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ZEN: Is it Buddhism?

the Wanderling

It is my contention that even though Zen may or may not "be" Buddhism because Buddhism is Buddhism, historically Zen is thoroughly entwined in Buddhism even though the bottom-line essence or punchline to Zen can stand on its own without outside support. Regardless of what anybody says or thinks the core of Buddhism is Enlightenment. No Enlightenment, no Buddhism. The core of Zen is Enlightenment. If Shakyamuni had not experienced Enlightenment he would have remained whoever or whatever he was prior to the experience, and thus, not become the Buddha. Think about it, Shakyamuni, the Buddha, is purported to have been an Enlightened being. Take away his Enlightenment at the level he experienced it and what do you have? Without an Enlightened Shakyamuni there would be no Buddha which inturn implies there would be no Buddhism. Enlightenment, however, stands alone. It is a fairly simple concept.

Anybody that reads my offerings knows I am a strong supporter of Zen outside the scriptures. I have my reasons, but it is not because of a strong anti-Buddhism bias. Matter of fact it is just the opposite. It is my belief that a person can come to understand the scriptures and grasp the koans so much easier and so much better after the fact and thus be a much better purveyor of the Truth. All the bells, whistles, and rituals are just so much trappings that weigh down and add to the confusion, rather dealt with through traditional Buddhist offerings or Zen temples, sanghas, or sesshins. The idea is to cut to the quick.

In the prior paragraph I state I have my reasons. The fact is that Zen does not have exclusive rights to Enlightenment. My mentor studied under Sri Ramana Maharshi in India, far removed from Zen traditions. Sri Ramana was Awakened as a young boy basically out of nowhere with no formal training and no master. Inturn my mentor was Awakened after two years under the grace and light of the Maharshi. True, my mentor travelled to Japan, was knowledgable about Zen, and even knew Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, but his Enlightenment experience transpired under the aegis of Indian influences. It was because of my mentor's connection with Yasutani that I eventually studied a short time, unsuccessfully I might add, under the Roshi's auspices.

D.T. Suzuki wrote in his book "ZEN BUDDHISM: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki:"

Buddhism is the structure erected around the inmost consciousness of its founder. The style and material of the outer structure may vary as history moves forward, but the inner meaning of Buddhahood which supports the whole edifice remains the same and ever living.
While on earth the Buddha tried to make it intelligible in accordance with the capacities of his immediate followers; that is to say, the latter did their best to comprehend the deeper significance of the various discourses of their master, in which he pointed the way to final deliverance. As we are told, the Buddha discoursed "with one voice," but this was interpreted and understood by his devotees in as manifold mannners as possible.(1)
This was invitable, for we have each our own inner experience which is to be explained in terms of our own creation, naturally varying in depth and breath. In most cases these so-called individual inner experiences, however, may not be so deep and forceful as to demand absolutely original phraseology, but remain satisfied with new interpretations of the old terms--once brought into use by an ancient original spiritual leader. And this is the way every historical religion grows enriched in its contents or ideas. In some cases this enrichment may mean the overgrowth of superstructures ending in a complete burial of the original spirit. This is where critical judgement is needed, but otherwise we must not forget to recognize the living principle still in activity. In the case of Buddhism we must not neglect to read the inner life of the Buddha himself asserting itself in the history of a religious system desiganted after his name. The claim of the Zen followers that they are transmitting the essence of Buddhism is based on their belief that Zen takes hold of the enlivening spirit of the Buddha, stripped of all its historical and doctrinal garments.

For three indepth essays on ZEN: Is It Buddhism please go to:


  2. INNATE ENLIGHTENMENT AND NO-THOUGHT: A Response to the Critical Buddhist Position on Zen

  3. CH'AN (ZEN) BUDDHISM: Outside the Scriptures



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