Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

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Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby Dan74 » Fri Jun 12, 2009 12:47 am

I've come across several critiques of Mahayana and specifically Zen (Chan), like the following:

1. It (Mahayana+Zen) postulates Buddha-nature which is contrary to anatta
2. It (Mahayana+Zen) asserts our original enlightenment which makes no sense - why practice then?
3. It (Zen) dismisses sutta study
4. It (Zen) is anti-conceptual and promotes no-thought

I've just come across an article by Charles Muller, a Professor at Tokyo Uni and well-known as a translator and commentator on Korean Buddhism that addresses these points pretty well.

For those who are interested:

http://www.acmuller.net/articles/criticalbuddhismandzen.htm

from the article:
The most important contributions made by the Ch'an movement are, rather than being philosophical, of a practical nature, in that the Ch'an masters showed a special level of sensitivity to the tendency of the human mind to become enmeshed in conceptual positions. For them, the main obstruction to the attainment of enlightenment had nothing to do with either a lack, or excess of knowledge of the doctrine. The problem was understood instead to be that of the propensity of the mind to become conditioned and attached to concepts. Regardless of the extent of one's doctrinal mastery, such expertise, if not handled properly, will soon turn into an impediment. Therefore Ch'an masters have been noted for their caution when discussing the matter of enlightenment, knowing how easy it is for students to get stuck on words.

But since human beings must inevitably discuss things in the course of teaching and learning, concepts cannot but be established. Having been established, it is inevitable that they will be reified, and clung to. Therefore the need of methods to break such attachments. One of the primary remedies used in this work, is to subject such concepts to an analysis that shows them, just like all the objects to which they refer, to be dependently-originated, and therefore, lacking in self-nature. For the scholar, this view of dependent origination is usually noted, and categorized as a seminal aspect of the Buddhist doctrine. For the Buddhist meditator, the purpose is quite different. The mere learning of such a metaphysical theory in itself will be of little help to the meditator in his fundamental task of overcoming his habituated, mistaken perception of reality. Therefore he engages himself in the practice of meditation, where the observation of the dependently-originated nature of things is sustained for long periods of time, is deepened and enhanced, such that it begins to affect his worldview and actions even while not engaged in formal sitting meditation. Buddhist texts tell us that the result of such a sustained contemplation can be, if the power of the contemplation is strong enough, a major rupture of the habituated discursive process, which allows the disclosure of deeper aspects of the consciousness.


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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby zavk » Fri Jun 12, 2009 12:55 am

Thanks Dan, I've read a number of Muller's translation of Mahayana Sutras, which seem to be pretty good to me (not that I have anything to compare it too!).
With metta,
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby Ben » Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:41 am

Thank you Dan.
That looks like an excellent article.
Thank you for the time to share that with us.
Metta

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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby Individual » Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:31 am

Dan74 wrote:I've come across several critiques of Mahayana and specifically Zen (Chan), like the following:

1. It (Mahayana+Zen) postulates Buddha-nature which is contrary to anatta
2. It (Mahayana+Zen) asserts our original enlightenment which makes no sense - why practice then?

On these first two points, someone shared an article with me recently where Ven. Dhammadharo made an interesting remark:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... esses.html
When the Buddha tells us that consciousness isn't our self, that it's anatta, we don't understand what he says. There's one sort of consciousness that's really ours. The consciousness that's really ours is loyal, honest, and true to us. Suppose that you make up your mind that tomorrow you want to go to the monastery to hear a sermon. Now, going to the monastery to hear a sermon is something good that you like to do. You really benefit from it. You're really clear on this point. But by the time tomorrow comes, your mind has changed because — it's simply changed. When this happens, you should realize that your consciousness has gotten mixed up with some other kind of consciousness. That's how you have to look at things. Don't think that it's really your consciousness. The new thought that repeals your old thought isn't really you. It's cheating you. It's not really you. Normally, if something is really you, it's not going to cheat you. It has to be honest and loyal and devoted to you. Once you make up your mind to do something good, you have to stick with it until you succeed and feel happy afterwards. That sort of thinking is your own real consciousness. It's honest. It doesn't deceive you.

Is this not Buddha-nature? See also the Dhammapada's chapter, "The self".

EDIT:

Correction... Dhammadharo made the above remarks, not Thanisarro!
Last edited by Individual on Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:54 am

i heard a great talk by Ven. Thanisarro on the topic of buddha nature maybe someone has a link?
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:06 am

Do you mean:

What is Wrong with Buddha Nature 10/06/08 ?
http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/ThanissaroBhikkhu.html

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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:08 am

yes
thank you
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby thornbush » Fri Jun 12, 2009 8:43 am

I've come across several critiques of Mahayana and specifically Zen (Chan), like the following:
1. It (Mahayana+Zen) postulates Buddha-nature which is contrary to anatta
2. It (Mahayana+Zen) asserts our original enlightenment which makes no sense - why practice then?

My answer to the above:
One should read and study carefully the Lankavatara, Prajna Paramita and the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutras.
From the Lankavatara Sutra:
http://www.geocities.com/advaitavedant/contratman.htm
Then Mahamati said to the Blessed One:
In the Scriptures mention is made of the Womb of Tathagatahood and it is taught that that which is born of it is by nature bright and pure, originally unspotted and endowed with the thirty-two marks of excellence.
As it is described it is a precious gem but wrapped in a dirty garment soiled by greed, anger, folly and false-imagination.
We are taught that this Buddha-nature immanent in everyone is eternal, unchanging, auspicious.
It is not this which is born of the Womb of Tathagatahood the same as the soul-substance that is taught by the philosophers? The Divine Atman as taught by them is also claimed to be eternal, inscrutable, unchanging, imperishable. It there, or is there not a difference?

The Blessed One replied:
No, Mahamati, my Womb of Tathagatahood is not the same as the Divine Atman as taught by the philosophers. What I teach is Tathagatahod in the sense of Dharmakaya, Ultimate Oneness, Nirvana, emptiness, unbornness, unqualifiedness, devoid of will-effort.
The reason why I teach the doctrine of Tathagatahood is to cause the ignorant and simple-minded to lay aside their fears as they listen to the teaching of egolessness and come to understand the state of non-discrimination and imagelessness.
The religious teaching of the Tathagatas are just like a potter making various vessels by his own skill of hand with the aid of rob, water and thread, out of the one mass of clay, so the Tathagatas by their command of skillful means issuing from Noble Wisdom, by various terms, expressions, and symbols, preach the twofold egolessness in order to remove the last trace of discrimination that is preventing disciples from attaining a self-realisation of Noble Wisdom.
The doctrine of the Tathagata-womb is disclosed in order to awaken philosphers from their clinging to the notion of a Divine Atman as a transcendental personality, so that their minds that have become attached to the imaginary notion of a "soul" as being something self-existing, may be quickly awakened to a state of perfect enlightement.
All such notions as causation, succesion, atoms, primary elements, that make up personality, personal soul, Supreme Spirit, Sovereign God, Creator, are all figments of the imagination and manifestations of mind.
No, Mahamati, the Tathagata’s doctrine of the Womb of Tathagatahood is not the same as the philosopher’s Atman.

Countless Patriarchs of Zen/Ch'an have warned of false attachment and understanding of Emptiness:
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf32.htm#misreading
...because most cultivators are still attached to "duality," and have not reconciled essence and marks, existence and non-existence, noumenon and phenomena. That is why they embrace essence to reject marks, noumenon to reject phenomena, Emptiness to reject Existence, and vice versa -- thus creating disputes, doubts and perplexity.

Little do they suspect that there is mutual identity between noumenon and phenomena -- phenomena are noumenon, noumenon is phenomena.
If we divide them and consider them separately, phenomena are not true phenomena, noumenon is not true noumenon.
This is true also of essence and marks, existence and non-existence and other dualistic dharmas.

For this reason, the Vimalakirti Sutra speaks of the non-dual method to destroy this attachment.
Non-dual means reconciling all things, penetrating into their very nature; it does not mean "one." This is the true realm of "Mind-Only."
Any other doctrine based on the Dharma Doors of Existence or Emptiness is merely an expedient for teaching purposes.

The Sutras state:
To tire of and abandon "conditioned" virtues is the action of demons.
Yet, to be greedy and attached to transcendental, unconditioned virtues is also demonic action.

Ancient sages have also said:
Conditioned dharmas, while illusory, cannot be abandoned if we are to attain the Way.
Although unconditioned dharmas are true, if we become attached to them, our wisdom-nature will not be comprehensive.

These words clearly show that on the path to Enlightenment, unconditioned and conditioned dharmas, noumenon and phenomena are inseparable.

It is also stated in the Treatise on the Middle Way:
Because common sentient beings grasp at external forms, the Sutras destroy this attachment with the truth of Emptiness.
If as soon as they are free of the disease of attachment to Existence they fall into the error of grasping at Emptiness,
there is no medicine that can help them.

Of the two types of attachments, to Existence and to Emptiness, the latter is the more dangerous.
Both the Lankavatara and the Esoteric Adornment Sutras warned:
It is better to be attached to Existence, though the attachment may be as great as Mount Sumeru, than to be attached to Emptiness, though the attachment may be as small mustard seed.[36]

Attachment to Existence leads to mindfulness of cause and effect, wariness of transgressions and fear of breaking the precepts, as well as to such practices as Buddha and Sutra Recitation and performance of good deeds.
Although these actions are bound to forms and not liberated and empty, they are all conducive to merit, virtue and good roots.
On the other hand, if we are attached to Emptiness without having attained True Emptiness,
but refuse to follow forms and cultivate merit and virtue, we will certainly sink into the cycle of Birth and Death.

3. It (Zen) dismisses sutta study
4. It (Zen) is anti-conceptual and promotes no-thought

The Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an foresaw this kind of thinking:
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Sutr ... structions
"A bigoted believer in Nihilism blasphemes against the Sutras on the ground that literature (i.e., the Buddhist Scriptures) is unnecessary (for the study of Buddhism).
If that were so, then neither would it be right for us to speak, since speech forms the substance of literature.
He would also argue that in the direct method (literally, the straight Path) literature is discarded.
But does he appreciate that the two words 'is discarded' are also literature?
Upon hearing others speak of Sutras, such a man would criticize the speakers as 'addicted to scriptural authority'.
It is bad enough for him to confine this mistaken notion to himself, but in addition, he blasphemes against the Buddhist scriptures.
You men should know that it is a serious offence to speak ill of the Sutras, for the consequence is grave indeed!

"He who believes in the reality of outward objects tries to seek the form (from without) by practicing a certain system of doctrine.
He may furnish spacious lecture-halls for the discussion of Realism or Nihilism, but such a man will not for numerous Kalpas realize the Essence of Mind.

"We should tread the Path according to the teaching of the Law, and not keep our mind in a state of indolence, thereby creating obstacles to the understanding of the Norm.
To preach or to hear the Law without practicing it would give occasion for the arising of heretical views.
Hence, we should tread the Path according to the teaching of the Law, and in the dissemination of the Dharma we should not be influenced by the concept of the reality of objects.
Better I stop here, because this is a Theravada Forum, I have no wish to turn this into another ZFI or the Grey Forum.
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby Individual » Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:31 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Do you mean:

What is Wrong with Buddha Nature 10/06/08 ?
http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/ThanissaroBhikkhu.html

Mike

It was an accidental misquote. Dhammadharo made the above comments, but Thanisarro translated them. I fixed my post.

About Thanisarro's remarks on Buddha-nature, I suspect they are at best something a Zen monk could say too, at worst a terrible misunderstanding.

Buddha-nature is not to be confused with proud ignorance, "I am already PERFECT!"
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Jun 13, 2009 5:56 am

Greetings Dan,

Thanks for posting this.

I've taken the liberty of re-posting it over at...

Dharma Wheel (Mahayana & Vajrayana)
http://www.dharmawheel.net/

... too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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