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July 04, 2023


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Koun Yamada Roshi was somewhat famous in the contemporary Zen scene. One reason is that he was a tireless teacher who worked for free. Yamada Roshi was also a remarkable figure because he'd had an earthshaking enlightenment experience:

"At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly that quotation flashed into my consciousness: “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” And I repeated it. Then all at once I was struck as though by lightning, and the next instant heaven and earth crumbled and disappeared. In­stantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly:

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! There’s no reasoning here, no reasoning at all ! Ha, ha, ha ! ” The empty sky split in two, then opened its enor­mous mouth and began to laugh uproariously: “Ha, ha, haf” Later one of the members of my family told me that my laughter had sounded inhuman.

I was now lying on my back. Suddenly I sat up and struck the bed with all my might and beat the floor with my feet, as if trying to smash it, all the while laughing riotously. My wife and youngest son, sleeping near me, were now awake and frightened. Covering my mouth with her hand, my wife exclaimed: “What’s the matter with you? What’s the matter with you?” But I wasn’t aware of this until told about it afterwards. My son told me later he thought I had gone mad.

“I’ve come to enlightenment! Shakyamuni and the Patriarchs haven’t deceived me! They haven’t deceived me!” I remember cry­ing out. When I calmed down I apologized to the rest of the family, who had come downstairs frightened by the commotion.

Prostrating myself before the photograph of Kannon you had given me, the Diamond sutra, and my volume of the book written by Yasutani-roshi, I lit a stick of incense and did zazen until it was consumed half an hour later, though it seemed only two or three minutes had elapsed.

Even now my skin is quivering as I write."


Yamada Roshi came from a Buddhist tradition with a bedrock belief that,

There's no Zen without satori.

I'd add a corollary:

There's no satori without zazen

An even broader corollary:

Without a meditation practice, reading books about meditation, zen, sant mat, or applied neuroscience is a waste of time.

In my opinion , the notion of “ Spirituality “ is rather vacuous if within the context of a physicalist worldview . What does the physicalist mean by “spirit “?

I like the two notions, one of the now and the other of the transcendent.
Human beings do experience things at different levels of understanding. Once a person sees the underlying dynamic of an event, they have a sense that there is more going on, a slightly greater awareness.
And once a person looks in depth at something, they see details unfold they never knew before.
I don't agree that there is no reality to it. Rather, I would say that reality exists in multiple dimensions, and when we grow our awareness, we don't see just one thing from a larger perspective. We also see layers...hence the holographic experience of all things in a grain of sand, and everything around us part of one thing. To witness it is awesome. What does it mean? There is no reflection. It is itself. No cognition required.

Cassiodorus, good question. I see a "spiritual" person as wanting to explore their mind in fairly subtle ways, find more meaning in life through meditation, yoga, or similar practices, delve into various sorts of philosophical and religious texts, etc. A "spirited" person has a certain energy relating to life. They're seeking to learn more about themselves and our place in existence. Not a great word, since it has religious and supernatural connotations, but I keep using it because it is so widely used.

SantMat64, meditation is important for Buddhist growth. But so is insight. The two go together, as Burbea explains in his book. Mindfulness or meditation alone may not lead to a grasp of emptiness and dependent arising, he argues persuasively. It's akin to someone saying "what a beautiful sunset," but not knowing that actually the sun isn't setting, the earth is turning. No amount of contemplation on the sunset will provide that greater knowledge. For that analysis, logic, research is required. That's why analytical meditation is part of Buddhism along with concentrative or mindfulness meditation.

Does anyone really think about what is meant by emptiness?

The word “emptiness” in the Buddhist context has been lost in translation over the past few thousand years.

Emptiness in this context refers to the lack of materiality.

"Dependent Cessation -- The Unfabricated, The Deathless." It seems that Burbea’s main gist is toward emptiness. Emptiness being a main tenet of Chan (or Zen) is obviously important to understand. Anatta," "no self" or "not self." This basic teaching is accepted in all schools of Buddhism, including Theravada. Anatta is a refutation of the Hindu belief in at-man – a soul; an immortal essence of self. Mahayana Buddhism goes further than Theravada. It teaches that all phenomena are without self-essence.

The famous saying of Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin illustrates this: - “Before I had studied Ch'an for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains and rivers once again as rivers.”

Mountains are made up of rocks, trees, grass, snow, water, rivers, ponds, lakes, insects, birds, animals, etc., etc., etc., and all of these things are made up of other things. So, there are no mountains and no rivers. However, we deeply understand that both “mountain” and “river” are merely words that we use to describe the conditioned phenomena in front of us. Neither phenomena are a fixed nor permanent entity that exists in and of itself and possesses inherent existence as “mountain,” or “river.”

One could take this further in seeing mind as the very phenomena it describes (as SantMat64’s quote says: - “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.”

Not seeing this basic emptiness and assuming everything and everyone has or is, a solid, en-during self produces separation and is the Buddhist’s ‘Dukkha’ or suffering – more to do with being lop-sided or out of kilter with life. The end of Dukkha is the end of the illusion of a separate self.

For thousands of years Buddhist adepts and scholars have insisted buddhism is not atheistic. A central tenet of buddhism is that all things are impermanent ... except one thing: Nirvana!

"There is, monks, an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned. If, monks, there were not that unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, you could not know an escape here from the born, become, made, and conditioned. But because there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, therefore you do know an escape from the born, become, made, and conditioned." (Udana 8.3)

Buddhism is nothing without Nirvana. In this quote, the Buddha is describing a state of existence that is beyond the realm of the conditioned, impermanent world and is sometimes referred to as the unconditioned or the transcendent. He is saying that there is a state of being that is unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned and that the attainment of this state is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. This state of being, Nirvana, is described as a state of ultimate peace, freedom, and liberation from suffering.

Buddha clearly says Nirvana is not impermanent, which means it is permanent. It doesn’t come and go. It is eternal.

Similarly, the word God denotes what exists outside of time and is not subject to the limitations and constraints of the temporal world. The question of whether God and Nirvana refer to the exact same thing is a subjective and personal one. It is not possible to make a definitive statement that they are or are not the same thing. Few people have experienced Nirvana and few people have experienced God and those are the only people able to make definitive statements on what each word means. Many near death experiencers talk of a place of absolute love, permanence, light, and ecstasy. We cannot say this is different than what Buddha described as Nirvana. One thing for sure, there are no words or language in those realms so no word is authoritively possible.

Call it awareness, the unborn, or consciousness, it is definitely empty. The empty constant in which all appearances come and go, just as a mirror is empty yet contains the world. Empty, yet in Buddhism, permanent.

Hi Brian:

You wrote...
"I see a "spiritual" person as wanting to explore their mind in fairly subtle ways, find more meaning in life through meditation, yoga, or similar practices, delve into various sorts of philosophical and religious texts, etc. A "spirited" person has a certain energy relating to life. They're seeking to learn more about themselves and our place in existence. Not a great word, since it has religious and supernatural connotations, but I keep using it because it is so widely used."

That is one of the most beautiful, poetic and truthful things I have ever read. Please save it. Please consider posting it to the mission of Church of the Churchless....

Atheists have their God, too....Truth. it is worth devotion and praise and love. They may define it through reductionism, pointing out all that is false. I don't find that approach appealing because I see truth in everything. But I honor its utility and "truthfulness".

And every truly spiritual person loves reality, loves science and knowledge, is interested in learning and practicing science where they can...the systematic development of truthful information, personalities, cults, biases aside, eliminated through principles and mutual agreement.

That devotion to truth, that worship of truth can be defined directly, positively, as the practices and lifestyle you have illustrated in your statement. There is indeed emotion, passion behind it. Philosophy isn't simply respect for truth. It is LOVE of Truth.

But Truth is a difficult thing to get at. Layers are always being peeled away. And those layers that appeared truthful, are just shells. We only know that because something is there underneath to keep us peeling away..

That something may be emptiness. Truth may just be pure reductionism. But maybe as D.T. Suzuki wrote, it is where all possibility exists.

It is often heard in Buddhist circles to
attend to “ just this” . This makes perfect sense in the context of a Buddhism
which tends towards a fundamentally
a-metaphysical orientation . The apophatic path par excellance .

But it seems to me that secular Buddhism comes along and , in effect , says it is not “ just this “ at all . It’s really something much less . Beauty , truth , goodness , feelings , emotions and mind as such are just the by-products of the brains physical and chemical activity , with no independent existence of their own .

Once their material basis is gone , mind and consciousness disappear without a trace . To my lights , philosophical materialism denies the validity of all religions - including Buddhism .


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