Saturday, January 19, 2013

Teaching Zen

Previously on the blog was the topic of turning the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn into a class for the Buddha Dharma University. The book is a collection of episodes of Seung Sahn teaching Zen to students via live interaction, Dharma talks, and letters.

The book gives a great look into the teachings and teaching methods of an awakened Zen Master. Throughout the history of Zen and Buddhism, there have been many teachers to come and go. Along with them have been many different styles of teachings.

For example, there are many Sutras (teachings) that have been written throughout the centuries. Because there are many different schools of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, these Sutras cater to many different audiences, with many different aptitudes. These teachings are often helpful. Sometimes they are used to help people wake up. Sometimes people use them to try to understand Buddhist philosophy.

Going in another direction are the teachings of the Patriarchs. These were Zen masters who tried to help people wake up by directly pointing to their true nature. They used their understanding of the absolute - ideas such as "not good, not bad" and "don't make same and different" to help their students to keep a "don't know" mind. These teachers were not sharing what they found out, they were trying to help their students find it for themselves.

ZM Seung Sahn clearly falls in the patriarch category. He is never portrayed as a man of knowledge who doles out advice on ho to live. He is not championing his political opinions or his ideas on the best way to live. Refreshingly, he never evens answers the question of What is Enlightenment. (Since the big E is beyond words - how could he?)

To an outsider, it might seem he spends most of his time confusing his students! Spending a little time with this, we begin to see why this is. Because enlightenment is beyond words - it is useless to try to explain it. Instead he tries to get people to see it for themselves.

Everyone already has their ideas. They think they have some answer for the big questions of life. If Zen Masters try to give their own answers, they are simply adding to the mass of philosophy that is already out there. Instead, as in this case, we are provided with live words. Words that help us to keep don't know mind, to cut through the delusion in front of us and to wake up.