A Visit to a Zen Temple

HALF an hour from Tokyo, in the suburb of Tsurumi, is a wooded hill on which stands the Zen monastery of Sojiji.    It is the headquarters of the Soto branch of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and has numbered some famous Zen masters among its Abbots.    The Soto branch is some what larger than the other branch, the Rinzai.    The masters of Soto and Rinzai agree on fundamental principles, and both of them are lineal descendants of the Zen brought to China by Bodhidharma in the 7th century.    Both of them trace their spiritual pedigree back to Hui-neng, the famous Sixth Patriarch, and from him through Bodhidharma to Buddha himself.    The basis of the Zen instruction is the transmission ” from heart to heart ” of the spiritual realization of Reality. The basic tenet is: ” To know one’s real nature is to be Buddha.” The main difference between the two branches is that the Soto masters stress the importance of sitting in meditation as a means to enlightenment ; the Rinzai-though they too of course sit in meditation, also emphasize the usefulness of wrestling with certain philosophical conundrums, often paradoxical in nature. The conundrums are technically called Wadai or …

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IN HER last work, Interior Castle, St. Teresa remarks that instability of spiritual states is often a cause of bewilderment to spiritual aspirants. They felt sure that what they experienced at times of devotion in favourable circumstances would be with them for ever; when they found later that somehow it had gone, they were liable to lose confidence and give up. A Zen master, discussing the same point, compares the spiritual path to a journey in a rowing boat along a coast where there is a strong tide. Half the time it helps, and half the time the tide is against. Beginners usually enter on the practice when things are favourable, and they make rapid progress up to a point, but when they find the “tide” has changed, many of them become discouraged because they find they can hardly advance any further, and they stop trying. So the contrary tide carries them back over nearly all the distance they had come. When it again runs for them, they make new efforts and the spiritual qualities they had lost become manifest once more, but when it changes, they give up as before and are carried back, losing the spiritual intuitions and …

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THE Zen sect of Buddhism developed in China and still flourishes in Japan. It is a path of knowledge (prajna) rather than devotion, and the goal is realization (Satori in Japanese). Before Satori can be attained, the deep-seated convictions of the absolute reality of the world ordinarily experienced, and consequent doubts as to practicability of realization, have to be dissolved. During training, they come to the surface in spiritual crises of great intensity. In the 13th century in China, certain schools of Zen developed a system of confronting the disciple with the core of a spiritual crisis experienced by a master of the past. It is presented as a sort of riddle. All elements of the personality have to be brought into play and focused on it; when the concentration finally attains Samadhi, the meditator and the riddle are no longer two. The Samadhi must be repeated till it becomes strong enough to continue without relapsing into other thoughts or speech. As the karma ripens, there is a flash, and the disciple enters into the realization attained by that ancient master; he is able to give the classical answer, and give it from the standpoint of realization. (The classical answers …


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The Enlightenment of Zen Master Hakuin

IN the spring of 1704, when he was nineteen and already a monk, Hakuin went to the Zen community at Aomizu. The master was discoursing to the public on the history of Buddhism in China, and mentioned Gen-Tao, a famous master of the Tang Dynasty, in whose time Buddhism was subjected to persecution. After the lecture he thought he would like to find out some details about this master’s life, and went by himself to read Gen-Tao’s life in one of the histories. The following phrases caught his eye : ” Master (sen-Tao told his disciples one day : `When I go, I shall go with a great shout.’ In fact this master was killed by brigands. As they drew their knives, he stood perfectly calm, and just before he was killed he gave one great cry, which was heard a long way away.” This story produced a great uncertainty in Hakuin’s mind. Master Gen-Tao had been the great religious genius of his century, and yet he had not been able to escape the brigands. What hope, then, was there for himself? Why had he left the world? He fell into complete discouragement, and thought of taking up poetry as …

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HIS teacher gave him as a text for meditation an answer made by an ancient Chinese teacher named the Master of the Cloud-gate.        This was a single word meaning a frontier-gate or mountain-pass. He told him “Throw your whole spirit into the word ‘Pass’. You should have no other occupation ; it must become your whole life.” From that time he entered wholely into Zen, receiving a hard training from his teacher, who was abbot of a large monastery. It was as if he had swallowed a burning iron ball ;he tried to bring it. up but could not do so. There was nothing else except the mountain pass ; for nearly three years he was going deeper and deeper into it. After this his teacher went to Kamakura to become head of the famous Kenchoji monastery, and he followed to serve on his teacher. One day came the traditional experience of ” letting go “. All the worlds became one Sound ; heaven and earth were split open ; suddenly he went through the pass. Sweat coursed down his body : he danced and cried : ” How long was the path the same and unbroken ! ” The …


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