Monday, September 01, 2003

Buddhism question: redux

I'd answered an email from Zsolt previously.

Zsolt writes back (email slightly edited here):

I can't do anything else, but do what Hui-neng did to Shen-hsiu, answer.

Katagiri-roshi wrote a book titled, "You Have to Say SOMETHING!" Yes, we have to answer. Hui-neng did that. Silence is usually a cop-out. I certainly don't blame Hui-neng for crafting such an intelligent response.

I don't know, if there's a scale to elightenment, but I view his response as pretty enlightened, exactly why you say he's not so enlightened.

Oh, I'm sure he was enlightened-- if the incident really occurred. A good book that devotes some space to the subject is Ray Grigg's "The Tao of Zen." Grigg (citing scholars) contends that Hui-neng may actually have existed, but his life has been so thoroughly fictionalized that we don't really know anything about it, including whether an unlettered worker could really have crafted a poetic response.

To me, there's no "absolute answer" to all the questions, but some answers are considered enlightened relative to their questions. So, one of the meanings of this story is exactly this.

I agree: no absolute answers.

One of the interesting things about commentaries on basic texts (such as koan and mondo) is that many commentators use the "So-and-So wasn't really enlightened" or "So-and-So made a big mistake in speaking thus" technique. It's not necessarily a put-down, especially if the commentator is himself/herself a Zen practitioner. I was going for something in that spirit. It's wise to remember that we shouldn't attach to words-- constant advice from the living masters. You often read or hear stuff like this in Zen:

Master B: Who are you?
Student: I was sent to you from Master A, under whom I've been studying for 10 years.
Master B: Master A's Zen is garbage. Throw it out.

Master B isn't necessarily dumping on Master A when he does this. Master A and Master B both have, as their central concern, moving the student (or, rather, inspiring the student to move) beyond language, teaching, concepts, etc. This is why, in Zen, it's sometimes important to kick the shins of the elders. Heh.

I was aware of this story, in fact, my intention was to remind you about it. And remind you about a story with a similar interpretation (by me, of course), the one with the two monks arguing about the waving flag, and Hui-neng telling them, that only their mind is moving.

Yes, a shortie but a goodie. I stand reminded.

I used to believe in Buddhism for 2-3 years, I really enjoyed these funny (and sometimes really thought-provoking) stories. Now, I think I'm living my way, but usually on the road laid out by others.

I myself am no Buddhism expert; I'm a Christian. But Buddhism is my field of study; my specific interest is Korean Zen. I hope to do doctoral work in this area, but learning Korean is proving awfully difficult, despite the fact that I have a Korean mom with whom I (very) occasionally practice when I'm back in the States.

Good fortune to you! I'll submit, though, that one doesn't "believe in Buddhism," because Buddhism at heart isn't about beliefs the way many other religions are. Truth is what you discover through assiduous practice; as Zen Master Seung Sahn says: BOOM! Your experience!

Please accept my apologies for my mistakes in my English, I'm far from a native speaker (I live in Eastern Europe).

Your prose is great! I knew a Romanian woman who spoke absolutely perfect, beautiful French (though I guess that's not surprising, given how many Romanians speak fluent French), so I don't think living in Eastern Europe is any barrier to having a wonderful command of English.



PS: Thanks for the birthday wishes.

PPS: Also, many thanks to the Maximum Leader for his birthday wishes-- and this is a red-letter day, because this is Mike's very first GUEST BLOG! WOO-HOO! Here's hoping for more.

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