Huineng tearing up the sutras. 13th century Chinese inkbrush.
One of the things that most attracted me to Zen Buddhism all those years ago was the entire "transmission outside of sutras" philosophy. You see, like many Western people, I found myself locked out of the religion I was raised in because some of the beliefs and attitudes they took for granted were impossible for me to accept. In my case, the religion was fundamentalist Christian and the attitude was the worship of a set of writings they called the Bible.
"Noah had two of every animal in his boat. The Bible said it, so I believe it."
"But how do you know the Bible is right?"
"Because the Bible says it's right."
I'm not picking on my own family religion, which produced some amazing, compassionate, good people. Our tendency to worship our ancestors and by extension anything they said or did is universal. And yes, I'm slowly getting around to pointing out that Buddhism is no different. If anything, it was even more of a problem because it flourished in a culture that openly practiced extreme ancestor worship. That didn't just mean hanging pictures of dead Grandpa over an altar, you know. It meant anything your ancestors said or did or taught was not to be questioned. Their writings were sacred and held supernatural power over today's world. In a cave in China, archaeologists found hundreds of copies of the Heart Sutra. These were never used, never meant to be read. An entire industry of scribes would churn these out one after the other. If you paid to have one made, you were generating good karma for yourself. But what to do with another copy of the sutra? It could only be stored away with the other unneeded copies, being too sacred to destroy or leave sitting around.
So is Zen anti-sutra? Of course not. Zen does not say there's something wrong with studying and applying the lessons taught in the sutras. Some of the old Zen Masters criticized their own people for neglecting to study them enough. Butmore than that, even the most extreme "Meditation only!" Master has his own set of sutras, the koans and life and sayings of the Masters in his own Dharma Transmission line. All we've done is substitute one set of sacred writings for another. Human nature.
What Zen is, is anti-worship. When you read the commentaries of the koans, written by later Zen Masters about what their revered Chan founders said or did, often the comments are quite scathing and dismissive. And if the your Master has comprehended the Dharma, he is pleased if you tell him that he's full of crap, also. If you know what you're talking about and you're pointing out the truth. He would know what he's saying is crap as much as you.
So do you find yourself disagreeing with the old sutras at any time? Does this bother you? When you read the words of Buddha, does it feel like you're being lectured to by your parents, and saying "Wait a minute, that's not right" feels like you're not being respectful?
And is that how we should approach the sutras. There's nothing that says Zen has to be correct, you know. Disrespecting the lessons transmitted by the old Masters and Buddha himself can become as much of a problem as blind obedience. What's your thoughts?