OK - so I have been attending a Zen center and doing koans and zazen (sitting meditation) there for the past 6 months or so. I definitely like the calming and "centering" of awareness that I get from meditation of various types. I attach no "supernatural" attributes to this. I do think that our minds are often very inefficient and bound up in unnecessary chaos which awareness can help "treat".

On the other hand even in Zen, which is supposed to be sort of spartan and free of superstition, the "Dharma talks" use a lot of mystical sounding mumbo jumbo - not always, just sometimes. On the other hand, with a little mental effort on part of the listener, terms can be substituted to make the talks palatable to reasoning minds. "We are the Buddha" - can be interpreted in Carl Sagan's terms as "we are made of star stuff", "we have the cosmos within us", "we are the cosmos aware of itself" etc. All very true, all very "Zen".

So I am currently trying to figure out how much of this Zen is free from superstition and therapeutically valuable, versus just another religion with an Asian flair.

Any thoughts?

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Comment by LaPlace on September 11, 2010 at 1:23pm
Siddhartha was a man who was, no doubt, like all others in that he was in some ways of his time. He appears to have had trouble with the idea of female monks, for example. But he was a radical empiricist, and he seems to have championed this as much as anything else. Keep what works--and as I study Buddhism now that is foremost in my mind.Tich Nhat Han impresses me with his willingness and ability to perform a kind of textual analysis of the various scriptures, and he unwillingness to oversimplify for the sake of easy answers. I can highly recommend The Heart of Buddha's Teachings.
Comment by John Grow on September 11, 2010 at 12:38pm
Indeed. As with any human institution, it gets bogged down in human impulse, including the human need to feel special: "my teacher has a straighter line back to Buddha than yours," all the while missing the point of what the enlightened one was trying to get across.

The reality of Zen at the time it was picked up by westerners is what Shunriyo Suzuki pointed out in the lectures that became "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind": This was his *religion.* With all that that word connotes to us.

The best we can do is take what works, I guess, and wash all the mumbo-jumbo away. Little things like Lin Chi's "If you see the Buddha in the road, kill the Buddha," or Ikkyu's poetry of dirty old man zen. or Ryokan.

No school of thought is safe from dogmatizing. The mystical language threw me for a loop for years but, as I said, Zen contributed mightily to my current outlook.
Comment by David S. on December 15, 2009 at 3:16pm
John, I also don't like that the teacher I had really believed that his lineage went back to Buddha. The idea that nobody in that whole line was bullshitting or were fictitious characters. Everyone knows that Buddhism (including Zen) has become corrupted, like any human institution: fathers passing leadership of the temple to their son and so on. Many in Japan became family businesses that way. Some of the teachings are great but...
Comment by John Grow on December 12, 2009 at 3:45pm
In other news, Taking the two terms of this forum and googling them, I find this...

Zen Atheism. Interesting. Hope you all like it.
Comment by John Grow on December 12, 2009 at 2:46pm
I got lost in the language reading all the dharma talks and the various books. Zen helped me to understand a lot of things, and led me to an atheistic worldview, but the supernatural language confounded me. But there was one saying I ran into early on that stays with me to this moment, and I don't remember who said it:

What is this corpse that seeks enlightenment?

Over time, and over-thinking, have pulled a lot from this sentence about what the "self" really is, and what exactly is seeking enlightenment here. throws a little cold water onto solemn chants and nifty Zen togs and brass Buddhas.
Comment by Christopher Hayes on February 19, 2009 at 12:24pm
Like you I am discomfited by the unfortunate language that sometimes peppers dharma talks. Having said that, if you bear in mind the Buddha's second noble truth (about attachment) and apply it to Buddhist teaching (which is why one Zen master adjured his students to kill the Buddha if they met him) then I think it becomes easier to look beyond the semantics. The Buddha's teachings are just a guide (and only a guide), the fundamental truth (in a pragmatic sense) of which can only be discovered empirically. As is often said in Zen circles 'here is the path, now walk on'

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