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Whenever we are treated to a book written by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, the late Japanese academic scholar and Zen practitioner, we can count ourselves as being in the capable hands of a master expositor of the original Zen tradition of Buddhism. With this book, _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, The Significance of the Sutra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang)_, we are taken into the inner sanctuary of the Zen teachings as they were expressed by one of its greatest early propounders, Hui-neng, the Sixth -- and last -- Patriarch of Zen. As Suzuki tells us, Hui-neng was somewhat of an unlikely hero of early Chinese Chan/Zen as he was an illiterate day-worker in the rice mill at the monastery of his master Hung-jen, the Fifth Patriarch of Chan/Zen. Hui-neng had overheard someone reciting the Diamond Sutra one day and had an awakening. He immediately decided to seek the way of Buddhahood, and eventually spent a month travelling on foot to reach the Patriarch's monastery in the mountains.
In the opening paragraph of the book, Suzuki pays the highest tribute he can to Hui-neng by comparing the effect that his legacy had on the tradition of Zen as second only to that of its founder, Bodhidharma: "Without Hui-neng and his immediate disciples, Zen might never have developed as it did in the early T'ang period of Chinese history." He then goes on to praise the work attributed to Hui-neng, the Platform Sermons of the Sixth Patriarch, as an important addition to the Zen tradition overall, saying that: "It was through this work that Bodhi-Dharma's office as the first proclaimer of Zen thought in China came to be properly defined." It is interesting to note that this work that has been attributed to Hui-neng has been, as far as scholars are concerned, under suspicion as it may have been written by his disciples, and the fact that there is little evidence to link its composition directly to him. Although it is generally accepted that its contents were expounded (or at least recalled by those who compiled them) by Hui-neng.
Be this controversy as it may, there is no doubt in the history of contemplative literature of the authenticity of this message. And by the time the attentive reader finishes reading _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind_ there is equally no doubt in his mind either. What we find here on many occasions is corroboration and parity with the teachings of the original Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama, thus validating, at least in part, Chan/Zen's link to the authentic Dharma as taught by Gotama. In modern times, Zen has been generally noted as having a slightly eccentric and different way of approaching its training and explanation of the meaning of its teachings. But here, we come across passages that could conceivably have come from the mouth of the Originator of the Dharma. We can see this similarity in a passage from the author such as the following:
"So long as the seeing is something to see, it is not the real one; only when the seeing is no-seeing -- that is, when the seeing is not a specific act of seeing into a definitely circumscribed state of consciousness -- is it the 'seeing into one's self nature.' Paradoxically stated, when seeing is no-seeing there is real seeing; when hearing is no-hearing there is real hearing. This is the intuition of the Prajnaparamita." Suzuki goes on to clarify: "When thus the seeing of self nature has no reference to a specific state of consciousness, which can be logically or relatively defined as a something, the Zen masters designate it in negative terms and call it 'no-thought' or 'no-mind', 'wu-nien' or 'wu-hsin'. As it is 'no-thought' or 'no-mind', the seeing is really the seeing."
What he is referring to here is a seemingly complex and paradoxical idea of perception and cognition which is relatively simply expressed by the Buddha in the following passage: "Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: 'In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.'. . .When, Bahiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen . . . in the cognized is merely what is cognized, then, Bahiya, you will not be 'with that'. When you are not 'with that', then you will not be 'in that'. When you are not 'in that', then you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering."
What both of these passages are pointing toward is the cessation of extraneous mental proliferation while attending to the phenomena of existential experience. When one can look and see only the bare experience of seeing the object of sight without bringing in associative ideas and abstractions to color and flavor what is being seen, one sees merely what is there in front of the eye and nothing more, which is akin to the Buddha's famous statement of "seeing things as really they are." When the mentally proliferating mind can be restrained and quieted such that only seeing takes place, the mind is then able to comprehend the bare object without the added highlight of imagined phenomena (in the form of ideas and thoughts about the object) to muddy the field of vision. "Just this," Gotama says, "is the end of suffering."
Compare these with a quote on this same subject taken in the book from Hui-neng: "Dhyana (tso-ch'an) is not to get attached to the mind, is not to get attached to purity, nor is it to concern itself with immovability. . . . What is Dhyana, then? It is not to be obstructed in all things. Not to have any thought stirred up by the outside conditions of life, good and bad -- this is tso (dhyana). To see inwardly the immovability of one's self-nature -- this is ch'an (dhyana). . . . Outwardly, to be free from the notion of form -- this is ch'an. Inwardly, not to be disturbed -- this is ting (dhyana). When, outwardly, a man is attached to form, his inner mind is disturbed. But when outwardly he is not attached to form, his mind is not disturbed. His original nature is pure and quiet as it is in itself; only when it recognizes an objective world, and thinks of it as something, is it disturbed. Those who recognize an objective world, and yet find their mind undisturbed, are in true Dhyana. . ."
Wherever in Dharma study there is found a discussion of the Three Characteristics (Anicca or impermanence, Dukkha or dissatisfaction, and Anatta or selflessness) and their continual awareness during mindfulness practice, there one will find the authentic teaching as handed down by the Buddha. And wherever there is found the importance of the development and cultivation of the threefold summary of the Eightfold Path (Sila or ethics and morality, Samadhi or concentration-meditation, and Panna or wisdom-insight) there too one will find the authentic teaching of Gotama. And of course, the Noble Eightfold Path itself is an indispensible element of any practice intent on replicating the authentic teachings.
For those interested in Chan/Zen it is in the early years of its history where most of the authentic teaching of the original thesis of Zen can still be found in its pristine form, untouched by modern interpretation and undiminished of its original grandeur. This would include the teaching of such Zen luminaries as Bodhidharma and Hui-neng as well as such other ancient Zen masters as Seng-T'san, Hui-hai, Ma-tsu, Huang Po, Lin-chi, and Dogen, who came a bit later but was nonetheless quite influential and effective in the writings he left. In the present book one finds these teachings on the mind as seen through a Zen lens gathered together in unparalleled fashion. Suzuki has wrought a masterpiece of Zen wisdom with examples from many of the ancient sources all tied together with his exquisite commentary. If one were forced to find one source in order to learn about the inner workings of Chan/Zen, one would be hard pressed to find a better representation than _The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind_ .
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I have only ever given five stars to one other book reviewed on Amazon, this book if understood is life changing. Hui Neng (the 6th Patriarch of Zen) teaches that from the start there is not a single thing... anywhere. this is the teaching of shunyata (emptiness). Shunyata must be seen for oneself, tasted by oneself. if it is not experienced there will be no understanding whatsoever about the Buddhist teaching of emptiness, only dry intellectualizing (which is far from the truth). When you see emptiness for the first time you realize that everything has always been empty. that form has always been emptiness.
Suzuki Roshi quotes Shen Hui often. Shen Hui was one of the leading disciples of Hui Neng. Shen Hui said "tan chien wu" just see into nothingness. for buddhism 'nothing' is required, 'nothing' is needed, 'nothing' is missing. this is like saying all you need to do is "just breathe", or "just be", or "just live". nothing is required. nothingness is required. but this is only a stage. tan chien wu must be dropped. dropping off body, dropping off mind. at the stage of nothingness one has relinquished all things except for nothing. if one holds onto nothing, one holds onto everything... drop it all! "just nothing" is still an attachment.
for me the groundbreaking quote that Suzuki Roshi uses is that of the National Teacher - Hui Chung. Hui Chung says clearly that there is "no name whatsoever for it". it is nameless. It is formless, it is not even formless. words just will not do, they cannot express the fundamental. which is not any thing to be expressed whatsoever. another zen worthy said... "relying on a name is like a donkey attached to a pole for eons." one must go beyond words and names to experience this state which is not any kind of state. infact is is no state at all, or No State. in it there is No Mind (Wu Hsin), No thought (Wu Nien), No self (anatman), No body, not even nothingness. it is not! and though there is No thought, one still thinks, and though there is no self, one still types at the computer.
in order to appreciate the No State, one must first experience the Self. Hui Nengs central teaching was "just see the self, just see your own nature" (paraphrased). initially there is awareness of a higher Self, but sooner or later one realizes and experiences that this higher self is not a self, nor is there a higher self. there is no self whatsoever. though once there was experience of a lower self, then a higher self, now there is no experience of any kind of subjectivity whatsoever. one is only aware of the objective world. subject awareness has ceased to be.
in order to see your own nature, before it dissolves/blows away, just simply stop thinking for a moment and feel the sensation within your heart. it is perfectly normal, nothing remarkable. just there all the time. everyone sees the self like this until the subject has completely vanished. this normal seeing within is seeing the self. when one has seen their own nature one will see emptiness. eventually emptiness or nothingness must be dropped so that there is no thing whatsoever to rely upon.
initially experience of the Self was darkish and obscure, after arriving at the nameless i can now say that i have no experience whatsoever of any kind of self.
I do not consider myself to be enlightened, nor to be deluded, besides this there is no one to be enlightened nor deluded. one finds oneself is a state of 'unknowing', "i dont know" some zen worthies have said that this not knowing is the final state. others have said that "certainty" is the final state. I dont know.
Zen is about experience, reading this book without any kind of experience and it will be unreadable. you cannot talk logically to a buddhist unless you have some experience of the mysteries of buddhism. I truly believe that theosis/deification is part of the process of buddhism. in a latter stage one feels ones oneness with God, one sees oneself as the universe. lately however. i dont see myself any longer, only the objective world. pain is still felt, there is some suffering, but i find it impossible any longer to look within. the inner work is done. my awareness refuses to focus inward any longer but always focuses on the object.
to an outsider, the notion of a non existent world and a person without self can seem somewhat spooky, however it is just a seeing that comes after a process of dying to the self in all its phases... mundane, brahman etc. having said that the world is non existent i mean that it exists but is fundamentally not a thing. paradox. it could be said that there is No World!
i suggest that anyone reading this book has had a fair bit of Zen learning and experience, otherwise it will seem like nonsense. i am so grateful to Suzuki Roshi for this book... it has transformed my life.
best wishes, Tom. x