In the West the word “Zen” has become a common everyday word yet I am often confused as to what people mean when they use the word especially as a headline, in a marketing slogan or as a DIY book title. The implication is the content or product enables one to get down to the very basics of something without the “unnecessary fluff.” The“ zen of this,” or “the zen of that” promises to expose you to “only the very basic truths of something.”
Basically Buddhism is a way to “know” (awaken) the Buddha inside yourself.
Sakyamuni saw the Morningstar and was enlightened, and he said , “I and the great earth and beings, simultaneously achieve the Way.”
Denkoroku Keizan Francis Cook translation
In this story below from Mumonkan this knowing or awakening is transmitted directly from Gautama Buddha to Mahakasyapa.
Once when the World-Honoured One, in ancient times, was upon Mount Grdhrakuta, he held up a flower before the congregation of monks. At this time all were silent, but the Venerable Kasyapa only smiled. The World-Honoured One said, “I have the Eye of the True Law, the Secret Essence of NIrvana, the Formless Form, the Mysterious Law-Gate. Without relying upon words and letters, beyond all teaching as a special transmission, I pass this all on to Mahakasyapa.
Mumonkan (Japanese) 無門關 Wu-wen kuan (Chinese) Case VI The Buddha’s Flower compiled and written by Wumen Huikai (無門慧開; Japanese: Mumon Ekai; 1183–1260). I have used the Blyth translation.
This is a special transmission, “Without relying upon words and letters, beyond all teaching as a special transmission, . . .”
The stories of the history of this “special transmission” from Patriarch to Patriarch passed on through 28 India patriarchs in India to Bodhidharma (Daruma) and with more names in China and Japan, is told in the Denkoroku ((伝光録, Record of the Transmission of the Light) written and/or compiled by Keizan Jokin Zenji in 1300.
This special transmission of the Buddha mind is Zen.
The silk road brought Buddhism to China centuries earlier and monks like Xuanzang (玄奘; 602 – 664) who traveled through Central Asia and India returning with “about a cargo container of Buddhist documents and art” (estimated by Laszlo Montgomery of The China Podcast) and was the basis for Journey to the West, a 16th century book and like Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels.
After Bodhidharma, aka Daruma, became the 28th patriarch of India he migrated to China where he became the First Patriarch of Chan, and settled at Shaolin. Often at more “serious” kung fu schools hanging somewhere is a brush drawing of Bodhidharma.
Buddhism was popular when Daruma arrived in China. Daruma is said to have stayed at Shaolin, famous for martial arts where he taught zen enlightenment through meditation and perhaps had something to do with the marital art known as Wing Chun.
The rise of Wing Chun, the destruction of Shaolin by the Qing dynasty in 1723, the escape of five masters, one of whom was a woman, its association with Zen and the transmission of the Wing Chun style to Ip Man who taught it to Bruce Lee makes this story very dramatic and exciting.
Another event in Zen was the story of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng, six in line from Daruma and the last of the formal category Patriarch expressing the lineage of the Special Transmission.
Young Hui-neng was a poor illiterate wood cutter. One day he heard the Diamond Sutra, was instantly enlightened and became part of the kitchen help at the Eastern Meditation Monastery under the 5th Patriarch who in his old age was concerned that none of the monks showed ability to take his place. A poetry writing contest was scheduled.
NOTE: in China poetry writing skills includes both the ability to compose words & sounds as well as brush words was highly respected and considered a basic part of an upper class Chinese gentleman’s education, and essential for military officers.
The top student monk wrote this poem on the wall at the monastery (in green below). Hui-neng, who was illiterate asked his friend to read it to him, he then recited a poem and asked his friend to write it on the wall (in dark blue).
If you can understand the difference between the two poems then you have an “intellectual” understanding of zen enlightenment. If this seems a little strange consider Red Pine translates a writing said to be from Daruma: “Buddhas don’t do good, Buddhas don’t do bad . . .”
or remember “Without relying upon words and letters, beyond all teaching as a special transmission, . . .”
DISCLAIMER: An intellectual understanding of Zen is not enlightenment nor is it necessary.
Though many other later names are included in Denkoruku, generally Hui-neng is regarded as a crossroads of the divergence of a northern and southern school, and the practice of sudden enlightenment or a slower meditation process.
Maybe the Heart Sutra makes a little more sense now.
“. . .form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.”
Heart Sutra brushed by Janney
The suffering of Buddhism is not about the suffering of others, its not about being poor or hungry, or homeless, it is that being human is suffering, a suffering everyone shares.
The four Noble Truths of Buddhism are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. When you awaken the Buddha inside of you will no longer have suffering.
How similar is this to the idea that the God of Abraham expelled Adam and Eve from Eden to “a life” and life is suffering. Your enlightenment is to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and you will be rewarded into Heaven after your death.
The Dies Committee investigation was presented to the 77th Congress, and alleged that certain cultural traits – Japanese loyalty to the Emperor, the number of Japanese fishermen in the US, and the Buddhist faith – were evidence for Japanese espionage.
Both of these are based on the idea that there was some previous existence for people which did not include suffering and now people are separated or alienated from it.
You can compare this to christians who believe that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior regardless of whatever evil things you have done on Earth is all it takes to ensure your place in heaven and what they call “compassion for others ” is their witnessing christianity to others.
Both have their own “exclusions— In Mahayana, the Bodhisattva is an individual who could become a Buddha but is delaying it to help others in this world, and during the last 1000 years some Christians embracing the idea that doing good deeds on Earth will carry some weight with their God but why bother doing good deeds when all you have to do is proclaim faith.
Where the accepted approach in photojournalism up to that time had been for a photographer to put himself in the reader’s place Smith had found a way to put himself in his subject’s place. It is a crucial distinction, and a key to finding one’s way through the deeper layers of meanings in the photographic essays Smith would concentrate on for the remainder of his working life.
Jim Hughes, introduction to W. Eugene Smith, Aperature Masters of Photography
Krishna defeating the mighty serpent Kaliya who caused great hardships and harm to local people. Krishna danced on top of Kaliya’s hoods rendering him helpless while Kaliya’s wives appealed for his life and Krishna instead of killing Kaliya sent him into exile.
Most everyday since the covad virus I have fast walked four miles along Alameda Creek. Its the same place, a little different everyday.
For many people photographs are about the content. What is it? and often when people show their snapshots they get excited as the image stokes their memory and when the friend is not similarly moved they say “Well you had to be there.“ Generally the snap shot photographer let the excitement of the moment determine when they clicked the shutter. To get the image right you need to let the excitement of the moment move you to make the photograph but use your technical ability to decide when to click the shutter.
He wanted to spare her, not because he minded a killing but because his employers might prefer him not to exceed his instructions.
Graham Greene This Gun For Hire
If you turn this picture upside down, it looks like a Chinese junk going down the Yangtze River or something. Its better upside down! In fact, one of my collectors has painting he always hangs upside down. Told me, “Hope you don’t mind, but it looks better that way.” Its all right; I don’t care.
Andrew Wyeth from Andrew Wyeth Autobiography
Many people walk along the creek, on passing I usually speak a greeting, most people respond and sometimes I get to know the individuals. Others, even after passing countless times just ignore me
A low voice whispered an appeal quite distinctly through the door, Raven picked up the automatic again. Who would’ve imagined an old woman could be so tough? It touched his nerve a little in the same way as the bell had done, as if a ghost were interfering with a man’s job. He opened the study door—he had to push it against the weight of her body. She looked dead enough, but he had to make sure with his automatic almost touching her eyes.
Graham Greene, This Gun For Hire
Of course he could go the bank and let let the police get him. It seemed probable that the wold then be hanged. But the idea of hanging for a crime he hadn’t committed still had power to anger him: if he killed himself it would be for a crime of which he was guilty. He was haunted by a primitive idea of Justice, He wanted to conform; he always wanted to conform.
Graham Greene The Ministry of Fear
Some live along the creek and I see them regularly, watching them age, seeing myself in them
This is probably not a residence, but a storage place for a business in Honjo, Tokyo, or the garage for the house on the right.
. . . I may have complained about my new environment but I know it will be difficult to adapt myself to the new surroundings right away. I am sure everything will brighten up soon and in a few weeks I will begin to love this place almost as much as my home inS an Diego. When I stop to think how the pilgrims started their life, similar to ours, it makes me feel grand for it gives me the feeling of being a full-blooded American.
Dear Miss Breed Letters of incarcerated Japanese American middle and high school children written to Miss Clara Breed, compiled by Joanne Oppenheim
Often people say that Japanese are group minded, and unlike Americans they “overly” conform or submit to the group while many Americans view their self expressions as being sancrosanct, justifying their right to use political power to impose their petty beliefs on others even at the infringement of the rights of others.
It didn’t seem to him as if there would be any harm in their meeting as long as he didn’t take his credentials with him, even in his socks. On the other hand, his room might be searched again. It certainly was a problem.
Graham Greene The Confidential Agent
People do like to be with people, when I was young I used to hitch-hike sometimes I did trips that took days and slept outside. One time I hitchhiked home from college, and on the last leg the driver who lived in the same city, offered to drop me at my house, but before he did we stopped at his house, it was on the way and considerably more modest that my parents house. I thought at the time it was unlikely that his kids had attended college and still he went out of his way to help me, a stranger, who I would never see again.
Once along the East Coast immid 1960s I hitched a long ride with an African-American semi truck driver, and we stopped twice for food at places a little off the highway with all African-American clientele.
People have their own lives, still we kneed knot no them.
When you see a homeless person dressed in dirty clothes begging, do you ever think it might be a Buddhist monk following the path of Shaka Buddha seeking enlightenment?
And maybe others are just glad to be paying the bills.
My mother was in memory care for over three years, and my wife and I saw her daily. Monthly I would make a photographic poster of experiences with mom for my sister in Japan. She like to go to McDonald’s and eat french fries.
We took her out every Sunday for lunch, generally at one of three restaurants that she liked, Each Sunday she would very seriously examine the menu, put it down, smile, explain that this was her first time at this restaurant and ask that I order for her.
Sometimes it seems that my photographs are nothing more than a conversation with myself, and my difficulty is that I do not communicate well to myself. When the photograph reminds me of something that brings back good memories, often its something that I lost long ago, may never have again and the good feeling turns to a sadness for what was lost. Would I rather have the photograph of the lost memory or no photograph and the good times still with me. That is why I call them Light Converswayshuns with my celph.