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Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

PGRDSeveral months ago a friend of mine who is a devout Buddhist got into a good discussion with me about why I felt such a need to study Buddhist scriptures so throughly, literally, and why I searched so much for a very pure practice. You see, I would be practicing Soto and would start reading Dogen and wonder why our current practice was so far off from his teachings. Or I would study the Pali Canon and wonder why so much of it is ignored. I also was looking for a practice that was “pure” from the standpoint of it being very established, traditional, and with a long lineage and history behind it.

He, on the other hand, was very eclectic and had little concern otherwise. He was into really anything that appealed to him at that moment, gathering things from here and there along his path, and forming his own kind of practice that suited him best. There was certainly a kind of freedom there that he was enjoying that I was not, but I questioned if this was right way, or at least if this was the way for me.

I was more of the mindset of researching and finding a tradition/Master that I felt in my heart to be true and sticking to it… even the parts that I didn’t like or that “cramped my style”. Also, as a scholar, I was and still am into the notion that scripture and history must be revered and considered seriously. Now I am not saying that it ALWAYS has to be followed — just that it always has to be considered seriously and if not followed for good and defensible reason.

He proposed two arguments to me which I had no real answer for that I would like to finally answer today. They were as follows:

1. If whatever it is they are doing/believing, is helping them they who really cares if it’s false or true?
2. Even the oldest of scriptures still is most likely impure, so who cares if we adjust them even more?

The first of the two arguments lead into a long discussion on Upaya, and it did open my mind up to a lot of things. There is some truth to this argument, and I must concur that there is time and place for expedient means. However, we must also agree that the purpose of Upaya is to get someone to move from one state to another, so that they may receive a new truth and be freed from the old one. Once this is accomplished the individual now should be able to walk in this new truth and no longer feel the need to cling to the past delusion or the delusion that was presented to them through Upaya to motivate them in the first place. If this is not done, then was progress really made?

Also, what is the definition of something helping? What is the definition of something not harming? Does something help someone if it does not really lead them to liberation? Doesn’t it harm someone if they pick up some teaching or mindset along the way that hinders their long-term progress even though it provides some kind of temporary solution to a problem? This technique of expedient means must be used by a Master out of loving-kindness and tempered with wisdom, for the good of their student to move them along the path. It is not license for us to simply do as we wish and see fit without skill and purpose.

For the second argument, I was already familiar with this topic from my days in Bible Seminary. Not only do we have to take into account when reading ancient text that it may have been, and was most likely altered by people with alteriar motives or agendas, but we also have to take into account the fact that even the most pure, divine revelation is still going to have to be filtered through the eyes and mind of a mortal and even their most direct and accurate account will still be tainted in some way, shape or form. As the Apostle Paul wrote himself, “we see in a mirrordimly“.

Yet, does this give taint us license to further filter scripture as we see fit to adjust it to our own social, political, personal or other preferences?

I think it is a lot like peeing in a pool.

If you were in a large pool of water with a group of people and word got out that someone may have peed in it, does that mean that we all then will just figure it’s ok for the rest of us to take a dump in it?

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For more heresy please join me on my new blog at www.evolitionist.com

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santaRemember that day when your kid came home from first grade crying, because some other kid told them that there was no Santa Claus? Sorry about that; that kid was me. Look, it isn’t like you think; I wasn’t trying to be mean or anything. You see, my parents never told me that there was a Santa to begin with. My earliest Christmas memories was of them putting presents in front of me, saying, “Your Dad and I bought these for you because we love you,” and there was never any talk of fat men in red outfits, or reindeers that magically fly. When I was plopped in first grade, and Christmas time rolled around, I was taken aback by all the other kid’s talk about this Santa character. When I asked who he was, they told me that it was the person that gives us our presents; to this, I simply replied, “No it’s not. Our moms and dads buy us the gifts to be nice to us.” By the time I got home that day, there were already a slew of angry parents who had left some not-so-nice comments about me and my parent’s parenting skills on the phone. “What kind of a jerky kid are they raising? What kind of a parent doesn’t tell their kid there is a Santa? How are they going to correct this?” “Correct this,” my parents said, “you do know that there really isn’t a Santa right?”

Fast-forward a good decade or two, and here I find myself doing it all over again; although, this time it isn’t over a fat red men, no, this time it was over meditation in front of a bunch of Buddhists I was meeting for the first time. I was new to Buddhism, I haven’t been meditating long; I knew I liked to meditate, I had read the Dhammapada over a few times, and I had memorized the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path—besides that, I was as “green” as they come. Partway through the night the discussion in the Buddhist group turned to “Mindfulness”, which I thought to myself, was awesome, “I know this one”; since that was one of those 8 really important thingies that Buddha guy told us to do… The “Awesome 8”, as I like to call them! (No, I have never actually called them that.)

So, they started talking about the importance Mindfulness, how great it is, and then talked about how Mindfulness IS Meditation… I raised my hand and simply stated, “No it isn’t. I mean, the Buddha listed them as two different things on the Dharma Wheel… so how can they be the same thing?”

I mean, did the Buddha screw up here? Was Mindfulness so great that he wanted to slip in there twice, but under a different name? Did the Buddha have some kind of O.C.D. about even and odd numbers; so, once he ended at 7, he had to repeat one to make it a nice, even 8?

Some people got offended, others corrected me, and the general populous simply patted me on the head, and told me that I was too new at this to understand, and that they, having practiced longer, know what they are talking about. Now, I am not a cocky individual, so I took this advice to heart, and I spent the next while studying the Suttas, Sutras, and various other resources on how I could be so mistaken about Meditation. Now, I have to tell you… and I hate to say it… but the more I study, the more I see that I was right the first time. We all know the old saying, “From out of the mouths of babes…”, and well, maybe this was one of those cases. Maybe, being new to all this and simply taking the teaching of the Buddha for what they were, at face value, I had avoided all those years of rationalizing, explaining away, justification, watering-down, and intellectual re-writes that tend to come along the way.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not belittling Mindfulness. How could I? I mean, it’s one of the Awesome 8! I could never say that Mindfulness in non-important, or, that it was some unnecessary part of “old-Buddhism” that can now be ignored or is supplemented by one of the other 7. I would never do that, but that is what others in this new Zen movement are doing to Meditation. They are belittling Meditation, kicking it right off the Wheel, and are making the claim that Mindfulness now is supplementing, or fulfilling the requirement for that part of the regiment. This not only, is bad Buddhism, but I also take to be quite offensive.

Think about it in a different context: Would we ever make the claim that Mindfulness fulfills/supplements Right Action? Shouldn’t we go and find all those Buddhists working out there to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help the hopeless that all they really need to do is walk slow, eat slow, and be “present” more and they can really forget about all that Right Action stuff… I mean, that takes a lot of effort and work anyway, right? And who wants that.

Mindfulness is Meditation no more than Right Speech is Right View, or Right Intent is Right Action.

Now, Mindfulness IS great, in that it really does lead into and strengthen the rest of the practice (other 7), but. In doing so, it does not negate the need to still practice the others. If you are “mindful” then you are going to be more careful in how you speak to others; If you are “mindful” of what is going on around you in the world, you are going to eventually feel the need to act and do something to help out. Those are just a few examples, but I hope you get the idea; although, not to “diss” Mindfulness or anything, but really practicing ANY of the 7, or having an emphasis on one, should (if done properly) result in being drawn to and fulfilling the others. It is a wheel you know.

I think it is erroneous and dangerous to leave sitting Meditation out of the practice, and I do have to question what kind of Buddhism is really being practiced without it. This all came to a “head” the other day to me as I was reading through a new issue of a popular, international, Buddhist magazine; where, they featured an article on how Mindfulness and Meditation are the same thing, and how much easier it is to be “mindful” than to be bothered with all that sitting and concentrating.

The article points out that Meditation is just concentration and Mindfulness is concentrating… so really, being mindful is meditating. They then, also admit how they don’t like to do sitting meditation, that is cuts into their busy life schedule too much, and that it is too uncomfortable. However, Zen mindfulness is GREAT since they can be mindful easily. How easy? Well, they say that when they take a shower… they are mindful to turn the dial back to cold when finished, and that is Meditation. They even talk about playing pool with their friends all the time, and how they realized that it takes a lot of “concentration” to play pool… I mean, you have to focus and not get distracted by all the noises and people talking, and you have to think about your shot, and make the shot… heck, so playing pool is some deep-ass meditation! Who needs sitting meditation anyway?

Funny that with all their mindfulness they never became mindful of their time; never considering maybe waking up a bit earlier, not going out with the boys to play pool so much (if they can find the time for that but not meditating), and maybe cutting back some of the TV so they can “fit” meditation into their lives better.

You know, when you watch TV, you are concentrating on the pictures, words, AND you are sitting! So, TV meditation, oh I’m sorry, TV mindfulness, does wonders! I know people who watch TV for hours and hours at a time—I could never sit that long meditating the old-fashioned way. These guys are true masters. Have you ever seen them at work? Sometimes, they are so “deep” into their TV meditation, so single focused, that they can’t even hear you when you tell them to take the trash out, turn it down, or pick the kids up from school. I always thought this was just pathetic, but really… really, they are just deep in the Jahna’s of TV meditation. Once hitting the 4th Jahna of TV watching, all outside noises fade away, nothing exists besides you and your show, you are the show, and time seems to stop all together.

I never had this experience, but I do think I at least got the the 3rd Jahna of Video Game Playing Meditation once.

Look, just because concentration is involved in meditation, that does not mean that everything that involves concentration is meditation. Sitting is involved in mediation as well, but does that mean that all sitting is meditation? I am sitting right now, heck… my roommates have been sitting on their butts upstairs for the past 3 hours watching movies… are we meditating?

Anyway, let me wrap this up.

I love Mindfulness. I practice Zen. And, I think this modern tendency to make “mindful… fill in the blank” replace a daily meditation disciple is just stupid.

I love to meditate, but I can’t stay in that state forever. Sooner or later I have to “unplug” and enter back into the world. I have people I have to talk to, meetings, I got to eat, sleep, work or go to school. This is where Mindfulness comes into play with my Meditation. I can’t sit on my butt all day, all the time, being blissful while my responsibilities in life go undone and the world around me goes to hell. I have to unplug, and enter back into the world of sense-pleasures. In doing so, I have to now switch to Mindfulness to take what I have gained and learned through my meditation regiment with me as I move through the day. Mindfulness reminds me to keep my nose clean, not to stray from the path, not to do anything or put anything into my body that is going to take away from my practice or harm others… However, I have found that my level of mindfulness is directly in proportion to, and resulting from, my level of meditation… and not the other way around.

To be fair to those who disagree with me, I can understand why some people would give up on sitting meditation for something more appealing, and more instantly gratifying as being mindful. Why sit with your legs all folded up for hours and hours when you can just eat really slow or even practice hugging meditation? Yes, there is such a thing as Zen Hugging Meditation.

Besides, if you are of the Buddhist school that says that there is NO enlightenment, no real Nirvana, and that any and every satori experience, vision, or insight that you may think you have during sitting meditation is false; then, why even bother meditating? To what purpose? There is no enlightenment anyway so why go through all the trouble? For these people, who see the practice as good works, self discipline, and a positive philosophy of life only—there is no reason to bust their asses with meditation. That, I understand. I disagree with it, but I understand it. If that is where you are coming from, then enjoy that walk and watching flowers bloom. But! (Yes, there is a “but”) But please stop attacking and belittling sitting meditation in the process. It makes baby Buddha cry.

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I know that I have already gone over The Eightfold Path before, but I would like to cover at least one of the spokes of this Dharma Wheel a bit more in-dept—that being Right View.

Out of all 8, I am sure that we each have our favorites. Now, don’t get your meditation pants all in a bunch; I am not talking about perceiving, judging, and determining dualisms; I am talking about how, at different points in our lives, there are certain ones that we naturally gravitate to, or relate to, over others. For me, at this point in my life, it is Right View and Meditation. However, being aware that I myself am also highly transitory, I remain aware that this too is in flux and is subject to change.

Besides the fact that I like it, I also want to cover Right View a bit because I think a lot of people are not really aware of what it “is”. During various Buddhist meetings and talks on the matter of the Eightfold Path, I have experienced hearing lots of people say that they do not like or relate to Right View, but that they love Mindfulness, or Right Action, or something else. But, when I talk to them more I come to find out that they are constantly reading good Buddhist books, are listening to good dharma talks, are in book groups, study groups, etc., etc.

The fact of the matter is that they are already practicing Right View. Actually, you are practicing it Right Now. Right View is really nothing more than the intellectual pursuit of understanding, or study and cognition, of The Four Nobel Truths and The Eightfold Path. Not that I am trying to de-spiritualize the thing, but there is nothing about it to de-spiritualize in the first-place—this step (out of the Eight) it is not a “spiritual” process to begin with, it is a mental process. Right View is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It is knowledge.

If you take a look at any of your good Buddhist books, you should come to find that in some way they all at the very least address 1 of the Four Nobel Truths, or 1 element of the Eightfold Path. Odds are, that inadvertently that book, teaching, or recording, hits on several of them. So that book on Mindfulness that you are really into right now, probably is also covering topics on Meditation, Right Action, Right Speech, and, to top it all off… the intellectual process you are going through to study and understand more on the topic is, in its own way, practicing Right View.

It is actually quite hard, if not impossible, to really practice any one of the eight solely; for, they all tend to lead into and blend into one another. I know that different groups like to “specialize”, or focus, on one as their primary one; kind-of carving out a distinct flavor or niche for themselves in the Buddhist community; but, in the long-run, unless you try really, really hard to fight it, your grabbing onto that first spoke and pulling it has started that big ‘ol wheel a-turning.

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A friend of mine took some time to remind me of how there really is a place for all kinds of Buddhist teachings, styles, and philosophies; that, even though I may like the more rigid or traditional, there really is a place for it all. I do understand that what really maters is if the person is getting something out of it, and that the vehicle is leading them further along the way than they were before. I get that. I really do.

I was then posed the question, “Why do you find self-help Buddhism so annoying? Why such a strong reaction to it?” To this, I could not answer right away. Instead I promised to take some time to think about it.

After thinking about it I did come to the conclusion that I was being a bit too hard on these people, and that there are places for everything. I DO, however, still think that the psychology found in these self-help books is not actually “Buddhism” per-say, but that it is the same techniques I find in any other book. And yes, I do study psychology in college. Whether the book be Christian, New Age, Jewish, Athiest or Buddhist, they all follow the same format and then just throw in little stories of quotes from their particular model (Jesus, Buddha, and I have even seen them using Star Wars or Winnie the Pooh) to make it fit their target audience.

So I do feel this way, but I am glad that these people are getting some help. If it gets them past where they are and deeper into the practice, then I am glad for it. I guess my problem is when people simply get to this point and “park there”; thinking that this is the end-all. Some even think that anything beyond this initail point is silly, religious, old-school, and pointless.

The other day I was reading a Buddhist magazine and it had a fun little story about a bunch of Buddhist monks who went to an amusement park to have fun and ride on the roller-coasters. They too, felt as though this fun and roller-coaster riding also has “a place in the practice”, and they are right. It does.

However, you can’t take this thing that has a place in the practice and make it your practice. You cannot build an entire new sect of the practice around riding roller-coasters. Now maybe that would RULE! I mean… roller-coaster meditation!? How awesome is that? But seriously, it would not last. It would be lacking something, it could only grow you so far, and sooner or later you will not be able to go on the rides anymore? What happens when they break down? What about when the park is closed? What happens when the ride gets boring and no longer gives you that thrill? Do you have to keep on moving on to park after park, looking for a more exciting ride?

The same thing can also be said about people who make their practice ABOUT THEIR PAIN. And that is what I think alot of these insight groups are doing these days. The practice centers around hurt and pain. How to confront it, deal with it, end it, find it, talk about it, think through it, etc. Now, what happens when the pain stops? The practice stops. So what do the do? Well, they stop or they go back to the pain, or they go and find some new pain to practice around. It can only get you so far, and since the entire practice feeds off these negative energies it really has no ability to truly release you from them. There is a time when you are going to have to just let it all go. There is a point where instead of getting away from the monster, you are actually feeding it.

One book about dealing with your anger/depression? Fine. A seminar to help you think some things out? Great. But making it your entire life and your entire practice? 10 books, 20? The subject of your every talk and the point of every retreat you go to? That I disagree with. That is feeding the thing; even your attempts to fight the issue can give it more strength than it ever deserved if not done skillfully.

Anyway, anyone know where I can get involved with Theme Park Roller-Coaster Zen?

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Yesterday was quite eventful for me. I was out taking a walk downtown by the river with a friend, and along the way I ran into this guy I know from my sangha. He has just graduated High School, and has slowly began to come around to meditation less and less these days. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he is partying and experimenting with drugs. So we ran into him and his friends and he was very happy to see me, he gave me a big hig and introduced me to all his friends as “a devout Buddhist that he really looks up to”… wow, no pressure hugh? Surprisingly, his friends were happy to meet me and started asking me all kinds of questions about meditation and Buddhism; also, some questions about other eastern religions that they thought were Buddhist, but that I was able to answer anyway since I studied them all.

After a while they said that they had to go to the bar to see this band they really like perform named The Heavy. One of his friends hugged me as well and he invited me and my friend to meet them at the bar. I could not speak for my friend and me so I said that we would finish our walk and consider going to see the band as an option. We parted ways and as my friend and I walked on I told them that I wanted to go to the show. Part of the reason was the whole “living in the moment” thing, but the main reason was that it was very kind of them to invite us and who are we to think that it was beneath us to do? Also, it would really let the guy who has dropped away from the sangha some know that he is accepted, ok, and not judged.

When I was a youth pastor I did stuff like this all the time; I wasn’t “trained” to do it, in-fact… the leaders would get really mad that I did it, but my groups were always the closest-knit and the healthiest. I did it because I care about people, especially the young ones, especially the ones going through a bit of a rough time. It is just ingrained in me, part of my make-up.

We went to the show and had a blast. By the way, The Heavey is really good, and they seemed like nice people. It has been a while since I have been in a show/bar environment, but I had a good time. I left that scene when I quit drinking and drugs, and have not felt comfortable being back in a club for a while now, but this time it was ok. I think that it was because I had a good Buddhist friend with me, and that we were there for a good reason — with good intent. The guy from the sangah was so happy to see us there and we had a great time listening to the band, and that eventually led into some pretty deep talks about where he was at in life, what he is going through, and about the practice.

The night turned into us sitting outside and talking. He feels bad, like he is sinning or disapointing people, because he is experimenting with drugs and drinking. I think it (the guilt) also has something to do with his father who has some addictions of his own. I told him that he is ok, accepted, and to stop being so hard on himself; that would not get him anywhere (guilt, shame, etc.). I don’t really think there is “sin”, but that there is just skillful actions that help us in our practice, and unskillful ones. After making him feel very accepted I then added to it that, “Even though I accept all this I want you to know I would still really rather you stop; that it is not going to help you in the end; that this is all just going to be empty for a while.” Sure it is fun at first, but it ends up hollow and empty, but maybe you will figure that out after tonight, maybe it will take more time, or, maybe you are going to have to hit rock-bottom first? I don’t know, I hope it is sooner vs later, but either way I am your friend.

After the show was over I got invited to go with all the kids to some after party at one of their houses. I decided to go.

Everyone there as very nice to me, and were all very high. It winds up that the house was the home of a local pot and E dealer, and just about everyone there was rolling. The night started with people playing music on guitars, sing-alongs by a fire, and some really deep talks about meditation and Buddhism. Nobody had a bad reaction to it, and I even got to show some people how to sit and explain somethings in-depth. After a while though the drugs degraded the party to a bunch of zombie-kids, grinding their teeth, zoning out, and desperate for water.

The best talk I had with them was about IF there was a valid place for drugs in meditation.

I told them that there are many cultures and religions (especially older ones like in native cultures, shamans, pagans, etc.) drugs do sometimes come into play for certain “satori” experiences. I then described that it basically boils down to the thought that there is body, mind and spirit, and that there is a belief that for some reason the flesh-body is imprisoning the spirit and these drugs will help set it free… for a moment. I then said that the same train of thought applies to practices where people are trying to starve themselves, fast, hurt their bodies, or deny themselves pleasures… all in an attempt to beat the flesh down so the spirit can rise above.

This though, is not Buddhism. Are some of the experiences these people are having legitimate? Maybe. Probably. Who am I to say they are not, and how did so many different cultures come up with similar ideas if there was not some element of truth to it? Does this make the practice a good one though? I don’t personally think so.

I ended the discussion with bringing it back to the life of the Buddha, and also a bit of Dogen. I said that the Buddha tried many different things in his search for enlightenment, some even the things mentioned above, and that he did come to certain “experiences” of awakening during these things. But he was always disappointed in the fact that as soon as the fasting, starving, punishment, denials or in their case… the drugs were over, that the experience was over with it. Disappointed that there was nothing to take with him after that “great moment” had ended that was going to follow him through his daily life and make him a better person on a day-to-day basis in the real world. It was because of that he searched further and found the Middle Way. Dogen had a very similar experience/want out of his practice as well.

I mentioned that a consistent, daily, meditation practice is like having a good marriage. Sure sometimes it may get to be a bit dull or boring; sometimes it is hard, but the long lasting benefits of security and love far-outlast everything else you could find in a temporary romance. Maybe it is fun to run off to a bar and hook-up with some random person you don’t even know and have that one-night-stand; maybe you can have a great time with a hooker, but these things, as fun as they are, will never compare to the long-lasting benefits you will find in a committed relationship. They also will cause you harm after a while, while the marriage will not. So basically, the drug experience may be valid, but it is the one night stand or the hooker, and a daily meditation practice is the marriage that will get you through and actually fill that void instead of causing more of them.

Oh well, that was my night. I was invited to come back tonight for one of their birthday parties and I think that I am going to. Man, I wish someone would hire me to the a Buddhist youth pastor:)

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Am I wrong about what the Bodhisattva Vow is? Honestly, I can’t tell, because the answer changes from person to person, and each thing I read differs too much.

The basic answer that I get is that a bodhisattva is simply as person who has gained (or is seeking) enlightenment for the benefit of others–to help others. Some take a vow to remind themselves that it is for others over themselves, and that they will strive the rest of their lives (not rest) until all others reach the end of suffering as well. But, what does this mean? Does it mean that they themselves never reach Nirvana? That they die without reaching their own end to suffering? Does it mean that they still must be reborn? Or, like the Buddha, does it mean that they don’t just mentally “check-out” in some blissful state of Nirvana… sitting around in a cave contemplating their belly-button in bliss while the rest of the world is in pain? That they opt not to dwell in Nirvana, but to still function and go about daily lives teaching and helping people? Like the Buddha, do they still get to enter into this final bliss on their death?

I cannot get a straight answer, so I ask you all who may read this to let me know what you know on the subject. I would like to know if I am right or wrong on my latest ideas on the matter, which are clearly coming from a Theravada source and may be skewed.

Still though, if I am wrong about the reincarnation part, and the vow is not null without it… then again, isn’t it just a vow to not check-out and help people? If that is all that it is, then what really sets the vow apart from what the Theravada were already vowing to do in the first place as well? They already had a vow and coined the term bodhisattva as one who is enlightened to help others.

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Reincarnation is on my mind a lot these days; following a weekend retreat with Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and having studied various writings of Dogen, and the Soto Zen sect; where it is quite obvious that in traditional Zen a faith in reincarnation was considered an essential, fundamental belief of their Zen practice. Now, I can understand why it would mean something to the Theravada, but it took me a while to relate the necessity of the belief to the Mahayana.

One thing that struck me was the whole point behind the Bodhisattva Vow. I did my research, and despite whatever your modern-day Zen teacher may tell you, the whole vow centers around reincarnation. In fact, the vow is pointless without it.

Both the Theravada and the Mahayana believe in Right Action, compassion, kindness… your general do-gooding. To the Theravada it was just expected—it is expected that as a Buddhist, monk, enlightened being, you will become more compassionate towards others. The Mahayana took the whole thing a step further and stated that they were going to take a vow that although they will reach enlightenment, they will not let themselves reach the point where they become Non-Returners. Non-Returning being the point where if they die they will reach Nirvana, instead of continuing in the cycle of rebirth. The goal is to purposefully deny Nirvana (although enlightened) so that they may be reborn as a human being (or bodhisattva) again and again, in order to help others find the Way as well.

Cool concept. I can understand it. However, it makes no sense to take such a vow if you are a modern-day Mahayanan who shuns the concept of reincarnation. I cannot think of one Zen practitioner that I know, or have met, who believes in reincarnation, but some of them have taken the vow, and others believe in it—that it puts them above the Theravada. I also know some Zen monks and priests who say that they do not believe in reincarnation either, but they flaunt the vow.

Think about it though.

The whole point of the vow is that even though you hit enlightenment you vow to not become a Non-Returner (as in, this being your last life), but IF you do not believe in reincarnation, then are you not a Non-Returner anyway? This life being your last (and only life). It’s a moot point.

If there is no reincarnation then this is your last life, you ARE a Non-Returner anyway, so a vow to deny yourself rebirth is pointless. And if you are denying yourself some certain level of enlightenment to fulfill the vow, but do not believe in reincarnation anyway, then it was all for nothing.

Tonight I had the chance to bring this up to some elders in the Zen community and they said that they cannot deny that this was the initial purpose of the vow. They then added though, that although they do not believe in reincarnation, they feel that the vow is just a really good metaphor, or reminder that they have to be loving, kind, compassionate, and put the needs of others above themselves.

I asked them though, “So to boil it down some… you are all basically promising to be really, really, cool to people?” That is what the vow means to you now?

Look, I don’t know where I am going with this, but personally… if there was such a thing as full-enlightenment in my reach I would like to experience that. If the only thing stopping me from doing so was some vow concerning reincarnation, and I don’t believe in reincarnation, then why would that stop me either?

It is obvious that reincarnation is a fundamental to both traditions, and to say otherwise is just self-denial. If we are going to do away with it, in our Westernization of the practice, then fine… but then we should do away with all of it… vows included.

On the other hand, I am not saying that there is no reincarnation. I don’t know. I am undecided. I do know though that what we seem to be preaching these days is pretty darn inconsistent. I could drive a bus through some of these holes.

Today a Mahayana told me that what seperated them from the Theravada was the Bodhisattva vow, but then that they did not believe in reincarnation anway–then admitting that really it was just a vow reminding them to be good to people. Do we really believe that nowhere in the 43 volumes of the Pail Canon do they have verses telling them to be nice to people? Really? Come on. Of course they do.

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