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ZEN - Teacherless Knowledge and the Ocean of Your Own Essence

 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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23 May 2017 11:16
 

About a thousand years ago, Zen master Huanglong said, “The universal body of reality is so subtle that you do not hear it when you deliberately listen for it, and you do not see it when you look at it.  As for the pure knowledge that has no teacher, how can it be attained by thought or study?”

Question:  Do you think he is referring to the ‘knowledge’ of our DNA?  That is . . . the knowledge that has been evolving for over a billion years and is passed along in the genes?  Does Huanglong mean the operating system that all living things depend on, from the seed in the ground to humans while still in the womb?  Are Zen masters pointing to it when they say, “Like a wild bird in the forest; like a tiger in the jungle.”

There’s a beaver pond a stone’s throw from this cabin door, and now a mallard emerges from the cattails with ten newly hatched ducklings following her, already adept swimmers, feeding as they go . . . pure knowledge that has no teacher . . . not attained by thought or study.

Is this why Zen masters say the Way does not need cultivation?  Why Zen does not need study?  (‘just don’t defile it’ they might add)

(Huanglong quoted from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)

 
 
EN
 
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23 May 2017 12:52
 
unsmoked - 23 May 2017 11:16 AM

There’s a beaver pond a stone’s throw from this cabin door, and now a mallard emerges from the cattails with ten newly hatched ducklings following her, already adept swimmers, feeding as they go . . . pure knowledge that has no teacher . . . not attained by thought or study.

That’s just instinct, not knowledge. It’s the result of millions of years of evolution.  If I followed my instincts I might be put in prison.  I need knowledge that is taught.

 
sojourner
 
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23 May 2017 13:45
 

I think most zen teachings refer to some “face before you were born beyond concepts” state of awareness, and this sounds like another reference to that. Zen does have some stories about what you’re describing though - if I remember correctly, there’s one about someone who tries over and over again to get a calligraphy letter perfect and then he stops trying and doesn’t think about it at all and his hand just makes the perfect letter; and one about a chef saying he never has to sharpen his knife because he doesn’t think about it and cuts in perfect alignment with the natural grain of the meat he serves. There’s a name for that kind of ‘flow state’ in zen but I can’t remember it at the moment.


On a side note, I am reading In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi now, and am having very mixed emotions about some of the discourses that apparently get shuffled out of view in front of secular Western audiences. I mean I’ve heard Harris refer to wacky legends about the Buddha, but given the hundreds of years and dozens of cultures that the tradition has traveled through, I think that’s to be expected. But these are discourses that are supposed to be from the Buddha himself, passed down via oral tradition, and very much have that ring to them (he has a very distinct, repetitive, just-the-facts-to-the-point-of-stating-the-obvious speaking style, after all,) and the Buddha says in all seriousness that he was born upright and walking scrubbed clean as a diamond with various miracles happening nearby, like jets of water shooting from the earth; that he talked to devas who told him they would feed him with holy essence through his skin if he stopped eating; and so on.


I must say, I feel a mixture of strong guilt (lack of faith was a sin in my religion of birth and that feeling simply transferred) at thinking “Whoa, the Buddha sounds kinda like any out there new age guru you would have heard in the 70’s” (looks left and right and worries about getting smoted by karma for thinking that); relief at the idea that perhaps there are parts of Buddhism that are incorrect, as I find it somewhat depressing in places and I wouldn’t be too upset if Buddhism was ‘wrong’ about those bits; confusion about whether I should entertain such notions if I want to be a good spiritual practitioner; and so on. The whole premise of Buddhism is that Buddha was THE archetype of an enlightened being… if he was actually another brand of new age guru, that doesn’t nullify the value of practice but it changes the framing somewhat. I’m not sure what to make of that side of the Buddhism story.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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23 May 2017 14:43
 
NL. - 23 May 2017 01:45 PM

I think most zen teachings refer to some “face before you were born beyond concepts” state of awareness, and this sounds like another reference to that. Zen does have some stories about what you’re describing though - if I remember correctly, there’s one about someone who tries over and over again to get a calligraphy letter perfect and then he stops trying and doesn’t think about it at all and his hand just makes the perfect letter; and one about a chef saying he never has to sharpen his knife because he doesn’t think about it and cuts in perfect alignment with the natural grain of the meat he serves. There’s a name for that kind of ‘flow state’ in zen but I can’t remember it at the moment.


On a side note, I am reading In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi now, and am having very mixed emotions about some of the discourses that apparently get shuffled out of view in front of secular Western audiences. I mean I’ve heard Harris refer to wacky legends about the Buddha, but given the hundreds of years and dozens of cultures that the tradition has traveled through, I think that’s to be expected. But these are discourses that are supposed to be from the Buddha himself, passed down via oral tradition, and very much have that ring to them (he has a very distinct, repetitive, just-the-facts-to-the-point-of-stating-the-obvious speaking style, after all,) and the Buddha says in all seriousness that he was born upright and walking scrubbed clean as a diamond with various miracles happening nearby, like jets of water shooting from the earth; that he talked to devas who told him they would feed him with holy essence through his skin if he stopped eating; and so on.


I must say, I feel a mixture of strong guilt (lack of faith was a sin in my religion of birth and that feeling simply transferred) at thinking “Whoa, the Buddha sounds kinda like any out there new age guru you would have heard in the 70’s” (looks left and right and worries about getting smoted by karma for thinking that); relief at the idea that perhaps there are parts of Buddhism that are incorrect, as I find it somewhat depressing in places and I wouldn’t be too upset if Buddhism was ‘wrong’ about those bits; confusion about whether I should entertain such notions if I want to be a good spiritual practitioner; and so on. The whole premise of Buddhism is that Buddha was THE archetype of an enlightened being… if he was actually another brand of new age guru, that doesn’t nullify the value of practice but it changes the framing somewhat. I’m not sure what to make of that side of the Buddhism story.


“Oral tradition” could not possibly maintain word-for-word what Buddha said.  There is a persistent myth of faithful acolytes passing down stories without error.  However, oral tradition includes filtering and alteration.  Even written manuscripts are changed as they are faithfully recopied, due to mistakes and bits of editorial license.  Face it, it’s not so very tough to make up entire stories in the style of a traditional cannon.  Jesus never claimed he was born of a virgin, etc.  But these stories became attached to him.  As Joseph Campbell has said, some charismatic people attract stories.

 
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23 May 2017 19:19
 
hannahtoo - 23 May 2017 02:43 PM

“Oral tradition” could not possibly maintain word-for-word what Buddha said.  There is a persistent myth of faithful acolytes passing down stories without error.  However, oral tradition includes filtering and alteration.  Even written manuscripts are changed as they are faithfully recopied, due to mistakes and bits of editorial license.  Face it, it’s not so very tough to make up entire stories in the style of a traditional cannon.  Jesus never claimed he was born of a virgin, etc.  But these stories became attached to him.  As Joseph Campbell has said, some charismatic people attract stories.


I agree, although I find casting doubt on the veracity of the sutras simultaneously demoralizing and a relief. Demoralizing because there’s no reason to think that should apply only to certain texts - realistically, if it applies to some, it could potentially apply just as much to any of them. In which case, if I downgrade the claims in one maybe I should downgrade the claims in all of them (the Buddha “started to enjoy his early morning jogs that used to feel like a drag” as opposed to “transcended all worldly suffering”, ha ha!). A relief because there are times when I see Buddhism as somewhat life-denying and even anti-life (no matter how you frame it, the goal of Buddhism is to get out of human existence and not return with another reincarnation,) which bothers me. In Christianity there’s more of a positive focus on the blessing of coming to “know God”, vs. a negative focus on escaping suffering… maybe the same thing from two different angles, but it has always bothered me a bit that Buddhism doesn’t seem to see much point to life other than as an unfortunate accident of events that must be done away with - leaving the impression we would have been better off remaining as carbon particles (I will say this book did mention a concept I hadn’t heard mentioned before, that it is somehow ‘better’ in Buddhism to be a sentient being who ‘walks the path’ than to simply be an inanimate object, which was about the most positive thing I’ve heard Buddhism say in that regard!).


For practical purposes it doesn’t matter too much, I guess, if enlightenment exists it supposedly takes eons and I wasn’t planning on it in this life anyways. But as a philosophical / spiritual musing, it is something I wonder about, in a “What’s it all about” kinda way.

 
 
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23 May 2017 20:44
 

People see the truth of life differently.  The Buddhist Noble Truth that “life is suffering” seems like a half-truth to me.  Life is suffering, and it is joy, and a lot of other emotions too.  But maybe if I was born into a rural life of poverty 2500 years ago, I’d be more inclined to accept the profound wisdom of suffering.  And the Christian idea that we are born sinners also seems like a half-truth.  We are sinners, and we do good, and we have a lot of other impulses too.  But if I were St Paul, who’d been doggedly persecuting the Christians for years and finally saw the light, my sins would be heavy on my mind.  (As a modern example, did you see the viral video of the little girl on the dock who got pulled into the water by a sea lion?  An unrelated man jumped immediately into the water to bring her to safety, and other onlookers leant a hand to pull both of them out.  Our better angels can be strong and automatic.)

This is not to say that there isn’t great wisdom in Buddhism and in Christianity.  But, for me, neither offers a complete picture of life. 

As for what Master Huanglong said…I’ll take a stab at it.  It seems that most religions are based on the idea that our everyday life is not reality, that there is another perspective beyond the mental and social constructs in which we operate.  But whether this can be understood better through meditation, or studying physics, or reading the holy texts or Jung or Nietzsche, or walking in nature, or praying to Jesus or Allah or Krishna, who can say?  It’s good to recognize that we’re each caught up in a spider’s web.  When we realize it, the web can loosen for a time.  We get glimpses as a person observing the web, rather than only as the fly.

 
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23 May 2017 21:35
 

I fear that humanity can either be innovative or content, but not both at the same time:
if we find mental ways to accept what we got as sufficient, we won’t try to make things better.

 
 
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24 May 2017 07:01
 
Twissel - 23 May 2017 09:35 PM

I fear that humanity can either be innovative or content, but not both at the same time:
if we find mental ways to accept what we got as sufficient, we won’t try to make things better.

It’s that balance thingy.

 
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24 May 2017 07:40
 
hannahtoo - 23 May 2017 08:44 PM

People see the truth of life differently.  The Buddhist Noble Truth that “life is suffering” seems like a half-truth to me.  Life is suffering, and it is joy, and a lot of other emotions too.  But maybe if I was born into a rural life of poverty 2500 years ago, I’d be more inclined to accept the profound wisdom of suffering.  And the Christian idea that we are born sinners also seems like a half-truth.  We are sinners, and we do good, and we have a lot of other impulses too.  But if I were St Paul, who’d been doggedly persecuting the Christians for years and finally saw the light, my sins would be heavy on my mind.  (As a modern example, did you see the viral video of the little girl on the dock who got pulled into the water by a sea lion?  An unrelated man jumped immediately into the water to bring her to safety, and other onlookers leant a hand to pull both of them out.  Our better angels can be strong and automatic.)

This is not to say that there isn’t great wisdom in Buddhism and in Christianity.  But, for me, neither offers a complete picture of life.


Yeah, the “life is suffering” (dukkha) is definitely an example of a concept I find kinda depressing in Buddhism. I think dukkha does not necessarily refer entirely to ‘large scale’ emotions like joy and sorrow - at its root, I think it’s the idea that an unexamined human mind is an unhappy state to be in, even in the best of times. That much I actually agree with. For anyone I’ve know who’s gotten into meditation seriously and gone on retreat, it seems to be a consistent pattern that the first thing people notice is a stratum of unpleasantness in their experience (I’ve heard people frame this in different ways - a lot of meditators seem to become disproportionately upset that they cannot “stay with the breath”, but to my mind that’s kind of a narrative slapped on to the feeling you really notice when you start meditating. I mean I’m sure these people weren’t instantly good at any skill under the sun, from elite gymnastics to weaving tapestries to hand gliding or whatever, so the idea that something new being hard should be shockingly surprising and upsetting seems off to me. Generally that’s the natural order of things, not cause to get really upset.)


Of course, to be skeptical, maybe that’s a sign that retreats are simply kinda torturous, but as people usually end up feeling much better overall, that’s not my take on it. To me the idea of ‘dukkha’ humming along beneath it all makes sense. What bothers me is what exactly the cessation of suffering points to in Buddhism. That’s not really clear in the tradition, to my mind. At the most mundane level, it might point to living everyday life with a fresh set of eyes and ability to ‘be in the moment’; at the most supernatural level, it definitely talks about eons of unhappy reincarnations until one is no longer living as a human.


On a happier note, both Christianity and Buddhism include an acknowledgement that no matter what, underneath everything it’s all God all the time or all Nibbana all the time.

 
 
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24 May 2017 12:15
 
EN - 23 May 2017 12:52 PM
unsmoked - 23 May 2017 11:16 AM

There’s a beaver pond a stone’s throw from this cabin door, and now a mallard emerges from the cattails with ten newly hatched ducklings following her, already adept swimmers, feeding as they go . . . pure knowledge that has no teacher . . . not attained by thought or study.

That’s just instinct, not knowledge. It’s the result of millions of years of evolution.  If I followed my instincts I might be put in prison.  I need knowledge that is taught.

“I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”  -  H.D. Thoreau

Zen master Fenyang said, “The original Buddha-nature of all living beings is like the bright moon in the sky - it is only because it is covered by floating clouds that it cannot appear.” (end quote)

All living beings?  Surely Fenyang must be talking about the behavioral instructions, the blueprint, the knowledge that is packed in a seed, packed in the minuscule zygotes of animals.  In this neck of the woods, the massive black cottonwood has a seed smaller than the period of this sentence.  How could a barely visible speck contain detailed instructions for a complex new life form?

Q:  Are humans the only living beings who cover their original nature with floating clouds?  What are the floating clouds? 

I appreciate all of your responses.

(Fenyang quoted from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)

 

 
 
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24 May 2017 17:43
 

unsmoked:
In this neck of the woods, the massive black cottonwood has a seed smaller than the period of this sentence.  How could a barely visible speck contain detailed instructions for a complex new life form?

DNA molecules are very, very, very small.  A human egg cell is 1/100th of a millimeter in diameter, and that’s a BIG cell.  Of course, the chromosomes inside are much tinier.  (But you know this…just expressing amazement is my guess?)

As for the Thoreau quote, I think it needs some explanation.  Certainly a baby has a degree of awe and wonder as well as a drive to learn and do that is much tempered in an adult.  But a baby is also very incomplete and dependent, requiring proper stimuli to develop.  So “wise” in what sense?  Probably Thoreau admires the baby’s openness and attention to the world, without preconceptions.

These preconceptions are the clouds.  I would say that any organism that learns has preconceptions based on past experiences.  For example, we once adopted an adult dog that obviously had been taught never to go inside the house.  We had to tug the poor thing over the threshold the first couple of times.

 

[ Edited: 24 May 2017 17:46 by hannahtoo]
 
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25 May 2017 11:38
 
hannahtoo - 24 May 2017 05:43 PM

unsmoked:
In this neck of the woods, the massive black cottonwood has a seed smaller than the period of this sentence.  How could a barely visible speck contain detailed instructions for a complex new life form?

DNA molecules are very, very, very small.  A human egg cell is 1/100th of a millimeter in diameter, and that’s a BIG cell.  Of course, the chromosomes inside are much tinier.  (But you know this…just expressing amazement is my guess?)

As for the Thoreau quote, I think it needs some explanation.  Certainly a baby has a degree of awe and wonder as well as a drive to learn and do that is much tempered in an adult.  But a baby is also very incomplete and dependent, requiring proper stimuli to develop.  So “wise” in what sense?  Probably Thoreau admires the baby’s openness and attention to the world, without preconceptions.

These preconceptions are the clouds.  I would say that any organism that learns has preconceptions based on past experiences.  For example, we once adopted an adult dog that obviously had been taught never to go inside the house.  We had to tug the poor thing over the threshold the first couple of times.

Aristotle wrote, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

Zen masters talk about removing ‘thousands and thousands of layers of sweaty shirts sticking to our skin.”  Unlike all other living things, are we maleficent under all those sweaty shirts?

 

[ Edited: 25 May 2017 11:41 by unsmoked]
 
 
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25 May 2017 13:08
 
unsmoked - 24 May 2017 12:15 PM

Q:  Are humans the only living beings who cover their original nature with floating clouds?  What are the floating clouds? 

I appreciate all of your responses.

(Fenyang quoted from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)


I think the ‘official’ Buddhist answer is that yes, the minds of some other beings are ‘cloudier’ than humans, as animal existence is considered a lower realm (maybe even a hell realm) compared to human existence. That said, the Dalai Lama has also given a nod, to my mind, to some aspects of pantheism when he has noted that a spider is able to make a web - something that he, even with all his training and wisdom - still cannot do. And it is hard to look at the frenetic pace of human lives in 2017 and then watch a cat or dog curled up contentedly by a fireplace and think that they do not have more talent in the ‘contentedness’ arena than most of us.

 
 
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25 May 2017 13:56
 
NL. - 25 May 2017 01:08 PM
unsmoked - 24 May 2017 12:15 PM

Q:  Are humans the only living beings who cover their original nature with floating clouds?  What are the floating clouds? 

I appreciate all of your responses.

(Fenyang quoted from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)


I think the ‘official’ Buddhist answer is that yes, the minds of some other beings are ‘cloudier’ than humans, as animal existence is considered a lower realm (maybe even a hell realm) compared to human existence. That said, the Dalai Lama has also given a nod, to my mind, to some aspects of pantheism when he has noted that a spider is able to make a web - something that he, even with all his training and wisdom - still cannot do. And it is hard to look at the frenetic pace of human lives in 2017 and then watch a cat or dog curled up contentedly by a fireplace and think that they do not have more talent in the ‘contentedness’ arena than most of us.

I always wondered if the whole dogs are happier than us thing exists. On one hand, they clearly exhibit and experience happiness, sadness and depression. On the other,  who the hell knows what it actually feels like to them. Still, I gotta say that my experience is that they’re way easier to entertain than humans. There’s something to be said about that.

 
 
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25 May 2017 16:26
 
unsmoked - 24 May 2017 12:15 PM

Zen master Fenyang said, “The original Buddha-nature of all living beings is like the bright moon in the sky - it is only because it is covered by floating clouds that it cannot appear.” (end quote)

All living beings?  Surely Fenyang must be talking about the behavioral instructions, the blueprint, the knowledge that is packed in a seed, packed in the minuscule zygotes of animals.  In this neck of the woods, the massive black cottonwood has a seed smaller than the period of this sentence.  How could a barely visible speck contain detailed instructions for a complex new life form?

Q:  Are humans the only living beings who cover their original nature with floating clouds?  What are the floating clouds? 

I appreciate all of your responses.

The idea that we have an inborn, innate Buddha nature that is simply masked by the circumstances of life is someone naive, I suspect.  We have potential to go either way, to the bright moon or to the gutter.  I don’t think we are trying to realize a clear, blissful inner nature. We have a reptilian brain that wants to kill, eat, sleep and fuck. That’s as much a part of our nature as the “higher” parts.  Either way, we have to learn to emphasize one and restrain the other.  I’m not buying Master Fenyang’s thesis.  We learn to aspire to the “higher” things, and we might achieve it several different ways. But it is not simply an uncovering of some uncorrupted aspect of our nature.  We get tired of being reptiles and try to achieve a higher state.

[ Edited: 25 May 2017 18:22 by EN]
 
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25 May 2017 18:02
 

Unsmoked:
Zen masters talk about removing ‘thousands and thousands of layers of sweaty shirts sticking to our skin.”  Unlike all other living things, are we maleficent under all those sweaty shirts?

No, why would you think so?  Maybe too much Bible as a young child, like Isaiah 64:6—But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

As I’ve said many times before, I believe we have the urges and capacities for both goodness and evil.  We are not one thing deep down. 

 

 
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