Question your Teachers

My previous post (Humility and Belief Revision) ended with some questions I ask myself as a teacher. It posed further questions for students, but stopped short. The teacher-student relationship in any form is complicated, but that doesn’t mean it must be disempowering for students.

As the previous post made clear, teachers are bounded by history, context, and ideology (not to mention memory, age, and other physically embodied constraints). There is very little a teacher can say without some qualification as to their certainty about what they say. Of course the context may not warrant so many qualifiers. But if you get to know a teacher well enough, and the humility is not present, then let that be a sign to move on.

I find this most pressing in Buddhist teacher-student relationships. The dynamic requires a humbling on both sides, and so requires the student to bend toward the teacher – but in the service of developing one’s practice. That must always be kept in mind!

So ask yourself: what am I being asked to do? And is this teacher full of themselves? Or are they bending while I am bending? Are we both turning in to the Dharma together? If not, well – someone might be selling you something, or trying to control the situation. Not a healthy place to be.

Humility and Belief Revision

774bdfc898db2100b01ea0fdeae9ba8bI am starting a project on Descartes’ Meditations. More than just in the title, Descartes’ work has a deep affinity with the tradition of meditations or spiritual exercises of his time. And beyond the traditions he was familiar with, there is the larger tradition of meditation via doubt especially among the Zen schools that resonates with Descartes’ writing and practice. Although I stumbled upon these connections after I brought my Buddhist practice together with my reading of the Meditations, I am in no way the first to think this; indeed, part of the joy so far has been to read about these connections from authors across various disciplines!

My first encounter with Descartes was at UCLA. It was my first college philosophy class. Professor Joseph Almog strolled in, rolled back his sleeves, and started right in on the Meditations. All we covered that quarter was the Meditations. In fact, I think we only covered various sections from the text primarily around the mind-body problem. And the professor taught it all without notes – just the chalkboard, his mind, our minds, the text somewhere in the background, and abstract philosophical analysis. It was breathtaking (for a naive freshman like myself)!

I took other classes where we covered the standard topics in the Meditations. I taught them in various classes and made sure students understood the role of skepticism, the reasons and arguments for foundationalism, the arguments for God’s existence and their obvious problems, and more. Students questioned me and I gave them my most definitive answers in return. Of course there were subtleties of interpretation, but this was how the Meditations were to be understood.

And from where I stand now, all of that was horribly superficial, and just wrong as a reading of Descartes.

So what happened? History and context and ideology happened. We all learn from someone, and they are informed by their context and history. And learning is constrained by the context of learning – its aims, its political and pedagogical agenda. And we are human and take stands, both intentionally and unintentionally, and that ideological formation impacts our teaching. All this is obvious once you immerse yourself in this way of thinking. And yet just today after reading an article it dawned on me how full of myself I was teaching Descartes as if I knew the work, the arguments, the problems, the answers!

The beauty of this process is belief revision: we can change what we believe. And this impacts action: we can change how we act. And this impacts speech: we can change what we say. And putting all this together requires humility: recognizing our limited or bounded understanding, and bending ourselves to change unboundedly, to unknowing mind, to not being full of ourselves, over and over again.

The inquiry continues. It must continue. Not just about Descartes. But about everything we believe and encounter in our daily lives. And I am left thinking about how to teach in the face of bounded understanding and unbounded change. What does it mean to be a teacher when all these constraints are salient? How can I empower students by guiding them, when I know their guide is positioned in this way? How can I be honest in my limited understanding, while still positioning myself as someone who has something to teach?

There are similar questions for students, whether students of philosophy, Buddhism, or any discipline at all. And there are not so simple answers to all of this. But for now – its on my mind and in my heart. Making amends for my previously limited understanding, moving forward while keeping in mind and heart the way I am formed and bound by history, context, ideology, and teachers, and reminding myself that unbounded change is the path of humility and awakening.

Readings V – Korean Buddhism

1599px-eca69dec8bacec82ac_eb8c80ec9b85eca084_2I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

This is the last in a series of posts on this topic. The list below is incomplete on many fronts. So if you happen to have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

General History

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, “Buddhism in Korea,” from Buddhism and Asian History, eds. John Kitagawa and Mark Cummings, MacMillan, New York, 1987. (PDF; from Sunim)
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, “Buddhism in Korea,” from Encyclopedia of Asian History, Vol. 1, Scribners, New York, 1998. (PDF; from Sunim)
  • The Korean Buddhist Research Institute, eds. The History and Culture of Buddhism in Korea. Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1993.
  • Lee, Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Translated by Edward W. Wagner with Edward J. Shultz. Seoul: Ilchokak Publishers, 1984.

Unified Silla Period

  • McBride, Richard D. Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist cults and the Hwaŏm synthesis in Silla Korea. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

Wonhyo

  • Muller, A Charles, ed. Wonhyo: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 1. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127536
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. “The Hagiographies of the Korean Scholiast Wonhyo: The Dating and Provenance of the Vajrasamadhi.” In The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamadhi-Sutra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton University Press, 1989, Chapter 2.
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. Cultivating Original Enlightenment:Wonhyo’s Exposition of the Vajrasamadhi-Sutra. Collected Works of Wonhyo vol. 1. University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu. 2007.
  • Muller, A Charles, and Cuong Tu Nguyen, eds. Wonhyo’s Philosophy of Mind. The University of Hawaii Press, 2012.

Uisang

Chinul / Jinul

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul’s Korean Way of Zen. University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu. 1991.
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, ed. Chinul: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 2. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127546

T’aego

  • Cleary, J C, tr.. A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego. Shambhala, 2001.

Hyujeong or So Sahn

  • Boep Joeng, tr. The Mirror of Zen: The Classic Guide to Buddhist Practice by Zen Master So Sahn. Shambhala Publications, 2006.
  • Jorgensen, John, tr. A Handbook of Korean Zen Practice: A Mirror on the Son School of Buddhism (Songa kwigam). University of Hawaii Press, 2015.
  • Jorgensen, John, ed. Hyujeong: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 3. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127549

Kusan Sunim

  • Kusan Sunim. The Way of Korean Zen. Tr. Martine Batchelor. Ed. Stephen Batchelor. Boston: Weatherhill, 2009.

Song-chol Sunim

  • Song-chol. Echoes from Mt. Kaya: Selections on Korean Buddhism. Lotus Lantern International Buddhist Center, 1988.

Modern Korean Buddhism

  • Park, Jin Y. Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism. SUNY Press, 2012.

The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism

Readings IV – Mahayana/Zen Studies

Sinheungsa Bronze Buddha
(Intro from Previous Post…)

I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

I will break the list down into various units and post separately. This list is incomplete on many fronts – more on that in a later post. If you have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

Diamond Sutra

  • Conze, Edward.  Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.  New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Mu Soeng.  The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way we Perceive the World.  Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.
  • Red Pine.  The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom, Texts and Commentaries Translated From Sanskrit and Chinese.  Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2001.

Platform Sutra

  • Bielefeldt, Carl and Lewis Lancaster. “T’an Ching (Platform Scripture).” Philosophy East and West Vol. 25, No. 2 (1975). Pages 197 – 212.
  • Red Pine. The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2006.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind: The Significance of the Sūtra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang). York Beach, Main: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1972.
  • Yampolsky, Philip. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-huang Manuscript. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

The Awakening of Faith

  • Hakeda, Yoshito, tr. The Awakening of Faith. Columbia University Press, 1974.
  • Park, Sung-bae. Wonhyo’s Commentaries on The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1979.
  • Suzuki, D T, tr. The Awakening of Faith: The Classic Exposition of Mahayana Buddhism. Dover Publications, 2003.

Zen / Ch’an / Seon Studies – Various Readings

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamadhi-Sutra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • Hu Shih. “Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method.” Philosophy East and West Vol. 3, No. 1 (1953). Pages 3 – 24.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. “Zen: A Reply to Hu Shih.” Philosophy East and West Vol. 3, No. 1 (1953). Pages 25 – 46.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. “History of Zen Buddhism from Bodhidharma to Hui-neng (Yeno) (A.D. 520 – A.D. 713).” In Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1961. Pages 163 – 228.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1961.

Readings III – Disciples of the Buddha

07 Kisagotami with her Dead Child, at the Nava Jetavana, Shravasti(Intro from Previous Post…)

I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

I will break the list down into various units and post separately. This list is incomplete on many fronts – more on that in a later post. If you have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

NOTE 1: This list is short because it is the only reference I have for reading about the Disciples of the Buddha. However, the collection of readings here is a must read for any serious student/practitioner of Buddhism.

Note 2: The collection does cover Bhikkhunis of the Buddha’s period, albeit not as thoroughly as the Bhikkhus. Some of this is a product of relevant source material; some of it is not. If you have references to Bhikkhunis living during the Buddha’s period, please post in the comments.

Note 3: The image above is of Kisagotami and her dead child as she approaches the Buddha for help. If you don’t know her story, please find it and read it deeply and mindfully.

Disciples of the Buddha

  • Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed., Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy, Wisdom Publications, 2003

 

Eating for Self and Other

Student: Teacher, I hear you when you say treating thoughts and feelings as if they were not mine is practicing not-self. And as not-self, I can let them go as they arise as I let go the thoughts and feelings in others that have no pull on me. But I’m hungry! I have been watching this hunger for a day now, not eating, not holding on to the thought of food in the face of this persistent gnawing in my belly, and still the thoughts of food come up and my belly is loud and obnoxious now! Is this the practice of not-self? Do I just starve myself to death?

Teacher: Not death, no. If you die without waking up, what good is any of this? Then even I have failed you, complicit as I am in your delusion and liberation.

Student: OK, OK. Not death. I think I’d eat by then. But how is this not-self if all I see is the continual arising of self? All I feel is my belly chewing away at itself – is that awakening?

Teacher: Not this and not that. Both this and that together. Obstruction and Path – not two, not one either. Hunger and release from hunger are not separate and not the same.

Student: I’m not following you – partly because I’m hungry but also because you are not making any sense.

Teacher: What if your child is hungry, what do you do?

Student: I make her food.

Teacher: Simple. No thinking. Obstruction and path work together in harmony. And so when you are hungry, what do you do?

Student: I used to eat. Today I am starving. I am not sure what I am supposed to do anymore.

Teacher: Obstruction and path in disharmony. What is your vow? Your aspiration?

Student: To practice, to wake up, and serve all beings as if they were Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Teacher: OK, but sometimes to help others, you have to help yourself. And when you help yourself to help others, when you practice eating as eating for the body that is not just your body, you are practicing not-self. The hunger becomes freedom from hunger and you more freely embrace the hunger.

Student: But if I eat I take food away from others and that is selfish.

Teacher: Look around you! Is there anyone here asking for your food? You only deprive your idea of someone wanting food, which is no deprivation at all. What if you starve and get caught up in your hunger? How can you be present to the world in front of you?

Student: What is that world?

Teacher: Eat and find out. Just enough to see clearly….

Not-Self in the Park

bench-forest-trees-pathWalking slowly and evenly in the park, a bench along the sidewalk invites rest. Time to sit, but not to stop looking and seeking. And so the meditation continues.

A lady walks by with her dog, a boxer, a lovely animal. It pees in front of me and, while peeing, turns its head with a look of relief.

Another person, a man, older, walking slowly for a morning breath of fresh air, passes by me while I sit on the bench. As he walks by he raises his hand, extends a finger towards his cheek, and begins to scratch what might be a mosquito bite. As I sit and watch, I almost raise my hand and finger as if to scratch, perhaps my cheek, perhaps his cheek, perhaps the invisible cheek between us. But then I wake up: what is this urge to scratch a possible mosquito bite that isn’t affecting me?

And here is a small taste of not-self and self as they mutually inform experience. The man’s desire to scratch his cheek is his, not mine. And so I don’t enter into any relations with his desire to scratch. His desire is not-self to me. My morning desire to eat that affects me and urges me to food is mine, not his. I enter various relations with my hunger: sometimes I act on it, while at other times I wait it out. This desire is self to me and not-self to the man passing by.

And so how can I practice not-self to me? Easy – the answer is right there before our eyes with each passing person and with each of their passing desires, thoughts, and feelings. Just as the man’s desire to scratch is not-self to me, so too can my desire to eat be not-self to me if I practice it as such. Why practice it as something to engage and so as mine or self to me? Why not practice it as something that is not-mine, as something to watch, but not engage, just as I watch the man scratching his cheek?

And just as I practice self to my desires and not to others, why not practice self to others’ desires that are outside this body and mind? If a friend is hungry, then why not act on her hunger as if it were my own? Cook some food, take her out to eat, or wait it out; letting the situation guide, why not practice self to her desire to eat as I usually practice self to my desire to eat?

And why stop at the people we know? There is hunger, fear, and anger out there that is not in this body/mind – why not practice self towards those physical/mental states and work to relieve them as we would our own hunger, fear, and anger? If we do so, we are practicing not-self by practicing self beyond this very body/mind.

The practice of not-self is easy and not easy. It is negative (letting go) and positive (taking on beyond this body/mind). It is in this moment and enough to fill lifetimes of practice. So what better place to start than wherever and whenever you are?