Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ON LEAVING HOME and WORDS ABOUT RITUAL STUFF


First I hope all of you reading this show up at my talk/book signing at Bodhi Tree Books in Los Angeles tomorrow March 12th, 2009 at 7pm. The address is: 8585 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90026. It's free and open to the public. Be there or be square! Seriously. At this Buddhist bookstore it would be nice to see a Buddhist author get the kind of massive audience they get for crystal gazers and astro-hypno past-life regression acts.

Also, I'll be at the Dharma Punx place in Hollywood leading zazen and talking on Sunday March 15th at 11am (I'm one of the "and others," thanks...). This will be a monthly thing. Although I won't be there for the April one and I'm not 100% sure about May, my Dharma Brother Kevin Bortolin will lead the ones I can't make it to. The address is 4300 Melrose (between Heliotrope and Vermont) Los Angeles, CA 90029.

More Q&A from the letters bin:

It bugs me that Gautama Buddha left his family. The message I get from your books (and other Zen writing) is that you don't need to run away to find enlightenment, the truth, or whatever. If you happen to be a prince with a wife and child, those circumstances are not obstacles to your practice -- they are your practice. Also, you shouldn't hurt or neglect the people and things in your life to pursue some abstract goal. It seems like this part of the historical Buddha's story is inconsistent with these principles. The way the story is usually told, I get the impression that he wouldn't have been able to find enlightenment if he hadn't left his family -- in other words, having a family life really was an obstacle to his practice. I've also heard stories of others who left their families to join his original group. So here's the question: How do you think one should interpret the fact that the historical Buddha and others in his group left their families? Also, what would you say to someone today who wanted to leave his or her spouse and children in order to devote more time to sitting?

This is a tough question to answer adequately. Let me tell you a story first. When I took the Buddhist Precepts from Nishijima Roshi, he didn't require me to shave my head. But later on I decided it might be useful and expedient to do the ceremony through the Soto-shu just so my name would be on the books there. The Soto-shu requires you to shave your head for the ceremony. So I did.

Afterward I needed to explain to friends and co-workers why I suddenly looked like a skinny version of Curly from the Three Stooges. I still lived in Japan at this time. So I told them I did 出家 (pronounced "shukke" -- shoe-kay). The 2 Chinese characters used to spell this word out mean "leave home."

But I hadn't left home, in the literal sense. I lived in the same house with the same wife and had the same job as before. This is not at all uncommon.

OK. So there was this Chinese-style vegetarian restaurant I used to go to a lot near my house that was run by a Taiwanese woman who was a devout follower of some sort of esoteric Buddhist sect. She asked about my shaved head and I told her I'd done shukke. She turned red in the face and steam shot out of her ears. "You haven't done shukke!! It's just for show!!! Japanese Buddhists don't know anything about real shukke!!!!"

Then she brought out this scrap book full of photos of the monks in her sect with horribly deformed people, apparently helping them do stuff. The photos seemed designed to emphasize the various deformities of the people they were helping in sharp focused, brightly lit, colorful graphic detail, almost like hardcore porn does with genitalia. "This is real shukke!!!!!" she shouted.

While I had to admire those monks for their charitable work, the woman at the restaurant's attitude toward that work showed me there was some kind of problem there. This incident has somewhat colored my attitude toward so-called "engaged Buddhism" ever since. But that's a whole 'nother subject.

To me leaving home is more of an attitude than a description of a specific act. The monks she showed me photos of had indeed left home in a literal sense. But I wondered if they'd really left home at all. Of course, I didn't know them, so I can't say. But her attitude toward them was based on a very strong attachment to a specific (and very common) way of viewing the world. I wondered where she'd received that attitude.

There's certainly a basis of truth in the stories we hear about Buddha and his earliest followers. But things might not have been like we imagine they were. In the days when living your whole life in the same house with an extended family was the norm, "leaving home" could mean moving to your own place three blocks away. In that sense, almost all of us these days "leave home."

The story has come down to us in its present form to emphasize Buddha's commitment to pursuing the truth. "Leaving home," to me, means adopting the attitude that the pursuit of the truth is more vital than the pursuit of what society (home) tells you is important. Even if your mom tells you the most important thing is to marry a doctor and live on a hill with a car the neighbors will envy, you need to be able to reject that and look for what's real.

But that doesn't mean running away. Running away is futile. Even if you run very far away from home to a remote mountain monastery, as long as you carry the same attitude you always had you'll never truly get away. You'll just end up transferring all the stuff from home onto the other people in the monastery.

People of today who want to dump their spouses and kids to run off to the mountains ought to examine themselves and their motivations very, very carefully. Lots of people run away from responsibilities to "find themselves." But not so many of them have a real commitment to the truth. It would be better to find the truth in the life you're living, with the responsibilities you've already accepted. Responsibilities have a way of finding you even if you run away from them.

NEXT!


In your book you talk about how it is important for Buddhist practice to be religious, even if it is not "spiritual". This makes sense to me but I live in a state where the only zen center is run by a guy who believes his group therapy technique can give people enlightenment in a few hours-- if not faster-- and I don't have a lot of money for traveling this year and so I am wondering if there is something I should be doing differently to make my meditation practice more specifically Buddhist. Right now I sit each morning and evening. At the end of each meditation period I recite a version of the Bodhisattva Vow. Reciting the vow is something I only began to do recently and it does seem to add something to the meditation period. Is there some other things I could be doing to make the practice more "religious" in a positive way?


Do I say Buddhist practice should be religious? Man, I never know what the Hell I say sometimes!

I guess maybe you're referring to the idea of sitting with a group or doing some of the ceremonial stuff. I do believe the ceremonial or ritual type stuff is important. But I think you don't need a whole lot of it.

Last Saturday someone asked the purpose of the chanting we do (we chant the Heart Sutra and the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo and do prostrations). I said, "Entertainment." Group chanting really only serves the purpose of providing entertainment and acting as a group bonding ritual. It's probably a slightly better form of entertainment than trolling for YouTube videos of drunk college girls making out. But it's still entertainment.

I think a home-based practice is fine. Me, I do my sitting at home, and don't neglect the bows to the cushion and away from it before and after sitting. Recently I've been chanting the "Five Reflections" meal chant before breakfast. My teacher chants this before every meal even if it's cold take-out from the local convenience store. He also chants the verse in praise of the Buddhist robe before putting his robe on prior to doing zazen. Reciting the Bodhisattva vows is nice too. These kinds of things kind of reorient your mind toward practice in a concrete way.

But the core practice is always zazen. That's the one you should never do without.

Enough for today! I gotta go get my car smog checked.

44 comments:

Ruairi said...

"
It bugs me that Gautama Buddha left his family. The message I get from your books (and other Zen writing) is that you don't need to run away to find enlightenment, the truth, or whatever. If you happen to be a prince with a wife and child, those circumstances are not obstacles to your practice -- they are your practice. "

My first reaction to this was...well, he was the first one to do it...someone had to work out this stuff!

I see the Buddha as a pioneer, he had to work out "the Middle Way" by trying out different things. Then once he had it nailed, he could teach the world.

Then when he had worked it out, he realised it was too important not to teach the world, hence he couldn't go home.

Lauren said...

Sometimes people like to see the whole of their life leading up to the moment they got some big thing right as essential to getting that big thing right. But I don't see that as a hard requirement. I don't have to copy what people say Buddha did, in all details, to arrive at the good place he found.

One way of looking at this, for example, is that Bodhidarma was dead wrong for 8.99 years. Then he finally got "it" right, stood up and left the cave.

For me the practice of zazen is essential, I think. But I've given up trying to become an ex-prince.

Matt said...

For me, the idea of "leaving home" was very helpful. I wanted to break from my very Christian-influenced upbringing, so that notion of leaving was helpful to me--it wasn't a rejection of my background, it just signified that I really had to take my "pursuit" seriously.

This idea also inspired me to literally leave home and go to college 6 years after I had graduated high school and had been working fast food jobs...

So I'd say absolutely it means different things to different people. And I sort of agree with Ruairi: SOMEONE had to do it first!

Jinzang said...

What would you say to someone today who wanted to leave his or her spouse and children in order to devote more time to sitting?

I'd say they're running away from their responsibility. Until your kids are grown, it's your legal and moral responsibility to take care of them. The whole idea is ridiculous: "Goodbye, kids, I'm going away to meditate in a monastery. You can feed yourselves out of the dumpster in back of the supermarket and live under a bridge."

A-P said...

About Gautama's "leaving home":

First of all, I don't believe those historical facts are really facts - they are stories. Only God knows who is the author of these stories and what they tried to say with these..

If this particular story happens to be true in some historical sense, for me it means one these two things:
1) Either the family of the Gautama's was such a conservative and fucked up place that he had no other option but to leave in order to have any chance to find peace of mind
2) He really was an ordinary selfish bastard and didn't care about other people's problems but instead was so concerned about his own suffering that he neglected his family - that was before he found out who he truly was. After enlightemnet he probably tried to make up for the past errors he had made.

That's what I think anyway. :)

proulx michel said...

You might also consider that he lived in such a context that leaving home, wife and child was not such a big deal, considering tehy would be well taken care of, and that they would not lack in his absence.
We have to be careful not to transpose haphazardly situations of other times and places in ours.
Before the times of the Revolutions (American and French) and even later, it was normal for the Nobility to give away newborn children to a nurse (from French "nourrice", nutrisher). The children would meet their true parents only much later, when they could talk and behave themselves.
For less well off families, peddlars would turn around with a cart and load dozens of babies in order to bring them to the countryside where nurses were more affordable. Death rate....(!)

So other times, other places have different ways of viewing their family responsibilities.

The Buddha was no worker with barely the means of sustaining his family. Then he left home to pursue some allegedly philosophical dead ends. Had he been "awakened" from the start, he might not have left home...
Then again, that was an accepted behavious in his society, and once it was done, there may have been no turning back.

Anonymous said...

Seems you beat me to it, Michel. But I'd already written this, so I'm gonna press send anyway.

Gotta remember that the Shramana (drop-out, home-leaving, truth-seeking) thing was peaking around Gautama's time in India - check it out in Wiki! It was a respected and accepted movement. No doubt it caused distress to those left behind, but I think we should be careful about transplanting modern values and assumptions...Gautama's family might've been proud of him; according to the legend, they (all?)joined him in the end.

Anyway, if that's what he did, that's what he did. You don't have to.

Anonymous said...

First, some history:

On April 25, 1872 an announcement, known as Order Number 133 was
issued by the Japanese Ministry of State at the request of the
influential Soto Zen sect priest Otori Sesso. Order Number 133, stated
that Buddhist priests could, if they wished, eat meat, get married,
grow their hair long, and wear ordinary clothing.



History of Celibacy in the Soto Sect in Japan:

After the Meiji Emperor was restored to power in the later part of the
19th Century, an edict was made to weaken the power of Buddhism, as it
had been a dominant force during the Tokugawa Shogunate from the 16th
to the 19th Centuries. Buddhism was viewed as a foreign influence
which those in power wanted to remove, or at least, to weaken. The
edict said that no religion could require celibacy. The result was
that priests began to marry and the temples became family 'businesses'
passed on from father to son. This meant that most of the people
becoming priests were inheriting a family obligation and were not
strictly speaking volunteers. It also meant that the priest had the
responsibility of raising a family as well as doing his or her own
spiritual training. This meant that priests had to be concerned with
the financial and practical realities of raising and supporting
children, in addition to exploring their spiritual lives and
performing the duties of priests. It is not surprising that having to
provide financially for a family and spend the time and energy
necessary to have a married life and raise children, left less time
for developing a spiritual practice in addition to performing the
duties of priests. Also it meant that monastic communities were not
the central focus of the practice, but small parish temples were the
predominant place of practice. The ordained members of the Sangha
would spend short periods of intense training in a monastery similar
to seminary training. The monastic setting was not necessarily a life
long commitment. Many of the priests who were officers of the big
training monasteries also had their own temples. This also created a
division of time and attention. Up until just recently all the female
monastics in Japan were celibate. This has been changing in recent
years.

The result of having married priests in Japan has caused the religion
to decline in popularity. Thousands of temples do not have priests as
the numbers of people wanting to enter the monastic Sangha have
seriously declined. If reports from people who have lived in Japan are
to be believed, the Buddhist priests are not treated with great
respect, but are seen as any other lay persons, in contrast to the way
priests were seen in past centuries. Apparently, the edict of the
Emperor has had the desired effect.


personal opinions follow:

As I understand it, the original and authentic meaning of leaving home is really leaving home and committing yourself 100% to practice and being supported by sangha, teachers and larger community. Home leavers (bikkhus) were not supposed to commit into things like being social workers, etc. It was only for practice.

I don't feel good about this tendency of abstracting something as concrete and good as "leaving home" into something metaphorical. It's feels idiotic. Like if some person claims to be in army soldier when he is doing push ups and shooting practice at home.

When you leave home, you should by the whole package and enter into training facility with early rising, singing and marching together, and being inside the system without much free time. Alternatively, you can do it alone if you stick into rigorous schedule and forget the daily matters completely.

If person goes to sesshin, he leaves the home for that time. If he sits at home he can do serious practice, but it's not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, 4.48am,

I totally agree. There's too many people re-defining terms for my liking. You don't have to do it, but leaving home, in the Buddhist tradition, is giving up all that goes with living in wider society (career, family/ money, sex), to live a very disciplined life of practice. That's what it means. Not turning the TV off more often.

But it's cool - imo you can still be a buddhist without leaving home. Totally. Of course. Just coz Gautama and Dogen thought it indispensable, doesn't mean you gotta do it or live in shame. It's the very convenient, wishful redefining that urks me.

And BTW, we already did a lot of this a couple of days ago:

http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2009/02/gudos-blog.html

(someone point me to a *how to do links* tutorial).

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 4.48,

"History of Celibacy in the Soto Sect in Japan...."

Would you please quote the source of that potted history.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Buddha was no worker with barely the means of sustaining his family. Then he left home to pursue some allegedly philosophical dead ends. Had he been "awakened" from the start, he might not have left home...

After he began gathering home leavers, Buddha encouraged countless followers from all castes, rich and poor, to walk out on their families too.

Anonymous said...

What's your point, 7.58am?

babbles said...

And BTW, we already did a lot of this a couple of days ago:

http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2009/02/gudos-blog.html

(someone point me to a *how to do links* tutorial).


Gudo's Blog

Try this site:
LINK

Anonymous said...

Zen center where group therapy is, is in SLC UT, is also a very real Soto/ Rinza, Zen center that teach Shitkantza, and Koan study.
They have 7 day sesshins regularly. Contrary to advertizements, full enlightenment is not gained in a few hours. No one there even dreams that is possible, staff or students, or resident monks.
What they do offer is, experience, of nonduality which for that matter so did the Matrix, it lasts for a little while. Regular Zen Meditation is still coner stone of their teaching.


zenair

Anonymous said...

Thanks Babbles, for the link tutorial. A genuine act of Buddhist compassion.

Rich said...

"If person goes to sesshin, he leaves the home for that time. If he sits at home he can do serious practice, but it's not the same thing."

Wouldn't it be great if 'the balanced state' was all the time and it didn't matter whether you were in sesshin or home or not -)

k said...

Brad, why don't you create a soto zen forum? There is currently not a single one that doesn't suck, and since you are popular on the internets, yours might be a success.

Just let me know if you want it and never tried because you know bollocks about computers - I have a dedicated server I can use to host it. Or even if you just like the idea of a soto zen forum and would link it from your page but want no involvement with it, just let me know...

I think it'd be really easier to keep doing zazen regularly if I'm are immersed - even digitally - in a sangha, and I think the same might apply to others....

pkb said...

Treeleaf has a good soto zen forum and Zen forum international also has a strong soto section.

Brad said that chanting and devotional stuff was entertainment. I completely agree. Zazen is boring, the chanting provides a diversion. I know a lot of teachers disagree and consider it to be a form of zazen. Of course it can be...but then so can singing campfire songs if done in the right way.

But Brad also says that 'there is no zen without ritual and ceremony' and now says it's important...but not too much. Who gets to determine how much is enough? Enough for what? I tend to see rituals the same way Brad views chanting. They're mainly just entertainment from the tedium of zazen. At least that's why I used to love them so much.

I just have the sneaky suspicion that if Nishijima roshi decided tomorrow that rituals and chanting were not important afterall, Brad would promptly follow suit.

Mysterion said...

Two points:

1) One can never "leave home." Home is where you sleep, when you sleep.

2) Chanting onece in a while can build some sense of 'community' (sangha) beyond that which a sitting group or reading group or even a study group can build. But chanting the sutras may be both burdensome and unnecessary. However, chanting the Mantra including the O'om and Svaha does connect one to a tridition that dates to Buddha (and may predate him, as well). It's sorta like departing with: "and now, I go... in peace."

If people wanna bow to the fat statue (Hotei) and say: "Namu Amida Butsu" that's fine too. They know so very little, that which they do. If their ignorance is bliss, let them have their bliss. It is seriously NOT anyone's business.

Tao Industrial said...

There is no Gautama. There is no home. Why speak of leaving?

Rich said...

"There is no Gautama. There is no home. Why speak of leaving?"

Historically speaking, we make Buddha. Home is where the heart is, so we make home. Only if you don't make anything, there is no leaving. But if you open your mouth you have already left -)

Anonymous said...

"There is no Gautama. There is no home. Why speak of leaving?"

1) There used to be.
2) Yes there is.
3) Coz that's one of the topics in Brad's blog, geddit?


"Historically speaking, we make Buddha. Home is where the heart is, so we make home. Only if you don't make anything, there is no leaving. But if you open your mouth you have already left -)"

And everything is everything.

Less of the ersatz zen, guys?

Anonymous said...

I'd already made enough comments so I didn't add my own take on chants, but I'll add them here:

limited experience in monastic setting, mind you, but during sesshins I have noticed that it's hard to get up so early in the morning. It is also cold and dark so early in the morning. Some might even find it dreary and unwelcomig.
To start the morning off in the choka (chanting hall) is a good way to shake off sleep, get the circulation going, the blood flowing, fill those lungs, dispell stagnant air and pay attention to the different rhythms/phrasings of the different chants: a good exercise in waking up/paying attention.
To go from the silence of sleeping, to moving about in dark light and chilly morning air, warming up a bit, waking up a bit with chanting and then returning to the silence and stillness of sitting with morning light emerging is a beautiful transition to experience.

Dao Industrial said...

Ersatz zen? Is that like the Shitkantza that they teach in SLC UT? (Anonymous post at 8:18 AM yesterday)

Anonymous said...

The first step is taking refuge: buddha, dharma, sangha.

Leaving home comes later.

Leaving home happens when one arrives at an inevitable conclusion:
departing everything you know (more like what you think you know); the familiar is an untrustworthy 'security' gotta step away from it,
to really know, really really really know the first thing about the truth of existence and go mano a mano with reality without the confusing hall of contorting mirrors called relationships to family members, etc.
Seeing these things for what they are is a bit easier when you can physically get away from them (of course you bring the patterning with you and it emerges wherever you find yourself, but the great thing about this is that in carefully observing the patterns as they unfurl in 'fresh' relationships is that you can see the patterns for what they are and be liberated from them:
then you can be with/live with/encounter anyone anywhere without slipping into 'home,'
most of us are 'homing pigeons;

Anonymous said...

Anon @7:54:

Do you not think it a little odd to say that parts of reality can prevent you from seeing reality?

Anonymous said...

No stranger than not being able to see the forest for the trees. Myopic view and focus on the part obscures the whole.

Jinzang said...

Do you not think it a little odd to say that parts of reality can prevent you from seeing reality?

It's our afflictive emotions that blind us to reality. Separating from the object of our afflictive emotions weakens them, so we have a better chance to see reality as it is.

Anonymous said...

"It's our afflictive emotions that blind us to reality." Indeed.

Mysterion said...

Less of the ersatz zen, guys?
Less of the ersatz 9/11, guys?
Less of the ersatz blind horse, guys?
Less of the ersatz wink, guys?
But more ersatz coffee?

Tea.

The entire universe is in one cup of tea (or not).

Smoggyrob said...

Hi everyone:

It seems to me that leaving home and dedicating your entire life to practice would be more effective than trying to practice and live as a householder. So what? I, and I imagine most people, aren't going to do that. Starting from "I am and will remain a householder", what do you do?

Rob

Tao Industrial said...

Mysterion,
I would like to see less ersatz ersatz.
No, I didn't stutter.

Mike H said...

Smoggyrob:

It seems to me that leaving home and dedicating your entire life to practice would be more effective

I wonder what the stats on this are. These days we have all sorts of methods of communication, the printing press, mass transportation and much more.

A monastary provided a controlled environment, like-minded people (probably), access to one or two skilled individuals and access to maybe the few books available in a district.

If Monastic buddhism worked better than the alternatives you'd expect to see plenty of evidence for it. I'm not sure we do.

Rich said...

I looked up ersatz : being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation. And the answer is yes, you may see valuable information here and understand your opinions better.

Harry said...

Sawaki Roshi: People call me "Homeless Kodo", but I don't take it as an insult. They call me that because I have never had a temple or a house. Everyone is homeless. It is a mistake if you think that you have a fixed home.

Uchiyama Roshi: As his disciple, I did not always feel good when I heard Sawaki Roshi called "Homeless" Kodo. The word "homeless" reminded me of stray dogs and cats. But now I understand that his nickname is really a title for the true person. Everyone is a stray in reality.


From Al's new blog:

http://homelesskodo.blogspot.com/

Regards,

H.

Jinzang said...

Starting from "I am and will remain a householder", what do you do?

Find a good teacher, keep the precepts, and practice as much as you can.

Tao Industrial said...

The Buddha is an ersatz shit-stick.

Mr. Reee said...

Staying home/leaving home: one is reminded of Zen Master Dorothy's wisdom--

"There is no-place like home."

Anonymous said...

Leaving 'self' and leaving 'possessions'
You can still live in your house with all of your things
You haven't left 'home' but 'you' have left home.

Mysterion said...

Home is like Oakland. There is no there there.

Or: "How can you be in two places at once when you aren't anyplace at all?"

Mysterion said...

Home is like Oakland. There is no there there.

Or: "How can you be in two places at once when you aren't anyplace at all?"

Anonymous said...

To: Mysterion

Antelope Freeway 1/2 Mile.

To: The Topic at hand

I don't have a concise opinion about the "Ritual Stuff" except to say that I find it very useful for setting my intention for practice (and for the day).

buddhistgeek said...

Brad, your writing reminds me of a pile of shit that I walked over in the park this morning.

Fuck this zen bullshit, its too cerebral and idealistic for me. Women this, gudo that. Its all idealism, you bumfuck.

Anonymous said...

tDead
Thread
Said
Fred?