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 Not the Eternal, but an eternal.

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Posts : 165
Join date : 2010-06-29

PostSubject: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Mon Aug 16, 2010 9:57 am

I find the OBC elevation of "an eternal" to "the Eternal" to have had a distorting effect on Buddhist teaching and practice. In priories, it is used and intoned in the same way God is used and intoned in Christian churches. It has become a Buddhist placeholder for God. It is comforting for those who want to continue to believe in God, I suppose, but it's not good Buddhism.

One is encouraged to offer things to the Eternal, to pray to the Eternal, to ask the Eternal for guidance, etc. It is probably one of the most commonly used terms in the priory. The Eternal has become an object rather than being understood only as a descriptive term for something that can never be grasped. It would be not different from deifying "Taste of Apple", even though in mundane life we know the taste of an apple is only a descriptor of the experience. The preoccupation with the objectified Eternal seems to have made Buddhism almost theistic in a way that really contradicts what the Buddha taught.

One can argue that words don't matter, but when they are deliberately used in cultural ways that distort understanding, then perhaps they do.

I know. I know. Another OBC "revelation."
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Join date : 2010-06-27
Age : 63
Location : Vancouver

PostSubject: Re: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Mon Aug 16, 2010 1:48 pm

Hey Jack, the  god references are also a pet peeve of mine but it's not an easy one to address. On the one hand, god expressions often seems to get bandied about like an Anglican service but on the other hand it's common for people to experience a larger presence beyond our ego. It often seems that the The Eternal is dragged into teachings like some display of religeous currency but then again the occasional mentioning of it is an easy way to remind meditaters that its not all about them.

My main concern is where religeous organizations speak of it the way car dealerships speak of the head offices they represent. It all becomes so potentially self serving. There... I guess thats what rubs me the wrong way about it.


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Join date : 2010-08-15

PostSubject: Re: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:11 pm

I guess we might owe this to Peg Kennett's legacy of melding a Western Tradition with Japanese Soto Zen.

For me, the three major teachings I hold dear ... coming from the 6th patriarch, are the ideas of

1) Non-Objectivity

2) Non-attachment

3) Idea-lessness


It has been the tradition of our school to make "non-objectivity" as our basis, "idea-lessness" as our object, and "non-attachment" as our fundamental principle. "Non-objectivity" means, not to be absorbed in objects when in contact with objects; "idea-lessness" means, not to be carried away by any particular idea in our exercise of the mental faculty; ("non-attachment" means, not to cherish any desire for or aversion to any particular thing or idea). "Non-attachment" is the characteristic of Mind-essence.

So, i guess what I am saying is that once we go into language and words referring to objects and ideas, then we are just as lost with the word 'table' as we are the word 'the Eternal.'

I agree with both of you, that it is a very tricky word that maybe should not be used much the way it is, because it basically goes against the entire non-objectivity of Buddhist teaching.

Regards mates.

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PostSubject: Re: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Tue Aug 17, 2010 10:26 am


It's the religious currency that you mention that so poorly represents Buddhism. I've read too many Zen books, and other Buddhist books. Sometime they use the Mind, or Original Mind, but it never becomes currency, you don't talk to it, pray to it, etc. If you're in a OBC temple, you have to deal with its distorting currency of language. If you've read widely, the counterfeit is glaring. If not, the natural tendency is to suck it up as real coin of the realm. Most people in the priory very much ended up thinking of the "Eternal" as a "thing" that was something different than themselves.

The heavy Christian Anglican/Catholic thumbprint also showed up in other ways. Our priory had votive candles which we lay members were encouraged to light for someone we wanted to get well, etc. There was, as expected, an alms bowl at the front of the table with candles. Presumably a donation at the lighting of the candle would speed the prayer or wish on its way to fruition.

The whole idea of Buddhist prayer seems a bit odd to me. The best answer I've come up with is what Suzuki, said, which was something like (while laughing and shaking his head), "Yes we Buddhists pray, but we don't have any idea of who or what we're praying to." Perhaps prayer is just a universal human affectation. But to give that natural tendency a placeholder "thing" by making "eternal" a proper noun seems really wrong for Buddhism.

I do understand your important point about getting caught in our little normal minds. There is something (for lack of a better word) bigger than that. If in some circumstance I find myself without thinking mentally saying "Please help me," I see that I am just reaching out to something well beyond the normal little mind I know. But like Suzuki, I'm speechless about what I'm reaching toward.


Your points of 1) Non-Objectivity, 2) Non-attachment. 3) Idea-lessness seem good Zen from anything I've read. Ideas in particular (except perhaps for mathematics) seem to always end up in the realm of words, and because we don't understand words to be the symbolic abstractions they are, we become fully ensnared in them. Korzybski, at least one of the principal fathers of semantics, really makes the trap clear in Science and Sanity. That book is pretty good Zen, though it doesn't mention Buddhism or Zen at all.
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Join date : 2011-01-04
Location : Toronto, Canada

PostSubject: Re: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:02 pm

mahakala wrote:

... ("non-attachment" means, not to cherish any desire for or aversion to any particular thing or idea). "Non-attachment" is the characteristic of Mind-essence.
if this is so then there is no special way to utilize language to refer to that which is beyond mere language.

mahakala wrote:

... the three major teachings I hold dear ....
the teachings of the 6th patriarch is about not getting stuck in the swamp of language. What is to be held dear has nothing to do with language: like the pet concepts you are referring to

mahakala wrote:

So, i guess what I am saying is that once we go into language and words referring to objects and ideas, then we are just as lost with the word 'table' as we are the word 'the Eternal.'
actually what you are talking about -- just going solely by the text -- is that when dealing with reality referentiality is not about words referring to words: an all too frequent problem when the bar of understand is set too low.

The point would be to not be lost with the words "table" and "the Eternal" but to have had experience of physical tables when you handle the word table and to have had experience of the ground of reality, what is beyond the temporal (Sat-cit-ānanda) ... truth, consciousness, bliss. [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satcitananda]

If the words of the Sixth Patriarch, are more palatable (and I don't see why they should be according to the Sixth Patriarch himself):

Construction of temples, and giving alms to the Saṅgha are seeking mundane merits. Mundane merits are not transcendent merits. Transcendent merits are found in the Truth Body (Dharmakāya), not found in self-cultivation of worldly merits.” [Chapter 3 of the Platform Sutra].

Given the above quote, I would have to say that the Zen of Jiyu Kenneth, Roshi is a full spectrum practice in that it attends diligently to both the cultivation of mundane and transcendent merits.

I believe the real concern (of the Sixth Patriarch) is the issue of believing what are really mundane/worldly merits to be transcendent merits.

Jiyu knew her Zen. Maybe those who rushed too casually to follower were not as nuanced. Also, the Japanese Zen hierarchy and the Chinese Zen family of hers gave her their approval. So condemning her as a "lazy convert" is going to have to go on a lot more than vicarious feelings being passed off as theological assessment.

Honestly, Jiyu always tried to control criticism. And I know why? When I ran afoul of her in this regard she was very upfront and straight forward as to her reason; and agree or disagree, I have to admit that her motives were noble.

I once told Jiyu that I believed that a disciple should never be in conflict with his master: her reply to me was that there comes a time when this must happen. At the time, it was my opinion she was wrong; but now, so many years later, I have to concede that she was right: but this is a teaching I will not accept; it is not my way, my path (again ... she is right).

Nevertheless, her mortality seems to demonstrate the futility of the enterprise of trying to control criticism; yet she was fond of teaching, "I could be wrong!"

Jiyu was a sword without the courtesy of a scabbard: she was many things, including a Zen Master (not just in title and certification, but in the trenches of reality).

I feel it's really weird and ludicrous to try to condemn a Western Zen Master as not being a Zen Master because that person is too authoritarian. In the history of Zen, Zen seems to be able to do great stuff despite or in the face of its desire for authority (I guess that why they need to have the student be greater than the master).

History ... what a strange beast. Dude! ... keep on rocking in the free world

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Join date : 2011-02-11
Location : Portland, Oregon

PostSubject: Re: Not the Eternal, but an eternal.   Fri Feb 11, 2011 7:47 pm

bowing to you, for all your posts.

Everyone has a true name, not those their parents give them, nor yet those they are given at ordination, or assumed in vision quests. A good question to ask a person who is acting in the role of a dharma instructor, is this: "What was the true name of your old teacher?" It took me 25 years, offering incense in the darkness of the early morning, to see the answer to that question.

I suspect yours is something rather wonderful... I love you But what was the honorable Jiyu-Kennett's?


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