Another e-mail post please excuse the formatting.

On that note, if anyone would like to volunteer to be an unpaid editor of this blog, the position is open…


In the Shobogenzo Bendowa there is a line that some people latch on to that goes something like: We no longer need to read or recite Sutras, make prostrations, light incense.  There is a lot of this kind of sentiment that arose out of my father's generation of western Buddhists.  There is even a story in a book I recently read (Zen Ritual) that talks of a couple of westerners (of my fathers age) visiting a Zen temple and were shocked when their ideas of iconoclastic monks of spitting or pissing on Buddhist statues, using them as firewood,etcetera were totally smashed when following the abbot around while making his rounds making prostrations and chanting and lighting incense.  They angrily confronted him and said something to the effect of "I thought Zen masters spit on Buddha statues, not venerate them by making bows, lighting incense and chanting."  To which the Zen Master replied "If you want to spit. Spit, I prefer to bow."



The second Chapter of the Shobogenzo is a commentary about the Heart Sutra.  It's a short sutra and it is really well known throughout Japan.  Now to be clear that what I mean by well known here is not that people know what it means, just that people recognize it when it is being chanted and know it is the heart sutra.  From my sampling of interviewing my Japanese wife's friends, I have come to think that very few people have a clue what even the words mean (Often due to them being chanted in Pinyin) and I think that even fewer people that have clarified the meaning of the Heart Sutra for them selves.  

Of the people I asked, most seem to think it is some sort of Buddhist magical spell for health and prosperity.  This reminds me very much of the situation thatoccurred in medieval Europe when the Catholic Church did not want the laypeople reading the bible.


In Dogen's Commentary he kindly walks the reader through the Heart sutra and admonishes:


"Remember, to receive and retain, to read and recite, and to think reasonably

about [prajnā] are just to guard prajnā. And to want to guard it is

to receive and retain it, to read and recite it, and so on."


And in closing he says:


"The realization of this prajnāpāramitā is the realization of buddha-bhagavats. We should inquire into it, and we should experience it. To serve offerings to it and to bow in veneration is just to serve and to attend buddha-bhagavats, and it is buddha-bhagavats in service and attendance."


(excerpts from Shobogenzo Book 1 Nishijima and Cross translation available here:http://www.numatacenter.com/default.aspx?MPID=81 )



Now there are two things I hope I have conveyed with this posting.  

The first being that no, we do not have to make prostrations, light incense, or recite sutras, but we should.


The second being that we should not take thes actions mindlessly but look deeply into them, when we recite the Heart Sutra we should know the meaning is more important than the words and we should discuss it with good friends and clarify it for ourselves (and all sentient beings will benefit.)  It has been my experience that this small sutra can be a wonderful support to practice and, coupled with Zazen, can lead to an awakening of our own inherent wisdom.




Uku said...

Wonderful post, Jordan!

Heart Sutra has been my favorite always. I just gave a talk to our sangha's practitioners last Friday after our weekly zazen and I talked about Heart Sutra for 45minutes. We don't recite it ever because I don't like it and because my teacher Peter Rocca doesn't feel it's necessary to recite it. I agree with him.

I agree with you totally that Heart Sutra is muchos bueno for supporting our practice; it is impossible to understand Heart Sutra only by intellectual understanding: "matter is no different from the immaterial, and
the immaterial is no different from matter" are just beautiful words if there's no experience or no action, no experienced experience beyond those words. I don't mean satoribullshit but real meaning of washing our teeth. Like talking about practicing zazen is very important but it ain't the same as actually practicing zazen, experiencing it every day; reading Heart Sutra without the daily zazen is important but it ain't the same as actually practicing zazen daily and reading Heart Sutra. Dogen's chapters "Kankin" (Book 1, Nishijima/Cross) and "Bukkyo" (chapter 52 in Book 3, NOT 24 in Book 2) are also wonderful.

We should learn in practice that
there is reading sutras that is “getting free,” and there is reading sutras that is “nonreliance.” This being so, each practitioner or half a practitioner who receives and retains the Buddhist sutras will inevitably become the Buddha’s
- Dogen, Bukkyo (chapter 52)

Anyway, it's getting late so it's time for my evening zazen. Take care, Jordan! Thank you for your wonderful post!


Anonymous said...

Just what I needed to hear today. Namaste Jordan. Bowing deeply.

SlowZen said...

Hi Uku, your teacher is right! It is not nessesary to rescite the Heart Sutra. You may also piss on Buddha statues if you like. But I prefer to resite the Heart Sutra, light incense & make prostrations. It's your perogative. But I think it would be wise that prior to if dumping a tradition in thus liniage that has been around since ancient times, we should look deeply into it and not casualy cast it out.

All the best.

SlowZen said...

Hi Gisela, glad you appreciated the post.

Take good care!

Uku said...

Hi Jordan,

I agree that we should look deeply into it [reciting]. Of course it's an interesting question what is deeply enough but what I've learned and experienced, I think it's important to trust on tradition and to teachers and to Dogen's teachings and right now I feel doing sanpai and lighting incense is enough for me and for our group's practice and of course I have based this opinion on Rocca's and Nishijima's teachings and their personal guidance because I'm not a teacher. And naturally people doesn't have to do sanpai in our group (Dogen Sangha Finland) if they don't want to (right now we don't have other Soto monks in Finland except me so that's why I can't ask everyone to do sanpai with me in our group, they can do sanpai if they feel like it. Most of our practitioners are doing sanpai with me though). Of course I don't have so much experience in reciting formally in a group but I'm not interested of that part of rituals. I have learned how to recite it in Japanese because of the tradition. But I like to listen it, it sounds so nice! :)

SlowZen said...

Hi Uku, my Japanese-English dictionary has seven definitions for the term sanpai. This is why I prefer to recite things in my native tongue.

As far as chanting, I prefer reciting.
My experiance is that in reciting things we are able to internalise the teaching. I did this ad nausium in bootcamp 18 years ago and it has proved effective at training combat troops since the days of Alexander the great's empire.
However when chanting ften times we might stumble over words or just not fully understand it due to the desire to just do the chant.

But like I said, your perogative.

As I've said before, I'm no religious athority. But I do like to think and clarify things for myself.

Thanks for your comments.


Uku said...

Hi Jordan,

sanpai in this context means prostrating three times: http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/zendo_etiquette.html

You know these things better than me but I can imagine that in the army and in the temples too reciting is very effective and useful. Although I haven't been in a monastery or in the army (I spent two months in a Finnish military because we have a mandatory military service for minimum 6 months but that place wasn't for me so I left to civilian service for 12 months), I can imagine and what I've read/heard, reciting together is also very practical way to practice among hundreds of monks and it's also very good practice to lift up the spirit of practitioners, feeling like brothers. And it definitely also have this religious aspect which is very important for practitioners.

But I do like to think and clarify things for myself.

Me too and that's why I find these blogs so important, I can learn new things and hear new point of views from people like you. Nowadays I just don't have so much time to hang out in blogosphere. So thank you for your very positive thought provoking post and comments!

P.S. I haven't forgot to send you the Finnish chocolate. I just haven't send em yet. :)

SlowZen said...

Uku, indeed the Internet has been a wonderful resiurse for my practice as well.

On the chocolate, I will only be at my current address for a little less that two months. I'll be headed to Okinawa and the U. S. S. Essex for my twilight tour.

SlowZen said...

Bleh, resource not resiurse.

Thatscwhat o get for typing with my thumbs.

Uku said...

Hey, thanks for the info! So I really should send the chocolate to you before you're leaving. How long are you away from home or is it top secret? :)

Wow, to Okinawa. Should I say congratulations or sorry to hear? :) Well, it's part of your job to travel and I really respect what you're doing, important job and you're helping us all for covering our asses. But it must be awful to be away from your family?

Take care, thank you for the conversation! It's now 1:05 AM in Finland and I really should go to get some sleep before morning lectures.

Peace and good night!

SlowZen said...

Hey Uku, now or later. I'll update my address and give folks a chance to send care packages to the Marines on the Essex when I get the info.

It's a three year tour and the family will be on the island while I go back and fourth on patrols.

The Unit going to be with does slot of humanitarian work in the area. I'm confidant it will be a fufilling tour.

Rest well.

SlowZen said...

A lot not slot. Autocorrect on the phon is working against me! Along with my horrible spelling and inattentiveness.

Anonymous said...

Seems the Universe comes together in wondrous ways as they say. Not only am I reading the Shobogenzo for the first time (very slowly), but I have felt like I got burned by Christians hiding behind rituals. The joy behind those rituals was taken from me in my early teens. Imagine my trepidation, coming into the Zen Center for the first time. Only years of sitting with a wonderful (non-Zen) sangha and my personal sitting practice kept me from running out the door.

Taped teisho this Sunday was on rituals and during the teisho, Roshi admitted to the very same trepidation at the outset of his own practice. He went on to expound on the many ways rituals are a help and not just something to hide behind. You've reinforced this nicely for me...

A old love has been returned to me. Last night I was folding laundry and the dryer seems to be chanting with me: "Wondrous is the robe of liberation,a treasure beyond form and emptiness. Wearing I will unfold Buddha's teaching for the benefit of all sentient beings."

These rituals we take with us through thick and thin. They give us strength and joy and reach into our hearts.

Thank you again.


SlowZen said...

Thanks for your comments and for your practice.
Sorry my response had to wait till halftime..

I am not sure if your familiar with these, but here are some other practice ditties I have learned over the years. I don't do them all the time, but after practicing them a bit they often come to mind as good practice reminders.

Breakfast: this morning meal of ten benefits
nourishes us in our practice.
Its rewards are boundless,
Filling us with ease and joy

Lunch: the three virtues and six tastes of this meal are offered to Buddha and Sangha. May all sentient beings in the universe be equally nourished

Dinner: we must think deeply of the ways and means this food has come to us.
We must consider our merit when accepting it.
We must guard ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.
We eat least we become lean and die.
we eat so that we may realize the truth.

Bath: bathing the body, may all living beings be clean of body and mind, pure & shining within and without.

There are more but the game is back on.

Anonymous said...

Jordan -

Thank you for these wonderful gifts in mindfulness practice. Anymore of them and we'd have to be mindful all day! But then that's the point, to bring mindfulness and gratitude to our every action.

As far as my practice, it is what it is, just like everyone else's.

I imagine even the most practiced Zen master allows for a distraction every now and again. Thank you for taking time out from yours.


Uku said...

Hi Jordan,

I'm really glad to hear that your family is going with you! Humanitarian work sounds really nice! Thank you for your efforts!

SlowZen said...

Hi Gisela,
Here are some more of those practice verses I have compiled.  It’s easier at work where I started to make a book of them! And don’t have to type from memory!
Robe Verse:  (for donning the Kesa or rakusu)
How great, the robe of liberation,
a formless field of merit.
Wrapping ourselves in Buddha’s teaching,
we free all living beings.
Repentance Verse:
Al my past harmful karma,
born from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
through my body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.
Three Refuges:
I take refuge in the Buddha.
May all beings embody the great way, resolving to awaken.
I take refuge in the dharma.
May all living beings deeply enter the sutra’s wisdom, like an ocean.
I take refuge in the sangha.
May all beings support harmony in the community, free from hindrance.
Sutra Opening Verse:
The unsurpassed, profound, and wondrous dharma
is rarely met with, even in a hundred, thousand, million Kalpas.
Now we can see and hear it, accept it and maintain it.
May we unfold the meaning of the Buddha’s truth.
The four vows:
Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
The buddha way is unsurpassable; I vow to realize it.
Face Washing verse:
Holding the toothbrush,
May all living beings
Attain the true dharma
And naturally be pure and clean.
Brushing the teeth in the morning (Alt* afternoon, evening)
I vow with all beings,
To care for the eyeteeth
That bite through afflictions.
Rinsing the mouth,
May all living beings
Approach the dharma gate
And accomplish liberation.
Washing the face,
I vow with all beings
To attain the pure dharma gate
And be forever undefiled.

As far as your practice, I say it’s just yours and not like anyone else’s.  I am always thankful to be able to share my small efforts.  Thank you for yours!
Thanks for yours!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jordan -

I bow deeply in thanks for each of these verses, and again for your efforts in gifting them.


SlowZen said...

Gisela, your very welcome, Thank you for your interest.

SlowZen said...

Gisela, your very welcome, Thank you for your interest.

Unknown said...

Nice Post! I love that line about spitting on the Buddha. I believe that Kapleau was one of those Westerners from the story I heard but I could be mistaken.

On a personal note, last year I began sangha practice with an informal but traditional Soto Zen group and I picked up on Dogen's Shobogenzo. The combo has heightened my practice quite a bit and I find that the ritualized aspect keeps my practice for consistent and concrete.


SlowZen said...

Jack, yes I think Kapleau was mentioned.

Thanks for your practice! I tried to blogroll you but my phone won't let me! Enjoying your efforts.

Uku said...

Oh, I forgot to mention. Of course I recite one sutra every day when I wear my okesa or rakusu before sitting in zazen; Kesa Sutra (Robe verse) that you already mentioned. I don't recite it in English or in Finnish because it sounds so stupid to my ears in English and especially in Finnish. It ain't translated in Finnish because as far as I know, I'm the only person in Finland from Soto but once I tried it in Finnish and it was quite... stupid. So like my teacher taught me, I recite it every time in Japanese. When Brad was in Finland and before we put our robes on, we recited it in Japanese. But that's the only sutra that I am reciting every day. Before and after meals, I just put my hands in gassho and make a little bow.

I consider myself as a religious person but my religion, Buddhism under my teacher's and Nishijima Roshi's guidance, based on master Dogen's teachings, is quite different compared to for example more esoteric and ritualistic Buddhist traditions; still all traditions in Buddhism are Buddha's big family, I think. In academic context, what is religion is a very difficult question but as far as I am concerned, I am openly religious person. This whole thing just popped into my mind because John Daido Loori Roshi is dying (http://www.mro.org/jdlsd.html) and although I don't know his teachings so well, I respect him a lot. He is one of the great Buddhist masters and I feel it is my "duty" as a Buddhist lay monk to respect his teachings so that's why I decided to devote my practice yesterday and today to Daido Roshi, dedicate three prostrations (sanpai) and zazen to him and to his family and community. I wish to him and to his family and community all the best.

Relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Take care, Jordan!

SlowZen said...

Hey Uku, thanks for your comments. I'd like to respond to some of what you wrote but not with my thumbs.

Take care Dharma cousin.

SlowZen said...

It's funny, I thought of a lot I wanted to respond with earlier today, now that I have a moment to write, its gone!

Thanks for your practice Uku.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jordan,

Excellent! The Heart Sutra AND Dogen--it don't get no better than that...

Your observation on the difference between recognizing the Heart Sutra and understanding it is well taken. For a long time, I "understood" it as a revelation on the nature of 'emptiness' and 'form' as being something like absolute and relative, or one and many. I thought it meant that because all 'things' are empty of an independent self, 'things' were not 'real' (or at least not as real as emptiness)...

I could not understand Hakuin's comment about emptiness and form being 'rat turds.' It raised some doubts--a good place to focus effort. Then Dogen's comments gave me a clue...

I had it backward! All things being empty means all things are real things--including even such things as dreams, doubts, and surprise. Wow, what a trip!

Thanks again.


SlowZen said...

Hi Ted,

Form is exactly emptiness and emptiness is just exactly form.

All emptiness being form is just that our perceptions are delusion.

All delusion is just reality and all reality is just delusion. And so it goes. But writing this now, I'm compelled to add, for the sake of others who may be reading,even that isn't it. Brown rice and rat turds can look a lot alike.

Thanks for tangling eyebrows with me. I've felt a bit nostalgic for that lately.

Thanks for looking!