An (abbreviated) reply to “Brian Victoria” that I wrote on September 23rd 2014 which might not appear here:

Brian: “In truth, I had no doubt that you would embrace the violence-affirming wartime teachings of such Zen-related leaders as D.T. Suzuki, Omori Sogen, and Sawaki Kodo.”

I know that you became a persona non grata in Japan once, but I am now asking myself – considering your distorting logic (please read again: I embrace persons, not ideologies) – if you have ever studied with Saloth Sar.

“has ended up by finding excuses for killing . . . .” It’s hard to imagine that s.o. who does not kill needs excuses. What happened in the Mahayana is some input of common sense, thus it is indeed possible to say: “I abstain from killing if not in self-defense and defence of another person” – which is also the basis of common Western law. Of course nobody has to rephrase that, as in Zen – and therefore I quoted Pai-chang – we will be detached of dogma anyway and find a “truth” in ourselves, not in scriptures.

A funny thing about the Theravada school: Most soldiers in the Myanmar army have been novices for a couple of months in their life, as it is their tradition, but it obviously is no problem to turn them into soldiers. The army of Myanmar thus consists mainly of former robed Buddhists!

Finally, TNH is not a good example to me, the CIA has seen him active for Thich Tri Quang in Vietnam during the war, it was a militant clique, with the latter ocassionally “receiving afflux from the ARVN” (Army of the Repulic Vietnam, translation mine from the German Wiki). If I’d trust him, I’d suggest to rather compare him to Omori and Kodo, who had learned from their mistakes during the war, but I don’t (…)

(Surprising photo of TNH:


A reply to “Caodemarte” that I wrote on September 15th 2014, has not appeared here:

Caodemarte: What you say is TNH’s official “hagiography”. If you want to know how information about him – that contradicts this hagiography – is suppressed, just watch the “history”-link in his German and English Wikipedia-entries. It starts with Prof. Prebish’s question how s.o. who was not a zen-master in Vietnam can give “transmission” and ends with TNH’s co-ownership of “EIAB” in Waldbröl/Germany. You may know that according to the Vinaya (in which TNH has traditionally ordained) neither suicide (self-immolation) nor the possession of money or investment in real estate is permitted. [If s.o. argues for suicide citing Channa of the Majjhima- and Samyutta-Nikaya, he will probably end in sophistic rhetorics very similar to those that Brian attributes to Buddhist warmongers]. I believe the difference to a guy like Sawaki is that he openly talked about his past and his failures (though perhaps not taking responsibility enough) whereas certain other teachers advise their sangha to better not watch TV and read too much (except their own books, of course). I have found that the Vietnamese in exile are on the average not as fond of TNH as his “official” reputation might suggest and that there are not just a few who subscribe to the view that some Buddhist monks have “played into the hands of the Vietcong” in a tragic way.

I found a piece in my German “Asso-Blog” that I want to share with you. After a brief introduction you will read – in English language – my answers to questions that were originally posted by different people in the “Ask a Teacher”-section of Zenforum International. Of course my answers enraged some teacher(s) and were only online for about 8 hours, before I got banned from the forum. Although the original questions are not always clear anymore, I hope you enjoy my thoughts.

[In light of the recent accusations against Joshu Sasaki, I will give my thoughts.]

Isn’t there a sila, a moral rule against indecent behaviour like fumbling and groping in the Buddhist teaching?

No, this rule is, according to its choice of words, written against adultery.

But isn’t Buddhism aimed at avoiding the suffering of others?

Buddhism is primarily focused on the ending of one’s own suffering. Some of the things named as suffering (birth, death, sickness, ageing) can usually not be avoided, it provides a means to end mental suffering under those conditions. The conditions themselves cannot be changed by following the dharma. Thus Buddhism knows that it is impossible to eradicate suffering from the world per se, but that each individual might change his and her frame of mind when facing events that usually cause suffering.

Therefore exercising the sila cannot end suffering because it does not provide the necessary calming of  differentiating thoughts. It is of course meant to help getting a better society, and thus most of the basic moral rules have long been put into law. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the Eightfold Path there is Right View which is based on an undefiled mind. This mind is an enlightened mind. Without awakening there is no Right Action.

Right action in zen amounts to the realization of the bodhi spirit that avoids bringing suffering to others, but be aware, the ethics of a Bodhisattva are much more complex than that of the Palicanon (obeying a rule of non-violent behavior could result in more harm to a girl who is raped in a public bus than defending her physically).

Would Right Action as being in accord with the sila still not confirm Right and Awakened Mind?

No it won’t. The awakened mind in Zen is one that is not attached, not even to any dogma or words. It knows that there is not only an exercise in non-killing (like in the sila) but also a necessary one in killing (e.g. for soldiers who protect us). It knows that some adultery may just end the suffering of a stagnant marriage and so forth. The one who just practices sila will not find this insight that transcends good and bad and even the categories of a law.

In the case of abuse the abused one will also not eliminate his or her suffering by following the sila but by realizing what I would call a transcendent state of mind in which the dualistic view behind the sila is indeed overcome. All stands and falls with the mindshattering experience that changes one’s course of life, thinking and behaviour. That is at least what Zen is about.

Can a guy like Joshu Sasaki be called awakened, given that the accusations against him are true?

An awakened man is still a fallible man. It is not the advances of a one hundred years old guy that speak against his awakening, it is the ignoring, downplaying or denying of his own needs that are behind them. An old man may still want sex. In most cases, nobody will share it with him. This is a sad fate, and one must not be ashamed to speak of it. A denial goes against Bodhidharma’s legendary saying “Open vastness, nothing sacred”.

It can be debated if it is possible to “fall out” of awakening, getting deluded again. I guess it is. At least dementia is showing us that the state of our brain decides how clearly we can view things. I cannot say if Sasaki has gone through significant brain changes but his behavior makes him an unfit teacher. You may still find insights in him when it comes to Zen, some wisdom that you may also acquire through his speeches and writing.

What we learn here is that the enlightened one is to be found within oneself, not outside. Today it is much easier not to meet teachers personally. Meditation is quickly learned. Of course in the Rinzai tradition there is a koan curriculum which usually cannot be done alone. When you see the problems you are facing as the real koan or barrier (and Sasaki has one to go through himself right now), you get to the point where it all relies on yourself.

The various scandals surrounding Buddhist teachers (and there are more in the Theravada tradition which are not as prominent because Theravada countries lack press freedom, and those involved are mostly male on both sides) have shown us that a zen master might just be a good or experienced teacher of koan study, meditation, rituals and the like. Do not look for an example of a lifestyle in him, you have to find your own way. If a teacher makes you uncomfortable, stand up and leave, trust your instincts. If his or her behavior is putting others at risk, take stronger means like involving the court.


That said, I remembered the story of a disciple who wanted to follow a homeless zen master. The master told him he couldn’t, it would be too tough. But the disciple insisted. Soon they became hungry and the master took leftovers of others out of a bin and munched on them. The disciple was on the verge of vomiting, when the teacher told him: “See, you can’t follow me.”

From such a story we derive our ideal of the master living an imitable life. But where are those masters nowadays? Another nub of this story is still valid. Why can’t a zen-adept do something that appears just too disgusting to common people? I sadly ask myself if there is really not one person in Joshu Sasaki’s community that can regularly give him a hand- or blowjob or whatever he needs (though I fear that a man of 105 years is probably impotent since decades and that his groping is a rather helpless cry for some other kind of erotic attention)? I imagine me sitting in front of an aged old female zen teacher, her grabbing my cock through my robe and making advances. Would the right thing to do not be to rub her to orgasm or putting my cock into her? It’s easier said than done, still I guess that else than a sex scandal is possible.

In another blog entry I recently called those who feel abused but do nothing than blame  in letters and over the internet are at fault, too. Their fault lies not only in not using appropriate means to stop someone (esp. jurisdiction) but also in not being able to imagine how to comfort the needs of an old teacher. Eating leftovers may be considered different from so personal as sex, but how far can someone who really freed his mind actually go? Remember that the student in zen should become better than his teacher.

I believe there are just too few who have broken through the wall …

Unafraid or not – leaving with a stinking fart – into no-cushion.

Death poems of zen masters have been a surprise to many in the past. It seemed that the prediction of a certain day or moment of dying had to do with the enlightened mind of a teacher. In the West it became common to understand a Buddhist path as a good preparation for dying. Some teachers even have initiated hospices.

Looking closer at phrases like “dying on a cushion” or “view your life from the grave” I wondered if anyone can really prepare for a one time event, the final moment where there is no coming back. I don’t think so. Anything that is happening before is still living, even when it is without hope, under a “terminal illness”. The chansonnier Jacques Dutronc once said: “Life is a fatal disease which is sexually transmittable.” That sums it up. Even the cancer patient will not know if he won’t be overrun by a car or die of a stroke instead of the predicted renal failure and ileus. Dogen pointed out that each state has its own truth and that they do not really mix.  So as long as we live, we live, and if we are dying, we indeed did so from the beginning.

The preparation for death that was highlighted in the samurai culture which went hand in hand especially with the Rinzai zen tradition had one goal: to prepare for those precious moments in life where one could fearlessly face any barrier or opponent. If anyone claims that he is free of the fear of death, I ask him: “How can you be sure?” Instead, our focus should be on the moments where one is needed to speak up and stand up, even if it means risking one’s life. It is nothing more than a constant awareness of the fate that awaits anyone and cannot be changed, whatever preparation one might have taken. What can be changed are the outcomes of such moments.

Therefore I recommend not to waste much time with commercial offers that want you to prepare for the unknown. Rather fit yourself for those situations where the common person ducks and covers, hides, silences and runs away. In a current discussion about the “sexual abuse” by the old monk Joshu Sasaki in the US I was reminded of the strange conformity with which all the recent similar cases in Germany were handled. There was a lot of anger voiced through the internet, but none of the abused had the guts to go to court and do efficiently against their crooked teachers, i.e. to take legal action. In some instances prominent Buddhist associations have done their part to advise against it. Being a pussy is the opposite of having “died on a cushion” or “viewing one’s life from a grave”. I will dug deeper into that special case.

There are many opportunities in your life to write death poems, at the real end of it you might have filled a whole book with them.

Ethnic Buddhism


Much trouble that Buddhism stirs in the West stems from what I call “Ethnic Buddhism”. Those who adept to it (not always consciously) attach to the special characteristics of a Tibetan, Japanese or whatever country’s Buddhism. They are then easily convinced that initiation into ceremonies like “Kalachakra” (done by the Dalai Lama e.g. in Switzerland for a mass of people at the same time) or “Phowa” (where you might get into contact with the dead) is necessary and, of course, has to be paid for. The zen fraction, traveling from one sesshin to the next, is not much better, and to have a say there you better bring up some enlightenment or certification (also at the same time some do not hesitate to quote that “zazen is good for nothing” or you do not meditate to reach any goal). Another ethnic element is the recitation, often in languages that the adepts do not speak (but beware, it gets more ridiculous if you translate them, as Shasta Abbey has, and publish a whole liturgy that comes in books like the hymnbooks in church). You may think twice before you follow a guy who opposed the CIA (Thich Nhat Hanh) and lets his nuns wear Vietnamese shawls, or one who worked hand in hand with the CIA (Dalai Lama) and who travels with bodyguards and in armored cars  although claiming to know that he will die “at about 90″ . So what is Buddhist practice about, someone asked in a forum?

It is about dropping addictions and overcoming barriers. Developing helping hands and brains. Accepting sorrow and pain (and thus, for example, abbreviating the “steps of remorse”). Cutting unhealthy relationships. Sharing possession. Realizing responsible (though maybe uncommon) sexuality. Searching for constructive work. It is active, not passive.

Shenhui (670-762), dharma-heir of Huineng an an apologet of sudden enlightenment, once answered to the question what sitting in meditation is: “To teach people to sit … is to obstruct bodhi (i.e. enlightenment). When I say ‘sit’ now, [I mean that] ‘sitting’ is for thoughts not to be activated. When I say ‘meditation’ now, [I mean that] ‘meditation’ is to see the fundamental nature. Therefore, I do not teach people to have their bodies sit and their minds abide in entrance into concentration. If it were correct to declare such a teaching, then Vimalkirti would not have scolded Shariputra for sitting in meditation.”*

Don’t be surprised that Shenhui’s lineage did not survive long, it was just too original. (But the old masters didn’t care, Fayun (d. 766) answered to the question if the Buddha’s teaching had been transmitted to him: “I have a sandalwood image of the Buddha to which I pay reverence.”)  In old zen we find the reason why it is possible to be ‘enlightened’ without any study of the Palicanon or any formal meditation, why so many non-Buddhists come to similar conclusions as zen masters. What then was ‘wisdom’ for the old zen masters? “When the mind does not activate on the basis of the eye’s perception of form, this is fundamental wisdom. … If realization [of the transcendence of body and mind] were not first, then knowing and perception would be completely defiled. Know clearly that the autonomous [spontaneity of] knowing and perception is attained after that realization and is called successive wisdom.”** So to be wise one has to realize transcendent first, than he/she will spontaneously know and perceive. Look for yourself if the agents of Ethnic Buddhism have done so.

*(in “Seeing through Zen” by John McRae, Berkeley 2003, p. 54, a book which has some flaws in overlooking the findings of what McRae calls ‘Proto-Chan’ and I see as the real early chan, described by Jeffrey Broughton, and in overlooking the martial arts tradition in Chinese Chan temples like the Shaolin where monks could actually be armored, see the studies of Meir Shahar)

** (dito, p. 89)



I am in the zen lineage of Bodhidharma, Huineng, Huang-po,  Chao-chou, Vimalakirti, Muso Soseki, Bankei, Bassui, Shantideva, Dogen, Shrimala, Suzuki Shosan, Ikkyu, Zibo Zhenke, Takuan, Tsung-mi,  Yamamoto, Hakuin,  the Shaolin and many others. If you ask how that can be, I answer that any lineage is imaginary. I have studied a few official ones , and in quite a lot you will find missing links, quotation marks, unclear dates of births and deaths etc. On the other hand zen adepts often recite their ancestor’s lineage down to the Shakyamuni Buddha, including some guys that most of them have never much heard about. When I translated Aryadeva’s Catushataka, I stopped doing that. He is known as Kanadeva in the row of Patriarchs and was a disciple of the famous Nagarjuna.  Can you believe that he was so dumb to only know the female’s sex organs as horribly stinking flesh? I’d rather recite the name’s of Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller now.

A bigger problem is the decline of lineages. To give an example, there is much deep wisdom in what was taught by Shunryu Suzuki. One of his dharma heirs, Richard Baker, became known for affairs with his female students. One of Baker’s dharma heirs, Reb Anderson, once found a corpse, went back to “meditate” over it and took a revolver nearby, not telling the police about it. Later he was mugged near his zen center, retrieved the unloaded revolver and chased his perpetrator down the street. One main assistant of Suzuki Roshi, Kobun Chino, drowned while trying to safe his daughter who had fallen from a dock, knowing that he could not swim himself. One of his  “heirs”, Vanja Palmers, called the intake of psychedelics “close to his heart”.

Some teachers make the wrong choice when appointing their dharma heirs. But if a student does not succeed in surpassing his master, it may not only be detected in his teaching but through his life style. The USA have succeeded in winning another war against Japan by slowly eradicating the wisdom of Japanese zen masters that were sent there in the last century. If you believe running a commercial bakery is the same as dunking your belongings in a sea (Layman Pang) or meditating in a former concentration camp equals dealing with a pleasure girl (Ikkyu) you may also fantasize that a beetle may outrun a tiger.

Good to know that the whole lineage business was a late invention, for the disciple of Bodhidharma it was necessary to cut off one arm instead of taking any vow, i.e. parroting formula. In a tradition that knew of advice like “When you meet the Buddha, kill him!” there is hardly any place for sticking to the adoration of certain individuals as you will find it in modern dojos. It may be different with the teacher you meet personally. I myself am pretty happy that I have not met Dogen in flesh and blood, he might just have scared me away by insisting on the superiority of monks. Better to extract the best of old masters through their writings. Nowadays, with all the printed material and the internet, you will thus find a wiser teaching than ever was possible before. If you still miss some eye contact, you may prepare by studying with experts for mimic, first, like with Paul Ekman. Afterwards you may know even when the Dalai Lama fools you.

There are currently two prominent fractions in Buddhism when it comes to the question of life after death. One is leaving the answer open, like some of the teachers in the Dogen Zenji tradition (“just be prepared to do your zazen”), for others like the Tibetans it is fundamental for their concept of the reborn tulkus and dalai lamas. You will rarely find a Buddhist who definitely denies reincarnation. The reason mainly lies in the concept of a mind to which someone awakens which is not his but “universal”. Even those Buddhists who are aware of the Buddha’s (correcting) teachings of the atman (self!) as eternal and pure in sutras like the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana regularly miss that there is no “re” in dropping one’s ego, that the insight given in the nonsubstantiality and impermanence of the “I” that leads us through our earthly existence does not include any coming back of anything personal or individual, as all those features are “empty” (shunyata). What is eternal, naturally is free of impermanent features, so the nature of beings is that of an eternal Buddhanature that is not dependent on an individual biography and character flaws. The effects of deeds will not be directed on a certain rebirth that accumulates a personal, individual karma, but follow a rather chaotic way in accord with a thermodynamic law which states that energy within an isolated system is neither created nor destroyed. Thus it is impossible to know a deceased through certain tests and discern him as a former dalai lama, as it is only the energy that survives and the individual characteristics do not, otherwise their nature would not be of emptiness (in Buddhist terms it would actually be the unenlightened who returns and not the awakened one …).

Of course this is not in line with the Pali Canon’s teachings of hells and animal realms in which one could fall when doing, speaking or even thinking wrong. One might cynically answer that those teachings were given to a rather dumb audience, as traditional Buddhists believe it is important to whom the Buddha spoke (well if it was, you could forget about studying the Pali Canon at all because he surely never spoke to you). In this blog, the Pali Canon is considered to be a work of  literature (with facets of fiction and fairy tale) which one has to understand by historical-critical exegesis and metaphorically. Metaphorical understanding does not mean that you project something into the Pali Canon that cannot have been there, as recently a monk Sujato did when asking Buddhists to support same sex marriage but insisting that it would exclude minors – whereas in Shakyamuni’s lifetime the marriage of (what we consider today as) children was as normal as much later in the times of  a certain Mohammed and even during the Khmer empire in Angkor. Interpreting scriptures does not justify enforcing modern views in an historical incorrect way. If you stick to a literal understanding and want to transmit it over the course of time, contradictions like the one above are common. Shakyamuni has just not spoken of many topics that dominate discussions today, be it sexual abuse, the internet, stem cell research or organ donation. The answer has to be given by your “own” freed mind, not by quoting out-of-date data. A Buddha’s achievement lies in providing a way of detachment from greed, hate and illusions, i.e. from suffering. This way means awakening to a higher wisdom, in the detection of a universal mind. Anything that a historical Shakyamuni said in terms of marriage (condemning adultery which for not just a few people is the beginning of relief), eating (snakes are not a common dish in Europe), sleeping (on the ground is practiced until today widely in Asia, although the same people who seem to follow a precept there do not hesitate to outsmart customers the other day in their market booths) , ordination (not allowed for effeminate homosexuals, the Pandika) etc. are limited views developed at a certain place in a certain time.

Linking an old understanding with a modern topic: If you want to know where the ethical dilemma of an attachment to reincarnation lies, just ask a Buddhist if he/she is an organ donator. You will be surprised to see how many Buddhists do not accept brain death as the end of their conscious life, as there may be a subtle consciousness living on that is able to somehow feel and suffer wherefore no organs should be taken. Once again, those adepts mix up the empty, non-substantial features of their person that they somehow secretly just value too much and wish to survive instead of “giving up” to the universal mind that knows no suffering.

One argument given by religious people helps manifesting the real power of zen ethics (here I have to add that a lot of prominent “masters” believed in reincarnation – but they were all linked to institutionalized Buddhism, wearing robes and ranks). It is the conviction that in a limited life without any afterlife, justice (as implied in rebirth according to karma or Last Judgment) would not be done and chaos and immorality would rule the world. Not only does this view contradict scientific findings of an instinctive moral, it also reveals a moral insecurity of those religious people – they simply do not trust their own instincts and ask for an artificial code to show them the way. Actually, they project from themselves onto others. The history of our world religions, all equipped with a much similar set of ethical rules, discloses how wrong they are. There is no doubt that artificial commandments have not made mankind any better, on the contrary. To me it seems that they help to disturb people’s minds, just look at the hypocritical justifications of violence by rabbis and ulamas nowadays. The people who cannot trust their moral instincts are those you cannot trust. Remember this when you are in doubt next time, and see if I’m right. Of course, this is just another rule, so beware of exceptions.

It is crucial to understand that “justice” is not done by nature itself and men have to fight for it. It cannot be delayed, the consolation that people look for in a life after death is the hope of the helpless. The crooks of our world, when you ask them, will either not believe in a judgment after life or, being part of institutionalized and classic religion, trust in the forgiveness of a god. So rejecting rebirth (resurrection etc.) does not only root a person in its natural moral abilities (without any intellectual superstructure), it also requires full responsibility, e.g. for bringing people to justice as well as making one’s remains available to those in need. No one who believes he has “dropped body-and-mind” (a popular saying in the Dogen tradition) and cannot be an organ donator has dropped anything than a clear mind.


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