Buddha nirvana

Zen Buddha Nirvana

Posted in Buddha Nirvana,Buddha Zen by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

Pivotal to a deeper understanding of Zen’s message is grasping the importance of Mind (which I will capitalize when I use it in an absolute sense).  This is something the great majority of modern Zen teachers shy away from or remain in the dark about, having insufficiently studied the Buddhist canon and especially Zen literature.

When I heard my first lecture on Zen Buddhism in 1964 (I think that was the year), our teacher knew Dr. D.T. Suzuki well enough to have had ice cream with him, one of Dr. Suzuki’s favorite dishes.  In other words, the professor I was taking a class from  knew the subject of Zen Buddhism better than most of his peers.  The course was interesting to say the least.  I even went out and bought several books by D.T. Suzuki.  I read them hastily and enjoyably, although looking back, I didn’t learn anything profound about Zen.  During the class, the importance of Mind was never discussed.  Not a word. 

When I went on to study Zen with a teacher and living with him, did the importance of Mind come up?  No it did not.  I was basically being taught how to do funerals for the Japanese community in the U.S.

During this same period, it is important to keep in mind that in 1964 you could find John Blofeld’s two great books in most good bookstores.  The first was The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, published in 1958.  The second was The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai which was published in 1962.  In addition, in Fun Yu-lan’s A History of Chinese Philosophy, published in 1953, there is a good helping of material on Mind in volume II for the Zen student.  It wasn’t a difficult book to get a hold of in a library.  What I want to emphasize is that texts already existed before I took up Zen which were about Mind in Zen.  But the important place of Mind in these books was never given the great weight it deserved in Zen centers which were beginning to spring up in the U.S. 

What took possession of U.S. Zen was zazen.  Mind was left out in the cold while Zen practitioners fluffed up their zafus and sat in zazen.  At least one theory behind the growing popularity of zazen was that sitting, for as long as you could stand it, was getting you closer to enlightenment.  In this respect, it had appeal and selling power so that it could be easily marketed to the public. 

When I first caught a glimpse of Mind back in 1969 having been steered in the right direction by, of all people, a Nichiren Bishop by the name of Nippo Shaku, I was flabbergasted to realize what I had been missing, without which Buddhism—and Zen—made very little sense.  This realization, however, put me outside of mainstream Zen.  I could see that not only was modern Zen going fundamentally nowhere, but so was Buddhism, in general, if it didn’t grasp the importance of Mind.

Presently, a lot more material has been translated which addresses Mind.  I hasten to mention that Tibetan Buddhism has added its vast stores of knowledge about Mind (sems) to modern Buddhism, especially through the teachings of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

While this is good news, much of Buddhism and Zen is still focused on meditation as if the only thing that the Buddha taught was zazen!  But in truth, meditation does little to bring us closer to seeing Mind—which has nothing to do with whether or not you sit or stand.  Meditation’s importance comes after one has attained a glimpse into Mind.  It is a way to remove the thick plaster of internal dialogue, picture thinking, emotional turbulence, and anxiety, so that Mind’s inherent luminosity becomes more apparent.