by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
I've been reading Thomas Hoover's The Zen Experience which deals with the evolution of Zen by way of presenting the lives and teachings of its masters. I thought I'd share bits of Zen lore here. But first I should probably explain that Ch'an (Zen) is and was very much a Taoist philosophy. When Buddhism arrived in China, it was in many ways considered alien to Chinese values and thus underwent a radical transformation at the hands of Taoism. Some would say that it in fact became Taoist, though it surely transformed its Taoist roots as well.
Bodhidharma (470-532) is considered the First Patriarch of Zen. When he arrived in China from India, he came before the Emperor, a devout Buddhist, who told him of all the great things he had done for Buddhism and asked how much merit he might have accrued. (I paraphrase.) Bodhidharma replied: None at all. Taken aback, the Emperor asked: What then is the most sacred doctrine of Buddhism? Bodhidharma replied: There is nothing sacred; it's all empty. To this the Emperor replied: Who then exactly are you? Bodhidharma replied: I do not know.
I offer my non-scholarly opinions on this exchange.
With respect to things eternal, there are no merit or demerits -- the universe does not work on the basis of good and bad. There are no rewards and punishments. That this does not sit well with us is, I think, a potentially powerful opportunity to escape the burden of guilt and recrimination.
There is nothing sacred. If there is the sacred, there must also be the profane. Because no one thing is sacred, all things are sacred. All things are included, nothing is excluded. All is affirmed.
I do not know who I am -- in an eternal sense. Just as I do not know what is the Ultimate, I do not know what my ultimate purpose might be. All that's left is to surrender in trust.
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