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November 17, 2014


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To anyone who is interested in medieval Japanese Buddhism, Tendai, and the idea/source of Original Enlightenment thought, and how it influenced Kamakura Buddhism (Shinran, Nichiren, Ippen, etc.) - I highly recommend the book "Original Enlightenment" by the great scholar Jacqueline I. Rose.

The idea of original enlightenment comes from the Awakening of Faith shastra.

That shastra explains it perfectly! There is an original enlightenment, and an actualized enlightenment.

It's kind of like an embryo. Is an embryo human or not?

The German philosopher, Hegel, said: "An embryo is human in itself, but not for itself."

Now, unpacking that a little (it contains some idiomatic expressions in "Hegelese"):

"in itself" means that for us, humans, the embryo is already a baby, in a sense

But the baby doesn't know it yet - he has to learn language, learn to walk, etc. in order to become a fully developed human

Similarly, a human is like a baby, or an embryo, from a Buddha's perspective

We are potential-Buddhas, we are equipped with everything we need to become Buddhas

But we are not manifesting it yet, just like a baby or an embryo doesn't manifest his humanness (not thinking, not speaking) - so his humanness is dormant

Jacqueline Stone's monograph clearly shows that this idea never denied the need for practice! Not even in Tendai

All it did was to remove the attachment to the idea of linear progression, the idea that we have to "get" something that is outside of us

The idea of original enlightenment is present in the Parables of the Lotus Sutra already!

We possess a gem, but we assume we're poor. And we go around the world looking for that gem. Once we find it, we know we've been rich all along.

So if we compare the state of "knowing we have a gem" and "not knowing we have a gem" is it the same or not?

In one sense, it is the same (in both cases we have the gem).

But in another sense, it makes all the difference. If we don't know we possess it, we will live as if we were poor!

This is all there is to this, it's quite simple, really! I don't know why people spend so much time thinking about this original enlightenment vs acquired enlightenment debate! It's just semantics.

The whole Tendai idea is just that our practice is not so much getting something we once didn't have, but more like manifesting something we've been in possession all along.

And isn't this consistent with Zen?

The idea of the Lotus School (aka Tiantai aka Tendai) is that Mind and phenomena interpenetrate in such a way that one is expressed through the other.

This is the origin of Dogen's sentences he borrowed from his Tendai background or the Lotus Sutra, such as "mind is mountains and rivers"

But anyway, the problem with the Zen tradition is that it claims to be "outside of the scriptures"!

While that was a good intention at first (people were too attached to words and letters and couldn't see what the pointed at) they contributed to create a horde of sitting zombies that doesn't even know the Lotus Sutra, and so they ignore the Mahayana, and we have "ewoks" that claim "Zen is not Buddhism", etc.

Moreover, the problem with this "master-to-disciple" transmission which is NOT originally Buddhist but a latter addition is that you never know what you get...

In the times of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu the idea that you need a "master" didn't exist. Arguably it didn't exist even in Zhiyi's time. There are countless stories of people gaining entry through Sutra-study alone (together with contemplation / practice of course).

Zhiyi criticized one-sided fixation on "Zen" (meaning dhyana, not Bodhidharma's lineage) - neglecting wisdom, study, etc.

I think we can see on Internet forums such as /r/zen how right he was?

Doesn't your story prove the same? You didn't learn much from the Soto Zen "master"...

A Nichiren (Lotus Sutra preaching) bishop pointed the "Mind" to you, on the Gohonzon. And suddenly...

"Nevertheless, Dogen's Zen has made a substantial impact on Western Zen — and not a good one if we compare it with Chinese Zen which is largely missing in Western Zen practices in which the emphasis is on Dogen's just sitting."

- So why not mention the relevant contemporary Chinese author-practitioners whose work is available in English? Hsuan Hua, Shengyen, Nan Huai-chin, Hsu Yun, et cetera.

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