View Full Version : 30 Questions about Zen

26 Mar 18, 21:07
The late Soto Zen teacher Gudo Wafu (Jundo Cohen and Brad Warner were his students) answered 30 questions about Zen Buddhism and practising Zazen - and I thought I'd post them here in our Zen sub-forum.

30 Questions on Zen Buddhism and Practicing Zazen

[These questions were compiled by Gustav Ericson based on questions he received from a group of people in Sweden who practice Zazen. The answers are by Buddhist priest Gudo Wafu Nishijima.]

1. What is gained in Zazen?

"What we gain in Zazen is the balance of the autonomic nervous system. In the chapter entitled Bendowa in Master Dogen’s book Shobogenzo we can find the words " JijuyoZanmai," which Master Dogen indicates as the criteria of Zazen. The first word "Jijuyo” separates into two parts, one is “Jiju” and the other is “Jiyo.” Therefore “Jijuyo” is a combination between “Jiju” and “Jiyo.” “Jiju” means to receive ourselves and “Jiyo” means to utilize ourselves. Therefore we can interpret that “Jiju” suggests the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, and “Jiyo” suggests the function of the sympathetic nervous system. And the second word “Zanmai” means the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system. Therefore we can understand that the words “ JijuyoZanmai” mean just the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system, which modern psychology and physiology teaches us about today.

2. What is Master Dogen's "flowers in space"?

""Flowers in space" is the title of the 43rd chapter in Shobogenzo. In this chapter Master Dogen explains that even though Buddhism insists that both intellectual consideration and sensuous perception are not real entities themselves, he also insists that both intellectual consideration as thesis and concrete sensuous perception as antithesis are useful and necessary, and by utilizing those two fundamental criteria we can understand reality on the basis of dialectic thinking utilizing the philosophy of action as the synthesis."

3. What is the meaning of Dharma Transmission?

"In Shobogenzo we can find the 16th chapter, which is entitled "The Certificate of Succession." In this chapter Master Dogen describes the ceremony of transmitting Dharma. Therefore "Transmission" means the transmission of Dharma, and “Dharma” means the Buddhist truth, the Universe, a real act at the present moment, and Reality itself. Therefore we can interpret that “Dharma Transmission” is giving the certificate of realizing Dharma from a Buddhist Master to his matured disciple."

4. What is a Zen Master?

"I guess that the words "Zen Master" may be the translation of the Japanese words "Zen Ji." Zen is the same in the two languages, and “Ji” (or “Shi”) means a teacher. Therefore a Zen Master means a teacher of Zazen. But I think that we should be careful in thinking about the word “Zen”. Because in some kinds of Buddhism we sometimes find the strange fact that the word “Zen” is used to represent a special meaning of something mystical.

Those kinds of Buddhism use the word “Zen” to represent some kind of mystical but powerful entity. But I wonder whether such a kind of mystical entity really exists in Buddhism or not. And Master Dogen hates such a kind of mysticism so strongly, and so in Shobogenzo he writes his opinion as follows (Book 2, P. 62, L 12.):

“People who do not learn this truth in practice speak randomly and mistakenly. They randomly call the right-Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana that have been authentically transmitted by the Buddhist patriarchs “the Zen Sect”; they call the ancestral Master “the Zen patriarch”; they call practitioners “Zen students” or “students of dhyana”; and some of them call themselves “the Zen schools.” These are all twigs and leaves rooted in a distorted view. Those who randomly call themselves by the name “Zen Sect,” which has never existed in India in the west or in eastern lands, from the past to the present, are demons out to destroy the Buddha's truth. They are the Buddhist patriarchs’ uninvited enemies.”

Therefore we should be careful to use the word "Zen."

5. What is intuition?

"Intuition is a mental ability which has a function to decide a conclusion transcending mental consideration and sensuous perception. When the sympathetic nervous system is stronger, the intellectual consideration works well, and when the parasympathetic nervous system is stronger, the sensuous perception works well, but when the autonomic nervous system is balanced the ability of intuition works well directly."

6. What is our true original nature?

"Generally speaking, it is usually impossible for us to know our true original nature, because it is just a simple fact at the present moment, and so it is usually impossible for us to grasp it at the present moment."

7. What is Buddha-nature?

"In chapter 22 of Shobogenzo entitled “Bussho”, or “The Buddha-nature,” Master Dogen describes Buddha-nature as follows (Book 2, P. 6, L. 1.):

“If you want to know this Buddha-nature, remember, causes and circumstances as real time are just it.”

Therefore Buddha-nature does never exist in the past and it does never exist in future, but it exists just only at the present moment. So we can think that Buddha-nature is Reality just at the present moment."

8. What is Heaven and Hell?

"Heaven is a human supposition and Hell is also a human supposition. But when our autonomic nervous system is balanced, it is just Heaven, and when our autonomic nervous system is not balanced, it is just Hell."

9. What is life and death?

"When our heart has stopped and if it doesn't move again, the state is called death, and when our heart is moving still without stopping, that state is called life."

10. What is the meaning of the Buddhist idea of emptiness?

"The true meaning of emptiness in Buddhism has been misunderstood for so many years as nothingness, or void. But if we have understood that Buddhism is a realistic philosophy, it is impossible for us to understand emptiness like that. In Buddhism emptiness is just “as it is.” A cup is a cup. A cup is never more than cup, or a cup is never less than cup."

(The questions and answers continue at the link below):


Any comments about his answers? :hands:

27 Mar 18, 10:56
Some great answers here. I think the one where he does go a little astray is the 'balance of the autonomic nervous system'. He expands on this in the link to his 'The Relation Between the Autonomic Nervous System and Buddhism', where he sees problems when 'the sympathetic nervous system is stronger than the parasympathetic nervous system' which on first reading makes some sort of sense, then you realise the links he makes with this balance and Buddhist practice really are, as he says, 'merely supposition'.

However, I think he is on the right track in that whatever we do affects the wiring in our brains, and hence the working of our minds. We can change this wiring by meditating and following the path, and these actions and thoughts have been shown to bring about measurable changes. Of course change happens whatever we do, but we can make deliberate choices in the kinds of changes we want by choosing the kind of things we do and think about.

Of course, our general health affects the rest of our bodies too, including the whole nervous system, rather than just the brain, and meditation can bring about improvements to health, so there is more than a grain of truth in what he says.