No Zen Sect? Dualism of Inside and Outside the Teachings

Those folks who have not explored this fundamental principle through training with a Master arbitrarily say such wild and mistaken things as calling the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching, which is the Wondrous Heart of Nirvana, ‘the Zen sect’ …no one has ever spoken of ‘the Zen sect’, which is the term by which these people arbitrarily refer to themselves. Such people are demons out to destroy the Buddha’s Way. They are a malicious group who are enemies to the Ancestors of the Buddha.
Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Hubert Nearman

Along with “training and practice” and “personal verification,” Dogen tells us that the “scriptural teachings” are one of three essential aspects of the authentic Buddha Dharma. The nature of the role of teachings in Zen is even more widely misunderstood than that of personal verification.

Ironically, the fallacious notions of the role of teachings in Zen are chiefly based on distorted interpretations of teachings that warn students to avoid shallow or narrow-minded views of language. This irony has been pointed out by masters from nearly the beginning of Zen history. Huineng (638-713), the sixth ancestor of Zen in China, pointed out that, if words are unreliable, then telling people so, which requires using words, must also be unreliable:

And you slander the Dharma if you simply tell people not to use words. If you tell them not to use words, then people shouldn’t use language. Language is words. You can say their nature is empty, but the nature of truth is not empty.
The Platform Sutra, Red Pine
, p.42

More than 500 years later, Dogen pointed out the irony with an example specific to Zen; a poem attributed to Bodhidharma, the first ancestor of Zen in China. It is a poem that has most often been subjected to superficial interpretations that support distorted ideas about the role of scriptural teachings in Zen. Both intentionally and unintentionally, religious institutions, sectarian zealots, and pseudo-Zen cults have justified views that minimize or deny the value of scriptural teachings in Zen by claiming authority from Bodhidharma’s poem.

The poem in question refers to Zen as, “A separate transmission outside the teachings, not dependant on words and letters.” Dogen points out the absurdity of appealing to language to prove the inefficacy of language, saying, “Were they to say that our Ancestor’s Truth is not the Buddha’s Truth, who then would trust our Ancestor’s Truth?” His comment appears in the context of an elucidation of why “scriptural teachings” are as essential to authentic practice and enlightenment as zazen (seated meditation). In the same commentary, Dogen reminds us that for Zen practitioners “scriptural teachings” are inclusive of the “sayings” of Zen ancestors:

They erroneously say that the Buddhist Scriptures are of no use because there is a separate Transmission in the tradition of our ancestral Master Bodhidharma. They are small-minded people who have not inquired into what the boundaries really are in the Way of the Buddhas. They say that one need not make use of Buddhist Scriptures, but what about our Master Bodhidharma’s poem? Do they make use of it or do they feel that they do not need it? There are many instances of Teaching in what our Ancestor said that are just like what is in Buddhist Scriptures. Would they have us use his Teaching or discard It? Were they to say that our Ancestor’s Truth is not the Buddha’s Truth, who then would trust our Ancestor’s Truth? Our Ancestral Master is an Ancestral Master because the Buddha’s Truth was authentically Transmitted to him. If there were someone who had not received the authentic Transmission of the Buddha’s Truth, who, pray, would call him ‘my Ancestral Master’?

We venerate Bodhidharma as our First Chinese Ancestor because he was our Twenty-eighth Indian Ancestor. If we say that what our Ancestor said was apart from what the Buddha said, it would be difficult indeed to establish who our Tenth or our Twentieth Ancestor was! The reason that we revere our Ancestral Teachers who have received the Transmission in turn, heir after heir, is due to the importance of the Buddha’s Truth. If there were one of our Ancestral Masters who had not had the Buddha’s Truth authentically Transmitted to him, how would he be able to face either ordinary people or those in higher realms? And what would be more difficult still would be to turn aside from our most profound intention to realize Buddhahood in order to follow some teacher who had no connection with
the Buddha’s Way!

Untrustworthy crazies today vainly sneer at the Buddha’s Truth because they are unable to determine which teaching is the Buddha’s Truth.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Hubert Nearman

In the last line of this quote Dogen underscores just what the Dharma is that needs to be personally verified. While the overall tone of Shobogenzo is remarkably patient and tolerant, whenever the topic turns to vulgar, reductionist, or simplistic views or formulas on the language of Buddhas and ancestors, the tone can get downright wrathful – “untrustworthy crazies” that “sneer at the Buddha’s truth.” Dogen’s scorn of abstract speculations suggesting that the language of the Dharma is provisional, nonessential, or irrational, is second only to his contempt for views that Buddhism is divided into sects and advocates of artificial (i.e. fixed) forms of zazen (seated meditation).

Yet we should not overlook the subtleties within the colorful language; above, Dogen says the reason “untrustworthy crazies” mock the true Dharma is “because they are unable to determine which teaching is the Buddha’s Truth.” And why are they unable to determine which is the true Dharma? Because of adopting dualistic views that presuppose more than one Dharma exists.

In the present example; “untrustworthy crazies” dualistically divide the Dharma (traditional Buddhism) that is transmitted “inside” the teachings from another Dharma (Zen) that is transmitted “outside” the teachings. As Dogen argues here (and throughout Shobogenzo), the notion of two distinct “authentic Dharma’s” is not only dualistic, it is absurd.

It is probably the shallow-mindedness of notions that multiple forms of authentic Buddhism could exist independently, even more than the dualism that explains Dogen’s derision of views that legitimize sectarian divisions.

While Dogen recognizes distinct lineages within the Dharma, he vehemently opposed the fallacy of separate Buddhist sects. As Dogen says in Bendowa, “Even though these five monastic families differ, they are still the One Seal of the Buddha Mind.” Just as he denounced the dualistic view of a “separate transmission” outside the teachings, Dogen refuted the notion of separate Zen sects. Further, he denied that Zen itself was a sect of Buddhism, pointing out that the name “Zen” was a corruption of the one authentic Buddha Dharma. As there is only one authentic Buddha Dharma, there is only one authentic house of Buddha which is inclusive of all Buddhas and ancestors.

As my Master put it, the honored Great Master Shakyamuni, whilst with His assembly on India’s Divine Vulture Peak, imparted to Makakasho this Dharma, which Ancestor after Ancestor then correctly Transmitted down to the Venerable Bodhidharma. This Venerable One proceeded on his own to China where he imparted the Dharma to Great Master Eka. This was the first time that the Transmission of the Buddha Dharma had come to the Eastern lands. It ultimately reached the Sixth Chinese Ancestor, Meditation Master Daikan Eno, by being directly Transmitted in this manner. The genuine Dharma of the Buddha then flowed out through the land of the Han, Its main purpose being revealed without entanglement in sectarian or scholastic concerns. In time, the Sixth Ancestor had two spiritual followers: Nangaku Ejo and Seigen Gyoshi. Since they both had the Buddha seal Transmitted to them, they were, alike, spiritual leaders for human and celestial beings. With the spreading out of those two branches, the Five Instructional Gates opened up. These are, namely, the Hogen, Igyo, Soto, Ummon, and Rinzai traditions. In present-day Sung China, only the Rinzai tradition is widespread throughout the country. Even though these five monastic families differ, they are still the One Seal of the Buddha Mind.
Bendowa, Hubert Nearman

And there were some who thought that Bodhidharma was expounding a course of Dharma which they named ‘the Zen Sect’, and they believed that what was being taught by others—such as non-Buddhist scholars, for instance—and the True Teaching of the First Ancestor must surely be the same. These were the views of petty creatures who were helping to defile the Buddha Dharma.
Shobogenzo, Gyoji, Hubert Nearman

Those folks who have not explored this fundamental principle through training with a Master arbitrarily say such wild and mistaken things as calling the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching, which is the Wondrous Heart of Nirvana, ‘the Zen sect,’ or they call our Ancestral Masters ‘Zen Patriarchs’, or they declare academic teachers to be Zen Masters, or call them ‘Zen monks’, or call themselves ‘devotees of Zen’. These are all branches and leaves who take warped views to be the root. In India and China from ancient times down to the present day, no one has ever spoken of ‘the Zen sect’, which is the term by which these people arbitrarily refer to themselves. Such people are demons out to destroy the Buddha’s Way. They are a malicious group who are enemies to the Ancestors of the Buddha.
Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Hubert Nearman

I would point out, “This question of yours has come about because this peerless Great Teaching of the Tathagata, which is the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching on the One Great Matter for which we train, has been given the name of ‘the Zen School’. However, you must realize that this name first arose in China and then spread eastwards; it was unknown in India. It began while Great Master Bodhidharma was spending nine years ‘facing the wall’ at Shorin-ji Temple on Mount Suzan. Neither monks nor laity had yet learned of the Buddha’s True Dharma, so they called him the Brahman who makes seated meditation (zazen) his main focus. Later, all his descendants over the generations continually devoted themselves to seated meditation. Lay people, baffled when they saw this, did not understand what was actually going on, and spoke of it in general as ‘the Zazen (Seated Meditation) School’. Nowadays, the za is dropped, and it is referred to simply as ‘the Zen School’.
Bendowa, Hubert Nearman

Peace,
Ted

4 thoughts on “No Zen Sect? Dualism of Inside and Outside the Teachings”

  1. Hello Ted

    “Untrustworthy crazies today”

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    best

    Pete

    1. Hello Pete,

      Good to hear you!

      Thanks for commenting. But what is all this about changing and staying? Bodhidharma did not come to China, the second ancestor did not go to India.

      Ha!

      Peace my friend.

      Ted

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