Posted in tattooed buddha, zen

The Flower and the Smile

It’s said that the lineage that we call Zen started in a place called Vulture Peak.

It’s said that it started when the Buddha was silent, in the space between words—it was the teaching of no-teaching. His students asked for a teaching, as they did many times. Instead of speaking, as they expected, he just raised a flower. It was a white lotus and he just held it up and showed it to everyone.
The symbol of the Zen tradition is the Enso, an empty circle drawn with a brushstroke. I humbly suggest that the symbol should be a flower instead.

All of the assembled students were just confused and disappointed, as we can imagine we would be, except for one. His name was Mahakasyapa.
Mahakasyapa smiled.

The point is usually said to be that the dharma isn’t something you hear or read. It’s experiencing this moment as it is, purely and directly. Everyone else was waiting for some great philosophical teaching. Mahakasyapa just sat there and experienced the Buddha raising a flower. At this point, the Buddha declared that Mahakasyapa was his chosen successor, that he had attained enlightenment just as the Buddha himself had.
Mahakasyapa was an important historical figure. He convened the first council after the Buddha’s death, where everyone got together to recite and share the Buddha’s teachings that they had memorized. In Theravada temples he’s sometimes depicted in art hanging around with Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant.

Is this story true?

If it is then the Zen lineage passed through 27 teachers without anyone really talking about it, until Bodhidharma took the lineage to China and replanted it, where it then changed a little to become more like the nature religions of Taoism and Confucianism (as Buddhism often does when it enters new cultures).

Here’s an explanation that I think is more likely:
There were Buddhists who traveled to China to spread the teachings of the Lankavatara Sutra. In those days that was really how different groups of Buddhists defined themselves. They didn’t have rigid lineages like the ones that exist now. It’s said that the Lankavatara Sutra is the one that Bodhidharma brought with him.
Once these Buddhists arrived they encountered resistance.

They learned from the Buddhist sects that had already formed in China: Huayan, Tiantai and Pure Land. In these sects different things became emphasized to make the teachings more acceptable to Chinese culture. A history was created to embody authenticity—not fabrication, mythmaking. Fabrication implies negative or selfish intent.
We might view mythmaking as lying in the modern world, but only if we don’t realize that expecting stories to be literally true is a new idea. Things can be meaningful by being true in a non-literal sense and that’s how things have been throughout much of human history.
It could be argued that the Zen tradition formed in response to those other forms, as an effort to create a Chinese form of Buddhism that was more in line with the Buddha’s original teaching. Pure Land, with it’s chanting and wishing for rebirth in heaven, and Tiantai, with it’s focus on secret and mysterious teachings, seem very different from the Buddha’s three simple trainings. Huayan is the closest, and it’s easy to see how much it influenced the Zen tradition. Huayan, inspired by the Avatamsaka Sutra, is known for being a little more philosophical, mystical, and positive than Zen. Zen is known for being more down to earth. I think those lines are very blurry. If you look for philosophical and hard to understand Zen teachings you can definitely find them.
Zen lineages can be strict and sometimes I wonder if I’d like Huayan more. I would have certainly loved to study with a Huayan teacher if the lineage hadn’t already died out.
I think the Zen tradition formed the same way that other religions always seem to, not from one guy looking at a flower. Rather, I think it formed from a slow process of accumulating teachings and being influenced by the other forms of spirituality that were around.
Plenty of people will tell you they think the flower and smile story literally happened. I don’t think so, but I think it doesn’t matter.

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

Kensho: A Glimpse of Awakening

Kensho is something we talk about in the Zen tradition.

It represents the mystical experience, the experience of oneness, of seeing our true nature, emptiness, the absolute, whatever you want to call it.

Some lineages talk about it a lot and some talk about it a little. It’s important to not attach to these experiences. There are stories about people who thought they had attained Enlightenment and then made some bad decisions.

That’s why having a teacher is important, so the teacher can tell you, “Hey, slow down. Take it easy.” This is helpful if we’re attaching too much to these experiences. Or, at the very least, it is useful to find a supportive community. Finding a teacher isn’t always easy and for some of us it takes a very long time.

It’s been said that Kensho can be a big or small experience. In either case, it is an opening, a glimpse into Awakening. This is a temporary experience.

Dogen called it, “The dropping away of body and mind.”

Xu Yun said, “The mind came to a stop.”

Having had a Kensho experience doesn’t mean that one is fully Enlightened. It’s just a glimpse of the truth. Kensho has been compared to a psychedelic experience.

I didn’t really start having these experiences with any regularity until I started meditating every day. Some people say they never have them, even with really diligent practice.

The point is that we shouldn’t be attached to these experiences.

They are wondrous and can really help motivate us on the path, but if we think of them as special, we could have problems.

D.T. Suzuki also wrote in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:

“When the mind has been so trained as to be able to realize a state of perfect void in which there is not a trace of consciousness left, even the sense of being unconscious having departed; in other words, when all forms of mental activity are swept away clean from the field of consciousness, leaving the mind like the sky devoid of every speck of cloud, a mere broad expense of blue, Dhyana is said to have reached its perfection.”

Some people think of Kensho as the end of the path, but that’s a mistake.

Really, it’s the beginning. It does change you in a very real way. I’ve been fundamentally changed by every such experience I’ve had. I wouldn’t say I’ve had Satori, or a full Enlightenment experience, but it’s because of Kensho that I believe Satori is attainable. Once you’ve had a Kensho experience you can’t lie to yourself like you did before when you’ve had  a glimpse at the true nature of things.

In the Platform Sutra Huineng said:

“If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.”

Kensho is a state of letting go, releasing who you think you are and dwelling in your true self.

After this break in thoughts is over, one tends to still not cling to thoughts for a while.

When we engage both concentration and insight practices, these experiences can arise naturally. They’re especially common when we are on retreat.

Every time we enter this space of Awakening it’s a deep and profound experience.

Every time, we dwell in Enlightenment, we bring a little more of it back with us

 

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/kensho-a-glimpse-into-awakening/

Posted in Striding Through the Universe, tattooed buddha

Han Shan and the Zen Hermits

Fenggan (left) Hanshan (center) Shide (right)

Camping makes me think of Zen hermits.

I sometimes go and live in a tent for a while. If people are around, they come talk to me. If no one is around, then I spend time with the trees and the grass.

There’s a tradition, especially in China, of Buddhist teachers disappearing into the wilderness. These figures would disappear from society and go live in a cave or a tent or a hut and that’s where they would stay. They would give teachings to potential students who came to visit them. Or, if no one came to visit they would just give teachings to the trees and grass, to the animals and the moon.

Famously, Bodhidharma went and lived in a cave for nine years.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng—just after he received Dharma Transmission—went to live alone in the woods for a while before he began teaching too.

This tradition also exists outside of the Zen lineage. There are Theravada teachers in places like Thailand who went to live in the forest instead of staying in Buddhist temples. There was a big tradition in Tibetan monks leaving to become forest and mountain yogis for part of their lives.

I could write about many different Buddhist teachers, but I’m going to center on one. His name was Han Shan, which means ‘Cold Mountain.’ That’s not his birth name. In that period it was normal for some Buddhist monks to take the name of the place where they lived, and he lived on a place called Cold Mountain in China, the 700s. We don’t know much about him, but what we do know is an interesting story.

(Note: There is another monk named Han Shan who lived centuries later. These two figures are both interesting and can sometimes get confused. I may write about the other one at a later time.)

Han Shan was a government bureaucrat during the Tang dynasty in China. In that period being a bureaucrat was considered one of the highest professions that one could aspire to. There was a rebellion and he decided to leave. I wonder if the pressure of his job during a tumultuous time was too much—who knows? He went, taking nothing with him, and traveled to the cold mountains, where he decided to live.

He became a hermit and a poet. He would write poetry on rocks and on cave walls—mainly things about nature, such as:

“The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

Converging gorges – hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs – unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?”

And this:

“There is a Precious Mountain
Even the Seven Treasures cannot compare
A cold moon rises through the pines
Layer upon layer of bright clouds
How many towering peaks?
How many wandering miles?
The valley streams run clear
Happiness forever! “

His poetry has been studied in much the same way that Zen Koans are studied. He was considered a crazy person by the locals, a wild eccentric, and sometimes spent times living in huts and caves around the mountain. And sometimes he just slept outside.

He was considered an oddball by most, not someone that anyone could really learn teachings from. Eventually he got a student anyway, a man named Shih-Te who went and lived with him. And they traveled around together, just living in the woods, teaching the Dharma to the sun and the moon.

Not much is known about Han Shan because that is his whole story. Over 100 poems were found in various places around Cold Mountain, written in cave walls, carved into trees and written on rocks. People collected them and copied them and they’ve been studied for many years.

His poetry served as the main inspiration for the American poets Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

No one really knows what became of Han Shan and his student Shih-Te, but it’s said that they became mythic figures even during their lives. There were those that said that Han Shan was an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and his student Shih-Te was an incarnation of Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Practice.

The tradition of Zen hermits is not the same as it once was. People are less inclined to leave the world behind for a while and be alone in the woods or on mountains. But there are still those that do it.

There’s also a tradition of Zen poetry that was probably in no small part inspired by Han Shan. I wish I were a poet, but I’m not. Zen essays have to be enough for me.

I wonder if I could write this on a cave wall.