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May 03, 2009


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My understanding is that Zen Buddhism is Taoist-influenced Buddhism.

I readily agree with your statement that "I enjoy learning about how other pathless (or semi-pathless) wanderers look upon reality from their vantage point. I don’t want to follow in someone else’s footsteps, but it’s nice to meet up with like-minded travelers for a friendly get-together around a literary campfire."

One point I reiterate constantly on my blog -- since a lot of folks arrive there based on a Google search of "taoist blog" -- is that they won't find THE way there. The way must be found by each individual. My sincere hope is that when people visit this blog, mine or a number of others that our own personal ruminations will spur them to seek their own solitary path.

> Zen has little if anything to do with
> Buddhism.

Not only that... but true Zen has little if anything to do with Zen!

That is, the Zen tradition points to awareness of this moment, what you perceive and what you're doing right now. It's about this experience... not words and ideas like "Buddha" or "Zen" or "Tao."

Sometimes, someone is suffering, and you can help them with words and concepts from Buddhism etc. Zen style is to use words and ideas like a tool or a medicine... but never to cling to them as Truth.

> I mean, Buddhist meditation practice
> emphasizes mindfulness in the here and
> now. Yet much of Buddhist philosophy
> stresses the goal of detaching from this
> illusory world of maya, getting off the
> wheel of rebirth, and experiencing some
> sort of transcendent reality.

I'm sure some of these ideas are prevelent in some schools that call themselves "Buddhist" or even "Zen."

The Zen tradition I've practiced, though, has got nothing to do with holding ideas about maya or illusion. "Transcendent" doesn't matter; the only experience of reality we need is the one right in front of us.

When Zen Master Nam Cheon was asked "What is Buddha?" he happened to be weighing flax. So he replied, "Three pounds of flax."

That's why we say things like, "The sky is blue. The grass is green. When you're hungry, eat; when you're tired, sleep; when someone is suffering, help them."


"That is, the Zen tradition points to awareness of this moment, what you perceive and what you're doing right now. It's about this experience... not words and ideas like "Buddha" or "Zen" or "Tao."

---This is it, in a nutshell.

Dear Brian,

I'm afraid the author of this book seems to be deeply misguided in his/her understanding of BOTH Taoism and Zen.

In actual matter of fact, Taoism is a purely esoteric school with numerous graduated levels of 'attainment'. Anything with graduated levels of attainment is by neccessity deeply embedded within a conceptual cosmological paradigm.

Taoism entails a 'course' of meditation type practices that, apparently, can take 12 years or more to master; to eventually attain the 'immortal body'.

Zen, on the other hand, completely discards all conceptual paradigms, be they Buddhist or otherwise, on it's pathless path. If you think there's *any* conceptual overlay in Zen, then you haven't yet grasped it's essence, imo.

Whereas ultimately, the 'realisation' of both schools may be identical, with the identical mental & phsyical experiences along the way, Zen places absolutely no importance or emphasis on them whatsoever, thereby by-passing the humanistic tendency to lose the forest for the trees.

Anyone with a deep understanding of Taoism & Zen, and with no axe to grind or preference for either, would know this is clearly the case.

I'm afraid to say, much like a whole host of your recent blogs, you're way off the 'truth' here.

And more into your own 'mind', and how you *want* things to be.

Dear Rambling Taoist,

Just reading your comment, I am struck by:

"My understanding is that Zen Buddhism is Taoist-influenced Buddhism."

Where & how did you come to this understanding?

Having studied the tantric & mahayanist roots of Zen / Ch'an practice, I would have state you have come to a completely misguided understanding?

There are far more links of Zen to Dzogchen and Indian Tantric practices, than there is a connection (if any at all whatsoever) to Taoism? The geo-historical evidence I'm aware of all points to this quite strongly?

Though I'm open to any new info? Any sources for your understanding?



If you desire, write a comment, regarding a comparison of taoism, dzogchen and zen/ch'an buddhism.

Would be interesting to read something in a general format.

I have no opinions, for or against.


Manjit, I know a lot about Taoism. I disagree with you. But hey, Taoism is a very accepting, flow with it philosophy. You look upon Taoism your way, and I'll look upon Taoism my way.

That's the wonderful thing about Taoism. It encourages happy, hang loose diversity. Each to his own Way, smiling.

Hello Roger,

It's a good question, perhaps better suited to some kind of Religous history scholar or some such.

My interest in these matters was/is purely non-scholarly, so therefore I have made absolutely no notes, have no attachments to precise names & places etc. All I have is this vague awareness in my head of diverse sources, and only the essence remains/is of importance to me!

Sat here at work, with not even my humble selection of books, all I could say is that Dzogchen / Ch'an / Tantra appear to have all originated in the same geographical area, around the same time, and with the same 'teachers'. That area used to be called Uddiyana, or something? I believe today that region is known as Kashmir.

Also, I can state the actual practices themselves are very similar in conceptual elaboration of the 'transformations' that occur.

I'm sorry I cannot be of more help, but if you are genuinely interested, I hope there's some pointers in there? Sometimes there's much more fun & *insight* to be had in the journey to understanding, rather than the 'destination' itself?...

Nowadays, all so-called sacred & secret texts have been fully opened and revealed widely. So much so that we go to our local bookstore, pick up a copy of, say, the Upanishads, read it in a few hours, put it down, and forget about it, totally unmoved.

Two thousand or more years ago, a potential student would first have to prepare for potentially decades before their teacher would deem them fit to hear an Upanishad. And, apparently, with that one hearing of the text, they would attain en-lighten-ment.

I think there's a subtle lesson in there, somewhere. Perhaps.

Dear Brian - Fair enough. I take it then you are aware that 12 years + of Taoist cultivation is a neccessity for the 'higher' levels of 'attainment'? In my opinion, Taosim minus graduated stages of 'attainment', time-lines of achievment etc, equals Zen :oP

Dear Tao - That was a wonderfully expressed sentiment in your post yesterday about being a benign force etc. I hope you stick to it. And much Kudos to you if you do.

Cheerio all.


Thanks for your reply.

"Two thousand or more years ago, a potential student would first have to prepare for potentially decades before their teacher would deem them fit to hear an Upanishad. And, apparently, with that one hearing of the text, they would attain en-lighten-ment."
---I can see that a message could come from this passage.
---My concern would be with the kind of "preparation" the student would be put through.
---Likewise, what kind of "enlightenment" One gets from a particular type of preparation.
---Interesting, that "enlightenment" can be obtained from hearing. I wonder, can One obtain enlightenement from smelling, or feeling something?

---If my sense of smelling, hearing, etc. is off, will the quality of my enlightenement be off too?

Best wishes,

Roger wrote...
"Interesting, that 'enlightenment' can be obtained from hearing."

In pretty much every Zen school, we do a chant every day that makes it clear that there's no obtaining, with nothing to obtain. In this moment, right in front of you, what do you perceive? What are you doing? That's all.

"Enlightenment" is a teaching word that's used in special situations to help and inspire people. "Zen" is a name for a particular tradition that uses various means to point directly to the truth of your just-now experience.


Why do ppl have to be trained to appreciate 'just this'?

when you are hungry, eat.
when you are tied, sleep.
when someone is suffering, help them.

Surely ppl do this already without Zen, Taoism or Buddism.

Re George's Oct 9 post:

People eat when they're hungry, etc, whether or not they're trained in Zen etc. People frequently hold and cultivate thinking of the sort, "I want to get something," in addition to just doing what they do.

Holding such "I want" thinking is called "painting legs on a snake." A picture of a snake is complete as it is. It's mistaken to believe you need to add legs to it.

So... training in Zen etc does affect the extent to which you make "I want to get something" thoughts, and/or whether you cling to the thoughts when they appear. When there isn't such clinging, then you just eat when hungry, sleep when tired, etc.


i wonder if you could explain buddha nature, which i understand forms part of both buddhism and zen.

in general, these traditions seem to aspire to knowing one's true nature or original mind without ego (or the i-self).

But is this buddha nature unique or the same for each individual?

all these traditions appear to require meditiation (chan, zen, dhyana) to experience the supposed undivided, inseperable interconnectedness of ultimate reality (tao, oneness, budha nature, dzogchen).

Hmm posted back in May '09 eh? Glad a web search brought it up, very nice piece.

Tao, glad you enjoyed this post. Grigg's book helped me understand why I both enjoy and am bothered by Zen literature. I resonate with the non-dogmatic side of Zen, but get turned off by the overly religious Buddhist side.

Like, the notion that only a Zen master can affirm or confirm that a practitioner has realized whatever the heck it is that Zen practitioners realize.

The whole koan thing seems pretty ridiculous to me. You go along trying to use your non-conceptual Buddha mind to figure out a koan, suddenly get an "aha!" realization, and then head off to the Zen master to have him give a thumbs up or down to it.

If your realization matches with his, then yes, it's authentic. If not, then head back to the meditation cushion until you really, really have a real realization. A good way to keep Zen masters in business, but I much prefer the hang-looser, much more egalitarian Taoist sensibility.

I'm quite interested in Taoism and Zen, which have the least theology.

The Grigg's book looks interesting. Alan Watts is very good here. Watts has the unique ability of explaining chinese thought to a more linear western mind.

Watts describes that Zen is as much Taoist as Buddhist, but its flavour is more chinese than indian. I think this means that with Taoism and Zen there is an emphasis on instantaneous awakening and naturalness, as opposed to Buddhism's staged approach to enlightenment.

The other aspect i prefer of taoism and zen is its connectedness to nature, rather than transcendental to it where so many others tend to dissapear into Nevernever land. Buddhism and hindu traditions seems to encourage a dissasociation with the things of this world, whereas taoism and zen instead seem to encourage a connection with nature and to roll with experiences and go with the flow of life Wu-Wei.

George, you hit on points about Taoism and Zen that also appeal to me. I like Griggs' book because he discusses the connections between the two, concluding that Taoism is more fundamental (which, of course, many Buddhists and Zen types would disagree with).

Brian, yes i do wonder tho if taoism lacks that which all the great mystics stressed, i.e. self enquiry?

Tho taoism teaches understanding self before interfering with other things, there is not a formal system of self enquiry set out. This is perhaps in keeping with the very essence of the Tao, flexibility free from rigid confines - of naturalness and spontenaity - free from conceptualization.

If Taoism is a practical philosophy for living life, then Zen (which retains the essence of Tao) must be that which additionally borrows some formal medititave training teachniques for self enquiry from buddhism to provide a slightly more cultivated approach.

If one is of a more pantheistic bent, which i believe Einstein was, then something like Taoism is about as close as one might get to describing some unfathomably esoteric absolute reality pervading all. The properties of the Tao as best conveyed by Lao Tzu seem more intuitively plausible than a personal god or set of deities operating within a system of morals or karmic laws.

Roger's query above concerning the possible overlap re Zen and Dzogchen is also interesting, both appear to be from the Mahayana Biddhist tradition. tAo might be able to shed more light if around.

This sounds like an oversimplification, like saying Me Minus my Father Equals My Mother. If you read the Chinese masters, they constantly reference the Buddhist Sutras, but not Taoist scriptures. However, if you read some Taoist scriptures (Secret of the Golden Flower comes to mind), they DO reference Buddhist scriptures. These Zen masters presuppose a background in Buddhism, but not Taoism. Why is that?

Also, Zen is a continuation of Indian Buddhism. Indian Buddhism is about a deep investigation into the nature of reality. It consists in calming and focusing the mind, and turning it to phenomenon. Eventually, one discovers the true nature (or dharma) of things. Zen is a similar investigation, as you can see in koan study and zazen practice.

Matt, I found Griggs' book to be persuasive about the history of Taoism and Buddhism, but I'm no expert in this area.

It struck me, though, that perhaps one reason Taoists cite Buddhist writings, but not the reverse, is that Taoism seemingly is quite a bit more relaxed, unorganized, inclusive, and light-spirited than Buddhism.

I mean, Buddhism takes itself much more seriously than Taoism does. So it could be that Taoists find it easier to quote Buddhist writings, since they aren't attached to defending Taoism as a "religion" (which it isn't, at least in its philosophical guise).

I have a lot of fondness for Buddhism. But I prefer the crazier, who knows?, non-hierarchical style of Taoism more.

Buddhists go in for a lot of highly disciplined spiritual exercises and submission to spiritual masters in order to realize their freedom. Taoists go more directly to freedom without all (or most) of the organizational trappings.

Thanks for making this information available.
What is the title of the Briggs book?
I just found Qi- Gong with Master Mingtong Gu
And how and where does qigong fit in with Taoism

Jon, it's "Griggs." HIs book is mentioned in this blog post. It's called "The Tao of Zen." I like it a lot.

I do some qi gong in my tai chi class, but don't know a whole lot about it. Tai Chi is speeded up qi gong, according to my instructor. And Tai Chi is a reflection of Taoism. So there are connections all over here. I just don't know how to describe them very well.

I have only just begun my journey, into what I first thought was Taoism. I am finding that I am by entering the "world of Taoism", I am not necessarily following Taoism, I am following myself. As I began my search to learn more about Taoism, I found there is not much in my area, however, I did find a Zen Buddhist Center. I had been struggling with whether I should go or not, if I was somehow being "unfaithful" to the Tao. Like a Christian going to worship in a Synagogue. So, I started researching the differences between Zen/Buddhism/Taoism and I have had an epiphany. I can follow my self, by wandering and intermingling between any and all practices that I find interesting or helpful in my journey. There is no right and wrong in the journey, there is only the journey itself.
By the way...I love the title, "The Churchless Church" It says it all !

"I can follow my self, by wandering and intermingling between any and all practices that I find interesting or helpful in my journey. There is no right and wrong in the journey, there is only the journey itself."

--This statement sounds nice. However, what would be the 'self' that one is following? This 'journey' is what? A journey of dualistic right and wrong? How would a 'journey' become an it-self? Do I need to engage in a practice to follow correctly? I don't know much about stuff.
Please help me correctly wander and intermingle on my journey of myself. Thanks Roger

it is a journey of discovery. Seeking to discover the "ultimate reality/God" etc, that is within each of us. By saying there is no right or wrong, I mean that nobody can say for instance, that this practice, or that practice, or this belief or that belief is right or wrong. Proof, thus far, is an impossibility in spirituality. What we have, in various practices, such as Taoism,Buddhism etc...is people who have followed these practices, saying "This worked for me". You can then try them out for yourself. What practice works for me, may not for you.

Thanks for your reply. Ok, I now properly understand that Taoism/Buddhism is a collection of various practices, that I can decide which is right/wrong for me. The practice that I find that works for me will give me the discovery of 'ultimate reality' that I am seeking. Is all of this seeking, what spirituality is all about? Thanks for your continued messages. Roger

Roger, i would say it may or may not give you the discovery that you are seeking, but it certainly COULD. Only you will know.
That is a pretty good "definition" of what I believe spirituality to be. however, I also believe it is up to each person to determine on their own.

Listen to me...I sound like I am a Master speaking, and I am far from it ! Please take my posts with a grain of salt, as I am very new to this myself !

"just as the Buddha renounced self"

To renounce the self is to fight it.

To laugh at the self is to kill it.

Hi Brian, It is a pleasure to find this post. It's nice to know there are like minded folk out there.

Simply to Be, covers zen, buddhism & taoism. Religions & philosophies perpetuate the desire to pose the question of How to be...suggesting that being has not been found, that a search must be instigated. You are already Here.

This is interesting to me. For a number of years I have found myself on the path of myself. I understand little, but sense the direction the path is taking. I meditate to embrace the moment. I watch the trees bend and see the beauty of the world. I wish to hold no connection to myself other than to see the world like an ever opening crysanthemum. But ever I find myself marking the moment to unmark it.
Am I zen or Taoist? Perhaps I am neither or both, or just myself.


If you are just yourself, then you could be the zenist or taoist. Does the (-ist) mean you are a follower?

What is this moment, you mediate to embrace? Your self(myself) is sensing the direction the path is taking. Nothing wrong with watching the trees bend and seeing the beauty of the world. Seeing the crysanthemum may/may not involve a connection to yourself.

No problem there.

Speaking with a retired teacher about history we had different opinions about whether cave art of prehistoric man indicated some elevated awareness related to conceptual reasoning. We arrived at some agreement that language and art may or may not. Maybe the reliance on koans and masters was due to some recognition that verbal language wasn't the vehicle for transmitting the understanding Zen practitioners were shooting for. I have read literature on Zen for many years and am not sure I 'grasp' it. I believe there are elevated forms of awareness and understanding - not all is scientific or intellectual, but some is.

I like both of these "religions" or more correct way of life. Taoism and Buddhism are completely different, of course there are similarities just like you will find in any culture in the world. Taoism is connected to nature. It also has to do with a lot of exercise, health and immortality is emphazied and working with chi energy. They also have their philosophy to explain it. Buddhism has nothing to do with this.
Taoism was the way of life for many Chinese in ancient times, its how they grew up with. When they accept buddhism, they did it with the taoist mentality. Of course it has Taoist influence and for zen, it has aspects Shinto because Shinto was the way of life for the Japanese. Nothing is going to go to a foreign land and stay pure, especially throughout the years. Nothing in human history has stayed pure when "something" was brought to a foreign land. History is full of many examples.

I love this piece. I'm so glad I found it.

Religion is the scaffolding of a building under constriction. Once you are done building, you remove the scaffolds.

Spirituality is a rock used to knock on a door. Once the door is answered and you walk through, you leave the rock outside.

Both are a raft you ride to cross a river. Once you've crossed it, you do not carry the raft with you, you leave it behind and go about your merry way.

I am tempted to say that I "think" is a very good, clear, and helpful description and distinction but, to be more genuine e, I'm more inclined to say the it "feels" right to me. I get what is said about the relative difference between the Buddhism of Zen and the way of the Tao, so I got what I was asking myself about, how similar are Zen and Taoism and how do they differ. Thanks, nice clear but also deep narration.

And, I particularly like the shared orientation of both Zen and Taoism of allowing the experience of that which is beyond all words, and thoughts to unfold, if allowed to in the absence of the descriptions and teachings. Pretty much reminds me of Joseph Campbell's teachings about ensuring that the teachings (mask of God) stay transparent to the transcendent. NICE, great article, feels just right.

♥ my only interest in anything is betterment
♥ the path is only the history of each improvement
♥ all the words, teachings and paradigms are only to stimulate my thoughts.
♥ enlightenment is not a goal, but only incremental betterment
♥ compassion is only to recognize how to help

Zen minus Buddhism = Taoism Zen

Thank you for pointing out the fundamental problem of Zen vs Buddhism. Buddhism, in it all its many, many different lineages, is nearly always a religion or a spiritual path. Zen, however, is not a religion or spiritual path. But it's also wrong to say that it is a religion or a spiritual path. I know I just did, but ignore that.

It is actually not, not a religion. Zen simply is what it is, and everything we know or don't know also is what it is. Sitting in meditation, one transcends ordinary reality, which is actually an illusion that we mistake for reality. If we're diligent, we get a taste of enlightenment, which is reality as it is w/o our ego, mind, preferences, past experiences etc coloring what is right in front of us.

One of the main problems w/ all of this is words. Each word means something different to different people, but no word "is" what we're talking about. It's only a symbol. So words are a serious problem. However, its very simple to avoid this word dilemma by just sitting down and practicing meditation and/or mindfulness. While the practice of it may seem exceedingly simple, the discipline required to do so is not. Still, that's the path, and it works.

That's a great explanation, Steve, of what the Buddha taught. And also of the later Zen teachings, as you say.

"Sitting in meditation, one transcends ordinary reality, which is actually an illusion that we mistake for reality."

As far as the quoted portion, do you speak of your own experience here? Or is it merely your understanding of the teachings?

If you do actually speak from and of your own experience, then I'd love to hear some more about it.

If you're simply presenting your understanding of the teachings, then sure, that is well said, those are indeed the teachings; but that's all they are, teachings, that is to say some words spoken by some folks, is all, and there's all kinds of teachings out there, a great many of them just as wonderful, I mean just walk into any church and hear any minister or preacher of priest spout his piece.

But again: if it's your own direct experience you're discussing here, then you might consider commenting again in greater detail, specifically about those experiences. I'm sure your account will make for very interesting reading.

I'm unsure that more detail could be given, it becomes sort of a self referential, circular loop because this is online, and all we are able to work with is words. Even body language, which is missing online, is a much more effective way of communicating than simply words.

What we're talking about is a personal experience of Zen vs THE experience? Certainly, Zen can't be learned from a book or probably even a Zen teacher, although an authentic teacher can illustrate Zen w/ their own life and how they respond to whatever comes their way. Which means it isn't really important what they think or say, the important thing is what they do. It's best to teach by non teaching. That's what is meant by "when the student is ready, the teacher appears". It's not as if the teacher magically appears out of nowhere. It really means that when we begin to awaken we understand that the teacher was always there in the first place, and all things are our teacher. Not a person.

The author of this article really nailed the salient point that Zen is not Buddhism. Anyone who has ever gone to a Zen Center quickly understands they have entered a church of sorts. There is the teacher in front (the leader, and sometimes even a Zen priest), the students (the laity) who sit on their cushions (the pews), w/ the incense burning and black robes (the Catholic church), etc. None of this has anything to do w/ Zen. Its a definitive structure handed down from formal Japanese Zen Buddhist practice, or what I call tight ass Japanese Zen. It's a top down organization if ever there was one, w/ a million rules.

The main takeaway, and maybe the only takeaway, is that until we stop trying to understand Zen we will never understand it. It has to be experienced, something that is, oddly enough, expressed in the Buddhist teaching of the Eightfold Path. That lays out things in terms of right speech, right action etc, but maintains that the most important of all is right view.

Right view means no view: we see reality as it is, w/o our conditioning, education, culture and likes and dislikes. When we have right view we automatically have the other 7 views because they're all incorporated in it. The only way I know of to achieve right view is to be in the present moment and get out of our heads/minds. The most expedient way to do that is through sitting and walking meditation, or non doing, and we need to keep doing it because all things are impermanent. Even enlightenment. One never becomes enlightened, enlightenment is always there right in front of us. We awaken to the moment, and that lasts as long as it lasts.

Thanks for that response, Steve.

That mindfulness practice and insight meditation --- or simply “sitting”, I suppose (I’m not personally familiar with zazen, or anything Zen, not at first-hand) --- lets us directly see the illusory nature of the reality we see around us, which is what you’d said, is exactly what the Buddha taught. I was wondering if you were simply talking of these teachings, or discussing what you’ve yourself experienced. If the latter, then I was wondering if you could put that experience in words, specifically that experience itself. That’s what I’d been asking about. Afraid that remains unaddressed.

But absolutely, I fully appreciate that even should you be speaking from direct experience, even then to verbalize this may be difficult, impossible even. After all the Buddha himself couldn’t do that, and left it all unsaid. (Provisionally taking the Buddha story and the Buddhistic claims at face value for now, I mean to say.)

And in any case, I understand and agree with what you’re saying, about the additional difficulty in expressing all of this via impersonal text-only messages.

Enjoyed reading your response, Steve. And I appreciate your taking the time and effort to articulate all of that. Cheers.

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