16-10-09 - Report from China (posted 10-27-09)
Hi to my Zen Friends
I just wanted to fill you in on some of my latest thoughts and
experiences here in China. I have been here in Xiamen, across the
strait from Taiwan, but on he Mainland of China, for about 9 months
On Fridays, I usually go and hang out with my good friend,
Meioguangfashi, the monk whom I met while traveling in South China in
2007, the monk who encouraged and invited me to come to China, to
"share my practice".
Yesterday, I showed him a printout of the homepage of the Honolulu
Diamond Sangha, with a picture of several students in the Zendo,
sitting with teacher Michael Kieran.
It was Michael who gave excellent talks in Rohatsu sesshin in 2003, I
think, about the controversy between Hongzhi and Da Hui, basically, as
I understand it between Silent Illumination or Soto Practice, and
Koan, or Rinzai practice. Hats off to Taigen Leighton for his research
on this, which Michael cited in his teisho.
So Meioguangfashi commented, "Oh they are practicing Japanese way"
Eric: No, they are practicing Song Dynasty Chinese Buddhism, most
likely practicing Dahui style as taught in Japan.
He is probably the best learned Chinese buddhist I know, and he was
aware of the controversy I mentioned above.
I then brought up the issue of the Wumen Kuan. We had spent time with
a monk I had met at Xuefeng temple (Seppo). He practices a form of
breathing meditation, rather than the highly prevalent chanting of
Amitofo--Amitabha Buddha of the Pure Land School.
But in talking about Joshu's "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" His
definitive answer was that Joshu's meaning is, that it does indeed
have Buddha Nature ("Fo shin"). My admittedly limited understanding
from the point of view of the Wumen Kuan, is that it is very
So Meioguangfashi told me that in fact, the WumenKuan had been
destroyed during the Qing Dynasty 300 years ago, due to the ascendancy
of the Dalai Lama with the imperial government of China at that time.
Very few monks study it, and study isn't encouraged.
Thus, two of the most important texts in what we know as Zen Buddhism,
The Blue Cliff Record in I guess the Song Dynasty, and the Wumenkuan,
in the Qing.
That explains a lot to me about why I have encountered so little
practice that looks like what I have come to think of as "Zen" or
It also raises issues with me as to "why" this happened, and why
chanting Amitofo is clearly prominent. I'd say that zazen has a lot
more in common with Theravada practice than with many of the Mahayana
practices which are far more devotional (though certainly Theravada
has a lot of chanting especially in popular Buddhism).
I guess, people really don't like sitting around accomplishing
It also makes me appreciate Suzuki Roshi's description of Zen Center's
practice as "Hinayana Practice Mahayana Mind."
I also feel I have to speculate, that the ascendancy of devotional
practice,, with its emphasis on chanting and ceremonies, has an
element of social control as well as a diminishing of the intense
questioning characteristic of Zen.
Indeed, Chinese I talk with tell me that in school, they were taught
that Buddhism was used to control the people before the Peoples
Republic was established,
Not that events since then have resulted in social control, of
course. (As an aside, Communism is considered a religion here, and
that when you register with the government, you cannot be both
Buddhist and a member of the Party)
Sometimes a Chinese will tell me that Buddha is his god, and they are
astonished when I say that Buddhism has nothing to do with belief,
much less a belief in god, but is a method of deep inquiry into
ourselves and the world, as science is in the physical world.
I have read enough Pure Land Buddhism to see that it certainly does
put a lot of emphasis on ethical training, which is excellent. And it
is also true I think that intense Pure land practice as seen by
eminent monks like Hsuan Hua leads to far greater spiritual
development than laggards like me.
Nonetheless, the deep inquiry used in trying to understand koans
points to the deconstruction of all views, which the Buddha said is
the fundamental cause of suffering, attachment to views. Not the
replacement of views with another view, that chanting the name of
Amitabha will result in liberation.
There is a strong view in China, that despite the past 200 years of
great turmoil and trauma, that the dharma is strongest here in China,
whereas, in my observation over these past few years, Thailand Burma
and even our benighted USA have more access to meditation instruction,
certainly available to foreigners.
In the end, nowadays, the Chinese are mainly interested in creating a
better material life for themselves, and one of my monk friends here
noted regretfully that modern Chinese culture is being overwhelmed by
seeking material comfort--money--rather than asking questions about
the meaning of life.
On the other hand, I have not met some of the monks that Red Pine has
told me about, and I hope that I will be able to meet them in the next
couple of months, before I go back to Thailand and on to India, where
there is a branch school of the Sanbo Kyodan School, the parent
organization of the Diamond Sangha, which Aitken Roshi founded, and of
which I consider myself a student.
As for my future here in China, that is its own Genjo Koan.