I recently finished A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and it is a must read. Not only does Ozeki weave a captivating tale, but her themes are necessary to discuss in public: bullying, suicide (teen and adult), shame, developing a moral conscience when the world conspires against you, and more. And since Ozeki is a writer and a Zen Buddhist priest, the novel is written against the background of Buddhist culture (in this case Japanese Buddhist culture) rather than Christian culture and shines a light on how that difference informs all aspects of storytelling. Such a powerful novel – check it out!
In a blog post for the Huffington Post’s Education section Candy Gunther Brown, PhD, suggests that secular mindfulness meditation practices in the public school system should be treated similarly to theistic prayer practices in the public schools. Insofar as those theistic practices are forbidden, so should the Buddhist practices, no matter the name by which you call them. I am deeply sympathetic to her suggestion, even though I myself am both a public school teacher and an ordained lay Dharma teacher. But Dr. Brown’s rhetoric around the matter is misleading, partly because the people promoting these secularized practices are themselves confused about what they are saying and doing.
To clear some of these muddy waters, let’s start with an analogy that we are all familiar with, whether we are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Satanist, Secularist, or Nihilist: walking. Most of us walk, some of us more than others, and some of us not all that much. Some of us not at all because of disabilities or other features of our bodies that push us to move in other ways, and I do not mean to exclude you from this conversation, so please substitute your method of travel for walking in the following discussion. For those of us that walk, the following should sound familiar.
So, instead of posting here, I recently wrote a post for the Crazy Wisdom Journal that is published by the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The post is a response to a recent article they published about Haju Sunim and the Sangha at the Ann Arbor Zen Temple.
You can find the post by clicking here: Changing the World, One Scrap at a Time.
If you are ever in Ann Arbor, check out Crazy Wisdom and the Ann Arbor Zen Temple!
What is the name of our practice, the practice that descends from the lineage of Bodhidharma back to the Buddha, not a lineage of genes or bloodlines, but a lineage of no-thing, the only thing that can be transferred without loss and without gain from body/mind to body/mind?
The question is easy and difficult. Easy because naming is easy and those that have come before have already named. Difficult because with naming comes a fertile ground of delusion, where ignorance spreads like wildfire.
Case in point: try ‘Zen’. If we practice in this lineage that descends from Bodhidharma back to the Buddha, do we practice Zen Buddhism?
No. Zen is the Japanese branch of this lineage. There are questions of historical and spiritual importance that only apply to (Japanese) Zen Buddhism. One example is illustrated by this post over at Wild Fox Zen. Are Shikantaza and Koan practices compatible or mutually exclusive? Is Koan practice part of Dogen’s teachings or rejected by him? These questions (and many others concerning (Japanese) Zen Buddhism) do not arise for (Korean) Sŏn Buddhism or (Chinese) Chán Buddhism; they are not, in a sense, of spiritual importance to practitioners of those schools and need not be of historical importance either.
Yes. Since practitioners (myself included) in this loosely knit set of practices trace their lineage back to the Buddha through Bodhidharma, they must continually and sincerely confront the heart-essence of that lineage, the lineage of no-thing, the only thing that can be transferred without loss and without gain from body/mind to body/mind. If (Japanese) Zen Buddhism has developed responses to the ineffable song of the heart-essence, then the (Korean) Sŏn Buddhist or the (Chinese) Chán Buddhist ought to listen deeply. Intentionally not doing so reeks of delusion.
So the situation is complicated, to say the least. But when our discourse lumps all of this into Zen Buddhism and acknowledges the other practices by occasionally using their names, if at all, we are sowing seeds of delusion among potential practitioners and seasoned ones alike. For example, Buddhadharma says, “We are fortunate to have the support of Editorial Advisors who represent a wide variety of communities and traditions—Theravada, Zen, Pure Land, and Vajrayana.” That is not a wide variety by any means, if you take into account the diversity of responses to what drives practice. However, if Buddhadharma were genuinely sensitive to the diversity of the real world (and I have no reason to doubt the people there are sensitive in this way), they would run out of ink and room to print! Remember, the situation is complicated, to say the least.
So what is the point? Our words have karmic effects on those around us. When we speak, we shape the body/minds of those who hear. When we speak in a way that is out of tune with reality, the body/minds that listen are also out of tune with reality. When we speak in a way that is in concert with reality, the body/minds that listen are also in concert with reality. Our responsibility is to be careful with our words because that is being careful with awakening – our awakening as one body, one mind.
Recognizing the limitations of our names because of their historical existence is liberating in at least two ways. It is liberating because when we get hung up on a problem that seems of utmost importance, we can remember that it is of no importance and move towards easing our body/minds. At the same time, it is liberating because getting hung up is how we move forward with practice; knowing the how and why of our hangups illuminates the path forward. In a sense, these two ways are not two, yet as Uisang says in the Ocean Seal they are “not confused or mixed, but function separately.” 
For my own part, I will try to use Sŏn/Chán/Zen Buddhism when I hope to write about our practices in general. When talking about a particular lineage, I will use the name for that lineage. And I will fail most of the time at accomplishing what I hope to say.
For example – the astute reader will be asking about (Vietnamese) Thiền Buddhism. And the fact that we who practice Sŏn/Chán/Zen Buddhism do not all share the same lineage back to Bodhidharma, so the differences are even more extreme than we make them out to be. And that the lineages sometimes have wholes in them, gaps between generations of teachers and masters and nuns and monks. And more. Oh the doubt and the unknowing mind that permeates the heart-song of our practice!
As Juliet says of Romeo in Skakespeare’s play: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose // by any other name would smell as sweet” (Act II, Scene II). Yes, oh Juliet, how true the words. The rose would smell as sweet were it called ‘horse’ or ‘manure’. But call a rose ‘manure’ and you might find unsuspecting lovers walking up to piles of manure suspecting that something is not so sweet about the smell.
Call it Sŏn, Chán, Zen, or Thiền and you still have the same sweet smelling practice. But be careful not to lead unsuspecting practitioners to piles of manure. And be careful to smell the practice, whatever the name, before you put your nose in it.
 This excerpt is from Uisang’s Ocean Seal of Hwaom Buddhism as translated by Steve Odin in Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism. You can also find the Ocean Seal in the (free and online) Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Vol. 4, p. 103.
After posting the revised “About Me” section, I looked back at the previous entry “Return to Write.” That entry was posted almost exactly a year ago to the day! Oh my! I returned to write only not to write. Sounds like the Diamond Sutra. For another time.
For now, I want to lay out a puzzle of sorts. I have been interested in this puzzle for a while and I hope to explore it here in some detail. And I hope that others join in as well! For now, I want to lay out a preview of the puzzle.
The background: Buddhist training is a threefold training in morality, meditation, and wisdom.
In Sŏn/Chán/Zen Buddhism, it is often stated that meditation and wisdom are not two. A forceful and persuasive rendering of this identity or denial of two-ness (not the same thing) is found in The Platform Sutra through the function and essence discussion and the lamp and the light metaphor. I think this also goes back to The Awakening of Faith as well, but I will investigate that again for a later post.
So my question is: What about morality?
Seems simple enough, but it gets sticky and tricky, conceptually speaking. It is possible to grasp how meditation and wisdom can be not-two or related as in lamp to light, but that does not leave room for morality, which involves both intra-personal and inter-personal features of mind and body. In other words, the argument or experiences that support the not-two-ness of meditation and wisdom do not support a similar reduction of morality.
But then that leaves us with a two-ness. And that seems to cut against the Sŏn/Chán/Zen pursuit of the realization of non-duality that lurks behind the claims relating meditation and wisdom.
Did the ancestors simply forget about morality?
Enough for now. On your mark, get ready, Threefold, Twofold, One-fold, No-fold, GO!
May you be happy! May you be free from suffering! May you be at ease!
My name is Kusa. In the summer of 2014, after completing the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary under the guidance of Ven. Haju Sunim, I ordained as a lay Dharma Teacher. I remain affiliated with the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom (founded by Ven. Samu Sunim) both as a lay Dharma Teacher and as a continuing student of the Dharma and Korean Sŏn Buddhism.
I am also a secular teacher/student. After completing my doctorate in philosophy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I taught as a lecturer at Colorado College and University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Currently I teach English at a public high school in Colorado Springs. As part of the transition, I went back to taking undergraduate classes in English and graduate classes in Education. Everyday I become a student of the teenagers in my classroom, learning what makes them come alive and what puts them to sleep. Everyday the individual minds and energies that come crashing together in the classroom humble me!
This blog brings together all these streams into one mighty river! Well – sometimes this blog will be but a trickling mighty river. Remember, I am a public school teacher and my students are my priority. What I mean, however, is that this blog will bring together philosophical analysis with Dharma practice and study. These realms of thought and practice are not antithetical. Indeed, a brief read through the major texts of Buddhism, Sŏn/Chán/Zen Buddhism, and Korean Sŏn Buddhism is evidence enough that our greatest Buddhist teachers have been nothing less than great philosophers. I humbly submit my voice into this genre of Buddhist writing, expecting to stumble along the path that has been discovered and re-discovered by our female and male ancestors.
As I mentioned before in the previous “About Me” post, I approach and share the Dharma with open heart, open mind, and open hands. Your feedback on the posts, whether personal or academic in nature, is greatly appreciated.
And I still think the following captures a fragment of the Dharma path we walk in our everyday lives. We move through this world bounded by our surroundings, our culture, our habit energies, and so much more. Yet the Dharma encourages us to live with boundless heart and mind. The title of this blog – With(out) Bounds – reflects this subtle dance between boundedness and boundlessness. It also reflects the general spirit in which I approach the Dharma: as an imperfect human being vowing to cultivate the Buddha Way in body, speech, and mind.
Thank you for reading!
Note: This is the new “About Me” section for this blog, but I thought I would post it here as a general announcement of what is to come.
After seeing an old friend today, I was reminded that I have not posted here for some time. I will return to this blog soon. I do miss the writing practice! For now, I have one thing to offer: May all those in Colorado who are suffering from these storms find time to rest before heading back into the rain.
In my tradition it is said that Samsara is Nirvana and Nirvana is Samsara. In that spirit, may this rain of suffering be equally a rain of Dharma.