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Buddha and the Tao

I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way last weekend, and it was a thrilling ride. It seemed true to me on every page.

He touches on Buddhism a lot, as Taoism played a big part in the formation of Ch’an and then Zen. But he seemed to set some Taoist ideas against traditional Buddhist ones, and I was interested to draw this out with you, my friends here.

This is one description of Taoist meditation that he gives:

Contemplative Taoists do sit in meditation, but not with the egoistic purpose of improving themselves; it is rather that, having understood intuitively that there is no way to go except the way of the Tao “they make an excursion into that which things cannot escape” and meditate for the joy of meditation—the flow of the breath, the sound of roosters in the distance, the light on the floor, the susurrus of the wind, the stillness. (pp. 90-91)

According to Watts, Taoists reject the “aching legs” brand of Buddhism, not wishing to change the mind in any way through meditation. Breath counting is seen as egoistic and even primitive; relinquishing desires is futile, because what’s the point in desiring not to desire?

So my question is, where does this leave us, as Buddhists who follow a path and do wish to nurture certain seeds in our minds, as TNH would put it?

How can we reconcile the direct, in-the-moment flow of Taoism and Zen, with practices designed to improve our minds, such as mindful breathing and metta bhavana, which can seem contrived in comparison?

Does this boil down to the standard debate between the gradual and instant schools of awakening?

Can we find any common ground?

Let me know your thoughts.

KeromeShoshinrocala

Comments

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I’ve spent some time reading up on the Tao, and found it very beautiful and containing as you say a goodly amount of truth. The whole concept of the watercourse way I thought was an excellent guide for how to live one’s life, and useful to everyone.

    But one of the Buddha’s teachings that I’ve gotten the most out of is the one-liner that nothing whatsoever should be clung to. It gives a wonderful light feeling inside to find the things you cling to and unwrap them, find the source of each instance of clinging and encourage it to let go.

    So I see the Buddha’s practice of not clinging and the Tao’s watercourse way as complimentary, you can do both together. Beyond not clinging I do not desire to change much about the mind, I see meditation more as a way to encourage it to remain at peace.

    Tightness and being bound and attaching a great deal of value to things are all symptomatic of clinging. These are not the free, easy, spaciousness that I associate with the Tao either, so in order to find peace in the one, it is skilful to use some principles of the other.

    I may write some more about this later.

    adamcrossleyperson
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    You might like to read this earlier thread, though the questions posed are slightly different:

    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/25400/buddhism-and-the-tao

    adamcrossley
  • @Kerome said:
    You might like to read this earlier thread, though the questions posed are slightly different:

    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/25400/buddhism-and-the-tao

    Aha! Thank you. I understand if a moderator wants to close this thread then. I know people don’t like to rehash things too much.

    Tightness and being bound and attaching a great deal of value to things are all symptomatic of clinging. These are not the free, easy, spaciousness that I associate with the Tao either, so in order to find peace in the one, it is skilful to use some principles of the other.

    This is the kind of common ground I’d like to find as well.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    I appreciate Taoism too, it was my entry into the spiritual path. I think they are complementary but there do seem to be important differences too. I haven't felt the need to dive in deep and try to sort them out to any real extent though.

    I wanted to add that it seems likely that the early schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyigma and Kagyu, were also heavily influenced by the Buddhism from China. Later schools came more directly from India and my understanding is that later, middle ages sometime not recently, there was a political decision to emphasize the ties to Indian Buddhism and deny the ties to Chinese Buddhism.

    adamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    Aha! Thank you. I understand if a moderator wants to close this thread then. I know people don’t like to rehash things too much.

    The other thread is over a year old, I suspect they can happily co-exist as a recurring topic.

    @adamcrossley said:
    How can we reconcile the direct, in-the-moment flow of Taoism and Zen, with practices designed to improve our minds, such as mindful breathing and metta bhavana, which can seem contrived in comparison?

    Well I think it begs the question to what extent the mind is worth improving? It seems to me many Western Buddhists will ask this question, but if the path to enlightenment is through no-mind, then perhaps a well-conditioned mind is not required.

    But I see the meditations as more an attempt to encourage the mind to come to rest, and to access certain emotional paths which strengthen the original, child-like state of being. I came across a phrase by Osho the other day that “the inner journey had much to do with reconnecting to innocence” which struck a chord.

    Any attempt to meditate which does not include some method for bringing rest to the mind is likely to end up in a muddle, distracted by thoughts, it seems to me.

    adamcrossley
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Kerome said:...The other thread is over a year old, I suspect they can happily co-exist as a recurring topic.

    Indeed....

    adamcrossley
  • Can we find any common ground?

    Yes. Always.

    It depends where we are. For some Taoism comes naturally, others need the rigid discipline of Nazi-Dharma (if I can put it like that). In other words, very formal, 'right way' teachings.

    In time, the rigid learns to flow and the weak river, strengthens its flow ...

    Taoism or Judaism, Christianity, Allahism, Humanism etc will inform and develop our Middle Way. By all means cherry pick. According to the 4NT, life is not a bowel of cherries 🍒

    Pah! ;)

    personadamcrossley
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited February 21

    @lobster said:
    In time, the rigid learns to flow and the weak river, strengthens its flow ...

    That was well put 👏

    I found this today, from Buddhadhasa’s Handbook for Mankind:

    The Buddha defined Nirvana as simply that condition of freedom from bondage, torment and suffering which results from seeing the true nature of the worldly condition and all things, and so being able to give up all clinging to them.

    It is essential, then, that we recognize the very great value of insight into the true nature of things and endeavor to cultivate this insight by one means or another.

    Using one method, we simply encourage it to come about of its own accord, naturally, by developing, day and night, the joy that results from mental purity, until the qualities we have described gradually come about. The other method consists in developing mental power by following an organized system of concentration and insight practice. This latter technique is appropriate for people with a certain kind of disposition, who may make rapid progress with it if conditions are right.

    Alan Watts seemed quite dismissive of the organised approach, through directed effort, but Buddhadhasa seems to see both as valid options.

    @person, thanks for the historical context.

    @Kerome, I wonder if you could elaborate on this a little?

    Well I think it begs the question to what extent the mind is worth improving?

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    @Kerome, I wonder if you could elaborate on this a little?

    Well I think it begs the question to what extent the mind is worth improving?

    The Tao, Zen and other sources outside Buddhism hint that enlightenment is an experience that reaches or even originates beyond the mind. There is a Zen story about a dishwasher who found enlightenment, if I remember correctly. If that is the case, perhaps it is not necessary or even desirable to condition the mind greatly in order to reach to enlightenment.

    Things such as remembering sutra’s, doing meta bhavana meditation, or even the Tibetan nine-point meditation on death are things that condition the mind, you could say. There is a line of argument which holds that they do not affect the chances of becoming enlightened at all. So what can you do within the realm of mind to increase those chances?

    Personally, my practice makes me think that working on the Three Poisons and on the longer list of unhealthy mental states has the greatest effect. That once you have an understanding of impermanence and emptiness, working on the roots of the klesha’s helps you eliminate what holds you back, and allows a basic happiness to come forth into your mind.

    That way, you can achieve a lightness, an inner peace which is a state well worth having, even without a great insight into reality such as a satori.

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited February 22

    Dharma Creed

    I believe in the Buddha, the Father of the Sangha, Maker of Dharma that ends suffering.

    And in the Eight fold Path, created to end Dukkha, created for the welfare of all sentient beings; Path of Refuge, Light of Light. Very good in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.

    Buddha for our welfare, came down from Nirvana, and taught skillful means for all Beings and died as do all arisings. The Buddha suffered and practiced under the Bo Tree. On the third day The Buddha sat again, according to the Sutras and entered enlightenment and sits eternally in the Purelands. The Buddha shall come again as the Metta Ray, with understanding and wisdom, to offer teachings

    And I believe in the Enlightenment, the Giver of Dharma Wisdom which proceeds from the Practice and the Application. With the Bodhisattvas, dharma is called on for inspiration.

    And I believe in nothing holy or profane as separate. I acknowledge my flaws and I look for the arising of virtue, and the moment of awakening.

    OM YA HA HUM

    ... Sound familiar, here is the sauce, with or without the meat balls

    =========== Source = Nicene Creed

    I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

    Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
    https://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?t=10289

    ===

    In a similar way Taoism + Dharmaism = Chan/Zen

    personFosdick
  • techietechie India Veteran

    Buddhism (and other isms) are easy to follow because they ask you to do something.

    Tao and Zen are hard because they ask you to do nothing.

    ShoshinFosdick
  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    both tradition suggest to go and be with the season to let the inner and outer nature unfold and harmonize--one.chop wood,pick edible berries,drink water---just life stuff... ;)

  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    im referring to dao-chan zen

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited March 2

    @techie said:
    Buddhism (and other isms) are easy to follow because they ask you to do something.

    Tao and Zen are hard because they ask you to do nothing.

    I’m not sure about this. I don’t think it’s so black and white, and I don’t think either path is easy.

    For me, I really love the idealism and the art and literature of Taoism and Zen, but the path of practice in the Theravada tradition seems more appealing. That’s just my feeling.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Tao and Zen are hard because they ask you to do nothing.

    We are hard because we hardly think ... or more likely over think.
    https://www.kirkville.com/just-sitting-the-zen-practice-of-shikantaza/

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