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arkasis in zazen_practice

Zazen without zazen

 I have not read Brad Warner's latest book, but only heard of it second-hand. I do remember reading Hardcore Zen, and thinking that it was lacking some substance. At the time, Warner liked to sum up his life and experience and frame it in terms of his current status as a Dharma Heir, whatever that means anymore. I went to the source after that and read Nishijima's books, including the Real Dragon one, and ultimately sold it for $3 at a local book store. 
Nishijima's approach is highly intellectual in nature, and aims to understand the Shobogenzo. In my opinion, the Shobogenzo reads like any other Zen writing in that it is not a compendium of 'Zen knowledge', but a means to point to the manifest nature of the human mind. True, Shobogenzo, which one can read excellent translations of at a site called the Soto Zen Text Project, is a compendium of Zen lore. However, this is not so much knowledge of Zen as it is a history or map of the Zen experience, which Dogen invites us all to experience in seated zazen in his Zazengi
So I have not been able to sit formal zazen for a week or so due to circumstances, and have found the practice of what Hakuin Zenji called 'the continual spirit of zazen' to be most helpful. Essentially, the idea behind it is to let the mind sit zazen while interacting with the world. The principal Way here can be found in the 6th Patriarch's Platform Sutra, when he speaks of Prajna. To have an unperturbed mind, while reacting benevolently and in a focused manner to one's Karma---this is called t'so-ch'an by Huineng, for whom as I recall, seated zazen was not a means of Enlightenment. However, Huineng is the subject of one of Dogen's Shobogenzo essays, Old Buddha

I would recommend anyone interested take a look at the Soto Zen Text Project, read Dogen there for free, and reflect on Warner's apparent need to manifest his 'Punk Rock Zen' via media and teaching appearances, as someone who 'understands Dogen Zenji'.
I realize this community has seen Brad Warner as a kind of hero, but in the interests of debunking hero worship in the tradition of Zen scepticism, I offer this as a thought to ponder, or rail against, or agree with. I just don't want to see this community die out, because zazen is truly beneficial, in my opinion.


AH, but the community might not be that beneficial. Now, if we has someone who had Dharma Transmission, maybe that would help! Dogen sure thought such a thing is important, you know, face to face transmission.

If you look to any teacher, any living one, to guide you, you'll find that they're humans. You would have found that Gautama was a human too, I've no doubt. Would you be disappointed and find nothing to learn from them in your bitterness, or just learn from them as particularly rich human veins to mine? I try to do the latter, though I understand the former all too well.
You'll find no bitterness here, just curiosity. I think the community is beneficial, and it was a good idea to start it to begin with. Dharma Transmission is a phrase, nothing more. Dogen, I think, believed in it because at the time, it was important to the authenticity of his endeavour in bringing Buddhism to Japan. There is, I think, such a thing as the 'meeting of the Enlightened Minds', but this may not be carried to all people who claim to have 'Dharma Transmission'. As Thomas Cleary notes in the introduction to his translation of the Soto book of koan, the Denkoroku, there is great doubt as to whether Dharma Transmission has survived to the present day in an authentic form. However, the benefits of zazen are manifest to all who wish to enjoy them, and stick it out when practice becomes difficult. And wasn't this, after all, Dogen's intent in his Fukanzazengi and Bendowa? Please correct me, but isn't this the intention also of this community?
Authentic Dharma Transmission, I believe according to Dogen, is said to happen in three parts. The first is the meeting of enlightened minds you're talking about (I think) where a teacher recognizes a student. The second, the sangha itself recognizes that you have something to teach that's worth learning, and begins learning from your example. The third is when you have a meeting of enlightened minds again with a student of your own. So, authentic transmission is reconfirmed not just by a teacher, but IN the teacher by their own students and dharma descendents.

So, a piece of paper in itself isn't authentic transmission, but a signpost, a beginning of what could be an authentic transmission happening, the way I understand it. Dogen himself was very moved, however, in seeing the actual dharma transmission documents in China, which brought him to the understanding of lineage that he propigated in Japan. I think that today, formal transmission is still important as a way of tracing the passing on of traditions that have worked for others in the past.

That doesn't mean that we can't practice Zazen without a formal relationship with a teacher. After all, in following Dogen in his Bendowa or Fukanzazengi, we are still trying to learn from a teacher who has been recognized in the Dharma lineage! Face to face transmission shouldn't be discounted, though, as a living "oral tradition" still carrying on today.

Have you read the Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Head Cook)? It talks a lot about carrying the spirit of practice into work. Work in supporting the Sangha, supporting the practice of Zazen within the Sangha, by mindfully supporting the well-being of fellow monks. I think carrying this kind of mind into any endeavour helps in my own practice of Zazen: Zazen "gets up and walks around." But I find I fade from that when I don't practice Zazen itself for too long.
Oh, a good point to stress, maybe, when talking about transmission, is that when a teacher recognizes a student, right at that point, face to face, the student must also recognize the teacher: Buddha meets Buddha, face to face, or there is no transmission at all. It stretches back to Shakyamuni whether or not the line is what historians might call "real" or not.

Heck, Kapleau himself was never formally recognized by a teacher. That doesn't mean authentic transmission didn't creep in, or won't creep in, to his line anyway, in a very real way, historically accurate or not.

May 2008

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