to have a license to have children, is how to you enforce it? I looked into the Chinese one child policy (1979–2015). There's a debate about how well it worked. I had a vision of snipers on rooftops shooting birth control into women. Not a pretty vision. 


Bodhidharma, by Yoshitoshi, 1887

Bodhidharma is thought to have brought Buddhism to China. His teacher was thought to be Prajnatara.

The work Two Entries and Four Practices is attributed to him.

The four practices are as follows:
1. Accept whatever befalls us without complaining about injustice.
2. Adapt to conditions and accept that we are ruled by conditions, not by ourselves.
3. Practice non-craving.
4. Practice the dharma.

I think we can accept circumstances and work towards fighting injustices. As I've said before we can examine the individual system and the larger systems. Practicing non-craving seems impossible to me, the key is to be creative and not reactive and act in your own best interest.

The Essence of Mahayana Practice is also attributed to him.

He is mentioned in The Blue Cliff Record.

He inspired the Daruma doll. "At the end of the year, all the Daruma are brought back to the temple they were purchased from for a traditional burning ceremony." Here is a video (7 minutes). The color means something for types of luck. The legend is that he meditated so much that his legs withered away. They are often weighted so that they always stand up. That led to the phrase, "fall down seven times and get up eight." They supposedly help people recover from smallpox and warn people if someone in the house has smallpox. I don't think this woman burns her Daruma dolls.

This is a 10 minute film about Bodhidharma's stupa, where he supposedly is buried.


Who Was Bodhidharma?

Bodhidharma by Lin Sen-shou


Was the founder of Zen Buddhism a female?

Prajnatara told Bodhidharma to go to China when she died and thus she is seen as the founder of Zen Buddhism.

Is this a case of wanting more gender equality being injected into the history of Buddhism, or is this really possible? I'd like there to be more women in Buddhist history, so I'm open to the idea. When we lose touch with history and enter into mythology, we can choose what our myths are.

One tantalizing idea is that the name is a combination of two female Bodhisattvas, Prajnaparamita and Tara.

Supposedly the first ordained female monk in China was named Zhu Jing Jian (292-361). O'Brian doesn't footnote the comment in The Circle of the Way, and I can't find anything on the internet about her. She supposedly founded the monastery in Chang'an. Maybe it's the Abundant Treasure Pagoda Monastery (according to p. 328 in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming).

Zongzhi is another early female nun, and all I could find was a reference on p. 128 of The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender By Bernard Faure, and The Circle of the Way by O'Brian p. 60.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Zen Books

I started reading the Barbara O'Brien book first. I've never seen her blog before but she has a blog called Mahablog. Like many Americans she's concerned about the America we find ourselves in. She became a Buddhist in 1988 going to Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper NY. I've been there, it's a pretty cool place. I hope to go on a retreat there someday. She was a student of John Daido Loori, Tokudo Jion Susan Postal and Myozan Shofu Dennis Keegan, who is part of the Shunryu Suzuki lineage.

You can't find a lot of History of Zen books, and current scholarship throws a lot of questions onto the standard volumes by Heinrich Dumoulin written in 1963 (Volume 1). Plus he was a Jesuit, not a Buddhist. At 287 pages, this is a tidy little addition to the genera hopes to be a rigorous condensed addition with an inside view, written by someone who practices Zen Buddhism. I like the introduction, and it has made me want to read more. She quotes David McMahan and our tendency to create a modern Buddhism that might not be accurate, by discarding things that don't jive with our western scientific rationalist ideology and thus confirmation bias rears its ugly head. On some level the ancient ways are truly unknowable. She starts the story a thousand years after the life of the Buddha in China.

I did not know about the Dunhuang manuscripts found in 1900 by a Daoist monk. There is ongoing work to digitize what was found there, including the British Library.

I look forward to this history and the other exploration of the 6 paramitas. I'm going to listen to a few talks by Reb Anderson in preparation.

Reb Anderson is a Senior Dharma teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center and at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, California. You can listen to some of his talks, from 2006-2018. You can read a previous book Being Upright online.

I listened to a talk and it's ...  Zen has a style, I don't think it's straight forward.

One thing I like about Zen is that the nothing special, and just do it attitude helps you through the dark night of the soul, when the practice doesn't seem to give back.

False choices

I've never been tempted by the false choice of just focusing on the individual or just focusing on the larger picture, larger structures. There is an article in Tricycle: Who Is Misrepresenting Mindfulness?  It comes to the same conclusion I came to in social work school. People say that psychotherapy blames the victim. By focusing on the individual, you are essentially saying, you are the problem. That it is not racism, classism, skewed governmental priorities, politics, poorly run government because of low expectations created by a stream of incompetent people who are incompetent on purpose.

I expect more out of government, and I think by working to help an individual become empowered, you can also discuss larger forces.

I'm not even sure why we get so caught up in this false choice in politics.

I found this a paradox. If you talk to someone about individual forces, they often seek wider forces. When you talk about wider forces, they talk about individual forces and take responsibility.

But systems theory does away with the false choice. We can look at all the systems. We can look at the individual system, and we can look at the larger systems.

So to say that individual mindfulness teachers are at fault for all this McMindfulness stuff, well, I think you can also become mindful of the larger forces. It's not like becoming mindful necessarily makes you more individualistic or egotistical.

The plea of the article is to ask you to be more mindful of the larger forces. OK. We can look into all the systems. 

Saturday, November 09, 2019


Reading Brad Warner's book Letters To A Dead Friend About Zen has gotten me to look up a lot of things. He started Dogen Sangha Los Angeles. I haven't seen the movie Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen. This current book is autobiographical, and also instructs about the Zen style he sees as useful to him, that he hopes is useful for you. He's led a fairly interesting life, spending 4 years in Nirobi during his childhood, and spending time in Japan. He tours with a punk band, in which he plays bass.

Warner's teacher was Gudō Wafu Nishijima. Wikipedia writes that he said, "Nishijima stated that "Buddhism is just Humanism" and he explains Dogen's teaching on zazen in terms of balancing the autonomic nervous system."

There's a documentary about a Chan monastery in China called Amongst White Clouds. It's beautiful and interesting to watch if you have 90 minutes.

Fukan Zazengi (Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen) This is short instructions by Dogen on doing Zazen. I've always wanted to go to Eihei-ji, which Dogen founded, after I read Sleep, Eat, Sit.

I've got 2 Zen books on the way: The Circle of the Way, which is a new history of Zen, and Entering the Mind of Buddha, which is about the 6 paramitas, which I'm always interested in reading.

Here's a photo of a section of Brad Warner's book p. 83:

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Nichiren Buddhism

Someone downvoted on Reddit the suggestion that a way to become a Buddhist is to chant Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. I didn't like that. I feel like Buddhism is a big tent with all kinds of different Buddhisms. I also think there is just one Dharma. I don't think emphasizing other power is wrong per se, though it does rub me a little the wrong way. Anyway, that got me more interested in it, and I hope some day to go along to a center to check it out.

Nichiren Buddhism was founded by Nichiren (1222-1282) in Japan. Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra doctrine that all people have an innate Buddha-nature and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. There are three essential aspects to Nichiren Buddhism, the undertaking of faith, the practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo accompanied by selected recitations of the Lotus Sutra, and the study of Nichiren's scriptural writings, called Gosho."

Some helpful texts for the beginner include:

Nichiren Shoshu: Basics of Practice

The Liturgy of Nichiren Shoshu

There is also an online library of the basic texts.

I listened to the chanting and chanted along today and I felt quite good. The two closest Buddhist centers to me are a Soka Gokkai and a MYOSETSUJI TEMPLE ---- NICHIREN SHOSHU BUDDHISM. I have not gone, but I will update if I do go along.