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Joseph Campbell's take on ch'an and zen

edited November 2010 in Philosophy
From the book "Myths of Light" page 130....

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Now, how do you serve the Buddha? How do you launch your ferry boat across to the yonder shore? You serve the Buddha simply by performing your life duties. No meditation necessary. No special going to church necessary. Your whole life is church. Your children are your enterprise through which you achieve your fulfillment. This is a lovely, wonderful thing. The whole world is turned into the sanctuary, you might say, of the discipline. And the discipline isn't something that should make you anxious. It is something that you are doing simply by performing your life duties properly and peacefully.<o></o>
Now there comes a resistance to this kind of thing on the part of the people who like effort. You know, there are people who feel things shouldn't be too easy, and this way of high discipline is the way that is epitomized in what is called Zen. This word zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word ch'an, and the Chinese word is a mispronunciation of the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means contemplation. Contemplation normally is thought of as disciplined meditation. I have spoken about the kundalini yoga, a form of psychological and spiritual discipline that consists of bringing a serpent of energy up through the spine. In Zen, you seek to transform your mode of experience through just this kind of spiritual exercise so that you actually come to the illumination that the Buddha came to in the way the Buddha himself did, not just seated in a shrine being a little dragon mouth saying "Buddha, Buddha, Buddha," then expecting to get somewhere. Here you are going to go to WORK.<o></o>
When you read about Zen there is something rather confusing about it because the story of Hui-neng is told and told and told as the typical story of Zen. But then behind that there is Bodhidharma, the one who sat facing the wall for 9 years. Then go to Japan and go to a Zen monastery and what do you see? You see rows of austere little monks sitting in the most fantastically controlled meditational postures. What is all this about?<o></o>
What group of people did Zen serve when it came to Japan? It was the Buddhism of the samurai, of the knights, of the warrior-monks. This gives you the clue to Zen. In contrast to the Chinese ch'an, Japanese Zen is the religion of knighthood, of athletes, of highly disciplined action, of being in high form. In China, the ideal is really the old rogue, the old fellow who's got wisdom in him, a kind of comical character through whom life just flows. The ideal in Japan, however, is this samurai discipline, the discipline of life in form.


  • edited November 2010
    The buddhist / Tao / Zen etc ideas all link up because they, in essence, deal with psychology (Id versus Superego etc). The SME (subject matter expert) on the link with Joseph Campbell, Id, Superego etc is Kal over at ; he puts it into context within the domain of story.
  • edited November 2010
    Well in Japan Soto is often referred to as 'Farmer Zen' and Rinzai as 'Warrior Zen'. So I think he has something there, but ultimately it's all just cultural stuff that has accumulated around the core practices.
  • edited November 2010
    Well in Japan Soto is often referred to as 'Farmer Zen' and Rinzai as 'Warrior Zen'. So I think he has something there, but ultimately it's all just cultural stuff that has accumulated around the core practices.

    "Farmer Zen" and "Warrior Zen" are archetypes.

    Agree with Joshu's Dog, the root template (psychology) has been modified to cultural fit.
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