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Is it Buddha mind-nature or the Robe? by Venerable Mujyo

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Lineage as authority

To explain the title a little is it Buddha-mind or is it the Robe? If your not familiar with Zen there is a repeated imagery of the one robe and one bowl, this goes back to Indian Vinaya, the idea that a monk owns only a small number of items, a robe, a bowl, the poverty of practice, and because Sakyamuni Buddha also lived like such, the saying and the items represent transmission and the line from Sakyamunisama to every Monk and Nun, all Buddhists. There is even an anecdotal belief that the very bowl and robe Sakyamuni used were handed down and carried to China and passed until T’ang times through the Zen school. Anecdotal because there is no mention of Sakyamuni ever doing so until Buddhism reached China. It’s made up, the story of Sakyamuni and the flower is also made up. However these anecdotes are used as evidence of Hierarchal authority in Zen organizations. This and other connections taken as part of Zen have come to make up the dogma of the school without dogma.

It’s a little strange really, imagine Steven Hawkings basing his authority to speak on how the Universe might have formed on something like that. I’ll come back to Lineage worship a little later when we talk about some crisis’ going on right now. If everything is going well it doesn’t matter, but if there is abuse and corruption among the transmitted beings then that’s another thing.

Dharma transmission needs to be reconsidered. A fact is that Dharma records from India to China to Japan to the West have many false ancestors. It is well and truly on the record, that according to the International Zen Studies Institute based at Hanazono university, the University of the Rinzaishuha in Japan one of the leading Buddhist research institutions in the world that many of the Indian and Chinese ancestors are made up for continuity. Dogen’s transmission is doubted, his successor Keizan is also doubted, and Hakuin from whom all Rinzai and Rinzai derived lines such as the Sanbon Kyodan and others, never had transmission. There is no record other than by Hakuan’s own writing that he ever received Inka transmission, in fact the record at Myoshinji, the Godaihozan to whomhe belonged, puts him no higher than a first level temple priest. If Dogen and Hakuin were not ancestors than no one else has legitimate transmission either if strict rule is applied.

Its worth mentioning that Hakuin Ekaku zenji, didn’t have transmission and was only a low temple priest that every Rinzai training centre in the world, including the aforementioned Myoshiinji, how is it that Hakuin renge came into being? In answer it would seem that through luck, location apparent charisma and some talent, he was very good at marketing himself, other monks gathered at his temple including the brilliant but eccentric monk Torie. Simply the Hakuin school arose just as a popular fashionable Art movement might, because it was the school for the times, the mid 1700’s. Hakuin became a nexus for other brilliant minds to gather around. They just did good Dharma. Because they did the Hakuin school as post Hakuin Rinzai is sometimes called could become so pervasive that it would take over the then Rinzai establishment and contribute to the restoration of the Soto line as well which had also declined. We should take the lesson in that.

Ethics crisis, the abuse of lineage and cult behaviour in Western groups


Right now in the U.S theres a big crisis going on. It’s been going on for some years, first we heard about Soto people such as Richard Baker, and then others. Now recently theres a problem at Rinzaiji in New York State, and most recently it has transpired that another Roshi at Mt Baldy on the West Coast of the U.S has also abused his position. In the case of the two Rinzai teachers, both asserted as Zen masters they could do as they liked because they are expressing what we call Zenki, or Jiyu – Freedom of spiritual action. This has involved having sex with women trainees and the co-opting of other trainees and temple officer’s to allow this. The problems in the American Sotoshu are similar. This and similar problems have moved some Zen people over the years to suggest that Zen is without ethics.

I think Zen has ethics. If you pay attention to what you are doing on your cushion, if you are training as though it is the last day of your life every day of your life, you practice within ethics, ethical behaviour arrises naturally. If it does not, your doing something else. How ever there is a break down going on in training. For one, there isn’t much training going on in Zen today. To expand on that, there is a lot of going through the motions going on, but training not so much. There is passing an examination system of Koans, or attending a meditation sitting, but original deep inquiry into Genjo koan, not so much. I’ll talk a little bit about the Japanese system, later as I talk about the West, but I first want to talk about a fundamental problem in Western Zen. Enlightenment.

Enlightenment, many people want to get it, many feel it exists but it’s out of reach, many feel the master has it and many feel or are taught that he/she will give it or withhold it. There seems not to be much dialogue on Awakening or maturation in Western Zen, but apparently we need to get Enlightened. This kind of belief is not in fact Zen, it’s not Mahayana. Fundamental to Zen, to Mahayana teaching is the truth that Enlightenment and Buddha mind-nature, I say mind nature to set apart mind in Buddhism as mind in psychology which is another notion or level of consciousness, therefore there is no getting what you already have and are. Point rather is Awakening that acknowledging that, Seeing, and Maturation of that eye. But if we say that Enlightenment is attained then from what source? Maybe the ‘Master’, and the myth of the Zen Master is pervading in Zen. In fact there are mechanisms from Sino-Japanese Zen that when applied in the West allow the encouragement of this idea.

Lineage worship for instance. In a Buddhist service in Japan it is normal chant the lineage of the Teacher or the Temple, the Temple’s founder is even after many centuries revered through ritual services held each month and year. But it comes and goes, in the West in many groups it has taken on another life, with many groups self conscience they have a short physical history for one, maybe a teacher is telling others who have no reference besides this man from Japan or student of the man from Japan so simply obey. In wider society many people don’t ask why? They just buy the product, the same in anything else and Zen is not different. Unfortunately another aspect of that is the deep desire to be led and taught by the ‘Master’. The (Zen) Master is a powerful myth in Western Zen, possibly starting with Herrigal the German Philosopher famous for Zen and Japanese Archery. Well it seems Herrigal was mainly an observer, who entered the Zen world in awe, or at least he said everyone should be in awe, and nearly 100 years later, that’s exactly how many have treated the teacher, as the ‘Zen Master’. Giving he/she the powers of George Lucas’ fictional character Yoda. So many people have entered Zen ripe for abuse, and many have been so.

The authority system has been blown out of proportion, lay groups and monastic groups have been convinced that they should adopt structures of organization and attribute incredible power to what only exists for organizational purposes. Genjo Koan has turned into Lineage worship.

How has this happened? In part it goes back to the culture of Buddhism, many groups have held discussion about things like what language to chant in, what to wear, how to sit, names to use, and more. Some have established themselves with slogans like “Oh it’s that bad monk system in Japan, we are reformed over here”. Or there have been groups that go in for titles, impressing monks regulations apon lay people and calling themselves some sort of renaissance of the real Zen. Strange rules about clothing and sitting and livng with four blank walls. There’s been a lot of ideals but there at times hasn’t been the appetite for the thing that really matters. Genjo koan. And to get that you have to be open about dependency. If centres adopt the model of the meditation group or the model of the monastic temple, it doesn’t matter so much, but dependency should not be created.


In groups where abuse has or is taking place we come across again and again the defence well ‘the master is free because the master has attained, others don’t understand that, if you attain too you will understand’. The promise is powerful and it is used to confer power. The promise of Watts, Aitken and Susuki and so, that you will become the 'Roshi' the Master, the unquestioned font of Wisdom, Enlightenment and therefore ultimately power. Did these people actually promise? I’ve never read that. Not blatantly, but much of what they did say has been taken as so by subsequent generations. Did these people ever demonstrate 'Other' power, not to my knowledge. Not one of them because an ‘Other’ being, without worldly cares and responsibilities. Not one of them. But attaining Enlightenment is often presented as ‘Attained’.

It’s much better to talk about awakening something you already have than attaining. Attaining is a trap. And there is the trap that the followers of the Shimano's, the Bakers, and so forth.

One can imagine Shimano Eido getting off the plane in the U.S and saying to himself 'so they think I'm a Roshi, and they think it means master...", and falling into the act from then on, "they don't even realise I'm just a human being". 60's - 70's idealism has been a powerful drink. Someone once asked a prominent Japanese roshi, Mumon of Myoshinji, "what's a Roshi?" he replied "Anyone who can get someone to call him that". People in the West have not needed much convincing. The Robe speaks.

There are no Zen monasteries in Asia, there are training centres in Japanese these are called Senmondojo ‘Training place of the gate’, it is only a small number of officers of the temple who stay living at these places, the rest of the training community is moving in and out like the student body of a University. What has occurred at Rinzaiji and Mt Baldy and many other places in North America is a cloister style arrangement, with monks and nuns and lay people living together, not what happens in Asia. A power model has been created in North American Zen which is foreign to the practice. These centres in North America are also operating in isolation not as a Five Mountain peer maintained system. At Mt Baldy the term Osho has even been corrupted to equate with the western concept of ‘Monk’. Terms and offices from the Asian Zen tradition have been applied in new context in North America to an ‘audience’ of practitioners who have no idea otherwise and whom are floating on a dream of ‘getting Enlightened’.

I can recount a personal experience in Australia, I was invited to the Buddhist Conference here in 2006, that was a really large affair, I wasn't speaking, but I was invited. I turned up in my Samui, in Japanese and Korean lines we don't always wear the robe all day, anyway I was absently given a lay pass and ignored from that point. The next day I came with Koromo robe, suddenly my lay pass was taken, changed to a sangha one, I was called Venerable and shown all the trappings. It seems my Koromo and Rakasu were the real guests. Like Takuan who was shown the servants entrance when showing up at a lay house and shown the front door and drawing room when he came back the next day with his brocade. Who is really welcome? And what are we really teaching? And who is really listening?

The Dharma is not there for gain. There is therefore no attaining, no gaining, this has been said many times by Venerable Ancestors over the centuries, let me say when Sakyamuni Buddha said all things decay he is saying there is no gain no attaining, no dependency. But we find contrary behaviour to this through out the Buddhist world among teachers and their supporters.

In the West we are all too fond of our titles and offices, my first time in Kyoto I was really surprised that the roshi was just 'Keido', not Keido the Roshi, or the master or the Emperor's teacher. Just Keido, and the local Osho of some sub temple just Junsei. That same Keido said there were problems with the establishment in Japan, the training system, but he also said changing it was bigger than him. Bigger than him, a Roshi, apparently just a human being. He spent his life in the monks hall from student to teacher never leaving it, except for brief departures in the U.S touring Universities. He never drank or played. His human thing was he wasn’t bigger than the system, the supporters. The lesson there I could have taken as a fail, but instead that changing Buddhism, Zen, doesn't come from the only from the top. Who we work for, is the same people we beg from in the street. It's not the other way around. And they who employ us, because we are in the supporter's employ, in that sense are really frail. They don't understand or study the sutras often, they don't do deep reflection on Koans, and they are all too easily impressed by images. The Bodhisattva way is to help and protect so we can all make our way together, not just some.


Many priests and monks and lay teachers have an unhealthy relationship with the perks of office. In the East it's envelopes of money, expensive robes and flashy rebuilt temples, in the west its titles and celebrity. Sometimes the image of chastity and poverty is used to get what we want, in the west it's the Guru power. "I have given up much" is a powerful sales slogan for sociopaths and Nihilists, it seems to work very well on their victims. It bodes to beware that in return for giving up his shoes, his worldly belongings for life or at least while he's sitting in front of you dispensing the Dharma that he hasn't exchanged all that for possession of your mind. Some monks and teachers though brandishing that they have cast off much have clearly not cast off what are sometimes possible sociopathic or at least deep personality disorders, to make things worse dogs run with dogs and whole communities in Buddhism are sometimes complicit to taking the low road in practice, rather that seeking to rise up.

The Gozan system in Japan it’s failure and decline, and what we might do in Australia

Is it great in Japan? No. Every monk whether a temple priest or a teaching Roshi I’ve ever spoken to will tell you ‘it’s broken’. The Gozan system or Five Mountains is a system that today requires every Rinzai trainee monk to spend time in Senmon dojo, a training hall, there are Five main ones and about 30 lesser dojo, and these mainly prepare monks to return as priests to the 2000 or so temples throughout Japan to minister over what is mainly a funeral business or manage tourism. Just a few stay on to become officers within dojos and an even fewer number become teachers. By in large in the 2000 or so temples throughout Japan there is only about 100 zazenkai. Very very few.

By in large there isn’t much taste for Buddhism among Japanese priests at all, it’s a career path like any other. Doing funerals for a few thousand dollars a pop, annual memorials, death is the business that keeps on paying and paying, and various coming of age ceremonies. Most priests are not even actually engaged in Zen, in Ancestor ritual in fact. Nothing much to do with actual Buddhism.

In the U.S the situation has been less centralized overall in the Sotoshu, though American Sotoshu is devided into White temples and Japanese temples, even Shunryu Susuki himself was shunned by his American Japanese community for allowing white Americans into practice and even encouraging them. Recently the Sotoshuha has set about correcting that by laying out an edict that only Monks who have training in Sohiji in Japan are bonefide Sotoshu, so much for Susuki’s lineage. In Rinzai where training has been more exclusively controlled, the two main sources for Rinzai training in the U.S have descended into personality/charismatic cult around lineage power. The discussion about lineage power has been more fluid in American Sotoshu, one of the reasons the Japanese Daihozan has attempted to step in.

So what can we do? A lot of people when tackling this over the decades since the second world war, have suggested burning the robe and the bowl, well that’s been tried, it doesn’t work, someone goes over to the fire and fishes them out, Huineng was said to have tried that according to Chinese tradition, instead we really need to understand the power the robe and bowl has over people, it sounds rather J.R Tolkien but if only it were so simple as throwing the robe in the fire. What we need to do is reform how we see Zen, Buddhism and training.

First we can acknowledge the power of the supporters, by that who it is that puts the food in the bowl, and run our temples and groups with more transparency, and 'not put up' because we derive our authenticity from him/her. Much is made of the late Steve Jobs of Apple and his practice as Sotoshu Zen Buddhist, in Zen circles, well then look at how Steve Jobs ran Apple. He showed the way, he understood innately the 21st century and he reformed Apple around that. He knew the corporation was only as big as the people who bought the devices they make. It’s not all gloom, Rinzai himself said that without knowing the darker side how would we know what we should strive against in ourselves, and as to those around us who corrupt the community, he said ‘thank you, you show me’. Corruption is not invented in our generation, but every generation has the possibility of accepting it as norm or reforming so it is exception, that is the choice of each generation.

As we reform the vehicle we must exercise wisdom and foresight, we are here in University setting, and academia while important should not become another way to authority, there's already a problem with that with millions of people graduating from universities everyday who are unfit for their professions. We can't simply turn from issuing Authentications in the form of Dharma transmission to diplomas without understanding what it may mean, it's powers and limitations. Actually it would mean nothing, just as Inka means nothing, but Buddhist communities must understand that. We don’t we’ll be practicing as though we are in another civilization which is disappearing as fast as your mobile device is updated with the newest hardware and systems.


So in Australia, we must avoid the cultism that has taken place in the U.S, and the exploitation of people’s superstition. We must decide what kind of Zen we want to have, if it can be decided at all. A good start is the fact that Australians can be very cynical, at least when it comes to religion. But perhaps best of all is that we are in an unusual position in Australia to innovate our practice. Not to say things like dropping conventions like having Monks and Nuns, or what we wear, first that’s been tried and by it’s self simply invited replacing one problem with another. We have many good things in Zen practice that come down to us, yes we sit actually in a ritual manner, there is some debate about that interpretation, we sit in lines, there is a process, when to stand and walk, when to go to the sanzen room, etc. Those things are the form and though they are sometimes criticized as cultish, the cultish aspect is dependent on how wether a dependency is nurtured in that form and many teachers and students are doing just that.

Some people might try to blame the lack of celibacy for causing problems. Saicho’s reform actually has a long history going back to China. Saicho encountered married monks in his time in China and advocated it on his return to Japan, the rules on marriage were not relaxed until the Meiji era, in the meantime monks simply had secret and sometimes not so secret relationships anyway. People will do what people will do, and disinterested priests in small sub-temples even more so. So celibacy has historically not been workable. Fault for problems lays firmly in attitude and training, especially in ethics and the personal commitment to change.

The 1700 Koans are a pool of resource for training, but requiring that they all be passed is an impediment, and we see in Japan it produces a sausage machine process. It’s a system well documented as impressed upon the training system in the 1700’s, so relatively new and it was impressed from outside by the then Tokugawa government, it formed a means of controlling the number of Zen teachers. There is also a problem with classical literary study, most Australians do not read and write fluent Classical Chinese. It’s worth adding that most Japanese post war do not read and write to the level that Zen training requires, so the system in both the Rinzaishu and Sotoshu is on the brink, it can produce priests but the number who can stay on to become senior clerics is getting harder and harder as Japan’s education system simplifies, and no education system in the modern world is becoming more complex and certainly not in Australia. But zazen without anything else is just Samurai yoga, it’s not Zen.

Something that has emerged more and more in Australia to briefly mention is the ethnic temple. These temples are strongly dislocated from Australian society. Under the auspice of Buddhism they operate more as Cultural centres, they are to all intense purposes ‘foreign temples’ – funded from outside Australia in the main and vey often non-English speaking, and closed to outside engagement, but like such temples in Japan it seems possible that even after hundreds of years these temples will remain removed.


Should monks train in the Gozan (in Japan), or a Gozan like enviroment? No, probably not. What should happen ideally is that monks and lay persons train the majority of the time at smaller temples with their root teachers, and go to Gozan for sesshin. In effect it should return to how it once was. The centralization around the Gozan is not improving anyone’s practice. Foreign monks attending the Gozan when they can get access are not improved by it.

In fact many become disillusioned quickly. Disillusionment is a part of training but there is useful and un-useful experience. In Western countries we should not establish if we can, our own equivalent of the Japanese Gozan because we will just get the problems that exist in Japan replicated. We need more university studies in Australia, the level of study about Zen and Buddhism here is internationally embarrassing. Perhaps ideally one way to become a monk or nun in Australia in the future might be to encourage a secondary academic career, living on Danna is not especially practical.

I might go further to say that the conditions the Australian government has in place through it’s social structures is engineered against it. But we don’t want to produce a clerical body based on academia exclusively also. Zen has been there already and it erodes training. It seems the best thing is to bring training and academia together with sitting and participation in Sesshins as a requirement. This though has it’s own problems, but they seem lesser than others. Confucian social ethics needs to be revived also, we should take notice of the recent emergence of New Confucianism in China, and we should look also to the body of Ethics that has developed in the West over the last 3000 years and root teachers should encourage study of ethics in practice. Some have suggested the future might see a fusion between Christian morals and Zen, but I don’t see that. Zen has always directed people towards ethical behaviour. The people who operate outside that aren’t paying close attention.

We must stop treating lineage, especially false lineage, which is, as evidence that someone has risen above, and say “what is it you do that connects you?” not what approval you could get.


Author: Venerable Mujyo