Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

Japanese / German

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Buddhism and Realism

As I described before, I interpret that the human civilization has entered into the age of realism since the middle of the 19th Cetury, I think that actually in the Ancient India in the 4th Century B.C. a thorough going Realistic philosophical system has been established by a excellent genius, and the excellent genius indicates Gautama Buddha. At that time there was no characters for discribing thoughts in India, and so many monks memorized Gautama Buddha's lectures, and later those memories were recorded into Buddhist Sutras, and the Buddhist thoughts have been maintained to the later age. Relying upon such a method Gautama Buddha's Buddhist thoughts have been maintained to the later age, during such a historical tradition in a long age, there have been so many differences in interpretations of Buddhist theories, Therefore the Buddhist thoughts have been divided into so many complicated different philosophy, that, actually speaking, buddhist philosophy has become so complicated and so confused philosophy. I think, however, during about 2 thousand and 5 hundred years, there were 2 exellent Buddhist thinkers at least, who were, the one is an Indian Buddhist Monk Master Nagarjuna and the other is a Japanese Monk Master Dogen. I have been Much atracted by Master Dogen's Buddhist thoughts since my age of 17 years old and have been continued the studies, lectures, practice of Zazen for more than 60 years, but at that time I have notised that a Japanese Buddhist Monk called Master Dogen have understood that Gautama Buddha's teachings were just Realism. Therefor it was not clear that whether Gautama Buddha himself had a realistic interpretations of Buddhism, or not. However, about 23years ago, I have met a chance to read Mulmadhyamaka-karikah (from here MMK) in Sanskrit. And at that time it was very difficult for me to read MMK, and so for the first time even though I read it tens of times or hundreds of times, it was impossible for me to understand it. Without giving up to make my efforts, I gradually understood the meaning, and I noticed that the main reason, why I could not understand it, comes from that even though MMK was written on the basis of Realism, but I did not know such an important principle at all. Therefore I clearly noticed that it is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely.

16 Comments:

Blogger Lone Wolf said...

Nishijima Thanks for sharing this information on the different philosopher and others who taught similar ideas to realism. I have found the differet interpretations of Buddhism to be quite complicated and confusing. So far I enjoy and sesne truth in the teachings you and Brad Warner speak.

I have a question about Zazen.

I hear in sitting one is not suppose to push thoughts away or follow thoughts. Just to sit straight in the lotus posture and and be aware. My question is what is the difference in thinking and just being aware of thinking with about being caught in it when practicing Zazen?

4:40 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Nishijima Roshi wrote: "It is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely."

When we want to experience and enter samadhi (the balanced state of accepting and using the self), Gautama Buddha teaches us to sit in the full lotus posture, sitting with the mind upright. [Chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai]

Thinking about the problem of the basis of pragmatic philosophy, I think that, when a person wants to enter samadhi, it might be appropriate for a Buddhist teacher to teach them how to sit with the mind upright.

But I wonder: if a person wants to understand Buddhism, how then might it be appropriate to teach that person? How then might it be possible to teach that person?

If a large country is filled with many millions of such people wanting to understand Buddhism, and I convince them all to buy a copy of my sexy self-promoting book, am I in that case truly comprehending my one true purpose, or not?

5:48 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

Therefore I clearly noticed that it is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely.

Thank you for this clarity. When I look at different buddhist writings (in English only) I came to the conclusion that everone was trying to describe the same thing but could only see parts of it. Almost like some partially blind men trying to describe an elephant.

I find myself drifting towards Dogen's teachings because his descriptions seem a little less blurred than others.

5:53 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:01 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

According to Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai:

When we want to experience and enter samadhi, Gautama Buddha teaches us to sit in the full lotus posture, sitting with the mind upright.

But how about when we want to understand Buddhism? What does Gautama Buddha teach us to do then?

Nishijima Roshi wrote: "It is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely."

Then what does it mean to "realize that Buddhism is just based on Realism"?

Does it just simply mean to experience and enter the balanced state of accepting and using the self?

If so, then I would like to know the meaning of Gautama Buddha's words "to sit in the full lotus posture, sitting with the mind upright."

It sounds too strange "sitting with the mind upright." Shouldn't it be "sitting with the body upright"?

Is there something wrong with the word "mind"--maybe a textual error in the original Chinese characters or an error in translation?

Or is it maybe that I have never experienced what Gautama Buddha meant by "sitting with the mind upright," and so I am unable to understand the Buddha's original teaching when I read it?

8:02 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Lone Wolf,

With a single O. Sorry if I offended your animal pride.

Your question is answered by Dogen in the first version of Fukanzazengi:

"When something arises in the mind, just wake up. Wake up and it will vanish".

Identifying with thoughts is the common delusion process( mine, everybody's), what you call "being caught" . Dogen's invitation is to step out, another way to understand the meaning of:

"backward step of turning light around and refecting it". (popular version of Fukan-zazengi)

Waking up to thoughts coming and going ( my usual mental garbage), waking up to tensions and physical hindrances ( how do I get in the way of Zazen itself)is, in my limited view, presumably wrong for most of you, the answer to your question ( for I am not a punk Zen master or an old and venerable japanese roshi).

Realism is acceptance of things as they are. Seing through reality, one ceases, at least for a moment, to try, grasp, manipulate, organize, distort the ineffable. In this moment of my life as I write these lines, I am going through the most difficult patch so far, great stimulus of pain and illusion. And believe me, I am nobody to tell you what to do for sometimes I am but a single flow of tears. If I say so, it is just to make clear that this is the best opportunity to practice what Dogen says and notice how much I am not letting it happen.

My friend and teacher was reminding me yesterday the direct and uncompromising meaning of Jujuyo Zanmai, acccepting and using the Self.

How could I express it differently? The point is not to become better at living and sitting, it is to accept that we don't understand anything. It is to see with the beloved eyes, through the eyeballs of Bodhidharma. When Bodhidharma sees, there is no Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma is not wawre of himself. Not knowing is not a super natural sate or special enlightenment. It is a child-like state, our natural birth right, not tainted by any trying, theory, agenda. When I am a wreck, it is very close. When I am a wreck, there is no more pretending, posing or whatever. I am a wreck.

The most exquisite and powerful poems of Rumi and Hafiz in the Sufi tradition say this over and over again. True love is found in dust, tears and longing. In dust, tears and longing with nothing elsa added, to dilute it or transform it.

Wake up and it will vanish. What will vanish then? Thoughts? No, they come back, it is the natural stuff of the mind. Delusion? No, it is very sticky too. What might vanish is the illusion that we have to do something, become somebody, get out of here. And when this vanishes, we invite surrender.

Who are you?

I don't know.

8:39 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

mc: Is there something wrong with the word "mind"--maybe a textual error in the original Chinese characters or an error in translation?

There are several Chinese characters that can end up being translated into 'mind' becaue there are no direct equivalents in English. The one most likely to be loosely (and would be my guess in this case) is Shen (very roughly 'Spirit').

The chinese do not believe in the dichotomy of mind and body and this can also lead to mis-understandings and differentiate some things differently - Shen, Qi and Jing have no accurate English equivalents.

If "sitting with the mind upright" is read as "sitting wth the Shen upright" then within the chinese this actually makes a lot of sense. When you do something using Shen then the body follows in a coordinated way working as one - because they are not seperate. It is an action out of wholeness. To the trained observer the effect will be of either smooth movement or dynamic stillness without tension depending on the context.

My explanation is poor because my chinese and chinese medicine are poor. When you observe the difference in real life is very clear. It is like the difference between a professional and amateur athelete.

8:40 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Nishijima Roshi said: "It is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely."

It seems to me that someone has transmitted the essence of Nishijima Roshi's teaching to Pierre Turlur. He is not a pretender. He is not a poser. Just now he is an emotional wreck. Having "realized that Buddhism is just a philosophy that is based on Realism completely," he accepts himself as he is, the painful reality of his life here and now as it is, and he speaks to us through his raw pain.

He doesn't use punk jargon, he doesn't manifest any kind of attitude, just philosophy that is based on Realism completely.

Thank you, Pierre.

11:01 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

I'm really looking forward to reading Nishijima's translation of the MMK.

reallynotimportant: yeah, that's pretty much the way I'd interpret it too. Bodymind.

3:20 AM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

mc:" ....sitting with the mind, upright"

I thought it might be worthwhile trying to describe this from a practical viewpoint. I have added a comma to the quote to help make it more clear without using Chinese.

When I sit with others then I always sit in the standard (male) Zazen position with a Zafu if one is available or not if not. When I sit at home I sit slightly differntly. Those who wish may of course condemn my 'incorrect' practice. That is fine.

At home I use a meditation stool that is a cross between a traditional japanese meditation stool and a Zafu. I use it as you would a Zafu. I find that being a lot firmer it helps with my spine alignment. I sit in a relaxed 1/2 lotus position in what you might refer to as a yogic pose - palms upwards, finger and thumb together, wrists approximately resting on the thigh/knee intersection. I find that for normal clothes this is more comfortable than a classic Zazen position and induces less body tension. Tounge touching the roof of the mouth, behind the front teath (not touching) relaxed. That is the mechanics.

For sitting, I first settle my breath and still my mind a little. Once I am focussed on my breath I then extend my awareness into the rest of my body with the centre of focus starting on the Tan Dien. Once I have focus on the Tan Dien then I relax this focus and move to a more general focus that is an awareness of my whole body including tensions if any in parts of my body - for example my shoulders. This focus is best described as "not abiding". As the sitting progresses I will tend to give my back a little bit more attention than other parts of my body in order to remain more upright. My focus is relaxed, not concentrating on any one part of my body exclusively. The focus is not one of concentration but one of awareness - a letting be. I am not planning to change anything in my body, just observe. If I become aware of my shoulders carrying tension then I will relax and drop them.

If my mind is doing anything (thoughts do arise of course) it could be best described as 'Just Sitting'.

My posture is stationary but not rigid. I am not 'trying' to stay upright, just staying upright. My muscles are not tensed, they are relaxed - but it is a dynamic relaxation. The muscles are just holding position no more. The nearest non-Zazen equivalent way to describe my spine is as if you were standing upright - but with knees slightly bent (not locked out) and arms relaxed. locked out.

This is I think the best description that I can come up with to describe "sitting with the mind". It is an active thing, not a passive thing.

When I am doing anything that is mainly physical in nature then I do like to apply this kind of body awareness to whatever I am doing.

4:33 AM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger cromanyak said...

Mike Cross writes: Or is it maybe that I have never experienced what Gautama Buddha meant by "sitting with the mind upright," and so I am unable to understand the Buddha's original teaching when I read it?

Upright mean to be straight. Not leaning one way or the other. So I think all Buddha is saying is to sit with a balanced mind. Not chasing after states or avoiding them.

Chris

8:19 AM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Nishijima Roshi wrote, "When we want to understand Buddhism...."

These words raised in my mind the old question of the role in the Buddhist process of wanting, desiring, volition, intention.

The samadhi of accepting and using the self includes, as I see it, the intention to accept the whole of the self and the intention to use the whole of the self.

The samadhi that is king of samadhis is dependent upon the intention just to sit.

When one understands this, it is so obvious that to assert it seems redundant. The reason it is such a big deal for me to try to clarify this point is that, before Alexander teachers clarified this point for me, I was labouring for many years under a total misconception about it.

Autonomic balance is autonomic, i.e, not intentional. In emphasizing the importance of physiological balance, there is a danger, as I see it, in overlooking something very vital. That something is mental intention.

The act of sitting in the full lotus posture is something physical. But once one has got one's legs's crossed, one's torso seated on the zafu, et cetera, the practice of just sitting is the most mental thing there is. Pierre has described it beautifully in his commentary on Master Dogen's instruction in Fukan-zazengi: "When something arises in the mind, just wake up."

Pierre wrote:

Wake up and it will vanish. What will vanish then? Thoughts? No, they come back, it is the natural stuff of the mind. Delusion? No, it is very sticky too. What might vanish is the illusion that we have to do something, become somebody, get out of here. And when this vanishes, we invite surrender.

Who are you?

I don't know.

5:54 PM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger reallynotimportant said...

mc: "Autonomic balance is autonomic, i.e, not intentional. In emphasizing the importance of physiological balance, there is a danger, as I see it, in overlooking something very vital. That something is mental intention. "

That is roughly correct. The chinese have at the heart of their moving and static meditations the very clear and unambiguous statement that the intention of the mind ('Shen' roughly) directs the body - or more accurately the "Shen directs the Qi to produce Jing".

The use of the mind in this way to control the body (in an integrated way) including autonomous functions has been at the heart of chinese meditations for at least 2000 years.

8:03 PM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For Lone Wolf San

Thank you very much for your question of Zazen.

Even though the practice of Zazen has been revered in Buddhism since about two thousand and five hundred years ago, the reason, why the practice of Zazen is so valuable for human beings, has proclaimed clearly by Nishijima for the first time in the 20th Century.

In the 20th Century both modern psychology
and physiology have developed so much, and so many people know that we, living beings, have the autonomic nervous system in our body and mind.

And the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts, the one is called the sympathetic nervous system, and the other is called the parasympathetic nervous system.

And the function of the sympathetic nervous system is much related with the mental consideration, and the function of the parasympathetic nervous system is much related with the sensory perception.

Therefore people, who have rather the stronger sympathetic nervous system, are prone to be intellectual, critisizing to others, rather rigid, rather tense, and so forth. And people, who have rather the stronger parasympathetic nervous system are prone to be sensitive, to be soft to others, rather loose, rather dull, and so forth.

But Buddhism has its criteria that our autonomic nervous system should be balanced, or the strength of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system should be equal.

The reason, why Gautama Buddha recommended us to practice Zazen, has come from such a reason, and so we can think that the true reason, why we need to practice Zazen, has been clarified for the first time in the 20th Century.

In such a meaning Buddhism reveres the balance of the autonomic nervous system enoumously.

In other words Zazen is never thinking, or perception, but transcending thinking and perception, and so Master Dogen described the situation of Zazen as "dropping dody and mind." Therefore it does never mean losing body and mind, but it suggests the situation, in which body and mind have become similar to plus/minus zero. So we can think that Zazen is a typical example of real act itself.

Then we can notice that mental consideration is not real, and sensory perception is not real. Therefore we can deny the reality of idealism and materialism, and we experience that the Universe is just real, and our existence at the present moment is just real.

1:28 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For Mike Cross San

I think that if someone is a Buddhist, he will change your last sentence "sitting with the mind upright" into "sitting with body and mind upright," because Buddhists are alawys thinking the oneness between body and mind.

The same problem as above occurs again.

Buddhism is not the object of understanding, but it should be experienced in the practice of Zazen really.

Such a kind of your efforts do not have any relation with Buddhism.


For ReallyNotImportant San

I agree with your idea that many blind people are looking for the Buddhist Truth by groping for it.

At the same time I think that a very stupid Japanese child established the idea to find the ultimate Truth in his life, and it seems that he has arrived at his aim after becoming about 80 years old.

I agree with your idea of Master Dogen's excellence.


For Mike Cross SAn

In a case of Buddhist "sitting with the mind upright" should be changed "sitting with body and mind upright."

Buddhism is not only to have understanding. But at the same time Gautama Buddha taught us, for example, the Four Noble Truths.

My opinion that Realisnm is just the ultimate philosophy for human beings.

We should notice that we are just living in Reality.

The Gautama Buddha's words "to sit in the full lotus posture" mean that "to sit in Zazen, and experience that we are just sitting in Reality."

Therefore I corrected your expression "sitting with the mind upright" into "sitting with mody and mind upright."

The Buddhist principle is always not only mind, or not only body, but it is always body and mind, because it is always act.

It is not only a textual problem, but the fundamental principle of Buddhist philosophy.

I do not know where you have found the words "sitting with the mind upright.


For Pierre Turlur San

I would like to add some comments to the word KAKUSU, or wake up. Of course it has the meaning "to wake up," but at the same time it has a meaning to come back to our original consciousness. Therefore the word has the meaning to come back to our original balanced state.

Here I have to answer Lone Wolf San's question. He asked me the difference between thinking itself and reflection of thinking, but at that time I was concetrated myself in the explanation of Zazen itself, and so I passed my explanation of difference between thinking and reflection of thinking. When I think the difference between thinking and reflection of thinking, I think that the difference of the two, are not so big, because thinking and reflection of thinking both belong to thinking.

But in Buddhism it is very important for us to distinguish between thinking and act.

I think that what Pierre Turlur San wrote in his comments might be the wobbling between thinking and act, but I think that Gautama Buddha's teachings are not so skeptic, but he directly instructs that "just do something at the present moment.

1:45 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For ReallyNotImportant San

When I translate Indian, Chinese, or Japanese sentences into English, I usually rely upon the English meaning of words. Because I want to introduce Buddhism into the Euro-American Societies first, and so I think that it might be the most convenient for us to explain Buddhism in the most convenient language, that is, English, to be understood for the Euro-American people.


For Mike Cross San

Have you understand that Buddhism is a kind of Realism? It is a very nice news.


For Jules San

I have finished my translation of MMK at the end of the last year, and I passed the draft to Brad Warner San to be polished by him.Therefore I expect that I will be able to publish the accomplished one in this year.


For ReallyNotImportant San

I think that we should follow the sitting posture of Zazen to the method, which was written in Fukan-Zazen-Gi by Master Dogen.

Even in Soto Sect they have begun to use a chair for practicing Zazen, but it is very regrettable tendency in Buddhist history.

It is not permissible for us to use such a kind of newly instructed method in Zazen.

Who has teached "sitting with the mind"?


For cromanyak San

By listening to the words "sitting with the mind upright," I feel so strange that
who says so?


For Mike Cross San

In Buddhism, wanting, desiring, volition, intention, and so forth, are just the first step of the four philosophies.

The samadhi of accepting and using the self is never a kind of intention, but it is just an act.

The samadhi is never intention to sit, but it is just the state of an act.

I think that it was so difficult for you to enter into Buddhism itself, and so you have fled from Buddhism into AT.

I think that your viewpoint is extremely idealistic, and so leaving from mental intention, it is impossible for you to recognize anything other than intention.

By practicing Zazen we can transcend body and mind, and then we can enter into an act of sitting. That is the Buddhist act. The meaning of the words in Fukan-zazengi:"When something arises in the mind, just wake up." means that "when something arises in the mind, just come back to yourself, or the balanced body and mind."


For Pierre San

What will vanish is thoughts. There is no difference between thoughts and the natural stuff of the mind. What will vanish is just delusion itself. We have to do something is true. It is impossible for us not to become something. It is impossible for us to get out of here at all. Those kinds of vanishment can never occur, and so we can never invite surrender.

I suppose that you are perhaps Pierre Turlur San.

Everyone do not know who himself, or herself is, but you are you, I think.


For ReallyMotImportant San

I think that what Mike Cross San says is not ture. The balance of the autonomic nervous system is in the interface between body and mind. Therefore it is impossible for the autonomic nervous system to be able only mental, or only physical one-sidedly.

I do not know whether the ancient Chinese Psychology has been so chientific, or not.

I do not know whether their psychological opinions haven't changed following their historical ages, or not, for 2000 years at all.

3:27 PM, March 15, 2006  

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