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Tearing up the sutras.

CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
edited January 2015 in Philosophy


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."
"But...never mind."

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?

NirvanaShoshinBuddhadragonEarthninja
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Comments

  • 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

    If it feels good, do it.
    When in doubt - don't.

    CinorjerBuddhadragon
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited January 2015
    For one that doesn't understand what the Heart Sutra is meant to convey, a million copies of the same interpretation won't help.

    In grade 9 I failed math. No matter how many times the teacher tried to explain it, it went over my head and out the window. The next year for the same class I had a different teacher and she explained it in such a way as to get me an A. Same problems but different approach.

    Disrespect and blind obedience seem to be two extremes. Whenever there are two extremes to chose from I usually look to the middle (surprise, surprise) and in this case I see respectful discernment.

    For me, if it doesn't move the story forward, it's fluff. If it doesn't relate in some way to the 4, 5 or 8 I don't really see the relevance. Mind you, what I call relevant others sometimes call fluff.

    That's just the nature of being unique aspects of the same process I suppose.
    silverCinorjerSarahTBuddhadragon
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    @Cinorjer said:

    The Kalama Sutta springs to mind ( if a Zennie hasn't torn it up already ;) )

    lobsterCinorjerEarthninja
  • SarahTSarahT Time ... space ... joy South Coast, UK Veteran

    Reminds me of the following:

    All word [sutra] and you dry up

    All spirit [meditation] and you blow up

    Word and spirit [sutra and meditation] together
    and you grow up

    -- David du Plessis (I believe although have been unable to verify), adapted

    CinorjerpersonmfranzdorfVastmind
  • So do you find yourself disagreeing with the old sutras at any time?

    Don't really have much interest in ancient scripture, translated from ignorant cultures by people with limited insight. Wait that is my approach to Bible and Koran . . . come to think of it applies to most revered pattern and rote thinking . . .

    Does this bother you?

    No.
    There are people of sufficient knowledge, insight and experience to provide interpretations of the useful bits.

    ShoshinCinorjerBuddhadragon
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    When I was running a Buddhist group I used to read them stories from the Majjhima Nikaya but it sent them all to sleep so I stopped. They did get nicely relaxed though. ;)

    Cinorjer
  • 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

    I can go one better... I was leading a relaxation/Visualisation... and I fell asleep!!

    CinorjerBuddhadragonsilverVastmind
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    Did anyone notice or were they all asleep too?

    SarahT
  • 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

    I think they all thought it was a sympathetic and well-intentioned pause..... I wasn't out for more than around 45 seconds (I had a timer in front of me) but nobody said anything.... as the room was quite dark, either they were blissfully unaware, or too polite to mention it!!

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    A Tibetan master advised me to sing the Heart sutra everyday to purify aeons of karma, gain merit and go know what else.

    I gave up on the practice the minute I could own to myself how stupid I felt repeating over and over a sutra which at least till today, is neither a favourite, nor a sutra I totally understand.

    I feel so much holier and inspired reading other suttas from the nikayas, the Dhammapada, the Sutta Nipata and the Visuddhi-Magga.
    I read suttas every day. Some I find utterly inspiring, others bore me stiff.
    I take what I find appeals to my heart, and respectfully set aside what does not resonate with me until a later time, when hopefully my insight will be developed enough to tackle them again.

    Cinorjerbookwormlobster
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    I have given up reading all Buddhist stuff for the time being. If it hasn't sunk in yet it probably never will. It feels quite liberating actually, more open, dropping assumptions and seeing what emerges. I'm overdue for an adventure anyway!

    CinorjerEarthninjalobsterTelly03
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    ^^The reverse is also true.
    There is a whole lifetime for things to sink in, and what does not sink in today, could probably sink in tomorrow.
    Learning never stops.

    To me, the fact of reading the suttas is what feels liberating.
    The more I read and the more I learn, the more assumptions and seemingly fixed opinions get dropped in the process.
    I am on what must be my third round of the Majjhima-Nikaya, and third time around, the reading is completely renewed and different.
    It's a challenge every time.

    Cinorjerbookwormlobsterpegembara
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I have given up reading all Buddhist stuff for the time being. If it hasn't sunk in yet it probably never will. It feels quite liberating actually, more open, dropping assumptions and seeing what emerges. I'm overdue for an adventure anyway!

    Hey! Me too. For about a year I ate and ate and drank and listened and then I lost the momentum. Or did it lose me? Maybe I was just 'full' and now I'm digesting and assimilating.

    BuddhadragonCinorjer
  • Mooji said the scriptures are the finger pointing at the moon. And most people don't wake up because we are to busy sucking the thumb.

    Ajaan Chah also was asked once what is the best book to begin Buddhism. He pointed at his heart.

    He has also stated the 8 fold path is our Two eyes
    Two nostrils
    Tongue
    Two ears.
    Skin.

    Those guys are examples of people who are enlightened in this body, in this lifetime, so worth repeating their insight.

    Some great insights from everyone here on the forum. B)

    Some people are living the dream (yeah how does that sound these days) :p learning and familiarising, assimilating and digesting, transcending and implementing the path to the Middle Way inward.

    Personally I prefer Zen for the jokes . . .

    Q: Did you hear about what happened to that Buddhist who ignored the Fifth Precept and got absolutely, grossly drunk?

    A: He fell into a stupa.

    . . . well that is not particularly 'Zen' but I prefer the humour to the rectitude . . .

    . . . we just have to be true to where we are on the sutra trail end: reading them, reading into them, turning them over to write our shopping list, mooning them as we run by and so on.

    My daily formal meditation is usually Zen styled . . .
    http://www.mro.org/mr/archive/18-4/articles/suzuki.htm

    However I have breaks for vipassana, led meditations, etc. anything to ensure I do not end up a Zenith.

    In a sense I am a sutra being torn up . . . or a sitting joke . . . [lobster rambles away]
    http://zmm.mro.org/teachings/meditation-instructions/

    EarthninjaCinorjer
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    @Hamsaka said:

    Maybe I was just 'full' and now I'm digesting and assimilating.

    I've been through that one quite a number of times. This feels different, more like I'm ready to let go of all the theory and assumptions completely and just, well, see where it goes. Sort of. ;)

    CinorjerHamsaka
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    oops

    lobsterEarthninjaBuddhadragon
  • @SpinyNorman said:
    oops

    Well said.

    . . . or double posted . . . This idea of arriving at the same place but tearing up the previous understanding of the sutras is part of a never ending cycle of 'oops, thought I understood that . . . needed to go deeper' . . .

    After a while we find the new age interpretations of the latest circuit celebrity guru has deep meaning not always for them or the sagely nodding hosts but . . .

    . . . out of the mouth of babes . . . :) [no you are not a baby cushion . . . sorry have to go talk to the soft furnishings]

    BuddhadragonEarthninja
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    @DhammaDragon‌ I said I listen to lectures or read books IF I have a problem over a topic. That I can't answer myself :)
    Or if I lack inspiration.

    Not that I listen to lectures instead of books.

    I also said once we have A technique not THE technique. There is a difference. Having a technique shouldn't mean there's nothing to learn? I don't see how it does. I have a technique for swimming, doesn't mean I can't learn? In fact I really should learn how! Haha.

    For me learning is not about reading books. I went through a stage of buying books and "studying" Buddhism.

    I realised they all point to the same thing. Which is here right now. In our waking experience.
    It was useful to learn a bit in the beginning but it's the direct seeing. Or experiencing reality that has the key to set us free.

    Even the word "flower" has created a ghost that we believe actual flowers exist in an of themselves.

    It's all these words and concepts that have gotten us stuck.

    I often don't want to sit and meditate, I could think of 100 things is rather do. Including reading books about Buddhism.

    I know this is just the mind, ego. Trying for some reason to escape.

    It's this reason that makes me want to meditate. The mind doesn't want to so I need to find out why. The only way is through introspection.

    My learning comes from this practice.

    Can I ask a sincere question, @DhammaDragon‌.
    Is there really anymore you NEED from books? (As far as the path to freedom) Or are you doing it more for intellectual entertainment?
    And I don't mean it in a condescending way. :)

    Best regards chris
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Earthninja said:
    I also said once we have A technique not THE technique.

    That's very true, and it's helpful to see the bigger picture. I wonder though if sometimes people don't stay with one technique long enough, really explore the depth?

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @lobster said:
    guru

    Buddha save me from new-age gurus! Charades of certainty, myriad misrepresentations, pretentious proper nouns, malingering muddles.....

    ( sorry, just in the mood for a bit of alliteration really )

    ;)

    Cinorjerlobster
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    @SpinyNorman‌ I was caught by this for a time. Trying to find the best technique! Trying all different styles.

    I think there is something in us that says this the right technique. Then stick with it. One size doesn't fit all right.

    For me I like sitting meditation as Vipassana. Because there is no imagination involved. The sitting is also good for me because my attention is more likely to stay on point. And my ego doesn't want to sit still so this I why I do it! Haha.

    I also practice mindfulness as much as I remember to. It's gaining momentum which is good!

    How about you? Did you fall trap for finding the best technique like me, or have you always had one?

    Oooh back on topic! Burn the suttas and meditate haha!
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Earthninja said:

    Did you fall trap for finding the best technique like me, or have you always had one?

    I've tried lots of different things but my "anchor" has always been samatha practice, which I've been doing in various forms for 35 years now. It calms me down and I appreciate the feeling of spaciousness which develops from it.

    But yes, a simple approach is good, meditation and mindfulness is enough I think.

    Earthninja
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    Wow that's awesome! 35 years, if I have any questions on Samatha I'll ask you! You should take classes like @Bunks‌.

    I was told by the Vipassana teacher that the only yard stone in this is your level of equanimity. Also that if your practice is right you will get benefits straight away.

    So I know it's working. That's enough for me.

    I agree people like to change meditation techniques, cars, jobs, partners.
    I was like all of the above. Realised they are all unsatisfactory. We already have what it is we search for.

    Now I practice sitting meditation, drive an old suv which is
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited January 2015

    I like everyone's attitudes. I've seen all types in the sanghas and especially online forums, where people tend to be more open. On one hand, I've seen people with a "Sutras? I don't need no stinkin' stutras!" attitude. I've seen others with a "Buddha said it, I believe it, that settles it" response to about any issue.

  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    Which is old. Same job, same partner.

    Have a great night guys.

    Sorry about the double post. I use my mobile
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @Earthninja said:
    Can I ask a sincere question, DhammaDragon‌.
    Is there really anymore you NEED from books? (As far as the path to freedom) Or are you doing it more for intellectual entertainment?

    The danger of reading just one book has already been adressed by philosophers.
    We still have to fathom the danger of not needing to read any books at all.

    Reading does not tamper with your living nor with your practice.
    And like I explained above, there's nothing intellectual about my approach to books.
    It all percolates down into your living and your practice.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    @Cinorjer said:

    "Sutras? I don't need no stinkin' stutras!" attitude.

    Eh gringo, are you a leedle tired of reading sutras? ;)

    Cinorjer
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Earthninja said:
    I was told by the Vipassana teacher that the only yard stone in this is your level of equanimity. Also that if your practice is right you will get benefits straight away.
    So I know it's working. That's enough for me.

    Increasingly I find that samatha = vipassana, so I think it's really just different methods to get to the same place.
    But yes, that's the great thing about meditation, you can experience the effect in a very direct way. It's also a very cheap hobby! ;)

    CinorjerlobsterEarthninja
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @Cinorjer said:
    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.

    I think it depends entirely on the student(s). If the student is too pro-sutra, then the teacher will be anti-sutra and lock the library, etc. If the student is too anti-sutra, then the teacher will be pro-sutra.

    Like the 6th Patriarch said once, “If I said I had a Dharma to give people that would be a lie. I only untie the bonds of each according to their needs so that their original nature can appear.”

    Some people need to read the books, some people need to burn them.

    CinorjerlobsterSarahTBunks
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    @SpinyNorman wrote: I've been through that one quite a number of times. This feels different, more like I'm ready to let go of all the theory and assumptions completely and just, well, see where it goes. Sort of.

    FWIW, this reminded me of an email correspondence I once had with a Christian monk. We chatted along, feeling each other out. My own interest in the situation rested pretty much on the fact that since I live in a Christian culture (U.S.), I feel it behooves me to try to understand my surroundings.

    Anyway, five or six emails exchanged hands when finally I got down to something I was really interested in and posed the suggestion to him that "Only God can pray to God." I wasn't pushy or insistent, just curious.

    I never heard from him again.

    Oops, I guess.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @genkaku said:
    Oops, I guess.

    I had a row with a theist friend a while back. It's always like walking on eggshells though, you sense that if you ask one question too far there will be a major defensive reaction.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    @SpinyNorman -- Over time, I have learned (a little) to curb my honest interest in someone else's interest, not least because of my desire to probe the nooks and crannies ... and a desire to find out if the one interested has come to a point where "authentic" and "true" are set aside in favor of the straight-out admission that the interest is just a matter of personal taste ... and there's nothing wrong with that... or, if there is, then there is some willingness to revise and correct and find a somewhat altered personal taste.

    silver
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    @DhammaDragon‌ ok awesome, thanks for the reply :)

    I think my mind distracts me from training by wanting to read books. Or research Buddhism online. Rather than actually sit down and practice.
    In sure you can do both. Provided you're aware.

    And the studying doesn't take precedence over practice.

    Although like some zen and Thai forest traditions they "read" the suttas once a year.
    So I feel you don't need books. Ajaan Chah was a living example. :)

    Thanks again
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Earthninja said:

    Ajaan Chah was a living example.

    Ajahn Chah knew the suttas inside out, but he often told western students not to read them because he knew they would intellectualise too much.

    lobsterSarahTEarthninjaNirvana
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    edited January 2015

    Dialogue between Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and Nazi officer in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade":

    Ernst Vogel: "What is in the book, that miserable little diary of yours? We have the map, the book is useless; yet you come all the way back to Berlin to get it. Why? What are you hiding? What does the diary tell you that it doesn't tell us?"

    Henry Jones: "It tells me that goosestepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them!"

    http://indianajones.wikia.com/wiki/Ernst_Vogel

    Cinorjersilver
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited January 2015

    The Buddha called his disciples savakas (listeners or hearers), stressing the importance of listening to the Suttas. The Suttas and Vinaya illustrate numerous instances of people becoming Sotapanna, first stage of Ariyahood, by listening to the Buddha's discourses (e.g. Majjhima Nikaya Suttas 56 & 91).

    Anguttara Nikaya Sutta 10.75 tells about the person who is saved by Dhamma: "...for he has listened (savanena), he has done much learning (bahusacca), he has penetrated view, he wins partial release.... the ear for Dhamma (dhammasota) saves this person."

    The word Sotapanna, for instance, consists of sota meaning "stream" or "ear" and apanna meaning "entered upon". Normally, Sotapanna is translated as "stream-entry" but it can also mean "ear-entry" - in the sense of the ear being penetrated by the Dhamma. A close study of the Suttas suggests that the latter translation is possibly more correct because the Buddha's disciples were called savakas or listeners (of the Dhamma), and He generally referred to them as "Ariyan disciples" in the Suttas (e.g. Anguttara Nikaya Suttas 4.58 & 5.41).

    http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha163.htm

    During the Buddha's time, there were no written words and the only way to learn is through hearing the suttas.

    bookwormNirvana
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    What we learn by forty that we refuse to accept at twenty, is the humbling realization that we still have a lot to learn...
    Nirvana
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2015

    All this talk of tearing up and burning books worries me when I think about historical examples.

    So instead of tearing up or burning the sutras, how about we just take them back to the library so that somebody else can read them?

    lobsterEarthninjaDavidNirvana
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    No one who reads a book about playing the piano or playing football imagines that s/he can therefore lay claim to knowing how to play the piano or play football. But the need or desire to create a dichotomy is not necessary. True, those who have read widely and speak spaciously can be a bit of a pain in the patoot, but books and sutras can inform and inspire at a certain point, so ... knock yourself out.

    My own sense is that an honest (wo)man who dives into the sutras and other inspired writings is forced by the sutras themselves to test and evaluate at an experiential level. Experience trumps intellect and only a fool would think that the intellect could assure happiness and peace. The question arises naturally, I think: "If I'm so smart, how come I am not happy? How come I am not really at peace?"

    With luck, it is not a matter of will that tears up the sutras. It is not book-burnings or other acts of idiocy. It is the sutras themselves that tear up the sutras ... inspiring a willingness to test and verify what up until now may have been merely informative and inspirational. How long can anyone sit cheering in the stands before s/he decides to try out a little football?

    But it doesn't happen overnight. Cheering can be pretty enjoyable, warming, socially-delightful. So ... read the sutras, praise and dissect them, imagine that they are the last word in spiritual endeavor. Find agreements with others. Be soothed and smoothed. Never mind the snarky observations, whether within or without.

    Who knows -- if you travel that road industriously, the sutras may have a useful effect.

    Or not.

    CinorjerEarthninjasilver
  • After reading all the things on offer in the menu (teachings), own should make the order and discover if the food tastes as good as it looks.

    Without the menu, you won't even know what is on offer.

    lobsterBuddhadragon
  • For sure, it is worth to close all books for at least one month and see how much we have digested

    sometimes we might find we can close them as a way of getting knowledge for ever

    and

    can open them just for fun

    lobsterBuddhadragonNirvanaZenshin
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    The last three posts are incredible guys.

    I heard a great buddhist saying.

    "When the season comes to an end, you don't need more and more. Start to digest all the food you have been chewing" :)

    With metta chris
    lobsterCinorjer
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @upekka said:

    .....open them just for fun

    Fun?!

  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    Got to better than watching some of the stuff on tv!
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    Suttas on TV would be good. Dramatised mini-series. ;)

    SarahTEarthninja
  • @SpinyNorman said:
    Suttas on TV would be good. Dramatised mini-series. ;)

    Oh God. Now I've got that image of Keanu Reeves as Buddha in my mind again. It's going to take some distraction to get it back out. Gee thanks.

    EarthninjasilverZenshinSarahT
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