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“It doesn’t come from outside.”

 
unsmoked
 
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23 September 2016 11:11
 

Zen master to new student:  “Why do you want to study Zen?”

Student:  “To be free.”

Master:  “What binds you?”

Student:  “Nothing binds me.”

Master:  “Then I have already set you free.”

 
 
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Cheshire Cat
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23 September 2016 11:42
 

Did you study Zen formally, Unsmoked?

Were you in a monastery?

 
 
Ola
 
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Ola
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23 September 2016 11:54
 

I have to say, I really enjoy these unsmoked extracts.

 
sojourner
 
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23 September 2016 17:30
 

And if the student then said “Great, step aside, I’m running the monastery now!”, would said Zen teacher do it? And if not, why?

 
 
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23 September 2016 19:55
 

You know, on reflection, what I don’t get about Zen is how isolationist it seems. “Don’t call my name out loud”, as Joe Purdy would say (see what I did there with choosing that lyric, because names and labels and naming things and… ok never mind.) This seems at odds with other Buddhist teachings on interdependence, but perhaps I’m just not familiar enough with Zen to see how this all fits together.

 
 
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24 September 2016 09:54
 
NL. - 23 September 2016 05:30 PM

And if the student then said “Great, step aside, I’m running the monastery now!”, would said Zen teacher do it? And if not, why?

Referring to the OP: 

After this brief exchange, suppose the student goes back to his meditation seat and reflects, “I told the teacher that nothing binds me, but obviously I’m still not free.  So . . . what is it that binds me?  If he asks me again, what will I tell him?  What’s binding me?”  Why am I not free?”

 
 
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24 September 2016 11:29
 
unsmoked - 24 September 2016 09:54 AM

After this brief exchange, suppose the student goes back to his meditation seat and reflects, “I told the teacher that nothing binds me, but obviously I’m still not free.  So . . . what is it that binds me?  If he asks me again, what will I tell him?  What’s binding me?”  Why am I not free?”


But why would he say that? Why wouldn’t he just go “Yep, his logic is sound. Nothing binding me, so I’m free. You know, freedom isn’t really all they make it out to be in those Zen stories. It’s pretty much just another way of saying “It is what it is”. So, here I am, ‘is-ing’. Yup. Hmm, maybe I’ll go start a Bunko club or something, kinda sounds like more fun than just sitting here being free.”


Why wouldn’t he be absolutely correct in saying this? Where’s the logical flaw?

 
 
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24 September 2016 11:42
 

Maybe it’s not about logic, but about feeling free or not.

 
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24 September 2016 12:10
 

I’m not sure there’s a much more anti-Buddhist notion than I want to take over in place of the Master.

It’s hard to fathom how that wouldn’t be recognized as absolutely binding to a Buddhist—in fact it seems it would prevent the aspiring Buddhist (?) from being a Buddhist.

 
 
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24 September 2016 15:51
 
hannahtoo - 24 September 2016 11:42 AM

Maybe it’s not about logic, but about feeling free or not.


Yes, that’s what I’m getting at. I find this difficult to articulate myself and am throwing these questions out to see what others think, not because I have my own answer, but it seems there must be another element to this.

 

SkepticX - 24 September 2016 12:10 PM

I’m not sure there’s a much more anti-Buddhist notion than I want to take over in place of the Master.

It’s hard to fathom how that wouldn’t be recognized as absolutely binding to a Buddhist—in fact it seems it would prevent the aspiring Buddhist (?) from being a Buddhist.


Well, let me turn the question around then - why shouldn’t the master want to put the student in charge of the monastery? The student is as free as he is now, right? You could say he’s a power hungry authoritarian and those sentiments are just as binding for him if he wants to hold on to power just for the sake of it.


Sooo… if it’s not about power, what’s missing then? What’s the difference between them?

 
 
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24 September 2016 16:57
 

I think there’s difference in the maturity and ability between a young acolyte who just had a revelation, and a master who had experience in teaching.

Personally, I need to realize something over and over, and try putting my understanding into action over and over before it becomes a part of me.

 
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24 September 2016 18:10
 
hannahtoo - 24 September 2016 04:57 PM

I think there’s difference in the maturity and ability between a young acolyte who just had a revelation, and a master who had experience in teaching.

Personally, I need to realize something over and over, and try putting my understanding into action over and over before it becomes a part of me.


Right, but see, that’s what I’m getting at when it comes to why I have a hard time connecting with Zen (not saying it’s right or wrong, just not for my mindset maybe.) If this is the case, then why does the master tell the student that nothing binds him? Clearly, in the relative world, the laws of cause and effect do bind him. He’s less experienced, younger, etc., etc., and that has real world effects. Which would seem to contradict said master’s earlier statement.


To my mind Zen focuses on one side of the coin, which is maybe a good thing for people who are overly focused on the other side of said coin, but maybe not for every mindset. I find there is not a lot of focus on ‘karma’ (determinism for the secular) and interdependence, although again, these may simply be my unfounded impressions as I haven’t studied it in depth.

 
 
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24 September 2016 20:15
 

My impression is that Zen stories like the one we’re discussing were meant to provide insight, not be the last word on the subject.

Kind of like aphorisms.  For example, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and “out of sight, out of mind.”  They both are true and not true.

 
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24 September 2016 21:07
 
hannahtoo - 24 September 2016 08:15 PM

My impression is that Zen stories like the one we’re discussing were meant to provide insight, not be the last word on the subject.

Kind of like aphorisms.  For example, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and “out of sight, out of mind.”  They both are true and not true.


That may be true, although I would be disappointed to think one could replace the wisdom of Zen with wandering through a Hallmark store flipping through cards, ha ha! But I do think that the story unsmoked posted could have two rather different meanings, depending on what you mean by ‘free’. It could point to absolutely nothing outside the status quo, just another way of saying “Things are what they are”. Or it could point to a different way of perceiving. If it’s the latter, however, I think there is a step missing in there.

 
 
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24 September 2016 21:35
 

PS… When it comes to aphorisms, I think “The Dance” by Garth Brooks is my go-to on samsara/nirvana (it’s a sad song, but the nirvana piece would be him saying he’s glad he didn’t know, and presumably still is, even though he’s dancing around in the ups and downs of samsara, that he has no regrets). But when it comes to zen, I suppose my point here is that I think (could be wrong here) that it points to something experiential, and experiences are, well experienced. And yet the paradox is to say that to say enlightenment or nirvana can be experienced vs. not experienced makes it a temporal, worldly thing, which it is, according to tradition, not. Thus the whole “samsara and nirvana are one” (but still merit separate vocabulary words) paradox, to my mind.

 
 
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25 September 2016 05:38
 
NL. - 24 September 2016 09:07 PM
hannahtoo - 24 September 2016 08:15 PM

My impression is that Zen stories like the one we’re discussing were meant to provide insight, not be the last word on the subject.

Kind of like aphorisms.  For example, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and “out of sight, out of mind.”  They both are true and not true.


That may be true, although I would be disappointed to think one could replace the wisdom of Zen with wandering through a Hallmark store flipping through cards, ha ha! But I do think that the story unsmoked posted could have two rather different meanings, depending on what you mean by ‘free’. It could point to absolutely nothing outside the status quo, just another way of saying “Things are what they are”. Or it could point to a different way of perceiving. If it’s the latter, however, I think there is a step missing in there.

I wouldn’t necessarily put every Zen story above aphorisms.  I mean, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is TRUE.  And so is “out of sight…”  And the first phrase dates back to the 1600’s; the second to the 1200’s.  Hardly Hallmark, hmmph! 

But seriously, I guess I don’t see that a Zen master would expect an acolyte to be transformed by a single statement.  It is surely a take-off point for all sorts of meditation and further questioning.  Even the legends of the Buddha describe a lifetime journey of ups and downs to reach enlightenment. 

Here’s the other angle:  In my great wisdom, I see no religion or path as the right one for everyone.  A whole lot of them claim to be, however.  Zen may not fit NL as well as it does unsmoked.  Off-the-shelf philosophies fit some lucky people who pull down the right volume.  I don’t mean this to be disparaging at all.  Obviously, certain religions or philosophies are very fitting for a lot of people—that’s why the major religions have hung around for millennia.  (Yeah, I know, some have been perpetuated by force.  But if they made no sense, they wouldn’t last longer than, let’s say, a dynasty.)  I think it’s wonderful when a religion or a talent or passion can fulfill a person.  Then there are the rest of us who must continue to wrestle and seek and hack our way cross-country across the landscape, rather than following a path.

Personally, the challenge of forgiving others speaks to me from Christianity.  But I reject the notions of reward and punishment in the afterlife.  I appreciate the calls for justice and freedom in the modern Jewish Passover.  At the same time, I cringe at the tribalism of the Old Testament.  And I acknowledge wisdom in the perspective of Buddhism, while knowing that I cannot meditate.  I must walk and do.  That is what consistently brings me peace.

[ Edited: 25 September 2016 06:12 by hannahtoo]
 
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