Sunday, July 11, 2010

JAPAN RETREAT and AM I A MONK?

I'm back from the retreat at Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka Japan. A fun time was had by all.

Usually we get about 20 people at these things. But with the change from September to July we didn't have so many participants this year. But that's no big thing. In fact it was kind of nice to have just nine people. It makes things a lot more manageable and provides an opportunity for everybody to get to know each other. I thought it was great. And the weather, which I'd feared would be intolerably hot and humid, was actually better than it usually is in September. You shoulda been there!

I've been on this computer all morning trying to sort out where I'll be going after I get back to the USA. Anybody got a cheap apartment they want to rent to a guy who's hardly ever around? Seriously. I'll consider pretty much anywhere in the world. Hit me up.

Anyhow, I'm sick of being behind the computer so I'm gonna make this another short one (notice that I deftly resist saying "That's what she said" here. It is because of my tremendous will power!).

About the previous post, people keep thinking I'm saying there's no value at all to the sutras. I'm not. They are very valuable. But Buddhists view their so-called "sacred texts" in a way that is utterly different from how such texts are viewed in most religions.

I think that when I say "Buddhist texts are not the inerrant word of God" or words to that effect, people tend to stick "...and therefore we can discard them" at the end of that statement in their minds. They do this because that's the way we've been taught to look at the scriptures of the Western religious traditions. Either they're the inerrant word of God or they're trash. That's why religious people get so bent out of shape when anyone questions their scriptures.

But there's a huuuuuuuuge middle ground between "inerrant word of God" and "trash." This is the ground that Buddhist sutras occupy.

Somebody quoted Nishijima saying:

"In Buddhism there are fundamentally two ways that can be used to pursue the truth. One is practising Zazen and the other is reading the scriptures (sutras). But some people deny that there is any value in reading Buddhist scriptures and place too much emphasis on the value of practicing Zazen. They insist that Buddhism does not consist of philosophical theories. They say that practicing Zazen only is sufficient to attain the truth and that Buddhist scriptures are useless and in fact harmful to this purpose. Master Dogen, however, did not think so; he esteemed the value of reading the scriptures. He thought that reading the scriptures was an indispensable part of attaining the truth. So he wrote down the true meaning of reading the Buddhist scriptures in this chapter. In his opinion, Buddhist scriptures are not only the Buddhist sutras, but also the Universe itself which shows us and teaches us the true meaning of our lives."

Then someone else said, "That sounds like the Old Nishijima, before the 'all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System' Nishijima." There is no "all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System Nishijima." His view on the value of Buddhist philosophy has not changed at all. He busts his ass even at age 90 to try to explain Buddhism in a philosophical way.

I feel the same way as Nisjhijima about the sutras and the writings of Dogen. Or else why would I have written a whole book trying to explain Dogen? Duh!

Whatever.

Also on the "things that bug me" tangent, there's a guy in Europe saying to some of the Dogen Sangha people there that monks in the Japanese Zen tradition don't deserve to call themselves monks because they're not celibate and don't follow the Vinaya regulations to the letter.

To that I can only answer in the words of the great 60s cult band The Monks, "I'm a monk, you're a monk, we're all monks!"

There are a lot of people who feel this way about Japanese-style Buddhist monks, and a lot who don't. The guy who said this comes from the Korean Zen tradition, where this is a thorny issue. When Japan occupied Korea from the early 20th century until 1945 they changed the rules there and allowed Buddhist monks to marry. When the Koreans threw off the shackles of Japan, some of the Buddhists decided to go back to the old celibate system and some did not. This caused some friction that remains today. Those who reject the non-celibacy thing do so because they see it as a corruption brought over by the nasty Japanese. Those who stayed with the non-celibate style see the easing of regulations concerning celibacy as a good and natural progression of Buddhism.

For Westerners, the idea of non-celibate Buddhist monks doesn't seem so outlandish. We had the Protestant Reformation a few hundred years ago that allowed Christian clergy to marry and generally not be celibate. And Rabbis and Imams have never been required to be celibate. So we generally don't worry ourselves too much when we hear about non-celibate Buddhist monks. But in Asia it's still controversial. And some Westerners who have lived in Asian cultures have picked up on this as well.

It would be different if non-celibacy for Buddhist monks in the Japanese tradition was something that was made up just to placate Westerners, or if it was something weirdos like me had invented. But that isn't the case. There is about 150 years of tradition behind it. In fact non-celibacy for Buddhist monks goes back a long ways before the Japanese government made it official in the 1860s. How do you think the sex based meditation exercises in the Tibetan Tantric tradition developed?

In any case, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the term "monk" myself, but not because I'm not celibate. I think the word "monk" tends to make Western people envision something like Catholic-style monk-hood. For example, it makes them imagine people who enter a monastery and live there for the rest of their lives. But that's not the case in Zen and never has been.

I use the word "monk" sometimes for lack of anything better to call myself. Gradually people are coming to understand what a Zen monk is. I also use it because once my teacher, Nishijima Roshi said to me, "You're a monk." So I accept his definition.

This is a pretty convoluted subject and maybe I'll get into it in a more detailed way one of these days.

ADDENDUM
Here's a good article on this subject by James Ford.

240 comments:

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Anonymous said...

thanks for the lead in, anon :)

Am I a monk?

What a name for? It's a term I use to describe myself to others so that they can have a perspective on me that matches to some degree with the perspective I have of myself and my life experience. So if I use the work 'monk' to describe myself, I'm telling other people something about my life choices. I'm telling them what I believe and do, and also what I don't believe and don't do. But the term I use comes from common language, so I'm using a word that signifies something I align to.

For me, saying I'm a monk means pretty much the same thing as saying I'm 'buddhist'. It means that the teachings of the Buddha and the subsequent teachers matter to me. I study them and I follow them.

If someone came up to me and said, hey! let's go rob a store, or, hey! let's make tons of money by producing a porno movie, I might respond, no, sorry, I'm a monk. That's because the work monk, as I use it, precludes these activities.

But actually I don't tell people I'm a monk. I was thinking of becoming a monk a while back, which to me means actually entering a monastery, renouncing property, eating what I get in my bowl, etc. (I practice Theravada). If a friend asks about my faith I say I'm a householder because I'm of the class of buddhists that follow the teachings while living in society, having a family, etc.

Well, there's some thoughts on monk-ey business from this person.

cptcha: kniness, I try not to lie

ben.silvana@virgin.net said...

thanks for the post. I am really enjoying your books. New to this and full of questions. Can i ask one? How do you rate mindfull meditation as a treatment for depression/stress. I am a doctor in the uk and i guess intersted in that sort of thing----evidence is solid for motivated meditators with or with out adgenda.

ben mccaffrey herefordshire uk

Gordon said...

Anon, I know what you mean.. Sometimes I wonder why people post as anonymous but then sometimes I don't. It's like sometimes I wonder what Buddhism really is and other times I wonder why the Mormons blew up the twin towers. Sometimes I want to be stimulated with wisdom and insight and other times I read what Mysterion has to say.

movie critic said...

I haven't seen this movie yet and I love it already.

Mysterion said...

Troll Phd

Troll Ph.D.?

So, Troll, what was the focus of inquiry in this "Ph.D." of yours?

I happen to have a paper-pencil Ph.D. in "Scriptural Studies" and my terminus was a dissertation titled "Nomos as Folklore." When first submitted for approval, the anticipated title was "Torah as Folklore" but that 'word' was rejected in favor of the lightly veiled term Nomos.

In my opinion, it's all folklore. The rest is speculation.

The one true and inspired (albeit incomplete) book is this.

Word Verification = haram

Mysterion said...

It's just not Akhenaten...

When you go back a bit - certainly since the last 'mini-ice age of 12,000 years ago - religion is merely sun worship in one form or another. The Jews call the main or 'first' candle of the menorah 'Shamesh' (sun) and the rest are planets.

Click on images (1) here and notice the inclination stones on the top - clear geometric markings of the summer and winter solstice, same as the Isis Temple.

But everyone already knew all of this...

john e mumbles said...

movie critic: WTF? Was that the Levi and Bristol Story? I watched it with the sound off.

It had Justin Timberlake in it for Chrissakes...and a bunch of JT look-alikes and clones. Def. Not Punk Rock.

I give that (silent) preview a -1.

john e mumbles said...

But Mysterion, honestly, where do all these endless connections and associations lead for a confirmed skeptic like (me too) yourself? To a big "So What" thats where...

Mysterion said...

Blogger john e mumbles said...
"But Mysterion, honestly, where do all these endless connections and associations lead for a confirmed skeptic like (me too) yourself? To a big "So What" thats where...

Not just to a big "So What", but to a big "bullshit." (sound the gong!)

And, in biblical terms, there is a lot to be said for bullshit... where to burn it, where to pile it...

and so forth.

Ex. 29: 14 "But the flesh of the bullock, and his skin, and his dung, shalt thou burn with fire without the camp: it is a sin offering."

Buddhist Monk said...

I call myself a monk. My wife told me I'm a monk, so I am a monk. It's probably because we don't have sex much anymore or maybe because I stay shut-up in the house most of the time.

To me being a monk means I like what the Buddha teaches. If someone asked me to make a porno film....well....I'd probably say 'Hell yeah!' Because, to me, monks can make porno films that have deep spiritual meaning and stuff. I mean like Brad wrote articles for Suicide Girls and that's kind of like a porno isn't it?

I'm a monk, so if someone asked me to go to a bar and get wasted I'd say....'Sure!' Cause I like to do body-shots off good-looking women after we drink lots of Tequila. But to me, it's totally ok for monks to get really drunk and have sex with strange women. Like Brad, I've read old Ikkyu too. He's my zen god. And Brad is my zen Jesus.

Thanks for the invitation to share my ideas of monkhood. I'll call you a monk if you call me a monk.

Anonymous said...

Haha :) Right on Monk!

movie critic said...

Mumbles: Goddam it! I just read your post with the monitor unplugged. For some reason I didn't get much out of it. Try the preview again with the sound on. Geez!

Timberlake is perfect casting for a movie about a bunch of creeps. Get it?

Anonymous said...

Buddhist Monk: So are frat guys monks if they've read Brad's book?..

Spencer Pratt said...

HELL YEAH!

I LOVE ZEN. I TOTALLY GET IT.
I HAVE CRYSTALS TOO!!!
THIS IS A COOL BLOG!

Anonymous said...

My neighbor's kid told me frat boys are monks and I accept his definition. Party on!

Troll PhD (for the last time) said...

Troll Ph.D.?

So, Troll, what was the focus of inquiry in this "Ph.D." of yours?


Like Harry G. Frankfurt, Chas, my focus of enquiry was BULLSHIT. Unlike Harry's effort, mine is complete -- complete bullshit. Geddit?

anonymousmaximus said...

When I'm hidden well, I'm revealing the most, to myself!

Anonymous said...

To #108 (Troll Phd, and co)

Malcolm, you had a nice apology from me so you could stop foaming at the mouth and let go.

I've nearly finished the mind-numbing report that's had me sucking the monitor for the last few weeks, and so I won't be using my down-time to post back anymore.

Maybe have a re-read through your initial Troll Phd response one day - try reading it as if out loud. I'm not bothered if you re-read through my response.

I think everybody is moved for a variety of reasons. I was moved to bring things to the surface. Not 'out' you silly - that happens one way or another by itself.

As I wrote before, I think it's what one walks away from that draws one back that counts. And how we have and will make contact with those in the outside world - adopting similar patterns of behaviour.

Now where's the number for my therapist. I'm going to have to pen in a few sessions to deal with my addictive, infatuated, obsessive, narcissistic, covert aggressive cowardice that I've gone and projected onto someone else by exploiting Brad's open comments section with underhand anon tactics. And I'm going have to tackle those willy's that keep distracting me whenever I click on Firefox. (Shh - don't tell the wife or the kids).

x

Have the last word.

Anonymous said...

zipper.

Anonymous said...

To #108 (troll phd and co)

...Oh I forgot to say: for what it's worth I give you my word I won't respond to a single thing you write again.

Zipped.

Anonymous said...

zipper is the last word in The Wizard of Oz if you play it in alphabetical order.

and co said...

anon, you have fingered the wrong man. Sorry about the sexual imagery but I believe this is a case of mistaken identity.

Anonymous said...

Shirley you're imagining things.

and co said...

Shirley Knot

and co said...

You've called me Malcolm one or twice before after a comment. I thought it was odd but I never corrected you.

auto pilot said...

surely you can't be serious

and co said...

Anyhoo.. I just wanted you to know. This will be my final word on the subject. Zipper!

unanimous said...

That was nice.. Two anons, like ships passing in the night, never to know each other's fake internet names. It was a little gay too.

Anonymous said...

(full disclosure, I *am* gay)

unanimous said...

Yeah, I am too.

Old Nishijima said...

WELL, THIS SEEMS TO SETTLE THE "OLD NISHIJIMA NEW NISHIJIMA" THING HANDS DOWN. His Bradiness wrote ...

Then someone else said, "That sounds like the Old Nishijima, before the 'all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System' Nishijima." There is no "all you need is to straighten the spine and balance the Autonomic Nervous System Nishijima." His view on the value of Buddhist philosophy has not changed at all. He busts his ass even at age 90 to try to explain Buddhism in a philosophical way.

So Harry writes today:

Dear Roshi,

I hope you are keeping well.

What is the real meaning of the Buddhist theory of 'shunyata' or 'emptiness'?

I ask because it seems that this theory often leads to philosophical conclusions which are contrary to the intention of Buddhism.

Many thanks,

Harry.


And New Gudo answers


Gudo says that "shyunyata" means the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system. Therefore I think that the expression of "emptines" might be misleading.


CASE CLOSED.

Another fundamental teaching of Mahayana Buddhism reinterpreted by Gudo in his own unique way. It will be interesting to see his new translation of Nagarjuna.



"EMPTINES IS MISLEADING

Taiwan Escort Gudo said...

oh and when will any of Gudo's students clue him in on the guy from the Taiwanese escort service he is engaged in deep poetic discussions with

Anonymous said...

"Gudo says that "shyunyata" means the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system. Therefore I think that the expression of "emptines" might be misleading."

OK Buddhist scholars. Are you going to take issue with this or just continue to kiss up to Brad by overlooking his teacher's strange dogmas?
And how does shunyata lead to philosphical conclusions that are contrary to the intention of Buddhism? Does anyone besides some beatnik that's been living in a cave for 50 years think shunyata means literal emptiness? Are there still buddhists who don't understand dependent origination? Or who don't realize it means empty of self-nature? Or is this just Harry's strawman? Buddha knows Brad and Gudo love those strawmen.

At least some brave soul has shown that the emperor has no clothes. Pathetic.

unanimous said...

Getting old is pathetic. You will be there soon enough Anon. In fact, you are quite pathetic right now.

Brad Warner said...

What does "empty of self nature" mean?

Anonymous said...

"What does "empty of self nature" mean?"

It means you straighten your spine.
Or maybe it just means your digestive system is balanced.
Or maybe it means your urinary tract is balanced.

But you will definitely understand when you learn to stick your finger in your nose correctly. Don't use the wrong finger, that would be inauthentic. Since body and mind are one, by putting your finger in your nose you can balance your sinus system and comprehend the true meaning of empty of self nature. Then you'll understand master Doggone's profound teaching that picking boogers is itself enlightenment and perfectly expresses Buddhanature.

Mysterion said...

Brad Warner said...
"What does "empty of self nature" mean?"

Right...

these self-made pros from Dover will quickly resolve that...

they are too involved in the myth of self to even think that out...

electrons, everywhere electrons.

LOL

Anonymous said...

the bottom fell out of the bucket
it can no longer hold water to reflect the moon

don't they write poems using that imagery?

anon #108 said...

It's the morning , so I gotta be careful. In the morning I'm more excitable. Why is that? Perhaps it's something to do with the way my body works? Nah. Ridiculous.

It's very simple to me: if the Dogen Sangha troll(s) find Nishijima/Brad's/Harry's ideas ridiculous, fine - seek your salvation elsewhere. Or let's have a discussion. If posting on blogs has any value at all, it might be to exchange and clarify views. But you only get exasperated and take the piss. Why? Why so pissed off? If you don't understand it and don't care, go somewhere else. If you'd like to understand it, ask, and you might get an answer. If you're not interested, move on. But just venting over what you see as laughable - what's all that about? If you're trying to demonstrate to the people who read this blog, or Dogen Sangha types, how stupid Brad and Gudo are, I doubt if it works.

Yes, I it does bother me - just a tad, now and then - that Gudo often mentions the ANS on his blog these days, writes in poor Jenglish and sometimes misunderstands questions, all perhaps exacerbated by age. But only because people don't get it, and it's an easy thing to not get and so to attack. Not because I think Gudo ideas are ridiculous, or have suddenly become ridiculous. He just doesn't come across well in unedited Jenglish, and I don't like to see the important teaching of a great man ridiculed.

If "empty of true self" (and similar expressions) do it for you, smashing. But like Brad, I wonder what it can possibly mean. Yes, I know what Buddhist philosophy says it means; very interesting idea. Revolutionary in it's time, and still pointing to something deep about the nature of stuff. You might even have a moment of "insight" contemplating it. You might even believe it summarises the essence of Buddhist teaching. Maybe even Gudo has read, contemplated and had insights about the svabhava and shunyata! But it's an idea and you can get very lost in ideas. Ideas can take on a life of their own - you can start believing the words, and your insights into them are real. Zen, from the beginning, has been a form of Buddhism which aims to disabuse you of getting hung up on the ideas. To my ears when Gudo's answers with "balanced ANS", he's saying 'forget the speculation, the philosophical debating, DO IT - it's all about the state of your body/mind.' That, I think is what Harry question addressed. And that is what Gudo's answer is about.

Tiffany said...

A retreat in Japan to spend my days getting in touch with my inner energies would be the best thing in life.

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