The Zen Koan - parallels, practices that cover?

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by Pineal, Nov 11, 2011.

  1. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

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    Uh...not so much, sorry Sig.

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    I guess I must assume that you consider me an illegitimate Buddhist

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    I'll make a note.

    Buddhism can be considered a life philosophy OR a religion depending on the exact nature of the Buddhism one practices. Like any other school of human thought, Buddhism ranges from conservative semi - Hindu religious practice replete with mantras, reincarnation, the wheel of the Mandala and hierarchies of spiritual purity on the one hand to a practical day-to-day way of life totally devoid of spirits, karma, gods and the like on the other.

    I am a Buddhist, my practice is NOT religious. I have studied koans for decades as well. They have been distilled for centuries with the intention of teaching through contemplation for the betterment of the student. While they can be helpful, they are not really even necessary, as life gives us koans to consider on an ongoing basis. My presence here and my contribution to this thread are a koan of sorts. If you consider what I have said and profit from it in some manner, then the goal of a koan has been achieved and you will have learned.

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    Yes, the (relatively secular) Jesus Schools taught with parables that are very similar to koans. When the Jesus Schools had to join up with the Christ Cult in order to survive, the blend of the two sort - of messed that aspect of the teachings up. The Qumran scrolls retain that koan - ish flavour though.

    Example of a traditional koan:

    2 monks were on a journey when they came to a river. The bridge had been washed away, so the only way to cross was to go through the water.

    A woman was standing at the bank looking across with consternation, wondering how she was going to cross. The elder monk offered to carry her to the other side on his shoulders. She accepted his offer and he carried her across, setting her down on the far side safe and dry.

    The monks continued along their way, but the younger monk was very upset and let the senior monk know this.

    "How could you not only touch a woman, but carry her across the river when you know full well that we monks are not allowed to do such things?" he asked.

    "I put her down when I reached the far side of the river, you are still carrying her" responded the senior monk.

    Another example - one of my favourites:

    A monk was trying to cross a river, walking along the bank looking for a bridge but finding none. He saw another monk across the river and called to him "How can I get to the other side?".

    After a moments thought the other monk called back "You are on the other side!"
     
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  3. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

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    Note: if this were a formal Buddhist practice, I would give you one of these koans to read, memorize and contemplate. You would then come back to me and tell me everything that you had found within the koan. Each of these little stories contains a significant volume of lesson material with solid real world application for the student. As in many aspects of life, the questions are more important than the answers.
     
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  5. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    I was a Zen Buddhist for many years, and the operative element is a mental double bind. It's not very useful to get into the exact method and why it works, but it basically tells you to find something that cannot be found. In Buddhism, it's the self. But Buddhists don't have a monopoly on the depths of the human brain, which could be accessed in other traditions as well. This is probably why ZB doesn't exclude other traditions. I think seeking for God is the same. There is no God to be found, and when He is perceived as being found, what you have really done is eliminate the barriers on accessing the mind.

    The Koan achieves nothing. Seeking God achieves nothing.

    Edit: In that there is no tangible benefit. Thoughts of benefit and loss are symptomatic of the existing delusions.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2011
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  7. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    With each such split-off, one reasonably has to wonder what legitimacy and connection to the original Buddhist practice and goal that new group has and whether it can deliver on the Buddhist promise.

    An important part of Buddhist practice is gratitude to one's teacher(s). If those new groups do not acknowledge their teacher(s) from existing Buddhist traditions - then are we to believe that they have become enlightened on their own, without teachers? Or that they are just simply massively ungrateful?


    You are not particularly fond of the Dalai Lama, eh?

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  8. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    I know there are such people. I do not see how one can consistently be both a Christian (or Jew) and Buddhist.


    Oh yes.

    What is the emotion you would feel if someone tried to hurt your beloved dogs?
     
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    In general, the goal of Buddhist practice is liberation from suffering and the attainment of true happiness, ie. a happiness that is not subject to aging, illness and death in their various forms.

    I do not know of any other religion that has this goal. In fact, it seems that in many religions, the goal is not particularly clearly specified at all.


    I'll try to answer your question as best as I currently can:
    The koan as the double bind that brings the mind to a halt and thus helps the practitioner to act more deliberately, is as such aligned with the idea that suffering is caused by clinging: if this clinging can be interrupted somehow and a wiser, more skillful action taken, then liberation from suffering can be brought about, and this is possible because, so the Buddhist conviction, it is human action that can bring about the end of suffering.



    There may be double-binds in theisms too.
    For example, the statement "God walks, and He doesn't walk." Then there are other philosophical cunundrums (such as whether God's omniscience cancels out human free will or not).
    For the ordinary person, these double binds and cunundrums are unresolvable, so when faced with them, they are more aware of their situation and can make more deliberate choices.
     
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Since Buddhism does not have a Pope, is there a consensus on what its goal is? Many people say it is simply to find knowledge, which makes it quite compatible with scholarship in general and science in particular.
    Unlike the (perhaps) typical American Buddhist, many (perhaps most) "Oriental" Buddhists have their own spiritual beliefs. Therefore I don't see why a person with Christian or Jewish spiritual beliefs would be automatically disqualified from seeking knowledge in the way of the Buddha.
    Being capable of feeling anger when a grievous wrong is done to me does not require cultivation of that ability. Anger is one of our most basic emotions, handed down from many ancestral species.

    Cultivation of the ability to respond to grievance in a way other than anger is, in my own (coldly scientific yet warmly optimistic) philosophy and my own model of the human spirit, one of the goals of civilization and something that almost all of us work at, to a greater or lesser degree.

    The anger is already there. It's programmed into our synapses by our DNA. We have no need to cultivate it, although some people appear to do just that. What we need to cultivate is a way around it. This is the fundamental step in transcending our inner nature and overcoming our pack-social instinct in order to live in harmony and cooperation with strangers. We have been doing that for twelve thousand years, since the Agricultural Revolution, and we've come a remarkably long way in our artificial transformation into a herd-social species.
     
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Yes. The Four Noble Truths.


    Christian ontology and Buddhist ontology are not compatible, nor are their epistemologies.
    One would have to be very superficial, or confused, to be a "Christian Buddhist / Buddhist Christian."


    In what tradition of Buddhism is your wife?
     
  12. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    No. The goal is to become Buddha.
     
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    The Fourth Noble Truth is that there is a cessation of suffering.
    Yes, that can be understood as "becoming buddha."

    There is a consensus among Buddhists that the Four Noble Truths are central to Buddhism, and that Buddhism's goal is stated in them.
     
  14. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

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    1) Each life contains both pleasure and pain.

    2) Much of the pain we experience is due to our choice of attachments.

    3) We can control our choice of attachments.

    4) The pursuit of Zen can help us do that.

    Yep, you got the general idea...sorta.

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  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Zen, is, unfortunately, one of those Buddhist traditions that has experienced the most bastardization in recent times, especially in the West.

    Apparently any idiot thinks he can do and be Zen.
     
  16. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    And Eastern practitioners often think it's beyond western understanding. It's a kind of religious snobbery. Any idiot can do it.
     
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Apparently not.
    For many, even reading the Wiki entry is too much, so they make up their own "facts about Buddhism."
     
  18. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    I don't have to make anything up. I was there.
     
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    There is a standardized version of stating the Four Noble Truths.

    And then there are bastardizations of that.
     
  20. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Zen tends to resist such fundamentalism.
     
  21. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Yes. Though perhaps if a core set of ideas/practices is carried over, the goal can be reached anyway. Also there may be a need to evolve, given the changes in culture and minds. That said, even in Asia we are dealing with offshoots, even internal ones. I believe Theravada is supposed to be closest to the original teachings, but even they feel it was only after a certain teacher 1000 years after the Buddha that Buddhism came to fruition. And also the practices have changed to some degree there also.

    Every religion has this issue. Even the Pope has a problem with lineage. He can claim to be in a line of correct leaders, but then he has to explain some of the by modern church standards horrible behavior of the church under papal direction AND some of the incredibly immoral - from a Catholic perspective - personal lives some of the Pope's had.

    And Hinduism is like 5000 circuses in terms of lineage, consistency, tradition, uniformity....

    Islam is easier to break down, but then there is a blood hatred between the two main strains which are not the same.

    In the book I read it seems like many new centers were started by people who rose high up in other centers. It nevers mentions their gratitude or lack of it. They could have gratitude and I would guess some make this clear, but decided for whatever reasons to start a branch.

    One can argue that the Buddha did this, Jesus did this, Muhammed did this, most Hindu gurus did and do this. IOW even conservative tradition-based religions worship dead radicals - people who broke off and started something new.

    No. I haven't hardened into a final opinion. I heard him speak once, with translation, and briefly met him. He was one of the worst speakers I have ever heard. Perhaps he was sick that day, but the speech was read and it was terrible. I got a rather poor overall impression. Add in my issues with Tibetan Buddhism and I can be rather snide. (he's also worshiped like Jesus by lefty, spiritual people - in amongst whom I have often lived. I do, after a time, tend to rebel against such conceptions, I have to admit.)
     
  22. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Well there is a lot of fundamentalist Zen. And a solid portion of Japanese Zen merged with the warrior mentality of WW2 and pre expansionist Japan.

    See....

    http://books.google.com/books?id=qh...ook_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA

    Fundamentalism in religion is generally tied to very specific interpretations of texts, often with a list of fundamental beliefs that one cannot stray from AND generally a literal take on those texts. Zen inhibits the latter to some degree given what it is and some of its practices - like koans - but in structuring a temple milieu, including practices and master student relations, you can have a fundamentalism.
     
  23. Pineal Banned Banned

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    My experience of the koan practice was not like this. I was expected to respond to the koan. And my response would display my knowledge. This could be verbal - though not some rambling set of thoughts - or otherwise. It was never a discussion of ideas and thoughts. In fact I haven't encountered the practice you are describing inside Buddhism. I have in academic settings. Buddhism is so broad it may well happen, but it sounds non-traditional.
     

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