By Masao Abe
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
3:3 (June, 1976)
Copyright 1976 by D. Reidel
People often ask, "Is Zen a form of Buddhism?" The
answer to this question is both yes and no. The answer should be "Yes"
because, historically speaking, Zen is a form of Buddhism which was
founded by Bodhidharma in China in the sixth century. It developed in
China and Japan, later taking the form of the 'Zen sect', with its own
particular temples, rituals, priesthoods, and religious orders. In this
sense, Zen should be called a form of Buddhism which stands side by side
with other forms of Buddhism, such as the T'ien-t'ai sect, the Hua-yen
sect, the Chen-yen sect, and the Ching-t'u sect, i.e., Pure Land
Buddhism. Further, not only in terms of temples, rituals, priesthood,
and religious orders, but also in terms of teaching, thought, and
practice, Zen, in the course of its long history, has come to have its
own particular forms comparable to the other schools of Buddhism. This
may be called the 'traditional Zen sect'.
At the same time, however, the answer to the question, "Is Zen a
form of Buddhism?" should be "No", because Zen is not merely one form of
Buddhism, but rather, in its fundamental nature, is the basic source of
all forms of Buddhism. This idea has been expressed by Zen in the
statement: "Zen is the integrating storehouse of the Buddha-dharma."
Zen, in this sense, is no less than what may be called "Zen itself".
That Zen is the root of all forms of Buddhism can be seen in the
following basic expressions:
Not relying on words or letters.
transmission outside the teaching of the scriptures.
pointing to man's Mind.
Awakening of one's (Original-) Nature,
thereby actualizing one's own Buddhahood.
Before elucidating the meaning of these four classes and, more
important, before explaining the reason why Zen can be said to be the
very root and source of all forms of Buddhism, a review of the nature
and development of Buddhism is in order.
II. THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF BUDDHISM
What we call Buddhism
today dates from `Saakyamuni Buddha, who lived in the northeastern part
of India around the fifth century B.C. `Saakyamuni means 'the sage
from the tribe of the `Saakyas'. His family name was Gautama, his given
name, Siddhaartha. After his Enlightenment or Awakening, Siddhaartha
Gautama came to be called the Buddha by his disciples and followers. The
term 'Buddha' is not a proper noun, but a common noun. It means 'an
Enlightened One' or 'an Awakened One'. What was it to which he became
enlightened or awakened? To Dharma -- to the truth! The term 'Buddha' is
thus a common noun which can be applied not only to Siddhaartha Gautama
but to anyone who is enlightened by or who awakens to the Dharma, i.e.,
In this sense, the term 'Buddha' has some affinity to the term
'Christ'. In Christianity, one speaks of "Jesus Christ". 'Jesus' is the
given name of the person who was born of Mary as the son of a carpenter
at Nazareth, at the beginning of the Christian Era. 'Christ', however,
is a common noun which means 'the Anointed One' or 'Messiah'.
Accordingly, the term 'Christ' could be, in the nature of the term,
applicable not only to Jesus of Nazareth but also to anyone who is
qualified to be called "the Anointed One". The Jews do not apply the
term 'Christ' to Jesus of Nazareth, simply because they do not regard
Jesus of Nazareth as the 'Christ' -- although many of them regard Jesus
as a prophet.
I understand that to make clear the essential relationship
between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ, that is, the hoped-for
Messiah, Paul Tillich carefully used the phrase, 'Jesus as the
Christ'. Following Tillich's example, Buddhists should correctly say
"Siddhaartha as the Buddha", or "Gautama as the Buddha".
There is, however, a great difference between the 'Buddha' and
the 'Christ'. In Christianity the title, the 'Christ' can properly be
applied only to Jesus of Nazareth. In Buddhism, on the other hand, the
title, 'Buddha' can legitimately be applied not only to Siddhaartha, but
to anyone who attains enlightenment or awakens to the Dharma. Thus, in
Buddhism there are many Buddhas, indeed innumerable Buddhas. This great
difference arises for the following two reasons: first, in Christianity,
'Christ' is the 'Messiah' with a heavenly character which necessarily
cannot be ascribed just to anyone. In Buddhism, however, 'Buddha' is one
awakens to the Dharma, and the possibility of awakening to the Dharma
can be attributed to any person in so far as he is a man. Secondly, in
Christianity, Jesus as the Christ is the Son of God, the only
incarnation of God in the history of the world; consequently, his
historical existence is positively essential as the final (i.e., last,
genuine, and decisive) revelation of God. In Buddhism, however,
Siddhaartha is not the only Enlightened One in the history of man. What
is essential to Buddhism is not Siddhaartha's historical existence, but
the Dharma he realized. This characteristic of Buddhism is clearly
expressed in the well-known passage, "Regardless of the appearance or
non-appearance of the Tathaagata (`Saakyamuni Buddha) in this world, the
Dharma is always present". In marked contrast to the Christian
understanding of Jesus Christ or Jesus as the Christ, who is the center
of history as the final revelation of God, Gautama Buddha or Siddhaartha
as the Buddha is neither the center of history, the final revelation,
nor the final Awakening.
So then, does Siddhaartha as the Buddha have no special position
in Buddhism? It may be said that he is the first person who awakened to
the Dharma and who thereby became a Buddha. He is the first person in
the history of the world who realized what the Dharma is, and the one
who also mastered with his whole existence how the Dharma can be
realized, that is, the way to the Dharma. This is precisely the reason
he is called the founder of Buddhism. Essentially speaking, however,
anyone can become a Buddha, just as Siddhaartha did, if one follows the
same path. In this sense, Buddhism can rightly be said to be the
"Teaching of becoming a Buddha" as well as the "Teaching of the Buddha".
On the other hand, Christianity, while it may be called the "Teaching
of the Christ", can never rightly be said to be the "Teaching of
becoming a Christ".
In Christianity, also, the medieval spirituality of the
'imitation of Christ', and especially the doctrine of the Eucharist
indicate that the Christian has to become one with Christ as Christ is
one with the Father. In Christianity, however, Christ with whom the
Christian has to become one is the only genuine and decisive revelation
and the center of history. To become one with Christ means to
participate in Him. Therefore, one does not become a Christ in the same
sense as one can 'become a Buddha'.
The fact that Siddhaartha as the Buddha, `Saakyamuni Buddha, is
neither the only Buddha, the center of history, nor the final Awakening
to the Dharma, was clearly and impressively expressed by `Saakyamuni
Shortly before his death, `Saakyamuni addressed AAnanda, one of his
ten great disciples, and others who were anxious at the prospect of
losing the Master: "O AAnanda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on
yourselves and do not rely on external help. Hold fast to the Dharma as a
lamp. Seek salvation alone in the Dharma. Look not for assistance to
anyone besides yourselves." Obviously, when he said to his disciples,
"Do not rely on external help", and "Look not for assistance to anyone
besides yourselves", he included himself in terms of 'external help' and
he excluded himself in terms of 'assistance'. He said this despite the
fact that he, `Saakyamuni Buddha, had been a teacher of AAnanda and the
others for many years. It may not, however, be clear at first how the
following two passages in his statement are related to each other: "Rely
on yourselves" and "Seek salvation alone in the Dharma"; or "Be ye
lamps unto yourselves" and "Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp". In this
address, `Saakyamuni did not identify the Dharma with himself. He
identified the 'Dharma' with the individual disciple and further, he
emphasized this identity in the concrete situation of his death.
In Buddhism, as you may gather from what has been said, the
Dharma is beyond everyone -- beyond even `Saakyamuni Buddha, the founder
of Buddhism. This is the reason why it is often said, as quoted before,
"Regardless of the appearance or non-appearance of the Tathaagata
(`Saakyamuni Buddha) in this world, the Dharma is always present". Who,
then, is rightly qualified to talk about the Dharma in its absolute
universality? Is one who does not realize the Dharma qualified to talk
about it? Certainly not! For, through one's conceptual understanding and
one's objectivization of it, the total universality of the Dharma
becomes an empty or dead universality. Hence, only one who has realized
the Dharma with his whole existence can talk about it in total
universality. Although Dharma transcends everyone, including `Saakyamuni
Buddha and is present universally, there is no Dharma without someone
to realize it. Apart from the 'realizer' there is no Dharma. In other
words, the Dharma is realized as the Dharma with its universality only
through a particular realizer. `Saakyamuni Buddha is none other than the
first 'realizer' of Dharma. He is not, however, the only realizer of
Dharma. In the sense that `Saakyamuni is a realizer of Dharma with its
total universality, he may be said to be a center of the Buddhist faith,
but he is certainly not the center of the Buddhist faith since everyone
can become a center as a
realizer of Dharma, a Buddha. The significance of `Saakyamuni's
historical existence is equal with that of every other 'realizer' of
Dharma, except that `Saakyamuni was the first.
How can we hold to these two apparently contradictory aspects of
Dharma: its total universality and its dependency upon a particular man
for realization? The answer lies in the fact that one's realization of
the Dharma is nothing but the Self-Awakening of Dharma itself. Your
Awakening is, of course, your own Awakening. It is your awakening to the
Dharma in its complete universality, and this awakening is possible
only by overcoming your self-centeredness, i.e., only through the total
negation of your ego-self. This self-centeredness is the fundamental
hindrance for the manifestation of Dharma. Therefore, when the
self-centeredness is overcome and selflessness is attained, i.e.,
anaatman is realized, Dharma naturally awakens to itself. Accordingly,
the self-awakening of Dharma has the following double sense. First, it
is your Self-Awakening in your ego-less true Self. Secondly, it is the
Self-Awakening of Dharma itself in and through your whole existence.
It was on the basis of this 'Self-Awakening of Dharma' that
`Saakyamuni said without any sense of contradiction, "Rely on
yourselves", and "Seek salvation alone in the Dharma". The statements,
"Be ye lamps unto yourselves" and "Hold fast to the Dharma as a lamp",
are complementary and not contradictions. One's self as the ultimate
reliance is not the ego-self, but rather, the 'true Self' as the
'realizer of Dharma'. Just as `Saakyamuni's awakening was the
Self-Awakening of Dharma in the double sense mentioned above, so
anyone's awakening to the Dharma can and should be the Self-Awakening of
Dharma in the same sense.
This is the basic standpoint of Buddhism, which was clarified by
`Saakyamuni himself through his life after his Awakening and
particularly, as mentioned before, as he approached death. His death,
however, was an extraordinary shock for all his disciples and followers.
It was indeed a great shock for them not only because they lost their
revered teacher but also because they faced the undeniable fact that
even `Saakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One, was subject to decay like
themselves. Thus, they gradually thought of the meaning of his death and
began to idealize his existence and personality. This led to the
development of variegated and profound Buddhologies, that is, the
doctrinal interpretations of the meaning of `Saakyamuni Buddha.
Buddhism has experienced various schisms both in the early days
after `Saakyamuni's death (especially in the development of the Buddhist
Order) and in later years (particularly in the development of
Buddhology). The basic division is that between Southern Buddhism which
is called Theravaada or Hiinayaana, and Northern Buddhism, that is,
Mahaayaana. The former is based on what Edward Conze calls the "Old
Wisdom School", especially the Theravaadin School which is
conservative in its practice of the monastic life and is apt to be
formalistic. On the other hand, Mahaayaana originated in the
Mahaasa^nghika, i.e., the Great Assembly, which was more liberal and
progressive, and which included monks of lesser attainment and even
householders. In contrast to this, the exclusive and aristocratic
Theravaada Assembly centered upon arhats, i.e., the accomplished saints.
Theravaada Buddhism spread in Ceylon and Southeast Asia, while
Mahaayaana Buddhism developed in China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan. In the
course of its development, Buddhism produced many holy scriptures. This
is especially true of Mahaayaana Buddhism. In India, China, Tibet, and
Japan, various schools arose in Mahaayaana such as Maadhyamika,
Yogaacaara, T'ien-t'ai, Hua-yen, Chen-yen, Ch'an (that is Zen),
Ching-t'u, and Nichiren sects.
III. KYOOSOO-HANJAKU (CHIAO HSIANG P'AN SHIH)
When a new sect was
established, particularly in China and to some extent in Japan, there
arose the practice of kyoosoo-hanjaku, chiao hsiang p'an shih [a], the
judgement and interpretation of the various facets of Buddha's
teachings. In my own view, kyoosoo-hanjaku was needed for two reasons,
one historical, the other, theological. First, as to the historical
reason. Those which are called the Mahaayaana sutras came into being
intermittently over a period nearly one thousand years. They grew out of
different situations of thought over a broad geographic area. Thus, the
Mahaayaana suutras, which are many in number, do not necessarily have
consistency; on the contrary, they show a great deal of divergence in
their teaching. Further, these Mahaayaana suutras were, from time to
time, according to the particular occasion, introduced and translated
into Chinese by various people without any over-all systematic program.
Perplexed by the divergences in the suutras (all coming under the name
of Buddhism), Chinese Buddhists felt a need to try to systematize them
by judging and classify-
ing them. This is the historical reason for the need of
The idea of kyoosoo-hanjaku, however, is based on a more
essential and theological principle. Certain of the great Buddhists and
Buddhist scholars who later became founders of new sects had a very
serious and keen religious concern as to what was the genuine spirit of
Buddhism and as to which suutra most clearly and sufficiently
represented that spirit. From such a concern, kyoosoo-hanjaku, i.e., the
evaluating and grading of the various suutras by new and profound
standards, was developed. Accordingly, kyoosoo-hanjaku is not merely an
arrangement or classification of the Mahaayaana suutras into a system or
a synthesis, but is rather a critical and creative founding of a new
Buddhist system on the basis of what was believed to be the true spirit
of Buddhism. Other facets of Buddha's teaching were not excluded, but
were embraced in different stages on the way to the ultimate truth
represented by the new school. The establishment of a new sect of
Buddhism in China and in Japan was almost inconceivable without some
kind of kyoosoo-hanjaku. The most typical examples of kyoosoo-hanjaku in
China are the 'Five Periods and Eight Doctrines' (wu shih pa chiao [b])
of the T'ien-t'ai sect and the 'Five Doctrines and Ten Tenets' (wu
chiao shih tsung [c]) of the Hua-yen sect. In Japan, the arguments of
Kooboo Daishi, the Great Teacher, on the kenmitsunikyoo (hsien mi erh
chiao [d]) and the juujuushin (shih chu hsin [e]), and the nisooshijuu
(erh shuan shih chung [f]) system of Shinran may be mentioned as other
examples. In the early history of Buddhism in India a means of
distinguishing Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana appeared which, while it cannot
be called kyoosoo-hanjaku in its strict sense, may be said to be an
anticipation of it.
What is more interesting and noteworthy in this connection,
however, is this: in some cases of kyoosoo-hanjaku, by opening up a new
religious dimension in Buddhism, or by giving an entirely new
interpretation to certain suutras, almost all extant forms of Buddhism
were discarded or at least classified as entirely secondary. Notable
examples of this sort of kyoosoo-hanjaku are: Kenkyoo (hsien-chiao [g])
or Exoteric Buddhism versus Mikkyoo (mi chiao [h]) or Esoteric Buddhism,
Shoodo-mon (Sheng tao men [i]) or Holy way gate versus Joodo-mon
(ching-tu men [j]) or Pure Land Gate and, with reservations which have
to be explained, but in a sense as the clearest and most unique example,
Kyoo (chiao [k]) or the teachings versus Zen ch'an [l]).
In these cases, the whole of Buddhism was divided in half not by
classifying the extant forms of Buddhism into two groups, but by
standing beyond all existing forms of Buddhism and by disclosing a new
religious dimension lying at the heart of Buddhism. This newly
discovered aspect of the faith may have only faintly appeared on the
surface of Buddhism before this. This was indeed a revolutionary
development, since it created a new antithetical position over against
the existing forms of Buddhism by radically criticizing their
foundations. Naturally the new position was criticized in turn as
heretical by the established forms of Buddhism. Nevertheless, the new
form of Buddhism usually insisted that it was the real source of
Buddhism, while all other forms were but secondary or derived
It was especially the Chen-yen, that is the Shingon sect, which
established the distinction between Exoteric Buddhism and Esoteric
Buddhism, insisting that, whereas Exoteric Buddhism focuses upon the
oral or recorded teaching of the historical `Saakyamuni Buddha, Esoteric
Buddhism was the secret and much more profound teaching of
Mahaavairocana Buddha -- the formless and colorless Dharma-kaaya, i.e.,
Truth itself. Most forms of Buddhism, according to the Shingon sect, are
nothing but Exoteric Buddhism, which is an offshoot of genuine
Buddhism, i.e., Esoteric Buddhism represented by the Shingon sect
Pure Land Buddhism set up the contrast between the Holy Way Gate
and the Pure Land Gate, the distinction often referred to as jiriki-mon
(chih li men [m]), i.e., the Self-Power Gate and tariki-mon (ta li men
[n]), i.e., the Other-Power Gate. Pure Land Buddhism insists that while
up to now all schools of Buddhism have emphasized Awakening through
one's 'self-power', we are now in the mappoo, i.e., the latter days for
which the Holy Way Gate or Self-Power Gate is no longer suitable. Only
the Pure Land Gate or Other-Power Gate is proper for an essentially
powerless mankind. It also maintains that the Pure Land Gate, however,
had existed from the very beginning, and was provided by Amida Buddha
who foresaw the suffering of people during mappoo and thus fulfilled his
vow of universal salvation.
Zen also makes a sharp distinction between what we call Kyoo and
Zen. Kyoo literally means 'teaching', and in the present case 'doctrine'
or 'scripture'. Strictly speaking, however, this kind of distinction
should not be called kyoosoo-hanjaku, i.e., "judgement and
interpretation of various facets of Buddha's teachings". On the
contrary, Zen takes a stand over against the 'teaching' as such.
At any rate, kyoosoo-hanjaku was practiced by each newly
established form of Buddhism which critically evaluated and somewhat
belittled all the then existing forms of Buddhism.
To be precise, the distinction between Exoteric and Esoteric
Buddhism was made by 'Esoteric Buddhism', that between the Holy Way Gate
and the Pure Land Gate was established by the "Pure Land Gate", while
the contrast between Kyoo and Zen was set up by 'Zen'. This means that
the characterization of Exoteric Buddhism, the Holy Way Gate, or Kyoo
was put forth not by these groups themselves, but by the newer forms of
Buddhism. In other words, the various forms of Buddhism classified by
Esoteric Buddhism as 'Exoteric Buddhism' do not necessarily call
themselves 'Exoteric Buddhism'. The same is true of the 'Holy Way Gate'
or 'Kyo'. In exactly the same way, the distinction between Hiinayaana
and Mahaayaana was made by Mahaayaana Buddhism.
Further, as I said above, these newly established Buddhist
positions respectively constitute an antithesis over against the
hitherto existing forms of Buddhism by radically criticizing their
spiritual foundations. They usually insist that their own positions are
the real source or root of Buddhism from which all other existing forms
of Buddhism come and to which they may be reduced. This sort of
revolutionary development has taken place over and over in Buddhist
history. This way of establishing an entire new form of Buddhism (by
means of kyoosoo-hanjaku) has been possible in the course of Buddhist
history because the ultimate truth of Buddhism, i.e., the Dharma, does
not represent an all-controlling principle such as the 'Will of God',
but rather, anaatman (non-ego) or `suunyataa, often translated as a
non-substantial 'Emptiness' or 'Void'.
In summary, Buddhism and particularly Mahaayaana Buddhism, based
on the idea of anaatman or `suunyaata, developed itself freely and
richly according to the spiritual climate of the time and place into
which it was introduced. Thus, throughout its long history in India,
China, and Japan, Buddhism produced many divergent forms which are
radically different from the original form of Buddhism preached by
`Saakyamuni. Nevertheless, they were not driven out from the Buddhist
world, but became spiritual fountainheads from which new spirits of
Buddhism emanated. In this connection it may be interesting to note that
one Buddhist scholar regards the history of Buddhism as a history of
heresy, meaning by this that Buddhism has developed itself by means of
heresy and by constantly
embracing various heresies.
In the West, where Mahaayaana Buddhism is relatively unknown,
people are apt to judge the whole of Buddhism by taking the 'original'
form of Buddhism preached by `Saakyamuni as their standard. Such a
static view fails to appreciate the dynamic development of Buddhism. The
diversity and profundity of the history of Buddhism, especially of
Mahaayaana, is no less rich than the whole history of Western philosophy
or religion. It is a development coming out of the inexhaustible spring
of anaatman or `suunyataa. Yet, this 'history of heresy' in Buddhism
has evolved without serious bloody inquisitions or religious wars. In
this respect it was the practice of kyoosoo-hanjaku, backed up by the
idea of anaatman or `suunyataa, that made the decisive difference.
IV. KYOO AND ZEN
Now, to return to the distinction between Kyoo
and Zen, all forms of Buddhism, according to Zen, are based upon the
'teaching' delivered by `Saakyamuni, i.e., the teaching spoken and
written as suutras. Generally, the Buddhist suutras were believed to be
the records of `Saakyamuni's sermons and were considered the source and
norm of Buddhism. Nowadays, however, as a result of historical and
text-critical studies of the scriptures, it is known that the so-called
suutras do not necessarily record the ipsissima verba of `Saakyamuni;
but many of them, particularly the Mahaayaana suutras, were composed
much later than `Saakyamuni. Until this became known, however, the
suutras were generally regarded by Buddhists as the ultimate foundation
and authority of Buddhism. Thus, according to the traditional Buddhist
view, the final norm of truth was contained in the suutras; that which
had no basis in the suutras could not be called Buddhist truth.
Each Buddhist school has its own particular suutra (or suutras)
as the ultimate authority for its teaching. For example, the Hua-yen
School has the Avata^msaka Suutra, the T'ien-t'ai and the Nichiren
Schools, the Saddharma-pu.n.dariika Suutra; and the Pure Land School,
the 'three Pure Land Suutras' (i.e., the larger and smaller
Sukhaavatii-vyuuha and the Amitaayur-dhyaana Suutras).
To prove that they are Buddhist and that their teaching is true,
the various schools have recourse to their authoritative scriptures.
Zen, however, has no such authoritative scripture upon which it is
based. This does not mean that it arbitrarily ignores scriptures, but
rather that it dares to
be independent of scripture. In other words, Zen seeks to return to
the source of the suutras -- that is, to that which is 'prior to' the
suutras. 'Prior to the suutras' here does not mean prior in a temporal
or historical sense. It rather means the spiritual source which is
'prior to' what is expressed in the suutras. This source is the
Self-Awakening of `Saakyamuni which, in Zen, is often expressed by the
term 'Mind'. Being independent of the suutras or scriptures, Zen tries
to transmit this Self-Awakening from person to person and from
generation to generation. This is the meaning of the first two phrases
of the basic expressions of Zen which I mentioned previously. That is:
"not relying on words or letters", and "the independent transmission
outside the teaching of the scriptures".
When Zen was founded with this realization as its background, it
distinguished itself from all other forms of Buddhism based on suutras,
calling them 'Kyoo' or 'Buddhism standing within Kyoo'. Accordingly,
from the Zen point of view, the whole of Buddhism was divided into two
groups, that is Kyoo and Zen, or 'Buddhism within the teaching' and
'Buddhism outside the teaching'. Strictly speaking, Zen did not divide
Buddhism into two groups, but by criticizing and standing somewhat
outside of all the hitherto existing forms of Buddhism, Zen opened up a
new religious foundation within Buddhism which had been obscured by the
dogmatism and philosophical speculations rampant in Buddhism until that
Hence Zen is "an independent transmission outside the teaching or
scripture". Therefore 'outside the teaching' does not mean outside
Buddhism; rather, it means the source of that which is 'within the
teaching'. In other words, considered from the point of view of suutras,
Zen is 'outside the teaching'; however, looked at from the religious
realization expressed in the suutras, Zen is even more 'within' than
what is ordinarily called Buddhism. From the Zen point of view, what is
usually thought to be 'inside the teaching' is, in fact, 'outside'. Zen
makes its main concern a direct entering into the Mind.
We now turn to the meaning of 'Mind' in Zen Buddhism. The 'Mind'
with which Zen is concerned is neither mind in a psychological sense nor
consciousness in its ordinary sense. It is Self-Awakening of the Dharma
through which one becomes an Awakened One.
It is this Mind, the source of the scriptures, which was referred
to in the previously cited phrases. "Directly pointing to man's Mind",
and "Awakening his (Original-) Nature, and thereby actualizing his
hood". By the word 'Nature' in the phrase 'Awakening his (Original-)
Nature' is meant man's true way of being. In Buddhism, this is generally
called, Buddha-Nature or Mind-Nature which is simply another term for
Dharma. In Zen, however, it is called 'self-nature' or 'One's Original
Face', expressions which are far more intimate. This is because, in Zen,
Buddha-Nature or Dharma is by no means something foreign to one's true
Self-Nature. For Zen, it is precisely the original nature of man which
is the Buddha-Nature; it is precisely 'man's Mind' which is the
'Buddha-Mind'. Apart from this 'Mind of man', there is nothing which can
be truly called 'Buddha' or 'Dharma'. Again, we do not see for Buddha
or Dharma outside of 'Mind'.
In spite of `Saakyamuni's emphasis on reliance on oneself as a
lamp, most followers (and the later Buddhist Schools) idealized
`Saakyamuni as an object of worship or took the teaching of suutras
(which were regarded as his own work) as the authoritative basis for
Buddhism. Yet, in so doing, they relied on something in the past, i.e.,
the historical `Saakyamuni, or the suutras as the record of his reputed
teachings. They searched for ultimate salvation more or less as a future
ideal not to be actualized in the present. In contrast to this
attitude, Zen emphasizes: "Directly pointing to man's Mind, Awakening
his (Original-) Nature and thereby actualizing his Buddhahood."
'Directly' in this phrase does not necessarily mean 'immediately' in a
temporal sense, but 'right now' in the absolute present which is beyond
past, present, and future. Hence Zen insists on entering directly into
the source 'prior to' the suutras. Radically criticizing every other
form of Buddhism, Zen faithfully returns to the realization of
`Saakyamuni, that is, to Self-Awakening of the Dharma.
Christianity too is not, needless to say, the religion of a book.
What is important for a Christian is the divine Revelation as the
living Christ ever present and effective rather than the Bible. The
Christ-experience, which a Christian reenacts in himself, is the
foundation of his faith. In this sense, Christianity too is based on
something beyond the Bible, something prior to the Bible. However, a
Christian can rightly approach what is beyond the Bible only through the
biblical canon. With the exception of the Society of Friends, which
often does not rely on the Bible, Christianity may be said to be of the
same type of religion as most forms of Buddhism which Zen calls Kyoo.
V. TRANSCENDING THE SCRIPTURES
The Zen position of transcending
the Scriptures is seen in the following cases. Chung-feng (1263-1323), a
Chinese Zen master of the Yuan dynasty said, "With words of Mahaayaana
Scriptures and discourses, memories exist in the mind. This is, what is
called gaining understanding by something other (than oneself). It
hinders the way of Self-Awakening."
One day the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, a devoted Buddhist
follower, requested Fu Ta-shih (497-569), an outstanding lay Zen
Buddhist of that day to discourse on the Diamond Suutra. Taking a chair,
Fu Ta-shih sat solemnly in it, but uttered not a word. The Emperor
said: "I asked you to give a discourse, so why do you not begin to
speak?" Shih, one of the Emperor's attendants, said: "Your Majesty, Fu
Ta-shih has finished discoursing." What kind of a sermon did this silent
philosopher deliver? One Zen master, commenting on this
story later on said: "What an eloquent sermon it was!"
The following story clearly shows the contrast between Zen and
A monk once asked Lin-chi (?-866), a famous Chinese Zen
master of the T'ang dynasty: "The twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles
of the Buddha's teaching reveal the Buddha-nature, do they not?"
Lin-chi answered : "This weed-patch has never been spaded." This puzzled
the monk who was a lecture-master and who made his living by
discoursing on the various scriptures. The twelve divisions of the Three
Vehicles of the Buddha's teaching are nothing but the foundation of
that Buddhism which Zen called Kyoo. Wondering why Zen intentionally
found its position outside of the twelve divisions of the Buddha's
teaching, the monk had raised the qestion which was quite understandable
to ordinary Buddhists of those days. What, then, did Lin-chi's answer
mean? For Lin-chi, such things as the twelve divisions of the Buddha's
teaching were merely weeds. Elsewhere, Lin-chi even said: "The twelve
divisions of the Three Vehicles of the Buddha's teaching are all toilet
paper." Lin-chi was telling the monk two things: first, that the monk
had not yet begun to 'spade the weed patch' of his own mind, and
secondly, that Lin-chi had never bothered, since his own awakening, to
seek the Buddha-nature in the 'weed patch' of scriptural verbiage. With
this implication in his answer, Lin-chi directly pointed to what we call
'man's Mind' by breaking through the bondage of the monk to the
scriptures. Studying the scriptures, religious
literature and massive commentaries, students of religion are apt to
miss the living religious truth by being captured by words. Lin-chi's
answer -- "This weed-patch has never been spaded" -- was a severe
criticism of such a superficial, verbal understanding. It also served to
liberate the monk from his bondage to the scriptures. To Lin-chi's
answer, the monk then replied: "How could the Buddha deceive us?" For
the monk, the twelve divisions of the Three Vehicles were the true and
authoritative words of Buddha himself. To call them a 'weed patch' or
worse, 'toilet paper', was unpardonable. The sacred word preached by the
Buddha could not be in error. And so the monk retorted: "How could the
Buddha deceive us?" Lin-chi then said: "Where is Buddha?" Then, the
monk, who had spoken so highly of the scriptures, fell silent, Lin-chi,
of course, would have rejected the answer that the Buddha was in India
in the fifth century B.C. In a somewhat similar vein, you will remember
that Soren Kierkegaard emphasized 'contemporaneity' (Gleichzeitigkeit)
with Jesus Christ as the necessary condition for faith. In his book
Philosophical Fragments, he wrote: "One can be a contemporary (in time)
without being contemporary (in spirit)" if one has no faith. The
real contemporary is not contemporary by virtue of an external,
immediate contemporaneity, but by virtue of an internal, religious
contemporaneity through faith. For Kierkegaard, to encounter Christ one
must see him not with the eyes of the body, but through the eyes of
faith. As the First Letter of Peter puts it: "Without having seen him
you love him; though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice
with unutterable and exalted joy" (I, 8). The real contemporary, wrote
Kierkegaard, is not an eye-witness in the immediate sense of the word;
he is a contemporary as a believer. Through the eyes of faith every
non-contemporary (in the immediate sense) becomes a contemporary.
Zen, likewise, emphasizes contemporaneity with the Buddha, not by
virtue of an immediate contemporaneity, but by virtue of an internal
contemporaneity. In Christianity, however, the subject of
contemporaneity is the Christ, as we see in His words, "I, when I am
lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John XII, 32).
In Zen, on the other hand, the subject of the contemporaneity is none
other than the person concerned. Not faith in the Buddha, but the
Self-Awakening of the Dharma is essential to Zen. Wu-men Hui-k'ai, a
Chinese Zen master of the Sung dynasty said: "If you pass through (the
gateless barrier of Zen) you will
not only immediately see Joshuu (the great Zen master of the past);
you will also walk hand in hand with the successive Patriarchs, mingling
your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, and hearing with
the same ears." In Zen, to become a contemporary of the Buddha means
that one becomes an Awakened One himself by awakening to the same Dharma
(i.e., the Buddha-nature) to which the historical Buddha and later
Patriarchs awakened. For Zen and for original Buddhism, there is no
Buddha apart from one's own Self-Awakening.
When asked by Lin-chi "Where is Buddha?", the monk, had he really
understood the meaning of 'Buddha', should have pointed to the
Buddha-nature actualized in himself, and said: "Here is a Buddha." As it
was, however, the monk remained speechless. But how different was his
speechlessness from the silence of Fu Ta-shih before Emperor Wu! While
Fu Ta-shih's silence eloquently revealed the Buddha-nature, the
speechlessness of the monk exposed only the powerlessness of a Buddhism
which relies so heavily upon the scriptures.
In his discourses, Lin-chi addressed each person in the audience
as "the one who is, at this moment, right in front of me, solitary,
being illuminated, in full awareness, listening to (my) discourse on the
Dharma". "If you wish to transcend birth-and-death, going-and-coming,
and to be freely unattached, you should recognize the Man who is
listening at this moment to this discourse on the Dharma. He is the one
who has neither shape nor form, neither root nor trunk, and who, having
no abiding place, is full of activities. He responds to all kinds of
situations and manifests his activities, and yet comes out of nowhere.
Therefore, as soon as you try to search for him, he is far away; the
nearer you try to approach, the farther he turns away from you.
'Mysterious' is his name."
We should not miss the point that it is our true Selves that
Lin-chi called 'Man' and 'mysterious'. To awaken to 'Man' or "true Self
who is, at this moment, in full awareness, listening to this discourse
on the Dharma" is nothing but Self-Awakening through which one becomes
an Awakened One, that is, a Buddha. Huang-po, Lin-chi's teacher, and an
outstanding Zen master of T'ang China once said: "Your Mind is Buddha;
Buddha is this Mind. Mind and Buddha are not separate or different."
Buddha is not separate even for one instant from our Minds.
Let me conclude this paper by mentioning one more story.
Nan-chuan, a Chinese Zen master (748-834) was once asked by Pai-chang
one of his fellow monks, if there was a truth that the sages of old
had not preached to men. "There is", said Nan-chuan. "What is this
truth?", asked Pai-chang. "It is not mind", answered Nan-chuan, "It is
not Buddha; it is not a thing." To this, Pai-chang replied: "If so, you
have already talked about it." "I cannot do any better", was Nan-chuan's
answer. "What would you say?" "I am not a great enlightened one. So how
do I know what either talking or non-talking is?" answered Pai-chang.
"I don't understand", said Nan-chuan. "Alas", said Pai-chang, "I have
already said too much for you."
In this paper, in distinguishing Zen from other forms of
Buddhism, I am afraid I too have said too much. But no matter how many
words I use, when we talk about Zen, we can never reach it. On the
contrary, the more I try to explain Zen, the more I seem to go astray.
Since Zen does not rely on words, I ought to be silent. Yet, even if I
remained silent, I would be severly beaten by Teh-shan, another Zen
master of T'ang China (782-865) who said: "Though you can speak, thirty
blows! Though you can't speak, thirty blows!" This is to say, mere
speechlessness is an empty or dead silence. Zen, however, finds itself
in league neither with speech nor with silence, neither with affirmation
nor negation. We can reach Zen only by transcending speech and silence,
affirmation and negation. But what is beyond speech and silence, beyond
affirmation and negation? That is the question.
Nara University of Education,
* This is a revised and enlarged version of a paper
originally published, with limited circulation, in Japan Studies No. 11
in 1968. The author is grateful to Japan Studies for permission to
republish it. He is also thankful for the invaluable suggestions of Dr.
Winston Davis in the earlier stages of the manuscript and of Father John
Brinkman and Mr. Robert Grous in its final stage.
1. There is considerable disagreement about the chronology of the
Buddha's life among scholars: Thomas, 563-483 B.C.: Filliozat, 559-478
B.C. (Inde Classique, nos. 375, 376; pp. 2178, 2209); Nakamura, 463-383
B.C. (Maurya OOchoo no nendai ni tsuite -- On the Age of the Maurya
Dynasty -- Toohoogaku, vol. 10, p. 1, f.).
2. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. II., The University of
Chicago Press, Chicago, 1957, pp. 97-98.
3. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I., 1951, pp. 132-33.
4. Samyutta Nikaaya, Vol. 12, Taisho, Vol. II., p. 84 b.
5. Mahaaparinibbaana Suttanta. See The Teachings of The
Compassionate Buddha, edited by E. A. Burtt, A Mentor Religious Classic,
The New American Library, 1955, p. 49.
6. Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Harper
Torchbooks, p. 89ff.
7. Ibid., p. 119.
8. Bunyuu Masutani: Bukkyo gairon (An Introduction to Buddhism),
Chikuma shobo, Tokyo, 1965, p. 162ff.
9-10. Portions of the discussion from pp. 244-246 are taken from
Shin'ichi Hisamatsu's article, "Zen: Its Meaning for Modem
Civilization", Eastern Buddhist, New Series, Vol. I., No. 1, especially
from p. 23-29.
11. D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Rider and
Company, London, 1948, pp. 75-76.
12. Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, translated by
David F. Swenson, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1936, p. 54.
13. Ibid., p. 57.
14. D. T. Suzuki and others, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis,
Harper and Brothers, New York, 1960, p. 35.