“Religion as a Path to Emptiness/Transcendent Presence”
American Zen (Sayings found on the US web): (Laozi also has e-mail)
1. Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.
2. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
3. If you think nobody cares whether you’re alive or dead, try missing a mortgage payment.
4. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
6. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
7. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably well worth it.
8. Some days you are the bug; some days you are the windshield.
9. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
10. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your lips are moving.
11. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
12. No one is listening until you fart.
Buddhism and Daoism are cultural systems, not religions, in the sense of that word in Indo-European language usage. Religion, in Semitic, English, Arabic, Latin, Germanic, Turkic, and Hindi languages, means a “faith or belief” system to which one must subscribe, in order to belong. Thus, in all Indo-European cultures, one must “belong to”, or “believe in” only one system. It is unthinkable, for instance, to be Christian, Judaic, and Islamic, all at once.
In East and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, wherever religion is defined as the celebration of “rites of passage” (sacraments) and “annual festivals,” at least three (and sometimes more) religious systems provide rituals, moral ideals, and festivals. In China, for instance, Confucian social values, Buddhist rites for the Deceased, and Daoist annual festivals, are all celebrated as essential elements in a healthily functioning society. One must be Confucian for human encounter, Buddhist for burial services, and Daoist when harmonizing with the great seasonal changes in nature. Confucian mind, Buddhist heart, and Daoist belly, is another way of expressing the “Three teachings, one culture” proverb that defines Asian religious culture.
When Matthew Ricci and the other pioneering Jesuits lived in China (1580-1762+-) an attempt was made to convince European missionaries as well as merchants and politicians, that one must be Confucian (respect filled human-to-human encounters), and pray for one’s ancestors, to survive in China. Buddhism’s grand success in China, and all Asia, was due to providing the very best burial and ancestor memorial services. The Jesuit success was due to bringing science to China. The idea of adapting to any Asian spiritual values was found unacceptable to Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and other colonial interests, (including 19th and 20th century American missionaries as well). The Jesuits were suppressed in 1762 for their attempts at enculturation, but after their restoration in 1810, never again attained the pre-eminent intellectual position they once had in Europe or Asia.
Today Buddhism and Daoism, in forms often quite different from Asian origins, are paths that “westerners” choose to follow. Zen, Tantric Buddhism, and Daoism as spiritual practice in western languages and cultures, are quite different from Asian origins. And, indeed, so it must be, to succeed in any context. The American and European fascination with “Zen sitting” is simply not found in Asia. Zen sitting as a disciplined practice is only used in the training of novice monks in Japan. Once ordained (given Kancho or Abhiseka license to practice), it is not used again in the local temples that the monks go home to manage, and support their families by performing ritual. Buddhism in Japan consists for the most part in chanting and offering prayers for good fortune, blessing, healing, and ancestor memorial.
Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd Edition
The same is even more apparent for Tantric Buddhist, and Daoist practice. The oral tradition, called Kuden in Japanese, Kouzhuan in Chinese (口傳) （口伝）is not taught to foreigners, nor in its fullness to most of the young monks and nuns who go for training to Hieizan (in Kyoto), or Mt. Koya, then return to practice ritual in their home temples. For instance, the “Goma” (Agni Hotra) Fire ritual is performed as a chant for blessing, wealth, good health, or freeing ancestors from hell-like punishments in the afterlife. Very few of the Tendai or Shingon monks or nuns actually practice the esoteric visualizations, the burning away or emptying of all images, and the experience of Transcendent union, that was the original intent of Tantric practice, before it was adapted to East Asian Ancestor memorial, and prayers for blessing.
The same is even more acute for Daoist esoteric practices. Foreign scholars, and even less-than spiritually minded Daoist novices, are not taught the Qingwei 清微雷法 Daoist equivalents of Vajra-Thunder ritual visualizations, or the Beidou Pole Star contemplative imagery, (北斗法) that share the same mudra, mantra, and mandala structure of Tantric Buddhist practice. Even less are they allowed to share in the self-emptying, apophatic aspects of Daoist meditation (Zhuangzi, Ch. 4). Instead they are given popular Shenxiao 神霄 and Lu Shan 閭山 manuals, which do not have strict requirements of personal purity, selfless dedication to help others, and respect for all, friend or enemy (Laozi Ch. 67), that are pre-requisites for learning the higher grades of Daoist emptying practice.
Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, will soon be published, with these more esoteric aspects of Daoism, in its “tantric” (similar to Tibetan Buddhist) practices. The 3rd edition will sell for cost-only, the rule for esoteric teaching requires rejecting the notion of “Dao for Dollars.”
Los Angeles – Kyoto – Beijing