Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

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sangyey
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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by sangyey » Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:28 pm

Maybe because Americans are used to having such a big continent of land to work with they may be biased towards just having their own pureland instead of using some else's :shrug:

There's a lot of individuality in America perhaps the community effect suffers.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Sat Sep 24, 2016 11:39 pm

Thanks for the illuminating answers, everyone.

I suppose the absence of Amitabha in American Zen is due to its roots in Soto versus Chan.
And that may simply be due to historical reasons for who came to teach in the US and when.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Rakz » Sun Sep 25, 2016 12:13 am

Monlam Tharchin wrote:Thanks for the illuminating answers, everyone.

I suppose the absence of Amitabha in American Zen is due to its roots in Soto versus Chan.
And that may simply be due to historical reasons for who came to teach in the US and when.
From my experience american zen is very watered down. Literal rebirth isnt even accepted by most. Believing in deities would be out of the question.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by amanitamusc » Sun Sep 25, 2016 1:24 am

Rakz wrote:
Monlam Tharchin wrote:Thanks for the illuminating answers, everyone.

I suppose the absence of Amitabha in American Zen is due to its roots in Soto versus Chan.
And that may simply be due to historical reasons for who came to teach in the US and when.
From my experience american zen is very watered down. Literal rebirth isnt even accepted by most. Believing in deities would be out of the question.
They have much respect for Manjushri at Green Gulch Zen Center.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Meido » Sun Sep 25, 2016 3:03 am

Monlam Tharchin wrote:I suppose the absence of Amitabha in American Zen is due to its roots in Soto versus Chan.
And that may simply be due to historical reasons for who came to teach in the US and when.
Well, yes...Zen is Zen (and not just Soto). But there is little to no emphasis on Pure Land practice in the records of what the early (Kamakura era) Zen masters in Japan - both Chinese emigres and Japanese masters who went to China then returned - were teaching their Japanese disciples. It's just not the emphasis in these late Song lines transmitted to Japan. I have heard that Obaku Zen, a Linji line transmitted to Japan in Ming, did contain more of this. It is not clear to me if it still does. Syncretistic developments aside, however, Chan/Zen has its own path.
Rakz wrote:From my experience american zen is very watered down. Literal rebirth isnt even accepted by most. Believing in deities would be out of the question.
I have only had contact with a dozen or so Zen groups in the USA, though a good number more teachers than that. These three assertions are not borne out by my experience at all.

Regarding the third: you are saying that belief in Bodhisattvas, etc. was out of the question, i.e. negated/forbidden, at some Zen place you went?

~ Meido
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Rakz » Sun Sep 25, 2016 7:50 am

Meido wrote:
I have only had contact with a dozen or so Zen groups in the USA, though a good number more teachers than that. These three assertions are not borne out by my experience at all.

Regarding the third: you are saying that belief in Bodhisattvas, etc. was out of the question, i.e. negated/forbidden, at some Zen place you went?

~ Meido
Was one of those secular buddhist type places but it had a zen feel to it. Probably not affiliated.

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Meido » Sun Sep 25, 2016 3:09 pm

Rakz wrote:Was one of those secular buddhist type places but it had a zen feel to it. Probably not affiliated.
Not Zen, but your experience makes more sense to me now. Thanks for clarifying.

Zen Feel™ is a thing these days.

~ Meido
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Sun Sep 25, 2016 4:28 pm

Given what you say, Meido, my question then is how Amitabha came to be absent in Japanese Zen.

I've been reading "The Teachings of Master Chu-Hung."
In it, he mentions a great many Zen (Chan) teachers who advocated vows for rebirth in the Pure Land concurrent with one's Zen practice, if not buddha-remembrance outright as the primary Zen practice.
The list of names can be found under point 14 here: http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/clubs/buddhi ... swers.html
Taking just one fellow for instance, Pai-chang, we see he lived in the 700s.
This predates the Kamakura period by a good deal obviously.
I can't say how universal buddha-remembrance was in China before Zen came to Japan.
From the things I've read however, it's surprising to me that that aspect did not make it across the ocean.
The only remark I remember reading by Dogen regarding buddha-remembrance was rather vitriolic and lacked an understanding of the practice itself. Understandable since it was not his practice or his aim.

I don't know enough to even say whether Amitabha practices are universal in Chan now or ever were, let before Zen came to Japan. Maybe someone else with more historical savvy knows. :shrug:

Thank you for indulging my curiosity :cheers:

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Meido » Sun Sep 25, 2016 5:25 pm

Monlam Tharchin wrote:Given what you say, Meido, my question then is how Amitabha came to be absent in Japanese Zen.
It is not that Amitabha is absent. It is that the Chan lines transmitted to Japan did not stress Pure Land practice.
Monlam Tharchin wrote:In it, he mentions a great many Zen (Chan) teachers who advocated vows for rebirth in the Pure Land concurrent with one's Zen practice, if not buddha-remembrance outright as the primary Zen practice.
The list of names can be found under point 14 here: http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/clubs/buddhi ... swers.html
Taking just one fellow for instance, Pai-chang, we see he lived in the 700s.
7 or 8 is not a great many. And really, a Pure Land author saying that Pai-chang "prayed for sick monks and held funerals for dead monks so that they might return to the Pure Land" does not carry much force as evidence (or even make sense).

But sure, there were plenty of Chan/Zen people over the centuries who integrated Pure Land practice into their training. The records of Pai-chang and his students just do not stress Pure Land practice, though. Pure Land texts are just not central to the tradition, widely quoted in Chan/Zen records, etc. Mappo thought is just not much of a thing in Chan/Zen.
Monlam Tharchin wrote:From the things I've read however, it's surprising to me that that aspect did not make it across the ocean.
Zen lines in Japan mostly did Zen practice, in keeping with the forms inherited from China at the time of their establishment. This is also in keeping with Zen's understanding of itself as a distinct path (albeit one that, being an expression of the One Vehicle which takes seeing one's nature as its entrance, could readily integrate teachings/practices from other traditions). When Obaku Zen arrived in Japan, in fact, the established lines there reacted against its admixture of Pure Land and Zen teachings, viewing it to be an adulteration that had evolved more recently in China.

In any case, where you do find Pure Land practice among Zen people it is more often than not interpreted in light of Chan/Zen teachings i.e. viewed as another dharma gate to fulfilling the Zen path of recognizing one's nature and manifesting realization in this body, which is true Pure Land rebirth. Hakuin, though a later figure, expresses this take well in several of his writings, most famously in Zazen Wasan. Excerpt:

By the merit of a single sitting
He destroys innumerable accumulated sins.
How should there be wrong paths for him?
The Pure Land paradise is not far.
When in reverence this truth is heard even once,
He who praises it and gladly embraces it has merit without end
How much more he who turns within
And confirms directly his own nature,
That his own nature is no-nature -
Such has transcended vain words.
The gate opens, and cause and effect are one;
Straight runs the way - not two, not three.
Taking as form the form of no-form,
Going or returning, he is ever at home.
Taking as thought the thought of no-thought.
Singing and dancing, all is the voice of truth.
Wide is the heaven of boundless Samadhi,
Radiant the full moon of the fourfold wisdom.
What remains to be sought? Nirvana is clear before him,
This very place the Lotus paradise, this very body the Buddha.

What I have not found, however, is the opposite: Zen teachings interpreted in light of Pure Land teachings e.g. that Zen's "seeing nature/becoming Buddha" really means that one will attain rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land.

Hedging one's bets is another matter, of course, and Chinese Chan folks I've met sometimes seemed to do Pure Land practices in that spirit.

~ Meido
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Sun Sep 25, 2016 5:52 pm

Meido wrote:It is not that Amitabha is absent. It is that the Chan lines transmitted to Japan did not stress Pure Land practice.
Thanks, this answers my question.
It's often difficult to find translations in English of teachers of teachers of teachers to investigate these things.

I might start another thread later to continue the conversation about the other points, to avoid getting far off-topic here.

Thanks :twothumbsup:

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Astus » Sun Sep 25, 2016 7:34 pm

The first major teacher of Pure Land and Chan together was Yongming Yanshou, who was likely the most outstanding Buddhist teacher in early Song China. Zhongfeng Mingben, an heir of Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238-1296) - the one who invented the method of the three essentials of kanhua chan, i.e. faith, determination, doubt - taught Pure Land practices, just as his disciple Tianru Weize (1286-1355) whose work "Doubts and Questions about Pure Land" (淨土或問) has been translated to English and published in "Pure Land Buddhism - Dialogs with Ancient Masters" (PDF).

It is a rather mistaken view to call it a combination or syncretism, since they have not really existed separately, and this view of a Zen corrupted by Pure Land is a late Japanese interpretation used against the Obaku school and Chinese teachers in the 18th century, then later taken up by early Western scholars and projected on Chinese Buddhism following Japanese scholarship.
Meido wrote:What I have not found, however, is the opposite: Zen teachings interpreted in light of Pure Land teachings e.g. that Zen's "seeing nature/becoming Buddha" really means that one will attain rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land.
Birth is attained through faith, vow, and practice. One may practice Zen and aim for birth in the Pure Land. In fact, it is recommended to aim for birth there, because seeing one's nature is no easy thing, and even after that one can still fall back and encounter numerous hindrances. At the same time, all bodhisattvas are said to aspire towards the Pure Land.

This is often quoted from Yongming:

有禪無淨土 十人九錯路
陰境若現前 瞥爾隨他去
無禪有淨土 萬修萬人去
但得見彌陀 何愁不開悟
有禪有淨土 猶如帶角虎
現世為人師 當來作佛祖
無禪無淨土 鐵床并銅柱
萬劫與千生 沒箇人依怙

"With Ch'an without the Pure Land
Nine people out of ten take the wrong road.
If the skandhic states appear,
Instantly they follow.
Without ch'an but with pure land
Ten thousand cultivate and ten thousand go.
You only need see Amitabha
And what worry is there of no enlightenment?
With Ch'an and with Pure Land
One is like a tiger wearing horns.
In the present acting as people's teacher,
In the future one will be a patriarch.
Without Ch'an and without Pure Land,
It's the iron bed and the brass pillar.
In ten thousand kalpas and a thousand lives,
There is no one you can turn to."
(The Bodhi Seal of the Patriarchs, see also: Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism, p 236)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Meido » Sun Sep 25, 2016 8:37 pm

Astus wrote:It is a rather mistaken view to call it a combination or syncretism, since they have not really existed separately, and this view of a Zen corrupted by Pure Land is a late Japanese interpretation used against the Obaku school and Chinese teachers in the 18th century, then later taken up by early Western scholars and projected on Chinese Buddhism following Japanese scholarship.
I agree that to view the combined practice as something "corrupted" is not correct.

Sheng Yen gives a nice talk on the origins of the two traditions, and their eventual coexistence in China as a combined path:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9vxoMMUmEU

The point RE Japan, again, is simply that an emphasis on Pure Land practice was not present in those Zen lines from the beginning. One may speculate as to why. But it seems clear that in China of that time, there were people doing solely Pure Land practices who identified as followers of such, people doing solely Chan practice who identified as inheritors of Bodhidharma's, Huineng's, etc. teachings, and people doing both.

The fact that it became much more common in later centuries for folks to be using both approaches is no problem to me. What it does not point to, though, is anything lacking in - or excised from - the Zen teachings transmitted to Japan. I have not ever heard that people like Daio Kokushi or Dogen, when they went to China, sought out Pure Land sutra masters or were instructed in Pure Land teachings. Nor is there any indication that any of the Chinese Chan masters who fled to Japan and taught extensively, like Bukko, were transmitting Pure Land practices (on the contrary, we have records of him guiding students in pretty straightforward koan practice). The daily ceremonial forms transmitted from China and preserved rather precisely in Japanese Zen monasteries do not have much in the way of Pure Land elements or mention of Amitabha, though we see those things in later Chan monasteries. Etc.
Astus wrote:One may practice Zen and aim for birth in the Pure Land. In fact, it is recommended to aim for birth there, because seeing one's nature is no easy thing, and even after that one can still fall back and encounter numerous hindrances. At the same time, all bodhisattvas are said to aspire towards the Pure Land.
Yes, certainly one may, and that is excellent I think. But it is not recommended universally.

Seeing one's nature is not considered difficult. The numerous hindrances are another matter...

~ Meido
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Meido » Sun Sep 25, 2016 9:40 pm

Speaking of "no easy thing," a description of Yonming Yanshou's practice:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFb8vbdJYCE

~ Meido
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by ShineeSeoul » Fri Oct 21, 2016 5:41 pm

Rakz wrote:
Monlam Tharchin wrote:Thanks for the illuminating answers, everyone.

I suppose the absence of Amitabha in American Zen is due to its roots in Soto versus Chan.
And that may simply be due to historical reasons for who came to teach in the US and when.
From my experience american zen is very watered down. Literal rebirth isnt even accepted by most. Believing in deities would be out of the question.
Thats why I know Buddhism in the west is not authentic, and very different actually from that in the East

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Fri Oct 21, 2016 6:11 pm

ShineeSeoul wrote:Thats why I know Buddhism in the west is not authentic, and very different actually from that in the East
I'd say that's a bit of an over generalisation, in my sangha nearly everyone believes in rebirth and no one questions the existence of gods.

Plus, authenticity really comes down to the teacher and how they teach the dharma to the group
ༀ་ཨ་ར་པ་ཙ་ན་དྷཱི༔ Oṃ A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhīḥ

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by ShineeSeoul » Fri Oct 21, 2016 6:28 pm

Lobsang Chojor wrote:
ShineeSeoul wrote:Thats why I know Buddhism in the west is not authentic, and very different actually from that in the East
I'd say that's a bit of an over generalisation, in my sangha nearly everyone believes in rebirth and no one questions the existence of gods.

Plus, authenticity really comes down to the teacher and how they teach the dharma to the group
yes it could generalized, but I guess is sort of a thing that did happen frequently in the western Buddhist centers

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Punya » Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:35 pm

ShineeSeoul wrote:
Lobsang Chojor wrote:
ShineeSeoul wrote:Thats why I know Buddhism in the west is not authentic, and very different actually from that in the East
I'd say that's a bit of an over generalisation, in my sangha nearly everyone believes in rebirth and no one questions the existence of gods.

Plus, authenticity really comes down to the teacher and how they teach the dharma to the group
yes it could generalized, but I guess is sort of a thing that did happen frequently in the western Buddhist centers
Not in the Tibetan centres I frequent either, although maybe the point you are making is that there seem to be quite a lot of people in the west who describe themselves as Buddhist but do not subscribe to its main tenets. I can agree with that.
Last edited by Punya on Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
May the stupid meditators be awakened from the sleep of ignorance;
May the attacks of the logicians with their sophistries be vanquished.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in The Rain of Wisdom

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by Punya » Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:49 pm

:focus:

I only practice in the Tibetan tradition so I can't comment more widely, but two of my teachers regularly say that to practice one deity is to practice them all. In that sense, it doesn't seem important whether Amibtabha is practiced at a particular centre or not.

On the other hand, teachers will ask their students to do particular practices in order to ensure these practices and the lineages with which they are associated continue into the future. As has already been said, Amitabha practices are still common in the Tibetan tradition. I have even received a lung for an Amitabha practice at a Jonang centre.
May the stupid meditators be awakened from the sleep of ignorance;
May the attacks of the logicians with their sophistries be vanquished.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in The Rain of Wisdom

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Re: Why is Amitabha absent in American Zen and TB?

Post by ShineeSeoul » Sat Oct 22, 2016 9:04 am

Punya wrote:
ShineeSeoul wrote:
Lobsang Chojor wrote: I'd say that's a bit of an over generalisation, in my sangha nearly everyone believes in rebirth and no one questions the existence of gods.

Plus, authenticity really comes down to the teacher and how they teach the dharma to the group
yes it could generalized, but I guess is sort of a thing that did happen frequently in the western Buddhist centers
Not in the Tibetan centres I frequent either, although maybe the point you are making is that there seem to be quite a lot of people in the west who describe themselves as Buddhist but do not subscribe to its main tenets. I can agree with that.
Yes, agree

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