- an archival site on the life and world of Shunryu Suzuki and those who knew him.

check home for more links       what's new        bibliography         interviews        stories    excerpts/articles   DC Misc.  digressions and current events    Zen Aluminati       links             Library of Tibetan Arts & Works              comments                         and more if you look around 

Letter from Eric Arnow                                Arnow Letter Index

Eric Arnow link page

Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc

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 now.

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
Meioguangfashi: Yes
Eric: No
Meioguangfashi Yes
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 different.

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, were destroyed.
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 "Chan".

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 nothing.

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.

Palms together,

Eric Arnow

                               Go to What's New