The Zen Koan - parallels, practices that cover?

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

  1. Pineal Banned Banned

    I think that is a little simplistic. And it sounds like a kind of Western summing up of Zen. There are specific goals in koan use and specific outcomes and the practice is tailored to these. Sure, paradoxes around the ideas of improvement and attachment to goals do arise in Buddhism. But to present these as THE answer, or the Buddhist view of koans does not fit my experiences or reading.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. Pineal Banned Banned

    Yes, I am aware of that. I was pointing out that many people in the West shift religion to Buddhism to support the idea that it is a religion, that they see it as being in the same category as the religion they are leaving behind.

    Buddhists get angry. There are different in-culture strategies for dealing with this - in some versions it is more OK to express it, others less so - but there is a nice supply of anger in most temples.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. Pineal Banned Banned

    I would say that the Hindu tradition I was in was very close to this. It was a devotional religion - lots of devotional, sometime ecstatic chanting in addition to meditation. It was fairly clearly stated that one was trying to come to awareness of one's true self - in this case Shiva, but the conception of Shiva was not remotely like the Christian God. It was much more like the Buddha. Love rather than compassion, nirvana was less detached seeming than in Buddhism and presented more as more sensual and passionate. But there was this goal of ending of suffering - a word used less, but used - and identifications with the transitory aspect of the self.

    Buddhism is very clear about its technology and goals, at least in some branches. The texts tend to be concise, practice or attitude focused - not historical. They are very clear, I agree.

    I'll come back to the rest of your post later.
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    Yes, there are issues in trying to articulate it. I think it's accurate to say that nothing is gained. It's a feeling of losing things that inhibit, that's why the spontaneous response is a kind of test. There is no right answer specifically, but certain ways to answer.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Mrs. Fraggle insists that Buddha does not merely fail to postulate the existence of a god and leave us to believe or not believe as suits our fancy. He teaches us that there is no god. This is central to his philosophy. Therefore, you are all correct, that to be a "Christian Buddhist" is an oxymoron.

    I would demur on the issue of a "Jewish Buddhist." We must remember that Judaism is a religion of laws, not doctrines. (Yeah yeah, then by my own definition it is not a religion.) Jews are expected to do certain things, not believe certain things. In the more liberal congregations especially, you can be an atheist so long as you don't proselytize atheism, and you can still be a Jew so long as you obey the minimal subset of the Jewish laws that your congregation enforces. (Observe a few really important holidays, have your male children circumcised and bar mitzvah'ed, etc.) Your community will still count you as a Jew. It would not be that difficult for a Jew of this type to also be a Buddhist.
    Tibetan. She also practices Vipassana meditation, which is a Tibetan school.
    The number of atheists is growing in the West--much more quickly in many countries than in the USA. Many Christians in these countries come close to the atheist-Jew model I described above. To them, their religion is more of a comfortable community than a supernaturalist philosophy. To join another comfortable community feels like switching to a new religion.
    Everyone gets angry. It's not a suppressible or avoidable emotion. We can learn to express it in healthier ways, and we can even learn to avoid creating (or walking into situations) that are certain to cause us to be angry. But we can't say, "From this moment forward, I will never again feel angry."
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Of course some things change.

    But if the Buddhist suttas clearly specificy the Four Noble Truths, and someone comes along and make three or two out of them - then what are they promoting?

    There is a modern tendency to make traditional religions more palatable to modern people - but in the process, the core teachings of those religions are lost, changed, or substituted with others.

    Religion is thus turned into a sociological/cultural phenomenon, with the implied philosophy that "Any path is as good as any other and leads to the same goal."
    This way, old religions are simply changed and used as a pretense to promote this relativistic philosophy.

    It's a question of principle. Individual persons, including leaders, can be questioned, but not the principle.

    There can be only one rightfully self-awakened Buddha per era, and as long as the dispensation of such a Buddha still exists in any way in the Universe, there can be no other such Buddha.

    The dispensation of Sakyamuni Buddha is still present, however watered down it may be.
    To make vague references to this Buddha's teachings, call oneself a Buddhist, but nevertheless present oneself as rightfully self-awakened (ie. thinking you know better than the Buddha) - this is just very bad practice, to say the least.
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Then you can ask her about "Vajra wrath."
  11. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

    Yep, and arrogance is attachment to face, a painful choice IMHO (as per the second noble truth).

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    A goal of Buddhism is "enlightenment" ("satori" in the classic tradition) Allow me to assist you in seeking that.

    While "purism" may be valid in a painting it is not always appropriate in religion or philosophy.

    While there are Christians who swear that each and every word written in the King James version of the Christian Bible is the absolute truth as given to human writers by their God, that don't make it so. Constantine's Christianity is a thousand years out of step with today's world, and what he and his mom did to the religion was for their own specific purposes in the political world that they lived in.

    The Buddha began as a traditional Hindu practitioner, what he said and wrote was based on his upbringing, his life circumstances and his "enlightenment" after trying a bunch of the standard ways of getting educated in the time he lived in. Some 700 years later Bodhidharma taught a very different brand of "Buddhism" at Shao Lin that came to be called "Chan". When it was exported to Japan, "Chan" became "Zen". When the Samurai adopted it as their official religion it was altered to suit their needs. With Zen, a Samurai could kill or die without hesitation or remorse while living an honourable life based on personal responsibility.

    Now that thought and tradition has been taken up in many places all around the world. While the details may have changed, the core remains the same: simplicity, understanding, personal responsibility.

    Basic Buddhist practice (from a Tricycle article) can be expressed thus:


    In the morning, get up, eat breakfast and greet your family warmly.

    Contact, engage and interact with your society. Help who you can as best you are able, try to do a little something to help make the world better.

    The primary goal of Buddhism is enabling you to transform your mind and thus transform yourself. The principle tool to accomplish this is meditation. The practice of ethics and positive behavior enables us to grow.


    Just as an Orthodox Romanian Catholic is going to have a completely different take on things than a liberal Presbyterian will, so would a conservative classic Indian Buddhist have a different take on things than a Suto practitioner.

    Want to nail Buddhism down? Good luck on that.

    From Yahoo answers:

    ...or put another way:

    Be here, now.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  12. Pineal Banned Banned

    I think we are writing past each other. Sure, there are non-religious people who follow Buddhist practices. My intention is not to, for example, box your wife into being a religious person. But in speaking about Buddhism in general, it does seem to me that many people, likely most, view Buddhism as a religion, even those who switch to it, often from other religions.

    I was brought up Christian, but I never liked the whole ____________ thing. Then I got interested in ZEn and now I ___________.

    IOW people by the way they speak and think about Buddhism see it as something that addresses relgious issues and yearnings and can serve a similar but preferable role to whatever religion they have left.

    Let alone asian adherents for whom it is more clearly a religion, though not in all cases.

    That is certainly part of what I meant.
  13. Pineal Banned Banned

    What if the religous leaders of whatever religions the Buddha drew from made the same arguments about what he did?

    But even in the East the religions are not stable unchanging things. And the ideas attributed to the Buddha were, I believe, only written down long after his death.

    Certainly some people have that belief, but I don't think change necessarily entails such a conclusion. One could conclude that people need a different path/version since people are culturally so different now. One could conclude that religions are developing and were not perfect earlier. I would guess one could have other conclusions like that and still, at the same time, think that one's religion is the best way (just for you and some others or for people in general). IOW without being a relativist and thinking all paths are fine or anything goes or you can just pick and choose.
    I don't think allowing for change means that one must accept it is a free for all. I think the issue of how does one choose in such a context is being confused with the issue of what the various religious people must be asserting. Since there is a problem for the person outside religion knowing which one to trust, change within traditions can make things seem necessarily more arbitrary. But this position is being projected, I think, onto the practitioners - in general - as if they are saying it's all the same anything goes. And really, once there were a large number of choices for religion and even branches within the various religions, this outsider is already in that position, dealing with multiple claims of authority.

    I don't think this is people's motivation and I am fairly cynical. I think they are trying to make something work for themselves or making changes they think are right, at least in many cases.

    I can't separate out the principles from the people so easily. The Catholic Church even having a Pope is based on ideas made by some people interpreting the Bible. The Bible is the result of people remembering certain stories and teachings. They may be right, they may be inspired, even controlled by God, but to me principles and people are not separate phenomena.

    As you would say - how do you know this?

    Though perhaps this is precisely how the religious masters in the traditions he participated in, took ideas from and then modified them would have viewed the Buddha. They might have noted his deep engagement but viewed it as hubris combined with repeating poor practices.

    I have been trying to think of a focused way to describe this issue - which we seem to have differences around - and when I do I will start a thread on it. Something around authority in religion and change.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2011
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Because this is a classical teaching.

    Other than that, we are facing on a larger scale the phenomenon that is so typical for the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism.

    Namely, in that transition, the sense that there is an absolute authority on religious matters (then embodied by the Catholic Church), was relativized and lost.
    The more Protestants digged into text-critical issues with the Bible, the less clear, the less authoritative, the less reliable it all became.

    Sure, they gained the freedom of reading the Bible in their national languages, the freedom to not have to rely on a formal authority (that often enough proved to be immoral by common-sense standards) - but in turn, they opened an epistemological Pandora's Box where truth has become more elusive than ever.
    So Protestantism has ended up in countless schisms, disputes, fundamentalism, severe doubts and fears and general unhappiness and degradation of virtue.

    This is the danger that modernizing a religion faces: indeed, we gain some freedoms, we make some adaptations that seem more appropriate for our times - but we also sacrifice a sense of safety and reliability.
  16. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

    Like what Christians got from the Inquisition?
  17. Pineal Banned Banned

    OK - a couple of 'koans' from other religions, or?

    First from the Hassidic Baal Shem Tov:

    From the Sufi, Idras Shah
    Could these serve the same purpose, achieve the same results? Are they a parallel? Why? Why not? Why can't we know if you think we can't?
  18. Pineal Banned Banned

    So if it is classical it is true?
    But Martin Luther argued that the Catholic church, with the Pope as ruler, was based on mistranslations and misunderstandings of the Bible. He would argue that he was returning to classical teachings.

    It's been a while, but I found the Catholic justification for having Popes, etc. rather a stretch. It also seemed like Jesus was presenting a more direct route via him.

    I think the truth was already elusive, but people went along with a tradition, one that enforced the tradition through torture and killing, along with the usual indoctrination and/or teaching.

    There can be fundamentalists in Catholicism and there was a split with the Orthodox churches already. I am not sure people were happy under Catholicism. At least I am not ready to assume that.
    I don't think Luther thought he was modernizing or that was his intent. I think he thought he was getting back to the roots of Christianity. And frankly the vast earthly power and wealth of the papacy, the constumes and hierarchy, that it actually had an army and controlled armies via Catholic leaders, does not seem to fit for me with Jesus and his teachings. One of his core issues was the selling of indulgences, a really rather remarkable systemic practice for a church supposedly based on Jesus.

    I am pretty sure he viewed what he was doing NOT as adapting a stale tradition, but quite the contrary going back to the actual tradition that the Catholic Church changed and distorted.

    And yes, this probably did lead to more divisions, but then, must we simply take a tradition because it is there? Even if it goes against the roots of the tradition?

    Was Jesus making a mistake when he 'completed the Law'? Were the monotheists making a mistake when they decided there was one God and moved away from sacrifice and many gods/local gods?

    Or is it once a potential mistake is in place, it is best not to go against it?

    Every tradition is from a schism. The Buddha split off from Hinduism, I believe. Jesus created a split. and so on.
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    To justly call oneself something, one has to keep with its tradition.
    To call oneself a Buddhist, but ignore a lot of what traditionally is considered Buddhism is a poor practice, to say the least.

    If someone thinks the traditional practices don't work and thus make up a new combination of beliefs and practices - I generally see no problem with that, as long as they don't present themselves under the traditional name.

    The "New Buddhists" can do what they want, but I do not think it is appropriate that they call themselves Buddhists.

    Of course he argued that - and set himself up as the authority in divine matters.

    But was splitting off of the Catholic Church the only solution against that?

    I am sure of that too. Many reformers believe they are being closer to the truth than those they are opposing.

    The problem with reformers is that they tend to assume themselves to be an authority in divine matters.
    And this is a precarious undertaking.

    I agree that we see many problems with the Catholic Church, and I agree that it does not make sense to go with a tradition just because it is a tradition.

    But if the alternative is to set oneself up to be an authority on divine matters - I do not see this as a solution either.

    I imagine that one can be an authority on divine matters if God chooses to make a person such an authority.

    But to unilaterally claim one knows what Jesus meant and what God wants and such, does not make one an authority on divine matters.

    I don't know whether Martin Luther was chosen by God or not; his justifications do seem to be rather mundane.

    But what are the roots of the tradition? Who is to say? It is not like we can identify the roots of a tradition while disregarding that tradition.

    Was Jesus the Son of God?
    Your question makes sense if we assume that Jesus was just another religious reformer - and not the Son of God himself, not divine. I am not going to assume this.
    I don't know whether Jesus was God incarnate or not, but there are assumptions I am not going to make.

    Again, to try to directly answer such questions would be to assume that religion has a mundane, worldly, non-divine basis.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The first thing that jumps at me is that they are taken out of the communication context.

    Who is telling the story of the Hassidic students, or the fishing countrymen, to whom, on what occasion?
  21. Pineal Banned Banned

    The precise context was I found them on the internet. Baal Shem Tov's stories have been published by presses aiming at a wide audiance, with Hassidic scholars doing the translating and presenting. Idras Shah has also published books aimed at a wide audiance presenting such tales.

    I've met Sufis and Hassidim and spoken about religion with them, but I don't think I ever asked about the process through which stories like these were used, what the practice is. I have done koan work with a master. But then, that's just getting one side of the comparison.

    I agree with your objection and at the same time think mulling over a comparison could nevertheless be useful for us, even if it would be hubris to assume we could be certain about conclusions about the specific religions. We might however learn something about the use of paradox, stories, parables, how minds can change or be stilled, how language can be demystified, etc.
  22. Pineal Banned Banned

    OK. I didn't know you called yourself a Buddhist.

    One could NOT present truths held by the religion to others as if they were knowledge, but just those beliefs that the person felt they knew themselves. Meditation has helped still my mind. I follow the following precepts. The mind does this or that. And so on.

    1) but I don't think he was modernizing. IOW I do not think he looked at people then and tried to fit beliefs to cater to their predelictions. 2) And the Vatican set itself up as the authority in Divine matters: the staff, so to speak. The Popes each then accepted that they should be treated as THE authority.

    He did try to work within the church. Eventually he was excommunicated. So he was split off by the church. At that point he could have decided to do and believe what he thought was wrong, but he did not. The church did not acknowledge that sellling indulgences, for example, was problematic. IOW they continued to let people think they could pay to get rid of their sins. I think it would take quite an act of faith to decide these were the biblical authorities.

    Not that I am proProtestant. Catholicism no longer has this practice, at least formally. So they decided he was right about this one. They went against tradition, as they have in a number of ways, some even more serious, like the ending of the Inquisition.

    Yes, it is pretty much by definition.

    If that is precarious, then those they are working against are engaged in a precarious undertaking.

    I agree that we see many problems with the Catholic Church, and I agree that it does not make sense to go with a tradition just because it is a tradition.

    Then anyone turning to the Catholic Church in this instance is turning to people who unilaterally made this claim.

    Some of them were not, at least the issues were not so mundane.

    One can decide that the tradition was lost a while ago. That supporting the current church is to deny tradition or Jesus or whomever.

    If he was just a reformer, then my question makes sense. If he was not just a reformer, a Christian would be obligated to follow Jesus, even if this meant that a human organization claiming to represent Jesus had to be gone against. I'm not in a position to say whether Martin Luther was divinely inspired or not.

    To me we are always left with responsibility. There is no escaping this. It seems like you decided that Martin Luther did the wrong thing, whereas others would say he was divinely inspired and at least opened to door to people worshipping in the manner intended by Jesus. If we are agnostic, I think we have to be agnostic about both Martin Luther and Jesus. If we think we can judge one or the other, then we can judge both and any churches that come out of the schism.

    I don't think this is the case. But what I see you deciding is: what passes for the tradition now is closer to God, in the case of Christianity. IOW your default is to trust the authority with mundane power and perhaps spiritual power. Following this line most people would have sided with the Jews who were against Jesus.

    I see no option where one does not create some sort of rule for deciding who really has spiritual authority or accepts that one must follow one's own intuition. There is no agnostic place to stand. One votes with one's practices and organizational participation. And absolutely, if potentially temporarily.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I don't.

    As best as I can describe my approach, it is a formal traditionalism.
    I do not support any tradition in particular (such as the Catholic Church), but I am in favor of the idea of traditionalism.

    Of course. I think this is the sanest, most realistic level of exchange.
    It is, however, also a level that excludes one from any formal membership or authority.

    I am not sure about that. The RCC has, at least nominally, a lineage back to Jesus himself.

    Or perhaps Luther was just not a very effective politician.

    I think the solution would be to reform the Catholic Church, rather than to split off.

    And indeed, later on the Catholic Church reformed itself. Luther's work was not for nothing, and the Catholic Church proved that it is reformable.
    (See more below.)

    I am addressing the issue on principle:
    A claims to be an authority on divine matters.
    B has doubts about whether A indeed has this authority.
    B concludes he knows better than A.

    A may or may not have authority on divine matters, but any act of opposing them and assuming they do not have such authority is tantamount to assuming oneself to be an authority on divine matters.

    The only thing that I think Luther did wrong was that he was not politically savvy enough. He strikes me as too forceful, wanting too much change at once.

    On principle, I am in favor of maintaining one traditional institution, but reform it internally when necessary; rather than to risk splitting off and splitting off.

    I think I have made my stance clear above. Perhaps it is overly idealistic, and not even actionable anymore, after so many schisms have taken place.

    This is the current, messy situation, yes.

    I think the ideal would be to be born into a religion, stay in it, and make changes if they are necessary, and in line with the existing traditional religious principles. But not split off or convert to another religion.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2011

Share This Page