Zen: A Buddhist school beyond the language by Dr.Mingshu Liu, Gengsen Qian

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Zen: A Buddhist school beyond the language
Dr. Mingshu Liu1, Gengsen Qian2
1 University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui, P.R.of China
2 Anhui University, Hefei, Anhui, P.R.of China
E-mail: lstephen@163.com

Venerable Vello Vaartnou, Venerable Marju Broder, Distinguished practitioners, learners, learners of Buddhism from all over the world. I am Stephen from Guangdong province, People`s Republic of China.

As Chairman Mao said,there are two significant men in the history of Guangdong,one is Huineng (638-713) and the other is Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925).

1. Introduction of Zen Buddhism

Huineng (638–713), also 慧能 in Chinese, was a Zen monastic who is one of the most important figures in the entire tradition and has been traditionally viewed as the Sixth and Last Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism was founded by Kasyapa Matanga in the Buddha period. Both of the History of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism span the 6th century BC to the present, starting with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, Nepal. About one thousand years later, the twenty-eighth patriarch of Zen Buddhism who was named Bodhidharma, was traditionally credited as the transmitter of Zen Buddhism to China. As a result, Bodhidharma was regarded as the first Chinese patriarch of Zen Buddhism. According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.

In 527 during the Liang Dynasty, Bodhidharma, visited the Emperor Wu, a fervent patron of Buddhism. Emperor Wu asked him: "How much karmic merit have I earned for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?" Bodhidharma: "None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit." Emperor Wu: "So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?" Bodhidharma: "There is no noble truth, there is only emptiness." Emperor Wu: "Then, who is standing before me?" Bodhidharma: "I know not, Your Majesty."

After Bodhidharma left, the Emperor asked the official in charge of the Imperial Annals about the encounter. The Official of the Annals then asked the Emperor if he still denied knowing who Bodhidharma was. When the Emperor said he didn't know, the Official said, "This was the Great-being Guanyin (i.e., the Mahasattva Avalokiteśvara) transmitting the imprint of the Buddha's Heart-Mind." The Emperor regretted his having let Bodhidharma leave and was going to dispatch a messenger to go and beg Bodhidharma to return. The Official then said, "Your Highness, do not say to send out a messenger to go fetch him. The people of the entire nation could go, and he still would not return."

Failing to make a favorable impression in Southern China, Bodhidharma is said to have travelled to the northern Chinese kingdom of Wei to the Shaolin Monastery. After either being refused entry to the shaolin temple or being ejected after a short time, he lived in a nearby cave, where he "faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time".

In one legend, Bodhidharma refused to resume teaching until his would-be student, Dazu Huike, who had kept vigil for weeks in the deep snow outside of the monastery, cut off his own left arm to demonstrate sincerity. Bodhidharma passed on the symbolic robe and bowl of dharma succession to Huike and Huike turn into the second Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and carried on the transmission of the Dhamma to Sencan. Then Daoxin took over from Sencan the teaching the Dhamma and hand over it to Hongren. Of course Hongren was the Master of Huineng.

2. The characteristics of Zen Buddhism: beyond language

The highlight during the inheritance and development of Zen Buddhism is that it was pointing directly to one's mind rather than taught someone something by language and words. One of the Bodhidharma`s four-line stanza describe it as following:

"A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to [one's] mind
It lets one see into [one's own true] nature and [thus] attain Buddhahood."

The first two verses of the famous saying echo the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra's disdain for words and whose second two verses stress the importance of the insight into reality achieved through "self-realization". Even though someone argued that the stanza, in fact, is not Bodhidharma's, but rather dates to the year later, Bodhidharma's teachings and practice of Zen centered on meditation and the Lankavatara Sutra.

Though Zen-narrative states that it is a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words", Zen does have a rich doctrinal background. Most essential are "the most fundamental teaching [...] that we are already originally enlightened". Someone maybe get confused, how could I get to know it in case Zen did not stand upon words. To point out 'essential Zen-teachings' is almost impossible, given the variety of schools, the extended history of 1500 years, and the emphasis on suchness, reality just-as-it-is, which has to be expressed in daily life, not in words. But common to most schools and teachings is this emphasis on suchness and Buddha-nature, the Bodhisattva-ideal, and the priority of zazen. Zen teachings can be likened to "the finger pointing at the moon". Zen teachings point to the moon, awakening, " a realization of the unimpeded interpenetration of the dharmadhatu". But the Zen-tradition also warns against taking its teachings, the pointing finger, to be this insight itself.

In the western culture, people took logos as the nature of the world. It is supposed that the world was constructed as logic and could be stated clearly by logic, number and word. Such as science and catholic and so on. By comparison, eastern culture saw the Tao or something could not spoke or could not touch as the nature of world. For example, love is a popular word. Many people use it to describe themselves. But where and who could exactly touch and definite love? The hypothesis is in common in Chinese culture and Indian culture. That is the reason why when Buddhism came to China from India, it was initially adapted to the Chinese culture and understanding.

There are several different ways of understanding and actually practicing Zen. One of them is Zen meditation. Central to Zen-practice is dhyana or meditation. The Zen tradition holds that in meditation practice, notions of doctrine and teachings necessitate the creation of various notions and appearances ( in Chinese ) that obscure the transcendent wisdom of each being's Buddha-nature. This process of rediscovery goes under various terms such as "introspection", "a backward step", "turning-about" or "turning the eye inward". The second is observing the breath. During sitting meditation, practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza postures, using the dhyāna mudrā. To regulate the mind, awareness is directed towards counting or watching the breath or put in the energy center below the navel. Often, a square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used. This practice may simply be called sitting dhyana, which is zuòchán (坐禅) in Chinese. And the third is observing the mind. In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference. Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found.

Another popular way in recent years is intensive group meditation. Intensive group meditation may be practiced occasionally in some temples. While the daily routine may require monks to meditate for several hours each day, during the intensive period they devote themselves almost exclusively to the practice of sitting meditation. The numerous 30–50 minute long meditation periods are interwoven with rest breaks, meals, and short periods of work that are performed with the same mindfulness; nightly sleep is kept to seven hours or less. In modern Buddhist practice in Japan, Taiwan, and the West, lay students often attend these intensive practice sessions, which are typically 1, 3, 5, or 7 days in length.

3. Enlightenment of Zen Buddhism to education

To talk about the relationship between Zen and education, I highly agree with Vello Vaartnou`s saying “the Buddhist conferences are necessary for the top peak of academic and traditional Buddhists to develop understanding and ideas on how to develop and carry on ancient teachings in the 21st century”. The goal of education is to endow students with ability rather than talk to students or pass on students information. The point is where is the ability come from? According to the Zen Buddhism, ability maybe come from your nature as soon as you was born and from the training day by day.

What the Zen Buddhism teach us is pay more attention to the ultimate goal rather than to the methods or road. And teachers should be trained to confident of people `s nature instructs and tried their best to pave the way for students to reflect themselves, understand themselves, achieve themselves.

John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that the successful classroom teacher possesses a passion for knowledge and an intellectual curiosity in the materials and methods they teach. For Dewey, this propensity is an inherent curiosity and love for learning that differs from one’s ability to acquire, recite and reproduce textbook knowledge. He said, "No one can be really successful in performing the duties and meeting these demands [of teaching] who does not retain [her] intellectual curiosity intact throughout [her] entire career" (Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 34). According to Dewey, it is not that the “teacher ought to strive to be a high-class scholar in all the subjects he or she has to teach,” rather, “a teacher ought to have an unusual love and aptitude in some one subject: history, mathematics, literature, science, a fine art, or whatever” (Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 35). The classroom teacher does not have to be a scholar in all subjects; rather, a genuine love in one will elicit a feel for genuine information and insight in all subjects taught.

Above all, good teachers should not subject themselves to language and word. The wonderful nature is the best textbooks.