Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book: Zen Master Class by Stephen Hodge


I rather enjoyed this beautifully illustrated compendium of thoughts of the Zen masters.

The masters' approaches to achieving enlightenment - or spiritual awakening - are highly diverse, although the general focus is on meditative practice (zazen) and focusing on acts without overlaying too much (or indeed any) intellectual analysis. By doing this, Enlightenment can be glimpsed at.  I've always struggled with the idea of going straight to the act because I tend to view the intellectual analysis as a necessary precursor to learning the act and getting lost in the flow of an activity (e.g. as Bruce Lee said, 'fighting without fighting'), but then I find the intellectual pursuit hijacks the task by providing it's own joy.

The one thing the book didn't really clarify is the definition of Zen Buddhism so I've culled some explanations from the internet as a reminder (various sources):
  • Zen is not an intellectual discipline you can learn from books. Instead, it's a practice of studying mind and seeing into one's nature. The main tool of this practice is zazen (meditation).
  • Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.
  • Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.
  • Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.
  • Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.
  • Zen means being in the flow of the universe.
  • Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.
  • Zen has its basis in the conviction that the world and its components are not many things but rather one reality. Reason, by analyzing the diversity of the world, obscures this oneness. It can be apprehended by the nonrational part of the mind—the intuition. Enlightenment about the nature of reality comes not by rational examination but through meditation and other practices designed to break through the assumptions of everyday logical thought.
  • Zen is concerned with things as they are, without trying to interpret them.
    Zen points to something before thinking, before all your ideas.
  • Zazen is an attitude of spiritual awakening, which when practiced, can become the source from which all the actions of daily life flow - eating, sleeping, breathing, walking, working, talking, thinking, and so on.
  • Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience. 
  • The essence of Zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or language.
  • Zen is something a person does. It's not a concept that can be described in words.
  • Zen sends us looking inside us for enlightenment. There's no need to search outside ourselves for the answers; we can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions.
  • Zen is very simple. It is so simple, in fact, that it's very difficult to grasp.

There also seems to be quite a few common threads of thought between Buddhism, existentialism, and stoicism, something I may look in to one day.

Quotes and notes

- Boddhidharma's definition of Zen Buddhism:
A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.

- ...everything that the Buddha taught what was based on what he had personally experienced rather than some revelation from God.

- He also insisted that rather than blindly accepting his words out of reverence, people should find out the truth for themselves. Try what I teach and see if it works for you, he told his followers.

- Suffering exists because all things are impermanent. ...no matter how good things are, everything is changing, from the great mountains to our everyday thoughts and emotions. Accepting this truth reduces our suffering tremendously.

- ..the Buddha taught that there is no such thing as an unchanging, independent ego-self....Clinging onto this false sense of identity leads only to greater attachment and to more suffering and frustration.

- ..ignorance entraps people in a vicious circle of desperate measures and unwanted results.

- Because our actions are charged with emotional energy, the Buddha taught that the effects go beyond the immediate results of which we are aware. In fact, every thought, word, and deed imprints some of its energy on our mindstream. Positive energy leaves positive imprints; negative energy leaves negative imprints.

- On meditation for tranquility and insight - Instead of acting as though everything is permanent, we abandon ourselves to the stream of change. ..we see that everything is interdependent.

- Some Mahayan adherents, including practitioners of Zen, believe that Enlightenment, the awakening of Buddha-mind or Buddha-nature, is our natural state, but has been covered over by layers of emotions and distorted thoughts. According to this view, Enlightenment is not something that we must acquire a bit at a time, but a state that can occur instantly when we cut through the dense veil of mental and emotional obscurations.

- On Bodhidharma:
He taught that there we two paths to paths to Enlightenment:
1) Through meditation - he taught wall gazing, intended to free the mind of concepts.
Tranquility meditation (beginner) tips: Consider light, incense, regular time of day, posture, focus (on image or breath).
2) Through practice - four aspects are involved:
- Patient acceptance: able to endure ills without rancour (anger is the most destructive of emotions). Patience with self as well as with others.
- Equanimity - A balanced attitude that avoids the extremes of aversion and attraction e.g. being overly proud, attached, etc.
- Determination - reflecting on the life of the Buddha and various practices.
- Insight - Cultivate insight as the intellectual insight awareness leads to deeper changes through practice and reflections. The insight becomes embodied when we start to live it.  

- From the Diamond Sutra: 'Let your mind flow freely without dwelling on anything'

- Attachment always creates an imbalance.

- The ideal, difficult as it is to achieve, is to meditate as though it were as natural as breathing and sleeping.

- Huineng and his successors criticised the way some people studied the scriptures because of the the tendency to intellectualize the Dharma or to regard study as an end in itself. Buddhist texts can be very inspiring, but as the Buddha taught, they are merely a raft to cross the river.

- Of all things, the mind is fundamental; all phenomena are simply products of the mind. Therefore know that all good and evil arises from your own mind. To seek Enlightenment somewhere outside of the mind is an impossibility.

- We filter our perceptions of reality through the emotions and expectations of the deluded mind, we create a psudeoreality, in which we believe that objects exist as we perceive them.

- Shenxiu: Encouraged students to focus on the thinking process itself so as to light the lamp that reveals the illusory nature of the everyday mind and its contents. ..First, we should contemplate the way that thoughts seem to bubble up from the mind itself as objects. Then, to investigate the nature of thoughts and emotions. Where do thoughts come from? Where do they abide? Where do they go? This line of investigation is designed to give insight into the illusory nature of thoughts, the object portion of cognitive experiences.
..When you notice a train of thoughts and feelings is starting to carry you away, remind yourself that thoughts have not intrinsic reality. Though they seem real, they are illusory. ..Once the objects generated by the mind have been seen for what they are - mental projections created by the everyday deluded mind - then you can start questioning the reality of that deluded, discriminating mind itself. 
- Skill in reading and interpreting text can be very misleading, because knowledge of the text can be mistaken for experiential understanding.

- The Buddha himself viewed his teachings as merely a means to an end, to be abandoned when they had served their purpose.

- Enlightenment is a process of emptying rather than one of filling and acquiring. ...put effort into simplifying your life and eliminating as many attachments as possible. Aim to be as spontaneous as Mazu and Zhaozhou, putting aside all prejudgments and goal-orientated actions.

- Linji: ... he instructed his disciples: "The Dharma is effortless. Just be without concerns in your daily life, as you shit and piss, wear clothes and eat food; when tired, lie down...It is just a matter of passing the time without concerns."

As he told them, if you have no expectations, you'll never face disappointment . Instead, you'll just flow with events and get on with everyday life.

'The way I see things, there's no need for anything special. Just do what comes naturally...pass the time doing nothing.'

When hunger comes, I eat my rice;
When sleep comes, I close my eyes.
Fools laugh at me,
but the wise understand.

- Any activity can be Zen when it is undertaken in the right spirit (Dogen Kigen).

- Bassui warned that there are two types of false teachers: those who are arrogantly self-deluded and those who are cynically manipulative of others.

- Ryokan was an embodiment of all that is best in a Zen Master: simplicity, kindness, and a profound love of solitude and the beauties of nature.

No comments: