Text Fritjof Capra on Zen
When the Chinese mind came in contact with Indian thought in the form of Buddhism around the first century AD, two parallel developments occurred. On the one hand, the translation of Buddhist sutras stimulated Chinese thinkers and led them to interpret the teachings of Buddha Hindu light of their own philosophies. Thus emerged a very fruitful exchange of ideas, which culminated in the Hua-yen (Sanskrit: Avatamsaka) of Buddhism in China and the Kegon school in Japan.
On the other hand, the pragmatic side of the Chinese mentality responded to the impact of Indian Buddhism, focusing on practical aspects and developing a special form of spiritual discipline that was called Ch’an, a word normally translated as “meditation”. This Ch’an philosophy was eventually adopted by Japan, circa 1200, and has been cultivated there under the name of Zen, a tradition kept alive until today.
Zen philosophy is a unique blend of philosophies and idiosyncrasies of three different cultures. It is a typically Japanese way of life, yet reflects the mysticism of India, the love of naturalness and spontaneity of Daoism and pragmatism Confucianism depths of the mind.
Despite its special character, Zen is purely Buddhist in its essence because its aim is neither more nor less than that of Buddha: the attaining enlightenment, an experience known in Zen as satori. The enlightenment experience is the essence of all schools of Eastern philosophy, but Zen is unique in that it focuses exclusively on this experience and is not interested in any interpretation beyond this. In the words of Suzuki, “Zen is discipline in enlightenment.” From the standpoint of Zen, the awakening of Buddha and the Buddha’s teaching, we all have the potential to attain enlightenment are the essence of Buddhism. The rest of the doctrine, contained in the voluminous sutras, is seen only as supplementary.
The experience of Zen is, therefore, the experience of enlightenment, satori, and since this experience ultimately transcends all categories of thought, Zen is not interested in any abstraction or conceptualization. It has no special doctrine or philosophy, no formal creed or dogma and emphasizes freedom of every thought fixed, this makes it truly spiritual.
More than any other school of Eastern mysticism, Zen is convinced that words never express the ultimate truth. Must have inherited his belief of Taoism, which showed the same uncompromising attitude. “If someone asks about the Tao and another answers,” said Chuang Tzu, “none of them knows it.”
But the Zen experience can be passed from master to disciple, and was, in fact, transmitted by many centuries by special methods proper to Zen classic summary of four lines, Zen is described as:
A special transmission outside the scriptures.
Unsupported by words or letters,
Pointing directly to the human mind,
Looking directly to the nature and attaining Buddhahood.
This technique of “direct pointing” constitutes the special flavor of Zen philosophy is typical of the Japanese mind, which is more intuitive than intellectual and likes to give the facts as facts without comment. Zen teachers are not adept at the talk and hate any kind of theorizing and speculation. Thus developed methods that are aimed directly at the truth, with actions and words sudden and spontaneous, which expose the paradoxes of conceptual thinking and, like koans, are designed to stop the mental process of thinking, thus preparing the student to the mystical experience . This technique is well illustrated by the following examples of short conversations between master and disciple. In these discussions, that make up the bulk of Zen literature, the masters talk as little as possible and use their words to change the student’s attention from abstract thoughts to concrete reality.
A monk, asking for instruction, said to Bodhidharma:
“I have no peace of mind. Please pacify my mind.”
“Bring your mind here in front of me,” replied Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it!”
“But when I seek my own mind,” said the monk, “I can not find.”
“That!” Bodhidharma replied energetically, “I have pacified your mind!”
A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk replied: “I have eaten.”
Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
These discussions point out another aspect that is characteristic of Zen. Enlightenment in Zen does not mean withdrawal from the world, but on the contrary, active participation in everyday life. This view was very attracted to the Chinese mentality that placed great importance on practical and productive life and the idea of the perpetuation of the family, so he could not accept the monastic character of Indian Buddhism. The teachers always stressed that Ch’an, or Zen, was in our daily experiences, the ‘everyday mind’ as Ma-tsu proclaimed. He emphasized the awakening in the middle of daily activities and they made it very clear that they saw everyday life not only as a way to achieve enlightenment, but as enlightenment itself.
In Zen, satori means the immediate experience of the Buddha nature of all things. First and foremost among these, are the objects, events and people involved in daily life, so that while emphasizing the practical things of life, Zen is deeply mystical yet. Living entirely in the present, giving full attention to everyday affairs, one who has attained satori experience the wonder and mystery of life in every situation:
How wonderful this, how mysterious!
Position the wood, drew water from the well.
The perfection of Zen is thus to live daily life in a natural and spontaneous. When Po-chang was asked to define Zen, he said, “When I have hunger as when I’m tired, I sleep.” Although this sounds simple and obvious, like many things in Zen, is indeed a difficult task. To recover the naturalness of our original nature requires long training and is a great spiritual achievement. In the words of a famous Zen saying:
Before studying Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers, while you are studying Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are not rivers, but once you reach enlightenment mountains are again mountains and rivers again rivers.
The emphasis on the naturalness and spontaneity clearly shows the Taoist roots but the basis for this emphasis is strictly Buddhistic. It is the belief in the perfection of our original nature, making the process of enlightenment consists merely in becoming what we already are from the beginning. When asked the Zen master Po-chang about looking for the Buddha nature, he replied, “It’s like riding an ox in search of the ox.”
There are two main schools of Zen in Japan today, differ in their teaching methods. The Rinzai or ‘sudden’, uses the koan, it gives prominence to periodic formal interviews with the teacher, called sanzen, during which the student is asked about his current view koan has been trying to solve. The resolution of a koan involves long periods of intense concentration leading to a sudden revelation of satori. An experienced teacher knows when a student has reached the verge of sudden enlightenment and is able to check to a satori experience with unexpected actions, such as a blow with a stick or a loud scream.
The gradual Soto or prevents shock methods of Rinzai and aims at the gradual maturation of the Zen student, “as the spring breeze that caresses the flower helping it flourish.” Advocates ‘the sit quiet’ and use your own common work as two forms of meditation.
Both schools will attach the greatest importance to zazen, or sitting meditation, which is practiced in Zen monasteries every day for many hours. Correct posture and breathing are the first things a student should learn the Zen Rinzai Zen, zazen is used to prepare the intuitive mind to handle the koan, and the Soto school considers the most important way to help student to mature and evolve towards satori. More than that, is regarded as the visible achievement of the Buddha nature of self, body and mind being fused into a harmonious unity which needs no improvement. As a Zen poem says:
Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.
As Zen says that enlightenment manifests itself in daily activities, has had enormous influence on all aspects of the traditional form of Japanese life. These include not only the arts of painting, calligraphy, garden design, etc.., And the various crafts but also ceremonial activities like serving tea or arranging flowers and martial arts such as archery, sword, judo, karate, etc.. Each of these activities is known in Japan as a do-that is, a tao or ‘way’ toward enlightenment. All explore various characteristics of the Zen experience and can be used to train the mind and bring it into contact with ultimate reality.
The arts just mentioned are all expressions of spontaneity, simplicity and total presence of mind characteristic of Zen, slow and ritualistic activities of cha-no-yu, the Japanese tea ceremony, the spontaneous hand movements required for handwriting and painting and spirituality of bushido, “the warrior’s way.” While requiring the perfection of technique, real mastery is only achieved when technique is transcended and the art becomes an “artless art” growing out of the subconscious.
We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful description of “artless art” in the little book by Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery. Herrigel used more than five years with a renowned Japanese master to learn his art “mystical” and in his book gives a description of how he experienced Zen through archery. It describes how archery was presented as a religious ritual which is “danced” in spontaneous movements, free of effort and purpose. It took many years of hard practice, which transformed his entire being, like learning to draw the bow “spiritually” with a kind of force is not courageous, and release the string as “unintentionally”, allowing the shot “fall from handle like a ripe fruit. ” When he reached the climax of perfection, bow, arrow, goal and goalkeeper, all fused to each other and he did not shoot but “this” did it for him.
Herrigel’s description of archery is one of the purest collections of Zen as it does not speak at any moment of Zen
Excerpt from the “Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra
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