Posted in sutra, Uncategorized

The Buddha and the Kalamas

There is an old story called the Kalama Sutra. It is one of the oldest sutras and one of my favorites.

It goes something like this: The Buddha was traveling the world spreading the Dharma, teaching people that wanted to listen. He came upon a group of people known as the Kalamas and started explaining the Dharma to them. Their response was unusual.

They said, “We have had numerous spiritual teachers come here. Every new teacher comes and tells us to ignore the teachings we have heard before and to follow their doctrine only. This has made us doubtful and uncertain. What makes your teaching different? Why should we follow your authority and not the authority of the other teachers that came before you?”

The Buddha’s reply was unique.

He said, “You shouldn’t follow my authority. It’s good to be skeptical. It’s good to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Don’t believe things just because you’ve heard them from rumors or from authority figures or scriptures. Even if something has been repeated for generations, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge it. We should challenge everything. You should even challenge what I tell you. But challenge your own preconceptions too.

You didn’t need a religious teacher to come tell you that greed, hatred and delusion are bad. Your common sense agrees with that. You didn’t need a religious teacher to come and tell you that compassion and mindfulness are good. Your common sense agrees with that too.

I have only really come to teach skillful means, methods to deal with the suffering that pervades our lives. If my teachings are right, then the truth is within you already. Other teachings may be dogmatic and strict. Mine is not. I only teach suggestions for dealing with suffering.”

This is an important message in my opinion. I have a natural inclination to both be skeptical and to challenge authority. Unlike many other religious teachers, that is actually what the Buddha suggests to us. He had studied with several religious teachers in his time and he had decided that religion was not for him. He didn’t see the religions that he encountered as viable paths to spiritual truth or happiness. So, he created his own path.

In my opinion, he wasn’t trying to start a religion at all, he was just providing an example for us to follow, more of a way of life than a religion. His teachings weren’t given the label ‘religion’ until hundreds of years later.

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Posted in zen

Ikkyu and the Bones of the Buddha Statue

Once, Ikkyu was staying in a temple. The night was cold and there were three wooden Buddhas in the temple, so he burned one Buddha to warm himself.

The priest in charge of the temple woke up and noticed something was going on, so he looked to see what Ikkyu was doing.

The Buddha statue was burning and Ikkyu was sitting there warming his hands over the fire.

The priest got angry. He said, “What are you doing? Are you a madman?—and I thought you to be a Buddhist monk, that’s why I allowed you to stay in the temple. This is profane.”

Ikkyu said, “But the Buddha within me was feeling very cold. So it was a question whether to sacrifice the living Buddha to the wooden one, or to sacrifice the wooden one to the living one. And I decided for life.”

The priest was so angry that he couldn’t listen. He said, “You are a madman. You simply get out of here! You have burned Buddha.”

So Ikkyu started to poke the burned Buddha with a stick. There were ashes; the Buddha was almost consumed by the fire.

The priest asked, “What are you doing?”

Ikkyu said, “I am trying to find the bones of Buddha.”

So the priest laughed and said, “You are either a fool or a madman. And you are absolutely mad! You cannot find bones there, because it is just a wooden Buddha.”

Ikkyu laughed. He said, “Then bring the other two. The night is still very cold. I haven’t burned the Buddha. I’ve burned a wooden statue. And you called me the crazy one.”

What can we take from this? Is it just a funny story? Maybe.

I think it represents iconoclasm.

The priest is, in a sense, worshiping this Buddha statue. We shouldn’t worship it. We shouldn’t worship anything, really, but we especially shouldn’t be attached to an icon.

When we give a statue of the Buddha that much respect, we are doing what the Buddha said not to do. He said that the Dharma is what really matters, not him.

Historically it seems that the Buddha rejected the Guru/disciple teaching method. He often said, “You should think for yourselves.” And I think that is important to remember.

After his death, many branches of Buddhism did adopt the Guru/disciple method. They would probably do well to read stories like this one.


 

 


 

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Posted in zen

The Samurai Who Became A Monk

The Fierce Zen of Suzuki Shosan.

The Samurai who became a monk.

“To learn to be always in a state of meditation means never to let your vital energy wane. You would never allow it to do so if it were certain that you were to die tomorrow.” ~ Suzuki Shosan

In Japan in the 1600s, a well known samurai retired at the age of 40 because he wanted to learn Zen.

He served under Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and it wasn’t until right after a decisive victory that he asked to be released from his samurai duties.

The Shogun allowed it.

He decided to live the life of a wandering monk. He traveled around Japan studying under different Zen masters. He spent a lot of time studying Zen history and he was really inspired by the stories about a certain iconoclastic Zen teacher from a couple centuries earlier named Ikkyu.

Although he spent a great deal of time studying with a teacher named Daigu Sochiko, he never received Dharma Transmission.

Suzuki Shosan declared himself Enlightened. And he didn’t even change his name to a Buddhist name.

Now, this might sounds scandalous: self-declared Enlightenment? Surely that couldn’t happen then or now!

Well, it did. It actually wasn’t all that rare at that time. Here in the West we sometimes think of Dharma Transmission as something really special. And it is, or it’s supposed to be.

But during Suzuki Shosan’s time the Zen community was very political. There was a thing going on that is sometimes called “Temple Transmission.”

That’s when someone is given Dharma Transmission, declared an Enlightened Master, for political or expedient reasons. It was one of the things that Shosan’s hero Ikkyu had condemned in the Zen establishment.

Example: Zen Master X needs someone to head a certain temple because the previous head of the temple has died or left. Zen Master X wants the head of the temple to have Dharma Transmission. So, he gives a student Dharma Transmission. Zen Master X didn’t wait until a student was Enlightened, he waited until he needed a student with Dharma Transmission around.

Not only that, but some temples were known to give Dharma Transmission for money, the same way diploma mills sell PhD s today. We don’t like to admit it, but this kind of thing happened. And it still happens.

The Dharma Transmission system is great. It has served us very well. But it’s not perfect. Because nothing that involves human beings can be perfect.

Not only that, but most Zen temples were, to a greater or lesser degree, connected to the Japanese government, which could be good sometimes and bad at other times.

Sometimes it seems like Zen history has two tracks.

Temple Zen is full of monks that live in monasteries and chant and meditate and memorize sutras all day.

Renegade Zen is full of people that challenged the establishment, that thought of things in new ways, that weren’t afraid to innovate.

The renegades: Dogen, Rinzai, Ikkyu, Huineng…these are the ones that we remember. There is an iconoclastic current at work here.

Anyway, Suzuki Shosan declared his own Enlightenment because he didn’t want to deal with politics.

At this time in Japan this happened sometimes. He was not unique. Although he didn’t bother with the temple system for certifying his Enlightenment, he also didn’t go around criticizing the temple system. I think that’s an important point.

Anyway, even though he wasn’t a “good” Zen Master, I still think his teaching can be useful to us.

He taught something that he called Nio Zen.

The Nio are those scary looking figures that stand outside of some Zen temples in Japan.

nio

They are supposed to be these demon guardians that protect the Dharma.

Shosan told his students to visualize the Nio in meditation, to help them channel energy and vitality. He believed that the fierceness of the Nio could help us conquer the three poisons.

He also told his students to be ready for death at any moment, as a way to strengthen present moment awareness. This, it is thought, was inspired by his career as a samurai.

But this is why I really like him:

There was a pretty popular view in Shosan’s time that to attain Enlightenment, one had to separate from the world. If not actually become a monk, at least spend a lot of time alone. Shosan didn’t believe that. He thought that the message of Enlightenment could and should be brought to everyone at all levels of society. If Buddha nature is our true nature, then anyone should be able to attain Enlightenment, from the most high level monk down to the lowly criminal. Although he lived the life of a monk, he specifically told people that they didn’t need to, that Enlightenment was already available right here in this moment.

Suzuki Shosan built 32 Zen temples, which is in itself and incredible achievement.

He was 76 years old when he died.

He left behind a book of teachings called “Parting the Grasses at the Foot of the Mountain.”

He wasn’t a ‘good’ Zen Master, but I like him. He was more worthy of the title than many people who receive it in the official way.

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Posted in tattooed buddha

The Teachings of Clouds

 

My two favorite historical Buddhist teachers called themselves clouds.

I wonder sometimes if that is significant. In many ways there were not similar, but they both inspire me a great deal.

What does it mean to call yourself a cloud?

A cloud is like a wayfarer—a traveler just passing through. A cloud doesn’t stay, but it can do a lot to make the sky look beautiful when it’s there. A cloud is soft, not hard. Indeed, it is so soft, you can’t grab hold of it at all.

But a cloud is also unstoppable. A cloud can get through any obstacle with no difficulty at all.

A cloud can take any shape. It can be whatever form it needs to be.

A cloud doesn’t get pulled this way and that by the circumstances of the world. It just goes on. A cloud is free. A cloud doesn’t want or need anything. And it doesn’t waste time comparing itself to other clouds.

I’m going to tell you about these two Buddhist teachers who called themselves clouds, but I’m going to go backwards, so I’ll start with Master Xu Yun.

The lineage that my teacher transmitted to me was the lineage of Xu Yun.

Xu Yun was a Ch’an Master in China and he lived for 120 years. He lived from 1840 until 1959. Just imagine the amount of history he witnessed in that time. He called himself Empty Cloud. He spent a lot of his long life restoring old temples in China that had been destroyed. That’s why he was a cloud. He traveled from place to place, spreading the Dharma and helping it have a more solid foundation. He gave teachings to many people.

It’s said that he received Dharma transmission in all five of the original Ch’an lineages—an achievement that is mostly unheard of.

So, that’s why he was a cloud. Why was he empty?

In this we should, I think, take empty to mean selfless. He wasn’t caught up in the trip of I-Me-Mine, that we all so easily fall into. He saw himself as part of an interconnected whole. That’s why he was able to dedicate 100 years of his life to rebuilding temples for other people.

Xu Yun is the inspiration behind my lineage. His tireless work throughout his long life is something that impresses me.

The other cloud I want to write about has nothing to do with my lineage. He, in fact, didn’t leave behind a lineage and he didn’t transmit the Dharma to anyone. He lived in Japan during the 1400s. His name was Ikkyu, and he called himself Crazy Cloud.

He was like a cloud, too. He traveled from place to place giving teachings and had a habit of going to places where other Zen teachers would never go. He taught in brothels and bars. He was often seen giving teachings to artists, musicians and homeless people.

This is why they called him crazy—a title he was more than happy to accept.

He wasn’t very comfortable in Zen temples with the other monks. He found them to be more political than spiritual, with different monks competing for the highest positions. And he didn’t see much point in staying there. He wanted to take the teachings out into the world, so everyone could learn, instead of just those who visited or stayed in temples.

His temple was the world.

In the history of Zen he’s often viewed as both a heretic and a saint. He was wild and free in a lot of ways and I think a lot of us wish we were wild and free. But, at the same time he was incredibly dedicated to spreading the Dharma and gave teachings at every opportunity.

So, those two people are my inspiration. Xu Yun is the spiritual founder of my lineage and Ikkyu is my personal hero.

I want to be a cloud too. Do you?

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/the-teachings-of-clouds/

Posted in tattooed buddha

Ikkyu: A Renegade Zen Master

buddha

(a version of this article appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

In the late 1300s in Japan a court noblewoman became pregnant.

The rumor is that she was pregnant with the illegitimate child of Emperor Go Komatsu. It’s unknown if this is really true, but what is known is this: she ran away from her home, raised him until he was five, and then placed him in a Rinzai Zen temple called Ankoku-Ji, where he was raised by monks and trained in that path.

This was how the renegade Zen Master and poet Ikkyu came into the world. His birth was marked by forbidden passion and love. And it affected him his whole life.

Ikkyu is my personal hero. Telling his story will explain why.

(Note: I am going to call him Ikkyu throughout this story to avoid confusion. Be aware that his name was Shuken until he studied under Zen Master Kaso and was given the name Ikkyu, which means ‘One Pause’)

At Ankoku-Ji, he received a detailed education in Chinese language, culture, art and poetry, in addition to deep studies in Buddhist practice and history.

It’s said that as a child he met many famous political and spiritual leaders of the day and in many debates and situations he outsmarted them. This is almost certainly a myth, but is the subject of many stories that are still told (and broadcast as cartoons for children) in Japan to this day. It reminds me of the story of Jesus talking to the temple priests as a child.

At the age of 13 he took residence at a temple called Kennin-Ji in Kyoto where he studied with a well known poet and monk named Botetsu. He practiced writing poetry and found that he was skilled at it.

But, he didn’t like Kennin-Ji. What he encountered there was a political atmosphere. These Zen monks were competing with each other for positions in the hierarchy. He saw monks being promoted for political and social reasons rather than because of deep realization. This made him feel discouraged.

This is something that happens in institutional Zen, even still today.

He stayed at Kennin-Ji for three years, but when he couldn’t take the political atmosphere anymore, he left.

He moved into a small temple at a place called Lake Biwa, and studied with another monk named Keno. He was Keno’s only student there. This one on one study probably profoundly affected Ikkyu’s future. Keno was a strong believer that the most important part of Zen practice is seated meditation, which was really not emphasized that much in the temples that Ikkyu had studied in previously.

After five years together, (Ikkyu is 21 at this point) Keno died. Ikkyu fell into a great sadness.

One night, he looked at Lake Biwa and seriously considered drowning himself. Instead, he went and found another teacher.

Ikkyu studied under a teacher named Kaso at a temple called Zenko-an. Kaso was a renegade Zen teacher himself, who preferred rigorous practice and koan study to the political nature of institutional Zen practice.

Ikkyu studied koans deeply under his teacher. In 1420, at the age of 26, while meditating in a boat on the lake, Ikkyu heard the sound of a crow cawing and he attained Enlightenment. All at once he was one with the crow, the lake, and everything else.

Kaso confirmed Ikkyu’s realization and made him a lineage holder, but it’s said that Ikkyu burned his certificate of Enlightenment because he believed such things were unnecessary.

When Kaso died, Ikkyu didn’t take over his temple. He left and became a wanderer instead. He wasn’t happy with living in a temple and simply giving Zen to other monks. He wanted to spread the Dharma—to take Zen out to places where people really needed it. It’s said that he gave teachings in places that other teachers would never go, like bars and whorehouses.

He was given the nickname Crazy Cloud. This was because his passion (for the Dharma and for life in general) was considered unusual and because he wandered from place to place like a cloud.

He spent his time in places around Kyoto and Osaka, making friends with people from all walks of life. Many Zen teachers spent a lot of time with nobility and kept away from the lowest members of society. Ikkyu befriended everyone.

He attracted many followers, including a lot of poets and artists. He also took many lovers and was not interested in celibacy. He believed Zen shouldn’t be separate from the passion of life. So, he enjoyed music, art, poetry and sexuality. He believed things like passion, free love and joy were virtues, not vices.

And he was excited about the Dharma, wanting to spread it far and wide. He wanted to make Buddhism available to everyone, not just to the wealthy or polite members of society.

In this way, he was more like some of the early Zen teachers in China. Originally the Dharma was open and wild and free. Ikkyu tried to take things back to that.

In his old age he had an open and passionate relationship with a blind singer named Lady Mori. He wrote numerous love poems for her.

After a civil war in the 1460s, Ikkyu was part of a campaign to rebuild Zen temples that were destroyed. In this way, he supported the institutions that he had rebelled against.

He reluctantly became abbot of a temple called Daitoku-Ji, which still exists today.

He lived to be 87 years old.

He didn’t give Dharma Transmission to anyone, so there is no Ikkyu lineage. He had concerns that if he created a lineage it would become corrupt soon after he was gone. He decided his teachings could live on without that potential for corruption.

So, I can’t be part of Ikkyu’s lineage, but he’s touched me more than any other Zen teacher. I like to think that across all this time and distance, I am connected to him.

He called his teaching Far Out Zen.

And that’s what I call mine.

 

 

Posted in diamond sutra

Diamond Sutra, chapter 24

The Buddha then said:

“If anyone, looking at an image of me, claims to know me and worship me, that person is mistaken. They don’t really know me.”

The Buddha is telling us not to worship him, not to put him on a pedestal or make him our god. A famous Zen Master named Lin Chi once said, “If you find the Buddha on the side of the road, kill him.”

This sounds terrible to us at first, of course. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal.

Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. Throughout history we have repeatedly seen what can happen when religious leaders have too much authority. This is true in Buddhism as well as in every other religion. Teachers are just people. And teachers don’t take us to enlightenment—even the Buddha doesn’t.

Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.

It seems that the Buddha didn’t want that kind of religious devotion anyway. When asked if he was a god, the Buddha said no. When asked who he was, the Buddha only replied, “I am awake.”

Posted in ch'an, zen

Cutting Down the Buddha

Lin Chi said, “If you meet a Buddha, cut him down,” because we need to cultivate a feeling of doubt that cuts down all thoughts and mental states during training. This sounds terrible to us at first. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal.

This would be a mistake. Far from being hateful, it’s because Lin Chi loved the Buddha that he wanted to remind us not to turn him into an object of worship. The Buddha didn’t want people to look at him as a god; he was simply a teacher who provided instructions for a way of life. This kind of iconoclasm isn’t rare in Buddhism. So, he said we should cut down the Buddha because worshiping the Buddha gets in the way of our cultivating a feeling of doubt. We shouldn’t be thinking about how great the Buddha is during training.

The real Buddha is within ourselves, it’s our Buddha nature. Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. Throughout history we have repeatedly seen what can happen when religious leaders have too much authority. This is true in Buddhism as well as in every other religion. Teachers are just people. And teachers don’t take us to enlightenment—even the Buddha doesn’t. Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.

It seems that the Buddha didn’t want that kind of religious devotion anyway. When asked if he was a god, the Buddha said no. When asked who he was, the Buddha only replied, “I am awake.”
The Buddha isn’t a God and he didn’t want to be worshiped as one.
The Buddha isn’t going to save us or bring us to Enlightenment. We have to do that ourselves.

The Buddha that we imagine is nothing more than another delusion to be cut down.

Posted in Uncategorized

Ikkyu Quotes

Ikkyu Sojun is my favorite historical Buddhist teacher.
He was an iconoclastic and eccentric Zen monk and poet from Japan in the 1400s. He challenged the authority of other Buddhist teachers and challenged preconceptions at every turn.

Here are some Ikkyu quotes:

“Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain,
the snow and moon.”

“Like vanishing dew,
a passing apparition
or the sudden flash
of lightning — already gone —
thus should one regard one’s self.” 

 

“Look at the cherry blossoms!
Their color and scent fall with them,
Are gone forever,
Yet mindless
The spring comes again.” 

“Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain, but at the peak we all gaze at the single bright moon.” 

“don’t wait for the man standing in the 
snow
to cut off his arm help him now” 

“fucking flattery, success, money.
I just sit back and suck my thumb.” 

“Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.” 

 

“don’t hesitate get laid that’s wisdom
sitting around chanting what crap” 

 

“Watching my four year old daughter dance
I cannot break free of her.” 

Posted in Uncategorized

Red Thread Zen

Ikkyu Sojun is a Zen teacher that I’ve written about before.

Here

I like him so much, I’ve decided to write about him again.

Ikkyu was a part of the sect of Zen in Japan that is called Rinzai. He studied with a few different masters, but he decided that their version of Zen was too strict, bureaucratic, and prudish. He refused inka, certification to become a Zen master.

He created his own version of Zen instead. He called it Red Thread Zen. The Red Thread represents passion.

His philosophy was non-dualist. He believed there was no difference between spiritual life and ordinary life.

Instead of staying in monasteries like most monks, Ikkyu gave teachings in places monks didn’t usually go. He taught in the streets and in brothels. His students were hobos, criminals, and prostitutes. A lot more of his students were laypeople than monks.

He taught that passion could be a road to enlightenment. He thought of sex as another form of meditation and his sexual adventures are legendary. He also had a great passion for the arts. He was very involved in calligraphy, poetry, theatre, and tea ceremonies.

But, at the same time, he expected a lot from his students. He always taught that having a regular meditation practice was fundamental to the spiritual life.

His students were people who were firmly dedicated to Buddhist practice, but in the context of secular life, in the real world instead of in monasteries.

Red Thread Zen was radical in it’s non-dualism. This version of Buddhism includes the entire world in it’s teaching, rather than being confined to sacred spaces. If all beings have Buddha nature, then enlightenment isn’t a matter of lifestyle, it’s a living experience. When his teachers tried to get him to stay in a monastery, he wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be in the world, working for the Dharma.

Red Thread Zen celebrates life and human experience.
Is there Red Thread Zen today?

No. Ikkyu didn’t name a successor, so he didn’t create a lineage. Rinzai Zen is still around, but the offshoot that Ikkyu created died with him. But, many in the Zen tradition do revere him today. It’s sad that he didn’t preserve his lineage, but he was probably concerned that after his death it might become another sect like the ones he had rebelled against.

Maybe we can try to practice Red Thread Zen anyway. What do you think?

Posted in Uncategorized

The Buddha and the Kalamas

There is an old story called the Kalama Sutra. It is one of the oldest sutras and one of my favorites.

It goes something like this. The Buddha was travelling the world spreading the Dharma, teaching people that wanted to listen. He came upon a group of people known as the Kalamas and started explaining the Dharma to them. Their response was unusual.

They said, “We have had numerous spiritual teachers come here. Every new teacher comes and tells us to ignore the teachings we have heard before and to follow their doctrine only. This has made us doubtful and uncertain. What makes your teaching different? Why should we follow your authority and not the authority of the other teachers?”

The Buddha’s reply was unique.

He said, “It’s good to be skeptical, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Don’t believe things just because you’ve heard them from rumors or from authority figures or scriptures. Even if something has been repeated for generations, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge it. We should challenge everything. You should even challenge what I tell you. But challenge your own preconceptions too.

You didn’t need a religious teacher to come tell you that greed, hatred and delusion are bad. Your common sense agrees with that. You didn’t need a religious teacher to come and tell you that compassion and mindfulness are good. Your common sense agrees with that too.

I have only really come to teach skillful means, methods to deal with the suffering that pervades our lives. If my teachings are right, then the truth is within you already. Other teachings may be dogmatic and strict. Mine is not. I only teach suggestions for dealing with suffering.”

This is an important message in my opinion. I have a natural inclination to both be skeptical and to challenge authority. Unlike many other religious teachers, that is actually what the Buddha suggests to us.