Saturday, April 24, 2010

Zen, The Four Holy Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path

Zen, The Four Holy Truths, and the Eightfold Path
(Inspired by Will Simpson's comment)
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I have mentioned before that I love the Avatamsaka sutra’s expression. In one section of the sutra, Manjushri Bodhisattva expounds upon The Four Holy Truths:
The Holy Truth of Suffering
The Holy Truth of the Accumulation of Suffering
The Holy Truth of the Extinction of Suffering
The Holy Truth of the Way Leading to the Extinction of Suffering


Manjushri explains:

"The Four Holy Truths can be called by countless other names in other worlds throughout the ten directions."

The sutra goes on to evoke an almost dreamlike state in the reader by presenting dozens of ‘other names’ for the Four Holy Truths.

Sometimes it may seem as if the Zen records give these basic Buddhist doctrines less attention than they deserve. However, upon closer consideration one might notice that the Four Holy Truths are all the Zen records do deal with. For example:
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The Holy Truth of Suffering
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Tendo Nyojo (Dogen's teacher) said:

The matter of life and death is a great one; impermanence is swift… Tonight, tomorrow, one may meet any kind of death; one may suffer any kind of illness… it is foolish not to carry out the Way of Buddha, instead of passing the time in vain by lying down and sleeping.
(Quoted by Dogen) Shobogenzo-Zuimonki, 3:3 ( Thomas Cleary)
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Dogen seems to agree with his teacher:

If you would maintain this mind, first you must contemplate impermanence. A lifetime is like a dream; time passes swiftly by. Dewlike life rapidly vanishes. Since time has never waited for anyone, as long as you are alive for the time being, you should think of being good to others, even in respect to the slightest matters, in accordance with the will of the Buddhas.
Dogen (Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary)
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Also in the Soto tradition there is Tozan’s dialogue with a monk:

A monk asked of Tozan: A snake is swallowing a frog. Which is right, to save it or not?
Tozan replied: If you save it, you do not see with both eyes. If you do not save it, your body has no shadow.
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Similar to this dialogue (as many koan students will recall) is the classic koan cited in case 46 of the Blue Cliff Record:

Kyosei asked a monk, “What is that sound outside?”
The monk said, “That is the sound of raindrops.”
Kyosei said, “People live in a topsy-turvy world. They lose themselves in delusion about themselves and only pursue [outside] objects.”
The monk said,“What about you, Master?”
Kyosei said, “I was on the brink of losing myself in such delusions about myself.”
The monk said, “What do you mean, ‘on the brink of losing myself in such delusions about myself’?”
Kyosei said, “To break through [into the world of Essence] may be easy. But to express fully the bare substance is difficult.”
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The Holy Truth of the Accumulation of Suffering
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Huang-Po explains the details of this Truth in one instance thus:

The term unity refers to a homogeneous spiritual brilliance which separates into six harmoniously blended ‘elements’. The homogeneously blended ‘elements’ are the six sense organs. These six sense organs become severally united whit objects that defile them—the eyes with form, the ear with sound, the nose with smell, the tongue with taste, the body with touch, and the thinking mind with entities. Between these organs and their objects arise the six sensory perceptions, making eighteen sense-realms in all. If you understand that these eighteen realms have no objective existence, you will bind the six harmoniously blended ‘elements’ into a single spiritual brilliance—a single spiritual which is the One Mind. All students of the Way know this, but cannot avoid forming concepts of ‘a single spiritual brilliance’ and ‘the six harmoniously blended elements’. Accordingly they are chained to entities and fail to achieve a tacit understanding of original Mind.
The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, John Blofeld
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Huang-Po is even more concise in Case 11 of the Blue Cliff Record:

Huang-Po, instructing the assembly, said, “You are all drinkers of brewer’s lees (dregs). If you continue to go on your Way like this, when will you meet today? Don’t you know that in the whole Tang empire there is no Zen master?”
A monk came forward and said, ”What about the fact that in various places there are people who teach students and direct assemblies?”
Huang-Po said, “I did not say that there is no Zen; only that there is no Zen master.”
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Yuanwu offers some profound, and sometimes very subtle commentary on the koans in the Blue Cliff Record concerning the second Holy Truth (including this one of Huang-Po). Also, as Thomas Cleary has so compassionately shared, Yuanwu’s letters can sometimes be even more straightforward on of this Truth:

People are unable to experience this true essence simply because they are hemmed in by emotional consciousness and separated from it by hearing and seeing, and because they falsely accept the perceived reflections of objects for mind itself and the gross physical elements as the real body.
Zen Letters, Thomas Cleary
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This seems to harmonize beautifully with one of the very earliest records of Zen on this Truth:

Dharma Master Chih saw Dharma Master Yuan on the street of butchers and asked: “Do you see the butchers slaughtering the sheep?”
Dharma Master Yuan said: “My eyes are not blind. How could I not see them?”
Dharma Master Chih said: “Master Yuan, you are saying you see it!”
Master Yuan said: “You are seeing it on top of seeing it!”
The Bodhidharma Anthology, Jeffrey L. Broughton
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Wow! Yes…
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The Holy Truth of the Extinction of Suffering
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The revered Sixth Ancestor or Zen in China, having realized this Holy Truth upon hearing the Diamond Sutra recited, shared the good news about it for the rest of his life. For example:

Learned Audience, the wisdom of enlightenment [bodhiprajna] is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which out mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our own essence of mind. You should know that so far as buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it.
The Platform Sutra of Huineng (Price and Wong)
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This Truth, according to the Japanese Zen master, Bassui, is what is meant by religious practice:

This mind is nothing other than Buddha nature. To see this nature is what is meant by religious practice. When you realize your Buddha nature, wrong relationships will instantly disappear, words will be of no concern, the dust of the dharma will not stain you. This is what is called Zen.
Mud and Water, Arthur Braverman
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Case 10 of the Mumonkan relates how Seizei was shown the Truth about Extinction of Suffering:

Seizei said to Sozan, “Seizei is utterly destitude. Will you give him support?”
Sozan called out, “Seizei!”
Seizei responded, “Yes, sir!”
Sozan said, “You have finished three cups of the finest wine in China, and still you say you have not yet moistened your lips!”
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In one of my favorite cases, a monk that was traveling to meet Nansen, met the master cutting weeds with a sickle along the road. He asked about the way to Nansen, and was shown the WAY:

Not knowing it was Nansen, the monk asked, “What is the way to Nansen?”
Nansen raised the sickle, saying, “I bought this sickle for thirty cents.”
The monk said, “I did not ask about the sickle, I asked the way to Nansen.”
Nansen answered, “I use it to full enjoyment.”
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Haha! Even if he had never laid his hands on the cat, Nansen would still have been recognized as a master cutter.
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Whenever we speak of Nansen it is hard not to bring up Joshu. Once, he asked Nansen about the WAY and he too go cut clear through:

Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?”
Nansen said, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”
Joshu asked, “Should I direct myself toward it?”
Nansen said, “If you direct yourself toward it, you separate yourself from it.”
Joshu asked, “How can I know it if I do not direct myself toward it?”
Nansen said, “The Way has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is blankness. When you truly reach the Way beyond doubt, it is as vast and boundless as space. How can it be talked about as knowing or not knowing?”
With these words, Joshu came to great realization.
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Like Dogen, when Joshu “completed the task of a lifetime,” dropping mind and body and awakening to great realization, he understood that was only the beginning of authentic Zen practice-realization. Studying with Nansen for 20 years more, then sought out wise masters for another 20 years, deepening and refining his practice before settling down to teach at age 80!
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The Holy Truth of the Way Leading to the Extinction of Suffering
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The fourth holy truth is actualized by means of the Noble (or Holy) Eightfold Path. The “Eight” of the “Eightfold Path” are:

1. Right View 2. Right Intention 3. Right Speech 4. Right Action 5. Right Livelihood 6. Right Effort 7. Right Mindfulness 8. Right Concentration
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In the classic literature, these eight are sometimes grouped into three sub-groups: Wisdom, Ethical Conduct, and Mental Development.
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Wisdom
1. Right View 2. Right Intention
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Joshu illustrates Wisdom in case 2 of the Blue Cliff Record by means of a classic Zen text (attributed to the third ancestor of Zen in China, Sosan): The first line reads, “The supreme Way is not difficult; it simply avoids picking and choosing. When both love and hate are absent, all is complete clarity.”
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Joshu, instructing the assembly, said, “The supreme Way is not difficult; simply avoid picking and choosing. If a word is spoken, that is ‘picking and choosing’ and this is ‘clarity.’ This old monk [Joshu] does not dwell in clarity. Can you monks go along with this or not?”
At that time a monk asked, “You say you do not dwell in clarity. If so, where do you dwell?” Joshu said, “I don’t know, either.”
The monk said, “If you don’t know, how can you say that you don’t dwell in clarity?”
Joshu said, “Asking the question is enough, make your bows and withdraw.”
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Ethical Conduct
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3. Right Speech 4. Right Action 5. Right Livelihood
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Again, the Blue Cliff Record offers a wonderful demonstration. This time from case 79:
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A monk asked Tosu, “It is said, ‘All sounds are the voice of the Buddha.’ Is it true or not?”
Tosu said, “It is true.”
The monk said, “What about farts and the sounds of pissing?”
Thereupon, Tosu hit him.
He asked again, “It is said, ‘Rough words and gentle phrases return to the first principle.’ Is this true or not?”
Tosu said, “It is true.”
The monk said, “Then, may I call you a donkey?”
Thereupon, Tosu hit him.
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Mental Development
6. Right Effort 7. Right Mindfulness 8. Right Concentration
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Zen has many wonderful examples of this. The Mumonkan, case 12, is one of the greatest:

Zuigan called to himself every day, “Master!” and answered, “Yes, sir!”
Then he would say, “Be wide awake!” and answer, “Yes, sir!”
“Henceforward, never be deceived by others!” “No, I won’t!”
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It is interesting to consider what Dogen might think about the present state of Zen Buddhism. On the one hand, it seems to me that the chaotic world of Dogen’s Japan had much in common with modern times, and therefore his instructions might not differ greatly if they had been expressed now rather than in the 13 century. On the other hand, if Dogen (and all the other Buddhas and ancestors) is right—and so far I have him to be completely reliable—then he is, at this very instance, giving expression to his thoughts about the present state of Zen Buddhism.
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What is he saying? Listen, listen! Be wide awake! Yes! Don’t be deceived by others! No!
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Peace,
Ted Biringer

2 comments:

Will Simpson said...

Thanks Ted. Gassho.

Suffering, accumulation, extinction and the way.

Zuigan's practice inspires. Listen, listen! Be wide awake! Yes! Don’t be deceived by others! No! Watch out for bonpu Zen & buji Zen.

Currently reading Anzan Hoshin's The Eightfold Path http://tinyurl.com/eightfoldpath. I'm composting his translation of "sama" as complete instead of right or true. Feels expansive and inclusive.

Listen, listen! Be wide awake! Yes! Don’t be deceived by others! No! This is a masterful practice example of Zen.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Will,

Thank you for your comments.
Also for the 'url' - I will check it out.

Three Full Bows.

Ted