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Zen And Buddhism

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People often ask, "Is Zen a form of Buddhism?"

The answer to this question is both yes and no. The answer should be "Yes" because, historically speaking, Zen is a form of Buddhism which was founded by Bodhidharma in China in the sixth century.

It developed in China and Japan, later taking the form of the 'Zen sect', with its own particular temples, rituals, priesthoods, and religious orders. In this sense, Zen should be called a form of Buddhism which stands side by side with other forms of Buddhism, such as the T'ien-t'ai sect, the Hua-yen sect, the Chen-yen sect, and the Ching-t'u sect, i.e., Pure Land Buddhism.

Further, not only in terms of temples, rituals, priesthood, and religious orders, but also in terms of teaching, thought, and practice, Zen, in the course of its long history, has come to have its own particular forms comparable to the other schools of Buddhism.

This may be called the 'traditional Zen sect'.

At the same time, however, the answer to the question, "Is Zen a form of Buddhism?" should be "No", because Zen is not merely one form of Buddhism, but rather, in its fundamental nature, is the basic source of all forms of Buddhism.

This idea has been expressed by Zen in the statement: "Zen is the integrating storehouse of the Buddha-dharma."

Zen, in this sense, is no less than what may be called "Zen itself". That Zen is the root of all forms of Buddhism can be seen in the following basic expressions:

        Not relying on words or letters.
        An independent transmission outside the teaching of the scriptures.
        Directly pointing to man's Mind.
        Awakening of one's (Original-) Nature, thereby actualizing one's own Buddhahood.

Before elucidating the meaning of these four classes and, more important, before explaining the reason why Zen can be said to be the very root and source of all forms of Buddhism, a review of the nature and development of Buddhism is in order.


What we call Buddhism today dates from `Saakyamuni Buddha, who lived in the northeastern part of India around the fifth century B.C.[1] `Saakyamuni means 'the sage from the tribe of the `Saakyas'.

His family name was Gautama, his given name, Siddhaartha. After his Enlightenment or Awakening, Siddhaartha Gautama came to be called the Buddha by his disciples and followers.

The term 'Buddha' is not a proper noun, but a common noun.

It means 'an Enlightened One' or 'an Awakened One'.

What was it to which he became enlightened or awakened? To Dharma -- to the truth! The term 'Buddha' is thus a common noun which can be applied not only to Siddhaartha Gautama but to anyone who is enlightened by or who awakens to the Dharma, i.e., the truth.

In this sense, the term 'Buddha' has some affinity to the term 'Christ'.

In Christianity, one speaks of "Jesus Christ". 'Jesus' is the given name of the person who was born of Mary as the son of a carpenter at Nazareth, at the beginning of the Christian Era. 'Christ', however, is a common noun which means 'the Anointed One' or 'Messiah'.

Accordingly, the term 'Christ' could be, in the nature of the term, applicable not only to Jesus of Nazareth but also to anyone who is qualified to be called "the Anointed One".

The Jews do not apply the term 'Christ' to Jesus of Nazareth, simply because they do not regard Jesus of Nazareth as the 'Christ' -- although many of them regard Jesus as a prophet.

I understand that to make clear the essential relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ, that is, the hoped-for Messiah, Paul Tillich carefully used the phrase, 'Jesus as the Christ'.[2] Following Tillich's example, Buddhists should correctly say "Siddhaartha as the Buddha", or "Gautama as the Buddha".
There is, however, a great difference between the 'Buddha' and the 'Christ'.

In Christianity the title, the 'Christ' can properly be applied only to Jesus of Nazareth. In Buddhism, on the other hand, the title, 'Buddha' can legitimately be applied not only to Siddhaartha, but to anyone who attains enlightenment or awakens to the Dharma.

Thus, in Buddhism there are many Buddhas, indeed innumerable Buddhas.

This great difference arises for the following two reasons: first, in Christianity, 'Christ' is the 'Messiah' with a heavenly character which necessarily cannot be ascribed just to anyone.

In Buddhism, however, 'Buddha' is one who awakens to the Dharma, and the possibility of awakening to the Dharma can be attributed to any person in so far as he is a man. Secondly, in Christianity, Jesus as the Christ is the Son of God, the only incarnation of God in the history of the world; consequently, his historical existence is positively essential as the final (i.e., last, genuine, and decisive) revelation of God.[3]

In Buddhism, however, Siddhaartha is not the only Enlightened One in the history of man.

What is essential to Buddhism is not Siddhaartha's historical existence, but the Dharma he realized.

This characteristic of Buddhism is clearly expressed in the well-known passage, "Regardless of the appearance or non-appearance of the Tathaagata (`Saakyamuni Buddha) in this world, the Dharma is always present".[4]

In marked contrast to the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ or Jesus as the Christ, who is the center of history as the final revelation of God, Gautama Buddha or Siddhaartha as the Buddha is neither the center of history, the final revelation, nor the final Awakening.

So then, does Siddhaartha as the Buddha have no special position in Buddhism?

It may be said that he is the first person who awakened to the Dharma and who thereby became a Buddha.

He is the first person in the history of the world who realized what the Dharma is, and the one who also mastered with his whole existence how the Dharma can be realized, that is, the way to the Dharma.

This is precisely the reason he is called the founder of Buddhism. Essentially speaking, however, anyone can become a Buddha, just as Siddhaartha did, if one follows the same path.

In this sense, Buddhism can rightly be said to be the "Teaching of becoming a Buddha" as well as the "Teaching of the Buddha".

On the other hand, Christianity, while it may be called the "Teaching of the Christ", can never rightly be said to be the "Teaching of becoming a Christ".

In Christianity, also, the medieval spirituality of the 'imitation of Christ', and especially the doctrine of the Eucharist indicate that the Christian has to become one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father.

In Christianity, however, Christ with whom the Christian has to become one is the only genuine and decisive revelation and the center of history. To become one with Christ means to participate in Him.

Therefore, one does not become a Christ in the same sense as one can 'become a Buddha'.

The fact that Siddhaartha as the Buddha, `Saakyamuni Buddha, is neither the only Buddha, the center of history, nor the final Awakening to the Dharma, was clearly and impressively expressed by `Saakyamuni himself.

Shortly before his death, `Saakyamuni addressed AAnanda, one of his ten great disciples, and others who were anxious at the prospect of losing the Master: "O AAnanda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves and do not rely on external help.

Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the Dharma. Look not for assistance to anyone besides yourselves."[5]

Obviously, when he said to his disciples, "Do not rely on external help", and "Look not for assistance to anyone besides yourselves", he included himself in terms of 'external help' and he excluded himself in terms of 'assistance'.

He said this despite the fact that he, `Saakyamuni Buddha, had been a teacher of Ananda and the others for many years.

It may not, however, be clear at first how the following two passages in his statement are related to each other: "Rely on yourselves" and "Seek salvation alone in the Dharma"; or

"Be ye lamps unto yourselves" and "Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp". In this address, `Saakyamuni did not identify the Dharma with himself.

He identified the 'Dharma' with the individual disciple and further, he emphasized this identity in the concrete situation of his death.

In Buddhism, as you may gather from what has been said, the Dharma is beyond everyone -- beyond even `Saakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

This is the reason why it is often said, as quoted before, "Regardless of the appearance or non-appearance of the Tathaagata (`Saakyamuni Buddha) in this world, the Dharma is always present".

Who, then, is rightly qualified to talk about the Dharma in its absolute universality?

Is one who does not realize the Dharma qualified to talk about it? Certainly not!

For, through one's conceptual understanding and one's objectivization of it, the total universality of the Dharma becomes an empty or dead universality.

Hence, only one who has realized the Dharma with his whole existence can talk about it in total universality.

Although Dharma transcends everyone, including `Saakyamuni Buddha and is present universally, there is no Dharma without someone to realize it.

Apart from the 'realizer' there is no Dharma.

In other words, the Dharma is realized as the Dharma with its universality only through a particular realizer.

Saakyamuni Buddha is none other than the first 'realizer' of Dharma.

He is not, however, the only realizer of Dharma. In the sense that `Saakyamuni is a realizer of Dharma with its total universality, he may be said to be a center of the Buddhist faith, but he is certainly not the center of the Buddhist faith since everyone can become a center as a realizer of Dharma, a Buddha.

The significance of `Saakyamuni's historical existence is equal with that of every other 'realizer' of Dharma, except that `Saakyamuni was the first.

How can we hold to these two apparently contradictory aspects of Dharma: its total universality and its dependency upon a particular man for realization?

The answer lies in the fact that one's realization of the Dharma is nothing but the Self-Awakening of Dharma itself.

Your Awakening is, of course, your own Awakening.

It is your awakening to the Dharma in its complete universality, and this awakening is possible only by overcoming your self-centeredness, i.e., only through the total negation of your ego-self.

This self-centeredness is the fundamental hindrance for the manifestation of Dharma.

Therefore, when the self-centeredness is overcome and selflessness is attained, i.e., anaatman is realized, Dharma naturally awakens to itself.

Accordingly, the self-awakening of Dharma has the following double sense.

First, it is your Self-Awakening in your ego-less true Self.

Secondly, it is the Self-Awakening of Dharma itself in and through your whole existence.

It was on the basis of this 'Self-Awakening of Dharma' that `Saakyamuni said without any sense of contradiction, "Rely on yourselves", and "Seek salvation alone in the Dharma".

The statements, "Be ye lamps unto yourselves" and "Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp", are complementary and not contradictions. One's self as the ultimate reliance is not the ego-self, but rather, the 'true Self' as the 'realizer of Dharma'.

Just as `Saakyamuni's awakening was the Self-Awakening of Dharma in the double sense mentioned above, so anyone's awakening to the Dharma can and should be the Self-Awakening of Dharma in the same sense.

This is the basic standpoint of Buddhism, which was clarified by `Saakyamuni himself through his life after his Awakening and particularly, as mentioned before, as he approached death. His death, however, was an extraordinary shock for all his disciples and followers.

It was indeed a great shock for them not only because they lost their revered teacher but also because they faced the undeniable fact that even `Saakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One, was subject to decay like themselves.

Thus, they gradually thought of the meaning of his death and began to idealize his existence and personality.

This led to the development of variegated and profound Buddhologies, that is, the doctrinal interpretations of the meaning of `Saakyamuni Buddha.

Buddhism has experienced various schisms both in the early days after `Saakyamuni's death (especially in the development of the Buddhist Order) and in later years (particularly in the development of Buddhology).

The basic division is that between Southern Buddhism which is called Theravaada or Hiinayaana, and Northern Buddhism, that is, Mahaayaana.

The former is based on what Edward Conze calls the "Old Wisdom School",[6] especially the Theravaadin School which is conservative in its practice of the monastic life and is apt to be formalistic.

On the other hand, Mahaayaana originated in the Mahaasa^nghika, i.e., the Great Assembly,[7] which was more liberal and progressive, and which included monks of lesser attainment and even householders.

In contrast to this, the exclusive and aristocratic Theravaada Assembly centered upon arhats, i.e., the accomplished saints.

Theravaada Buddhism spread in Ceylon and Southeast Asia, while Mahaayaana Buddhism developed in China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan. In the course of its development, Buddhism produced many holy scriptures.

This is especially true of Mahaayaana Buddhism.

In India, China, Tibet, and Japan, various schools arose in Mahaayaana such as Maadhyamika, Yogaacaara, T'ien-t'ai, Hua-yen, Chen-yen, Ch'an (that is Zen), Ching-t'u, and Nichiren sects.


When a new sect was established, particularly in China and to some extent in Japan, there arose the practice of kyoosoo-hanjaku, chiao hsiang p'an shih [a], the judgement and interpretation of the various facets of Buddha's teachings.

In my own view, kyoosoo-hanjaku was needed for two reasons, one historical, the other, theological.

First, as to the historical reason.

Those which are called the Mahaayaana sutras came into being intermittently over a period nearly one thousand years.

They grew out of different situations of thought over a broad geographic area.

Thus, the Mahaayaana suutras, which are many in number, do not necessarily have consistency; on the contrary, they show a great deal of divergence in their teaching.

Further, these Mahaayaana suutras were, from time to time, according to the particular occasion, introduced and translated into Chinese by various people without any over-all systematic program.

Perplexed by the divergences in the suutras (all coming under the name of Buddhism), Chinese Buddhists felt a need to try to systematize them by judging and classifying them. This is the historical reason for the need of kyoosoo-hanjaku.

The idea of kyoosoo-hanjaku, however, is based on a more essential and theological principle. Certain of the great Buddhists and Buddhist scholars who later became founders of new sects had a very serious and keen religious concern as to what was the genuine spirit of Buddhism and as to which suutra most clearly and sufficiently represented that spirit. From such a concern, kyoosoo-hanjaku, i.e., the evaluating and grading of the various suutras by new and profound standards, was developed.

Accordingly, kyoosoo-hanjaku is not merely an arrangement or classification of the Mahaayaana suutras into a system or a synthesis, but is rather a critical and creative founding of a new Buddhist system on the basis of what was believed to be the true spirit of Buddhism.

Other facets of Buddha's teaching were not excluded, but were embraced in different stages on the way to the ultimate truth represented by the new school.

The establishment of a new sect of Buddhism in China and in Japan was almost inconceivable without some kind of kyoosoo-hanjaku.

The most typical examples of kyoosoo-hanjaku in China are the 'ooFive Periods and Eight Doctrines]]' (wu shih pa chiao [b]) of the T'ien-t'ai sect and the 'Five Doctrines and Ten Tenets' (wu chiao shih tsung [c]) of the Hua-yen sect.

In Japan, the arguments of Kooboo Daishi, the Great Teacher, on the kenmitsunikyoo (hsien mi erh chiao [d]) and the juujuushin (shih chu hsin [e]), and the nisooshijuu (erh shuan shih chung [f]) system of Shinran may be mentioned as other examples.

In the early history of Buddhism in India a means of distinguishing Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana appeared which, while it cannot be called kyoosoo-hanjaku in its strict sense, may be said to be an anticipation of it.

What is more interesting and noteworthy in this connection, however, is this: in some cases of kyoosoo-hanjaku, by opening up a new religious dimension in Buddhism, or by giving an entirely new interpretation to certain suutras, almost all extant forms of Buddhism were discarded or at least classified as entirely secondary.

Notable examples of this sort of kyoosoo-hanjaku are: Kenkyoo (hsien-chiao [g]) or Exoteric Buddhism versus Mikkyoo (mi chiao [h]) or Esoteric Buddhism, Shoodo-mon (Sheng tao men [i]) or Holy way gate versus Joodo-mon (ching-tu men [j]) or

Pure Land Gate and, with reservations which have to be explained, but in a sense as the clearest and most unique example, Kyoo (chiao [k]) or the teachings versus Zen ch'an [l]).

In these cases, the whole of Buddhism was divided in half not by simply classifying the extant forms of Buddhism into two groups, but by standing beyond all existing forms of Buddhism and by disclosing a new religious dimension lying at the heart of Buddhism.

This newly discovered aspect of the faith may have only faintly appeared on the surface of Buddhism before this.

This was indeed a revolutionary development, since it created a new antithetical position over against the existing forms of Buddhism by radically criticizing their foundations.

Naturally the new position was criticized in turn as heretical by the established forms of Buddhism.

Nevertheless, the new form of Buddhism usually insisted that it was the real source of Buddhism, while all other forms were but secondary or derived manifestations.

It was especially the Chen-yen, that is the Shingon sect, which established the distinction between Exoteric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism, insisting that, whereas Exoteric Buddhism focuses upon the oral or recorded teaching of the historical `Saakyamuni Buddha,

Esoteric Buddhism was the secret and much more profound teaching of Mahaavairocana Buddha -- the formless and colorless Dharma-kaaya, i.e., Truth itself.

Most forms of Buddhism, according to the Shingon sect, are nothing but Exoteric Buddhism, which is an offshoot of genuine Buddhism, i.e., Esoteric Buddhism represented by the Shingon sect itself.

Pure Land Buddhism set up the contrast between the Holy Way Gate and the Pure Land Gate, the distinction often referred to as jiriki-mon (chih li men [m]), i.e., the Self-Power Gate and tariki-mon (ta li men [n]), i.e., the Other-Power Gate.

Pure Land Buddhism insists that while up to now all schools of Buddhism have emphasized Awakening through one's 'self-power', we are now in the mappoo, i.e., the latter days for which the Holy Way Gate or Self-Power Gate is no longer suitable.

Only the Pure Land Gate or Other-Power Gate is proper for an essentially powerless mankind.

It also maintains that the Pure Land Gate, however, had existed from the very beginning, and was provided by Amida Buddha who foresaw the suffering of people during mappoo and thus fulfilled his vow of universal salvation.

Zen also makes a sharp distinction between what we call Kyoo and Zen.

Kyoo literally means 'teaching', and in the present case 'doctrine' or 'scripture'.

Strictly speaking, however, this kind of distinction should not be called kyoosoo-hanjaku, i.e., "judgement and interpretation of various facets of Buddha's teachings".

On the contrary, Zen takes a stand over against the 'teaching' as such.

At any rate, kyoosoo-hanjaku was practiced by each newly established form of Buddhism which critically evaluated and somewhat belittled all the then existing forms of Buddhism.

To be precise, the distinction between Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism was made by 'Esoteric Buddhism', that between the Holy Way Gate and the Pure Land Gate was established by the "Pure Land Gate", while the contrast between Kyoo and Zen was set up by 'Zen'.

This means that the characterization of Exoteric Buddhism, the Holy Way Gate, or Kyoo was put forth not by these groups themselves, but by the newer forms of Buddhism.

In other words, the various forms of Buddhism classified by Esoteric Buddhism as 'Exoteric Buddhism' do not necessarily call themselves 'Exoteric Buddhism'.

The same is true of the 'Holy Way Gate' or 'Kyo'.

In exactly the same way, the distinction between Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana was made by Mahaayaana Buddhism.

Further, as I said above, these newly established Buddhist positions respectively constitute an antithesis over against the hitherto existing forms of Buddhism by radically criticizing their spiritual foundations.

They usually insist that their own positions are the real source or root of Buddhism from which all other existing forms of Buddhism come and to which they may be reduced.

This sort of revolutionary development has taken place over and over in Buddhist history.

This way of establishing an entire new form of Buddhism (by means of kyoosoo-hanjaku) has been possible in the course of Buddhist history because the ultimate truth of Buddhism, i.e., the Dharma, does not represent an all-controlling principle such as the 'Will of God', but rather, anaatman (non-ego) or `suunyataa, often translated as a non-substantial 'Emptiness' or 'Void'.

In summary, Buddhism and particularly Mahaayaana Buddhism, based on the idea of anaatman or `suunyaata, developed itself freely and richly according to the spiritual climate of the time and place into which it was introduced.

Thus, throughout its long history in India, China, and Japan, Buddhism produced many divergent forms which are radically different from the original form of Buddhism preached by `Saakyamuni.

Nevertheless, they were not driven out from the Buddhist world, but became spiritual fountainheads from which new spirits of Buddhism emanated.

In this connection it may be interesting to note that one Buddhist scholar regards the history of Buddhism as a history of heresy, meaning by this that Buddhism has developed itself by means of heresy and by constantly embracing various heresies.[8]

In the West, where Mahaayaana Buddhism is relatively unknown, people are apt to judge the whole of Buddhism by taking the 'original' form of Buddhism preached by `Saakyamuni as their standard. Such a static view fails to appreciate the dynamic development of Buddhism.

The diversity and profundity of the history of Buddhism, especially of Mahaayaana, is no less rich than the whole history of Western philosophy or religion.

It is a development coming out of the inexhaustible spring of anaatman or `suunyataa.

Yet, this 'history of heresy' in Buddhism has evolved without serious bloody inquisitions or religious wars.

In this respect it was the practice of kyoosoo-hanjaku, backed up by the idea of anaatman or `suunyataa, that made the decisive difference.


Now, to return to the distinction between Kyoo and Zen, all forms of Buddhism, according to Zen, are based upon the 'teaching' delivered by `Saakyamuni, i.e., the teaching spoken and written as suutras.

Generally, the Buddhist suutras were believed to be the records of `Saakyamuni's sermons and were considered the source and norm of Buddhism.[9]

Nowadays, however, as a result of historical and text-critical studies of the scriptures, it is known that the so-called suutras do not necessarily record the ipsissima verba of `Saakyamuni; but many of them, particularly the Mahaayaana suutras, were composed much later than `Saakyamuni.

Until this became known, however, the suutras were generally regarded by Buddhists as the ultimate foundation and authority of Buddhism.

Thus, according to the traditional Buddhist view, the final norm of truth was contained in the suutras; that which had no basis in the suutras could not be called Buddhist truth.

Each Buddhist school has its own particular suutra (or suutras) as the ultimate authority for its teaching.

For example, the Hua-yen School has the Avata^msaka Suutra, the T'ien-t'ai and the Nichiren Schools, the Saddharma-pu.n.dariika Suutra; and the Pure Land School, the 'three Pure Land Suutras' (i.e., the larger and smaller Sukhaavatii-vyuuha and the Amitaayur-dhyaana Suutras).

To prove that they are Buddhist and that their teaching is true, the various schools have recourse to their authoritative scriptures.

Zen, however, has no such authoritative scripture upon which it is based.

This does not mean that it arbitrarily ignores scriptures, but rather that it dares to be independent of scripture.

In other words, Zen seeks to return to the source of the suutras -- that is, to that which is 'prior to' the suutras.

'Prior to the suutras' here does not mean prior in a temporal or historical sense.

It rather means the spiritual source which is 'prior to' what is expressed in the suutras.

This source is the Self-Awakening of `Saakyamuni which, in Zen, is often expressed by the term 'Mind'.

Being independent of the suutras or scriptures, Zen tries to transmit this Self-Awakening from person to person and from generation to generation.

This is the meaning of the first two phrases of the basic expressions of Zen which I mentioned previously.

That is: "not relying on words or letters", and "the independent transmission outside the teaching of the scriptures".

When Zen was founded with this realization as its background, it distinguished itself from all other forms of Buddhism based on suutras, calling them 'Kyoo' or 'Buddhism standing within Kyoo'.

Accordingly, from the Zen point of view, the whole of Buddhism was divided into two groups, that is Kyoo and Zen, or 'Buddhism within the teaching' and 'Buddhism outside the teaching'.

Strictly speaking, Zen did not divide Buddhism into two groups, but by criticizing and standing somewhat outside of all the hitherto existing forms of Buddhism, Zen opened up a new religious foundation within Buddhism which had been obscured by the dogmatism and philosophical speculations rampant in Buddhism until that time.

Hence Zen is "an independent transmission outside the teaching or scripture".

Therefore 'outside the teaching' does not mean outside Buddhism; rather, it means the source of that which is 'within the teaching'.

In other words, considered from the point of view of suutras, Zen is 'outside the teaching'; however, looked at from the religious realization expressed in the suutras, Zen is even more 'within' than what is ordinarily called Buddhism.

From the Zen point of view, what is usually thought to be 'inside the teaching' is, in fact, 'outside'.

Zen makes its main concern a direct entering into the Mind.

We now turn to the meaning of 'Mind' in Zen Buddhism.

The 'Mind' with which Zen is concerned is neither mind in a psychological sense nor consciousness in its ordinary sense.

It is Self-Awakening of the Dharma through which one becomes an Awakened One.

It is this Mind, the source of the scriptures, which was referred to in the previously cited phrases.

"Directly pointing to man's Mind", and "Awakening his (Original-) Nature, and thereby actualizing his Buddha-hood".

By the word 'Nature' in the phrase 'Awakening his (Original-) Nature' is meant man's true way of being.

In Buddhism, this is generally called, Buddha-Nature or Mind-Nature which is simply another term for Dharma.

In Zen, however, it is called 'self-nature' or 'One's Original Face', expressions which are far more intimate.

This is because, in Zen, Buddha-Nature or Dharma is by no means something foreign to one's true Self-Nature.

For Zen, it is precisely the original nature of man which is the Buddha-Nature; it is precisely 'man's Mind' which is the 'Buddha-Mind'.

Apart from this 'Mind of man', there is nothing which can be truly called 'Buddha' or 'Dharma'.

Again, we do not see for Buddha or Dharma outside of 'Mind'.

In spite of `Saakyamuni's emphasis on reliance on oneself as a lamp, most followers (and the later Buddhist Schools) idealized `Saakyamuni as an object of worship or took the teaching of suutras (which were regarded as his own work) as the authoritative basis for Buddhism.

Yet, in so doing, they relied on something in the past, i.e., the historical Saakyamuni, or the suutras as the record of his reputed teachings.

They searched for ultimate salvation more or less as a future ideal not to be actualized in the present.

In contrast to this attitude, Zen emphasizes: "Directly pointing to man's Mind, Awakening his (Original-) Nature and thereby actualizing his Buddhahood."

'Directly' in this phrase does not necessarily mean 'immediately' in a temporal sense, but 'right now' in the absolute present which is beyond past, present, and future.

Hence Zen insists on entering directly into the source 'prior to' the suutras.

Radically criticizing every other form of Buddhism, Zen faithfully returns to the realization of `Saakyamuni, that is, to Self-Awakening of the Dharma.[10]

Christianity too is not, needless to say, the religion of a book.

What is important for a Christian is the divine Revelation as the living Christ ever present and effective rather than the Bible. The Christ-experience, which a Christian reenacts in himself, is the foundation of his faith.

In this sense, Christianity too is based on something beyond the Bible, something prior to the Bible.

However, a Christian can rightly approach what is beyond the Bible only through the biblical canon.

With the exception of the Society of Friends, which often does not rely on the Bible, Christianity may be said to be of the same type of religion as most forms of Buddhism which Zen calls Kyoo.


The Zen position of transcending the Scriptures is seen in the following cases.

Chung-feng (1263-1323), a Chinese Zen master of the Yuan dynasty said, "With words of Mahaayaana Scriptures and discourses, memories exist in the mind.

This is, what is called gaining understanding by something other (than oneself). It hinders the way of Self-Awakening."

One day the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, a devoted Buddhist follower, requested Fu Ta-shih (497-569), an outstanding lay Zen Buddhist of that day to discourse on the Diamond Suutra.

Taking a chair, Fu Ta-shih sat solemnly in it, but uttered not a word.

The Emperor said: "I asked you to give a discourse, so why do you not begin to speak?" Shih, one of the Emperor's attendants, said: "Your Majesty, Fu Ta-shih has finished discoursing."

What kind of a sermon did this silent Buddhist philosopher deliver? One Zen master, commenting on this story later on said:

"What an eloquent sermon it was!"[11]

The following story clearly shows the contrast between Zen and Kyoo:
   A monk once asked Lin-chi (?-866), a famous Chinese Zen master of the T'ang dynasty: 

"The twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles of the Buddha's teaching reveal the Buddha-nature, do they not?" Lin-chi answered : "This weed-patch has never been spaded."

This puzzled the monk who was a lecture-master and who made his living by discoursing on the various scriptures.

The twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles of the Buddha's teaching are nothing but the foundation of that Buddhism which Zen called Kyoo.

Wondering why Zen intentionally found its position outside of the twelve divisions of the Buddha's teaching, the monk had raised the question which was quite understandable to ordinary Buddhists of those days.

What, then, did Lin-chi's answer mean? For Lin-chi, such things as the twelve divisions of the Buddha's teaching were merely weeds.

Elsewhere, Lin-chi even said: "The twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles of the Buddha's teaching are all toilet paper."

Lin-chi was telling the monk two things: first, that the monk had not yet begun to 'spade the weed patch' of his own mind, and secondly, that Lin-chi had never bothered, since his own awakening, to seek the Buddha-nature in the 'weed patch' of scriptural verbiage.

With this implication in his answer, Lin-chi directly pointed to what we call 'man's Mind' by breaking through the bondage of the monk to the scriptures.

Studying the scriptures, religious literature and massive commentaries, students of religion are apt to miss the living religious truth by being captured by words. Lin-chi's answer --

"This weed-patch has never been spaded" -- was a severe criticism of such a superficial, verbal understanding.

It also served to liberate the monk from his bondage to the scriptures.

To Lin-chi's answer, the monk then replied: "How could the Buddha deceive us?"

For the monk, the twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles were the true and authoritative words of Buddha himself.

To call them a 'weed patch' or worse, 'toilet paper', was unpardonable.

The sacred word preached by the Buddha could not be in error.

And so the monk retorted: "How could the Buddha deceive us?" Lin-chi then said: "Where is Buddha?"

Then, the monk, who had spoken so highly of the scriptures, fell silent, Lin-chi, of course, would have rejected the answer that the Buddha was in India in the fifth century B.C.

In a somewhat similar vein, you will remember that Soren Kierkegaard emphasized 'contemporaneity' (Gleichzeitigkeit) with Jesus Christ as the necessary condition for faith.

In his book Philosophical Fragments, he wrote: "One can be a contemporary (in time) without being contemporary (in spirit)"[12] if one has no faith.

The real contemporary is not contemporary by virtue of an external, immediate contemporaneity, but by virtue of an internal, religious contemporaneity through faith.

For Kierkegaard, to encounter Christ one must see him not with the eyes of the body, but through the eyes of faith.

As the First Letter of Peter puts it: "Without having seen him you love him; though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy" (I, 8).

The real contemporary, wrote Kierkegaard, is not an eye-witness in the immediate sense of the word; he is a contemporary as a believer.

Through the eyes of faith every non-contemporary (in the immediate sense) becomes a contemporary.[13]

Zen, likewise, emphasizes contemporaneity with the Buddha, not by virtue of an immediate contemporaneity, but by virtue of an internal contemporaneity.

In Christianity, however, the subject of contemporaneity is the Christ, as we see in His words, "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John XII, 32).

In Zen, on the other hand, the subject of the contemporaneity is none other than the person concerned.

Not faith in the Buddha, but the Self-Awakening of the Dharma is essential to Zen.

Wu-men Hui-k'ai, a Chinese Zen master of the Sung dynasty said: "If you pass through (the gateless barrier of Zen) you will not only immediately see Joshuu (the great Zen master of the past); you will also walk hand in hand with the successive Patriarchs, mingling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, and hearing with the same ears."

In Zen, to become a contemporary of the Buddha means that one becomes an Awakened One himself by awakening to the same Dharma (i.e., the Buddha-nature) to which the historical Buddha and later Patriarchs awakened.

For Zen and for original Buddhism, there is no Buddha apart from one's own Self-Awakening.

When asked by Lin-chi "Where is Buddha?", the monk, had he really understood the meaning of 'Buddha', should have pointed to the Buddha-nature actualized in himself, and said: "Here is a Buddha."

As it was, however, the monk remained speechless.

But how different was his speechlessness from the silence of Fu Ta-shih before Emperor Wu! While Fu Ta-shih's silence eloquently revealed the Buddha-nature, the speechlessness of the monk exposed only the powerlessness of a Buddhism which relies so heavily upon the scriptures.

In his discourses, Lin-chi addressed each person in the audience as "the one who is, at this moment, right in front of me, solitary, being illuminated, in full awareness, listening to (my) discourse on the Dharma".

"If you wish to transcend birth-and-death, going-and-coming, and to be freely unattached, you should recognize the Man who is listening at this moment to this discourse on the Dharma.

He is the one who has neither shape nor form, neither root nor trunk, and who, having no abiding place, is full of activities.

He responds to all kinds of situations and manifests his activities, and yet comes out of nowhere.

Therefore, as soon as you try to search for him, he is far away; the nearer you try to approach, the farther he turns away from you. 'Mysterious' is his name."[14]

We should not miss the point that it is our true Selves that Lin-chi called 'Man' and 'mysterious'.

To awaken to 'Man' or "true Self who is, at this moment, in full awareness, listening to this discourse on the Dharma" is nothing but Self-Awakening through which one becomes an Awakened One, that is, a Buddha.

Huang-po, Lin-chi's teacher, and an outstanding Zen master of T'ang China once said:

"Your Mind is Buddha; Buddha is this Mind.

Mind and Buddha are not separate or different." Buddha is not separate even for one instant from our Minds.

Let me conclude this paper by mentioning one more story. Nan-chuan, a Chinese Zen master (748-834) was once asked by Pai-chang (720-814), one of his fellow monks, if there was a truth that the sages of old had not preached to men. "There is", said Nan-chuan.

"What is this truth?", asked Pai-chang. "It is not mind", answered Nan-chuan, "It is not Buddha; it is not a thing."

To this, Pai-chang replied: "If so, you have already talked about it." "I cannot do any better", was Nan-chuan's answer. "What would you say?" "I am not a great enlightened one.

So how do I know what either talking or non-talking is?" answered Pai-chang.

"I don't understand", said Nan-chuan. "Alas", said Pai-chang, "I have already said too much for you."

In this paper, in distinguishing Zen from other forms of Buddhism, I am afraid I too have said too much.

But no matter how many words I use, when we talk about Zen, we can never reach it.

On the contrary, the more I try to explain Zen, the more I seem to go astray.

Since Zen does not rely on words, I ought to be silent.

Yet, even if I remained silent, I would be severly beaten by Teh-shan, another Zen master of T'ang China (782-865) who said: "Though you can speak, thirty blows!

Though you can't speak, thirty blows!"

This is to say, mere speechlessness is an empty or dead silence.

Zen, however, finds itself in league neither with speech nor with silence, neither with affirmation nor negation.

We can reach Zen only by transcending speech and silence, affirmation and negation.

But what is beyond speech and silence, beyond affirmation and negation?

That is the question.

Nara University of Education,

Nara, Japan


  • This is a revised and enlarged version of a paper originally published, with limited circulation, in Japan Studies No. 11 in 1968. The author is grateful to Japan Studies for permission to republish it.

He is also thankful for the invaluable suggestions of Dr. Winston Davis in the earlier stages of the manuscript and of Father John Brinkman and Mr. Robert Grous in its final stage.

1. There is considerable disagreement about the chronology of the Buddha's life among scholars: Thomas, 563-483 B.C.: Filliozat, 559-478 B.C. (Inde Classique, nos. 375, 376; pp. 2178, 2209); Nakamura, 463-383 B.C. (Maurya OOchoo no nendai ni tsuite -- On the Age of the Maurya Dynasty -- Toohoogaku, vol. 10, p. 1, f.).

2. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. II., The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1957, pp. 97-98.

3. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I., 1951, pp. 132-33.

4. Samyutta Nikaaya, Vol. 12, Taisho, Vol. II., p. 84 b.

5. Mahaaparinibbaana Suttanta. See The Teachings of The Compassionate Buddha, edited by E. A. Burtt, A Mentor Religious Classic, The New American Library, 1955, p. 49.

6. Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Harper Torchbooks, p. 89ff.

7. Ibid., p. 119.

8. Bunyuu Masutani: Bukkyo gairon (An Introduction to Buddhism), Chikuma shobo, Tokyo, 1965, p. 162ff.

9-10. Portions of the discussion from pp. 244-246 are taken from Shin'ichi Hisamatsu's article, "Zen: Its Meaning for Modem Civilization", Eastern Buddhist, New Series, Vol. I., No. 1, especially from p. 23-29.

11. D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Rider and Company, London, 1948, pp. 75-76.

12. Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, translated by David F. Swenson, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1936, p. 54.

13. Ibid., p. 57.

14. D. T. Suzuki and others, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1960, p. 35.

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