Monday, November 27, 2017



          Sutras are collections of the supposed talks and dialogues of Shakyamuni Buddha who lived some 2500 years ago. Most Buddhist schools have adopted certain sutras as their own authority, but not Zen. Zen isn’t associated with any sutra. Zen is a special transmission outside of sutras. It doesn’t depend on words or letters.

In Zen truth is grasped directly or else it isn’t grasped at all.

          The Christian Bible, The Jewish Talmud, and the Muslim Koran are books that gather together what are reputed to be the revelations of God. They’re known as holy books, sacred books associated with divine power. People venerate them and often make solemn declarations on them as confirmation of the honesty or truth of their declarations.

Consider. For the Christian Bible alone there are dozens upon dozens of versions. There are the King James, the Berkely, the English Revised, the New American, the American Standard, the New Revised Standard, and many more.

          Each version has been interpreted and edited at different times by different scholars and translators, which means each version differs in some way, large or small, from all the others. Which means that anything original has been fiddled around with so many times it has lost any meaning of its primary intent.

          Question. Can anyone tell me what a camel is?

Answer. A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.

Seriously, take with a pound of salt the words or revelations of anyone that have been interpreted time after time and recorded time after time by committee after committee, each member of which has his own selfish reason to make a mark in history. Any originality in the meaning of those word has long since been obscured in time and in the tinkering the words have undergone.

Neither Buddhism nor Zen has a so-called holy book. I do own a small volume I liberated from a nightstand of a hotel in Thailand. It’s somewhat analogous to the Gideon Bible found in most hotels in Christian countries, but it’s not called a bible. It’s titled simply The Teachings of Buddha.

It’s not a considered a sacred book. It isn’t a collection of holy writings. In Buddhist courts no one is required to swear on it to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Shakyamuni.

The book presents writings on the life of the Buddha such as The Fourfold Noble Truths, The Middle Way, and Human Nature. It makes no promises. It offers no guarantees.

Here are three quotes from The Teaching of Buddha:

1.     “Oh, my mind! If you could only learn that everything is non-substantial and transitory….”

2.     “Rely upon yourself: do not depend upon anyone else.”

3.    “Be the master of your own mind.”

I’m not saying written words are bad. Read sutras, or even the so-called holy books, but don’t take them for a body of rules or principles.

With that rambling introduction in mind, let’s consider one of the most significant personalities in Zen, and some of the concepts from his most momentous piece of teaching. I’m referring to Hui-Neng, the Sixth Chinese Patriarch, and his so-called Platform Sutra.

The word “platform” refers to the raised area where Hui-Neng sat when he delivered his talk to the people surrounding him.

To paraphrase Hui-Neng, if one realizes his or her original mind you have awakened. Awakening is known as no-thought. What is no-thought? It means even though you are totally aware you are not fixed to anything.

This is being free and unattached.

According to Hui-Neng, once you awaken to the notion of no-thought you have reached the status of the Buddha.

Reaching the status of the Buddha doesn’t mean becoming the spitting image of Siddhartha. Remember, there are no cookie cutters in Buddhism.

The Platform Sutra often uses the word “nature.” This isn’t Mother Nature, with its trees and bees but self-nature, original nature, Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature means everyone—and I say every thing—possesses the potential, the intrinsic spark, to be enlightened. Enlightened means realizing one’s own true self.

Zen deals with Buddha-nature.

Buddha-nature is indestructible.


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