Sunburst viewed from Scafell Pike © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016
Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (dʑjen; pinyin: Chán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna( ध्यान ), which can be approximately translated as "absorption" or "meditative state"
It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that was taken from India by Bodhidharma across the Himalayas and developed in China during the Tang dynasty as Chan Buddhism. Bodhidharma and other Buddhists advocated the sutras, chants immersed with deep meaning, which had been developed in India for centuries such as the Lankavatara Sutra; Zen master Hogen advocated the Avatamsaka Sutra.
Mahayana was strongly influenced by Taoism, and developed as a distinguished school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chan Buddhism spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan, where it became known as Japanese Zen.
Zen emphasizes rigorous meditation practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favours direct understanding through seated meditation (zazen; 座禅) and interaction (Dokusan; 独参) with an accomplished teacher (Roshi) .
The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal. ThePrajñāpāramitā literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential in the shaping of the "paradoxical language" of the Zen-tradition.
The three traditional schools of Zen in contemporary Japan in decreasing size order are the Sōtō (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Ōbaku (黃檗) schools respectively. Nanpo Shōmyō (南浦紹明 (1235–1308) studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan lineage, the most influential and only surviving lineage of Rinzai in Japan. In 1215, Dōgen, a younger contemporary of Eisai's, also journeyed to China, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dōgen established the Sōtō school, the Japanese branch of Caodong.
In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference. Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found throughout Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō, as for example in the "Principles of Zazen" and the "Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen". In the Japanese language, this practice is called Shikantaza.
The Koan – Paradoxical stories which illuminate
Particularly in the Rinzai school, zazen is usually associated with the study of koans. A kōan, literally "public case", is a paradoxical story or dialogue, describing an interaction between a Zen master and a student. These anecdotes give a demonstration of the master's insight. Koans emphasize the non-conceptional insight that the Buddhist teachings are pointing to. Koans can be used to provoke the "great doubt", and test a student's progress in Zen practice and assist in enlightenment.
Kōan-inquiry may be practiced during zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), and throughout all the activities of daily life.
Zafu and Zabuton inside Zendo © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016
Zazen in the mountains : the significance of Plum Blossom (Baika)
Bodhidharma crossed the Himalayas to take Buddhism from India to China. He recited this poem:
“ From the first, I came to this land to Transmit the
That I might rescue deluded beings,
And when the Single Blossom opened Its five petals,
The fruit thereof naturally came about of itself “
The significance of the five petals is a reference to the Gautama Buddha’s five eyes: two physical eyes, which are the non-worldly eyes of someone who is in meditation, plus the Eye of wise discernment, the Eye of the Dharma, and the Eye of a Buddha.
Similarly, the famous Antaiji temple in northern Kyoto was re-located away from the encroaching city to a remote mountain location in northern Hyugo prefecturein 1976. It was inspired by the very simple, yet deep style of zazen taught by reformer “Homeless Kodo” Sawaki Roshi (1880-1965). Antaiji was very popular with the most serious zazen practitioners from all over Japan and from abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, during which time it was led by Roshi Kosho Uchiyama (d.1996).
More recently, the Plum mountain monastery in Washington State, in the North Western USA is where John Daido Loorie, the photographer, was Abbot ( see my article “ Zen and Photography I “) . The plum blossom ( Baika) is beloved by Buddhists as it arrives early, in the winter and is therefore considered a harbinger of Spring. It is thus a metaphor for Shakyamuni Buddha, who was considered the first to bring forth the blossoming of the Dharma.
Master Tendō, an Old Buddha, was the thirtieth Abbot and a most venerable monk of Keitoku-ji Temple on the renowned Mount Tendō in the Keigen district of Great Sung China. Once when speaking to the assembly he said, “Here at Tendō in midwinter have come forth the first lines of a verse.” He then recited the following poem of his:
“ The thorn-like, spike-branched Old Plum Tree
Suddenly bursts forth, first with one or two blossoms,
Then with three, four, five, and finally blossoms beyond
No perfume to take pride in, no fragrance to boast of.
In scattering, they evoke a springtime scene as they are
blown over grass and trees.
The patch-robed monks, to a one, have no sooner shaved
Than, suddenly, the weather shifts with howling winds
and squalling skies,
Until the whole earth is wrapped in swirling snow.
The Old Plum Tree’s silhouette is barely to be seen,
As the freezing cold seizes their noses and rubs them raw.”
Similarly, another poem alluding to the allegory of blossoming as enlightenment and the whole universe :
“ When Gautama finally lost His deceiving eyes,
There appeared in the snow a single blossom on one
bough of the Old Plum Tree.
What has now arrived is the growing of thorn-like spurs,
So that all the more I laugh at the spring winds which
send all things flying in disarray. “
Similarly another poem on enlightenment linked to Plum Blossoming that is recited:
“ On this first day of the year I wish you happiness.
All the myriad things arising are fresh and new.
Upon reflection, my great assembly, I submit to you,
The Plum Tree has blossomed early this spring”
Again the allegory of new sprouting as the novitiates and the blossom as enlightenment is within this poem:
“ If a single word accords with the Truth,
It will not change, though myriad generations pass:
Thus, eye-shaped willow buds sprout forth from new
Whereas plum blossoms fill up the older boughs.”
“ Everything is so bright and clear,
No need to seek some phantom in the Flowering Plum,
Spontaneously creating rain and raising clouds in past
Past and present are rare enough, and what ending will
they have? “
The Meditation Master Hōen once said in verse:
“ The snow-laden north wind sets the valley trees to
Everything is buried deep within, with little complaint,
While on the mountain peak, the bright-spirited plum
Even before the twelfth month’s heavy snows spew forth, I
have the feeling of the yearly ‘greater cold’. “
The senior monk Taigen Fu also expressed his awakening in verse. He had originally been an academic lecturer, focussing on learning only of the ego mind. One day he had been shaken by the chief cook at Mount Kassan. Fu became enlightened and recited :
“ I remember from the days before I had awakened
Whenever I heard the wail of the painted horn, it was like
a cry of grief.
Now, when upon my pillow, I have no idle dreams
And just trust to whatever the Plum Blossom may blow
my way, large or small. “
Koans of mountains
While teaching the Buddha would often refer to the white cow of Snow mountain. On the mountain there were many varieties of grass that would lead to nourishing milk which makes those who drink it thrive better. Similarly the Buddhadharma nourishes the wisdom of those that accept it. Many koans are centred around a mountain journey.
Sunburst from Skiddaw on to Buttermere © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016
OLD MONK TO YOUNG MONK
On the terrace of a small temple high in the mountains, an old Zen Buddhist monk stood next to his much younger disciple while they both contemplated the great Void of misty space out yonder. Referring to the Void, the old monk at one point gently declared: "Ah, my son, one day all of this will be yours."
SAME - DIFFERENT
" The cloud and the moon, both the same.
Valleys and mountains, each different.
Are they one, or are they two?
Wonderful! Splendid! "
Finally, let us contemplate this poem by the Chan hermit Shiwu (1272-1352), also known as Chinghong :
" My hut isn’t quite six feet across
surrounded by pines bamboos and mountains
an old monk hardly has room for himself
much less for a visiting cloud
Standing outside my pointed-roof hut
who’d guess how spacious it is inside
a galaxy of worlds is there
with room to spare for a zazen cushion
My mind outshines the autumn moon
not that the autumn moon isn’t bright
but once full it fades
no match for my mind
always full and bright
as to what the mind is like
why don’t you tell me? "
© ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016