Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Words of old (not so dead) Zen worthies

Although Dogen was well versed in the sutras and refers to them often (especially the Lotus Sutra), it seems he regarded the Zen records as the preeminent expressions of enlightenment. At least this seems to be indicated by the evidence of his records; in his constant reverence for the "words of the ancestors" throughout his work, and moreso by the fact that his citations of the Zen records far outnumber his citations of all the sutras put together. His regard for the Zen records ran so high that in Shobogenzo, Temborin, he even asserted that "the words of an ancestor" could cause the words of a fraudulent or ‘spurious’ sutra to be authentic:

"As to my intention in saying so, there are those who say that the ten-fascicle Shurangama Scripture is a spurious scripture, whereas others say that it is a genuine Scripture: both views have persisted from long in the past down to our very day. There are older translations and there are newer translations, but the one considered spurious is the doubtful translation made during the Chinese Shenlung era (705-706). Be that as it may, the Venerable Abbot Goso Hōen, the Venerable Abbot Busshō Hōtai, and my late Master, the Old Buddha of Tendō, have just now recommended this verse. So, this verse has already been set in motion by the Dharma Wheel of the Buddhas and Ancestors; it is the turning of Their Dharma Wheel. As a result, this verse has already set Them in motion; it has already given voice to Them. Because it is set in motion by Them and sets Them in motion, even were the Scripture a spurious one, if They continue to offer its turning, then it is a genuine Scripture of the Buddhas and Ancestors, as well as the Dharma Wheel intimately associated with Them."
Shobogenzo, Tembōrin
, Hubert Nearman

Makes me wonder if I should give the words of those old (not so dead) Zen worthies a little more attention...

Gassho,
Ted Biringer

14 comments:

Mike H said...

Ted,

if you gave them any more attention you'd have to marry them!

Barry said...

Thanks for posting this, Ted. Dogen's teaching puzzles me - always a good thing.

The earliest-known copy of the Shurangama Sutra dates to around 700 CE, so it's extremely unlikely that it conveys original teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.

But Dogen seems OK with this fact, because other teachers have accepted it. This reminds me of Tony Blair saying that he supported the Iraq war because his trusted friend, George Bush, said that the war was justified.

That kind of methodology seems quite different from an approach which looks at the text itself and says: "I looked into this spurious document and - you know what? - it contains valuable wisdom, no matter who wrote it."

Personally, I don't know what to make of this. I'm puzzled by reverence extended to questionable doctrines, people, assertions, texts, and the like.

Right now all I know is that the screen is white and the type is black. That's my kinda sutra!

Barry

Ted Biringer said...

Hello mike,

Thanks for the comment. Good to hear you.

Marry them? It is even worse than that, I have replaced my heart and liver with them! I am now in the process of engraving them upon my bones!

Gads!

Peace,

Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Barry,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I agree that this can be a tricky area. First, I should point out that in Shobogenzo, Tembōrin, from where this quote comes, Dogen goes on to examine the question more fully and offers a clear outline of his reasoning. Also of interest along these lines, in Shobogenzo, Shisho, Dogen addresses the issue in a fascinating dialogue describing how the discrepancies within various ‘transmission’ certificates can be reconciled within the ‘spirit’ of the Dharma, rather than the ‘letter’ of the Dharma.

I think this is one of the hallmarks of genuine Zen masters. They seem to often attribute a certain amount of insignificance to the ‘historic’ or ‘literal’ meanings, compared to the reality which the teachings were intended to transmit.

For example, Yuanwu, the compiler of the classic Zen text, The Blue Cliff Record, offers a good example of how authentic masters handle discrepancies between "fact" and "truth" in Zen teachings. In the first case of the Blue Cliff Record, Yuanwu notices just such a discrepancy:

"According to tradition, Master Chih died in the year 514, while Bodhidharma came to Liang in 520; since there is a seven year discrepancy, why is it said that the two met? This must be a mistake in the tradition. As to what is recorded in tradition, I will not discuss the matter now. All that’s important is to understand the gist of the matter."
(Yuanwu, Blue Cliff Record Case 1, Cleary & Cleary)

Yuanwu lived 1063-1135. I do not find it to strange that one hundred years later, Dogen made a similar conclusions in regard to Shurangama Sutra, and regarding the doctrine of Dharma-transmission, as well as others.

To me, it seems that Zen masters would be willing to go to just about any length to awaken people, regardless of literary rules (or any other kind of rule). As Paichang put it:

True words are those that actually cure sickness; if the cure man-ages to heal, then all are true words. If they can't effectively cure sickness, all are false words.

True words are false words when they give rise to views. False words are true words when they cut off the delusions of sentient beings. Because disease is unreal, there is only unreal medicine to cure it.
The Sayings and Doings of Pai-Chang, Thomas Cleary

Thanks again!

Peace,
Ted Biringer

Barry said...

Hi Ted,
Thank you for your response...its clarity and thoughtfulness.

And I do very much agree: A teacher's responsibility is to "go to just about any length to awaken people."

Nanchuan killed a cat. Matsu broke Paichang's nose (well, tweaked it hard, anyway). Whatever it takes.

Students also have a responsibility, I believe, to stay awake to the teaching offered by a teacher. No teacher is clear all of the time. Everyone makes mistakes.

Teachers help us. We help teachers. That's the human way of relationship.

Thanks for your great blog!
Barry

Mike H said...

Hi Ted,

I am now in the process of engraving them upon my bones!

I'm sorry to hear that.

I was rather hoping that you'd vomit them out. I'd quite like to see a healthy Ted.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Barry,

Thank you for your comments, and your kind words.

You make an excellent point in regard to the responsibilities of the student. That students have certain obligations is something that easy to overlook.

Peace,

Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Mike,

Thanks for the comments.

Maybe one day I will be able to vomit up a word or two--but before they have been engraved, I am afraid they would worthless.

If you think I am unhealthy now you should have seen what I was like before having my liver and heart transplanted (with the Dharma). As that transplant (which was taken by following the advice of Dogen) has vastly improved the 'quality of my problems'--at least from my perspective--I trust his advice about engraving my bones with words of Buddhas and Ancestors, as for example:

A former Buddha once said, “If you would avoid incurring unrelenting, hellish karma, do not malign the Tathagata’s Wheel of the True Teaching.” You should engrave these words on your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow; you should engrave them on the outer circumstances and inner conditions of your body and mind; you should engrave them on what is immaterial; you should engrave them on what is material.
Shobogenzo, Sansuikyō (Hubert Nearman)

and:

We should delight in the fact that there have so many who were avid for the Way. We would do well to engrave these words of Goso on our hearts and to impress them on our bodies.
Shobogenzo, Gyōji (Hubert Nearman)

While I admit I will have to wait and see if this is truly sound advice, so far he has not led me astray...

Peace brother. It really is good to hear you. I hope all is crackling and poppin' on you ride through this wonderful (and often painful) opera...

Gassho,

Ted Biringer

Mike H said...

Gasho Ted

I thought that you'd made a reference to one of the many texts that I was unaware of.

I thought it had a positive interpretation but I thought I'd check ;-)

Even amongst the necessary tattooing process it would be nice to hear ted speak in his own words from time to time.

How else will you learn to speak unless you start with "M.... Mu.... Mummeee" and practice?

...

As for my opera, well people wander in and out of the stage. Some sing something for a while and then move on. I look for a plot but there doesn't seem to be one.

I work, I eat, I don't get laid, I go to bed. Life continues and it's one hell of a ride.

Take Care,

Mike

Uku said...

Hi Ted,

it's always pleasure to read your posts. Your devotion is respectable. Like Dogen Zenji wrote in Shobogenzo (essay Raihai Tokuzui, translated by Francis Dojun Cook): "Acquiring the essence of the Dharma and transmitting it necessarily depends on sincerity and faith. Sincerity and faith are not things that come from outside or inside; they are only acquired by valuing the Dharma and transforming oneself completely."

All the best, Ted! Take care!

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Mike,

Thanks for the comments.

I am glad to hear that the opera is a hell of a ride! Me too! Weeee!!!!

As for more posts "in my own words", I will try (and on the defensive side--there are a lot of posts here in my own words--okay, back to undefensive) to put some more of my own in--as boring and unenlightened as they are.

Again, good to hear you.

Peace,

Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello uku,

Thank you for your kind words, and the great quote.

I think studying Dogen is like a definition of zazen I heard once:

"The great thing about zazen is that we get to do it whether we want to or not."

Ha!

Thanks again.

Peace,

Ted Biringer

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Ted Biringer said...

Hello Tessa,

Thank you for your comment.

I am happy to hear you have been enjoying the site.

Peace,
Ted Biringer

Author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing