Lineages

30/11/2012

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.

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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.

Recently I was (once again) banned without warning from a website called Zenforuminternational, probably due to criticizing a certain robed “Nonin” (one more example for the decline of the Suzuki Roshi lineage) for having denied Daito Kokushi the status of a zen teacher. You may follow this thread here. “Nonin” on the other hand named TNH as an authorized teacher although Zen (Thien) died out hundreds of years ago in Vietnam (according to Nguyen, Zen in Medieval Vietnam) and this crooked guy did things like bestowing the title “dharmacarya” on a former chairman of the German Buddhist Union, not without receiving a multi-digit donation of Deutschmarks from him.

The Zenforuminternational is run with the help of some so called lineaged and certified zen teachers. Their tolerance is low, as one can expect, because they are part of a religious organisation, in that case the Soto school. This school has one huge dogma created by Dogen Zenji, which “Nonin” put like this: “Practice and realization are one and the same, so awakening and zazen practice are not two.” It is the dumb repetition of rhetorics that often manifests the lack of understanding of those practitioners. Because it also goes the other way round: Awakening and daily deeds are not two! Only then have you arrived at the core of zen when you no longer separate a ritual of seated meditation from your doings, and that happens when zazen is not just sitting (requiring a certain posture) but a state of the nonjudgemental, nonattached mind. Whatever (physical) posture you are in, you are “practicing”, you are “realizing”. This is the point where you detect false teachers. Their zazen becomes a compulsion neurosis, they just can’t let go. Beware! If you cannot handle your zazen freely, where is your nonattachment? A teacher who misleads you is the one who has “not arrived”, i.e. that he has not gotten the understanding that an awakened one is free to let go of anything, even sitting meditation.  (This does not reject training monasteries etc. that offer rigorous zazen for those who are interested – because there is nothing wrong in doing excessive sesshin as long as you are not addicted to it.) Let’s see how some masters in the past have said it. Even if they themselves taught zazen and stuck to it, they knew. False teachers on the other hand will deny.

In the forum I mentioned two books of Buddhologists, McRae’s “Seeing through Zen” which provides a taste of the hagiography (myths and their meaning) but is not about earliest chan, wherefore I recommend Broughton’s “Bodhidharma Anthology”. In the writings of early chan-adepts neither sila (rules for moral behaviour) nor sitting meditation were central. When sitting meditation comes into play, it was always a means to set the mind straight. In Buddhism means like that are called upaya, they may be replaced by others or dropped in the course of one’s life. That is why Bodhidharma did accept his disciple after he had cut off his arm, not after he had sit sesshin, and why Huineng was confirmed a dharma heir after having been an illiterate cook, not after having studied sutras and done shikantaza.  Remember that due to zen hagiography the core of zen was transmitted by the Buddha holding up a flower and Mahakashyapa smiling (again: not through sitting meditation). If you ask where the “nine years of zazen in front of a wall” of Bodhidharma come in, just look for the connecting element of many of those myths. It is surely not the sitting but the effort, the ability to neglect comfort in search for a higher “truth”, or let’s better call it: wisdom. Therefore it should be the “nine years” that we emphasize, not the sitting.

Today zazen has often become a means to make the mind intolerant and blindsided. Just compare the late insights of really enlightened masters like Hsu Yun: “Chan does not mean sitting in meditation. The so called zen hall and the so called zen sitting are only given to those who in this age of decadence face adamant obstacles.” (Lu K’uan Yü, Ch’an and Zen Teaching, 1970). Or Enni Bennen (1202-1282) from the Yang-chi lineage of Lin-chi. He considered Bodhidharma as a “self-awakened”, zazen and the pointing to one’s own mind were two methods that appeared only after self-awakening (see “A Zen Reader”, Berkeley 1996). Or Daito Kokushi (1282-1334): “One could suppose that the ‘heart Buddha’ is only known through sitting meditation. This is wrong. Yungchia taught: ‘Walking is zen, sitting is zen.’ If you move the body or not, it is in peace.” Or Tetsugen Doko (1630-1682): “During daily practice I do not know anything about ‘sinking’ (zazen). When I am hungry, I eat, when I am tired, I go to sleep.” Do you get the slight but crucial difference to what was said by some teachers and adepts in the Zenforum?

Of course, quotes are often taken out of a context. The same goes for Dogen’s “Zazen and awakening are one”, just combine it with “Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the ancient Buddha way. Each, abiding in its phenomenal expression, realizes completeness.” (taken from the Shobogenzo-chapter “Sansuikyo”). If what mountains and waters do is complete and awakened, you are able to do zazen by living your natural life, while you sit in a movie theater or a bar or while you are shopping. Dogen and other masters have given us two kinds of wisdom. One is for those in need of a formalized training method, the other one is “higher wisdom” which can obviously not be understood by teachers who do only quote what supports their ritualized life. Enlightened zen masters always find a way to hint to “higher wisdom”, and it is a shame when certain teachers diminish Dogen Zenji or great men like Pai-chang by seeing only the upholders of a monastery tradition  in them. Those teachers just don’t get that Dogen, Pai-chang, Hsu Yun etc. were or would have been (most probably) able to “let go” of even their priestly attachment, which is a requirement of the masters and not present in most of today’s lineage holders.

I myself had an “awakening” experience, i.e. one that significantly changed the course of my life and my mind’s frame, without previous zazen. I was a religious person at that time, at the age of 19, a Christian, and I had started doing martial arts and have heard of the zen or rather taoist koan “If you want to find wisdom, do not search for it”. Suddenly this wisdom opened my eyes and I understood when walking through the woods and having a kind of flashlight vision. Only then did I decide to dig deeper into Taoism, then found Zen, then began sitting meditation, reading the (zen) canon etc. Throughout the history of Buddhism, starting with Shakyamuni himself, self-awakening without a personal teacher was common. And as we see in the examples given in (hagiographic) zen tradition, there were always other prominent figures who made the big leap without zazen. Or those who became enlightened by reading a sutra, like Tsung-mi. Or those who founded most prominent zen traditions without any dharma transmission, like Chinul did in Korea. Because the big leap is one of the mind. For me, the main turning point was before zazen as a certain posture.

Nowadays, as I said in the forum but couldn’t explain more explicitly, I believe that there are persons with “obstacles” (to quote Hsu Yun) who will find a good training method in zazen. Others will not need it to become unattached and nonjudgmental. If you meet persons who are but have never followed Buddhism or Zen, you will know. What this means is not obvious when you retreat and sit quietly with a peer pressure group of the same rhetorics as yours. If you are unattached and nonjudgemental will be proven for example when you run a zenforum where posters contradict you. When your colleagues at work find your opinions, habits, morals and “practice” ridiculous. When you leave an astonishing beautiful woman to your greedy pal who just feels so great having you beaten in what he believes to be a competition. When you have a front tooth of a poor pleasure girl fixed instead of fucking here a month long. When you speak up frankly where others duck. In other words, when you make a difference because you dare, you are able to take the risk (esp. of losing status, property, health and life), you follow your instincts and are not hindered by dogma or second thoughts, you act out of your freed mind. There will always be situations where (while in no need to stand out in daily life) it will come natural to you to act as nonconformist. Because nonconformist is often simply what others will call your being unattached. Unattached is not uninterested and uninvolved, it is being free from the thought “I can’t do this, I am supposed to act like that, it would be a shame to …” It means dropping fear. It is not the fear of spiders or mice, it is the fear of being considered outrageous, unadapted, foolish, even within your own “zen circle”.

Teachers who cannot understand that a life without sitting meditation can be a zen (chan) life have not seen through. They slander Bodhidharma, Huineng, Ikkyu, Hsu Yun, Taisen Deshimaru (whose only dharma heir dropped zazen completely) and even Kodo Sawaki whose favourite nun was one who never did zazen but sewed robes. This is where you might miss “by a hairbreadth”. As you can detect from the moral handicaps of established teachers (“Nonin’s” for example was Dainin Katagiri who indulged in sex with female disciples) excessive zazen, sticking to sila as a code of conduct or taking Bodhisattva vows has probably no significant effect on refining your humanity.

“You cannot sound the depth of the Buddha’s realization by sitting meditation.”

Current movements trying to modernize Buddhism (like Secular Buddhism) don’t go far enough, as they still rely on dogma (e.g. the four noble truths) or meditation. Early Chan was already more developed. Here are some of the achievements that are mostly forgotten or unknown in other Buddhist traditions.

1) Zen is not about being good or bad: “Cutting the bad and cultivating the good to become a Buddha – that is a wrong thought stemming from one’s own mind.” Zen goes beyond those categories or wants to detect what lies behind it. Any criteria and moral judgment has to be treated with caution, being a product of thought that is superimposed on “reality”.

2) “Truth” lies beyond any norms, the mind has to blast them. This goes for the norms of Buddhist teachers, too: “If one does not seek understanding and wisdom, he will avoid the delusions of dharma teachers and meditation masters.”

3) Events trump words: “Who deduces the dharma from events instead of relying on the teaching of a master can be called a man with sharp wisdom.”

4) The life of a zen adept welcomes all feelings, he “neither rejects jealousy nor greed” because he knows they are empty, but “turns any place of bad influence (karma) into a Buddha event”.

The place of precepts are the four immeasurable states of mind (kindness, empathy, shared joy, equanimity), no set of sila or rules that paint the world in black and white.

5) Scriptures (sutras) are seen as products of the mind and therefore misleading: “When there are no sophisticated gimmicks of the mind, what need is there for sitting meditation and right mindfulness?”

Thoughts toward enlightenment and the invocation of scriptures and commentaries only nourish intellectual understanding: “Don’t use mind to get rid of mind!”

6) Karma has not existed per se but is created by mankind through believing: ‘I do bad, so I will be punished; I do good, so I will be rewarded.’ The ‘bad’ karma arises only by this distinction itself.

All those quotes come from the Tunhuang rolls, the earliest findings of chan transmission. More can be read in Jeffrey L. Broughton’s The Bodhidharma Anthology (Berkeley 1999). It becomes obvious were so many Buddhist schools in the East and West went astray and that not even in zen dojos you will find much of this early spirit.

 

The four noble truths are given in Buddha’s first speech, and the first one includes “birth is dukha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.” This is one popular translation, and dukkha is usually understood as “suffering”.

When we look closer at them for a moment and do not take them for granted, we find them flawed. Besides people who claim never to have been ill, there are those who die young and therefore not age. There are more logical problems with death, as we should understand it as being braindead, and with birth, as the five aggregates (skandha) according to the Sutta Pitaka include mental formations (samskara) like thoughts and opinions and a consciousness (vijnana) that a newborn obviously does not possess. The four noble thruths thus seem to stem from a lack of medical knowledge. It is ridiculous when Buddhists, if monks or laypeople, consider them a prerequisite for being (called) a Buddhist.

Interestingly enough, the only sutra spoken by a woman, the Shrimala Sutra (pdf) of the Mahayana tradition, has already corrected this wrong view. It calls three of the four noble truths conditioned and impermanent, thereby false and deceiving. The three truths of ‘there is suffering’, ‘there is a cause for suffering’ and ‘there is a way’ (the eightfold path) are not a refuge and not the highest truth, according to this sutra. As a result only the third noble truth is considered highest wisdom, namely ‘there is annihilation of suffering’. In other words, ‘true’ is that suffering can be extinguished, untrue is that there is suffering per se, untrue are the definitions (phases) of suffering and untrue is the eightfold path. How lucky Mahayana Buddhism is to know those wise words of a woman.

The Shrimala Sutra is quite unique, progressive and advanced in another area, the Bodhisattva vows. They sound quite different to those of the Brahmanetsutra that are usually taken and given as precepts in the zen tradition. They speak about respecting those who have taken the vows (of the Shrimala Sutra, of course), not being stingy or greedy, staying poor (more specifically: sharing any wealth, “assisting the poor and friendless”, the diseased, troubled, trapped and bound) and using the dharma “with a mind unoccupied by material things” to serve “the multitude of beings”. So far, so good.

This blog wouldn’t exist if it just took any sutra for granted as a whole. In one vow, the catching and keeping of animals is desribed as a “wicked occupation”, and those involved in it – though not abandoned – obviously risking “subjugation”. In the teeth of the passage’s unclarity it leaves open an “inclusion” of the wicked. That is at least better than to exclude all killing (and thus diminish the work of soldiers and butchers), stealing (making it hard for some starving people to survive), lying (which is impossible according to scientists) or sex (for monks, leading them to abuse of novices), as the Brahma Net Sutra does in its popular major vows.

The philosopher Colin McGinn once stated in his book Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (Basic Books 1999) that consciousness (mind) was based on a natural feature of the brain but evades our cognitive capacity. Introspection, the perception of mental activity, was “too late” because it was too much mind already, whereas the view from the outside on the brain was “too early” and would only look on matter.

In recent years a lot of neuroscientists became interested in meditation and studied the mind of Buddhists, mainly of the Tibetan fraction. As we know from books of the Dalai Lama titled “The Art of Happiness”, Tibetans seem to have an interest to get happy through their Buddhist practice. By the way, this reminds me of an episode of the TV-series The Sopranos where a crippled Russian caretaker, after the mob boss suggested a couple of changes to become happy, says to him s.th. like: “What is it with you Americans, only you are possessed by happiness so much.” She was wrong – the Tibetans are, too.

No wonder that scientists found the part of the brain which is stimulated by meditation and causes feelings of happiness, and they even proved that meditation enhances empathy. Although there is a suspicion that Buddhists meditate because it gives them pleasure, that they are somehow rewarded (by their brain), the question remains what empathy is, as long as it is located in our head. It is the same question we ask about the meaning of awakening, taking precepts and studying scriptures: What is it good for? Empathy or compassion, as the Buddhists prefer to call it, makes no sense when not applied, when not put into action. Traditional Buddhism believes that intention causes main problems between people and is the deciding factor of morality (and even karma). Well, it isn’t.

Like fantasies that have never made it to realization, intent is a mind’s game and sometimes just leads to nothing. In daily life we are shown that actual deeds and their outcome are much more crucial, and we often do not even ask for the intention behind it. Having found a way to spice up your empathy does therefore not proof that you are able to bring anything good to someone’s life. It is probably much more interesting to find out which part of the brain is responsible for putting thoughts into action, for making dreams come true, so to say. It is not the same part that stands for empathy, and that may very well be the reason why Tibetan monks are not well known as generous donators. How we evaluate an action is still s.th. else, by some the Layman Pang, when he dumped all his belongings into a lake instead of donating them (not to make the surrounding poor villagers greedy), may just be considered a chump.

In the war of religions, or in this case: in the war between Buddhists, it was found out that adepts of Tibetan meditation methods (remember, it is those which imply Green Taras and other comical elements) enhance the activity of the so called gamma waves, responsible for a feeling of well-being, whereas Zen Buddhists stimulate rather their alpha and theta waves. Maybe that is just because they do not care so much about concepts of “happiness”. As we can see that artificial stimulation or the reduction of blood-flow also changes brains activity, we already know that meditation is not a requirement.

I dare to say that a somehow mystical experience is necessary to drop not only the attachment to belongings, status, career, reproduction etc. but also that to concepts and categories (like “happiness”) – and make this non-attachment part of ones everyday life and practice, as an ongoing process. A pure insight as a rationale will not do, will not lead to the required implementation. It has to be rather shaking one’s reliance on cognition and clearly overcome the boundaries of the common mind, like dreams sometimes do. When you ask yourself why so often Buddhists do not make a difference, but fly first class, drive an expensive car, own land, houses, fancy dresses and even consider their wives, husbands, boy- or girlfriends “theirs”, you may understand the mismatch of a rather logic realization to a “transcendent” one. Ikkyu’s was transcendent, the Dalai Lama’s is not. One travelled to brothels, the other one into bulletproof cars. What a pity we do not have Ikkyu’s brain anymore.

A most common drive of people is that to power over others, and this seems to make happy, too. Recently I saw the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt on TV, over 90 years old and in a wheelchair, again violating a law against public smoking, not being stopped by the pussies who invited him. Defying a rather new democratic achievement, this guy who once relied on Kant’s axiom also underlined his friendship with one of last century’s worst war criminals, Henry Kissinger. The death of three German RAF-terrorists in Stammheim, claimed by the only surviving (stabbed) Irmgard Moeller to be a murder (although that might be part of her strategy), suddenly appeared in a new light to me. I imagined what a stubborn guy with a friend like Kissinger would have been able to order and cover up. The new chancellor candidate of his party, Peer Steinbrueck, named Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder as his role models. Schroeder once answered to the question if he was greedy for power that without such a greed one could not become a chancellor. All of them are quite cool rhetoricians, and I consider them intelligent beings. Nevertheless, when Steinbrueck justified his perks, he reminded me of a soccer player named Philip Lahm who once commented that soccer stars are not overpaid because they obviously have a high market value.

Why all this name dropping in a blog like this (which surely could mention hundreds of figures from all the other parties, too)? First to tell you that it is possible to piss a Buddhist off, and becoming angry is not s.th. we should totally unlearn. Second to demonstrate in which areas we  may detect that all those prominent people are not detached at all. On the contrary, they use their greed for wealth and power to justify working for others, Steinbrueck guessed that we would find no one to do this job anymore when each politician is required to go public with the details of his bank accounts and belongings, being deprived of privacy. Well, I hope that you get the point.

Practicing Buddhism is the ability “to do the job” without expecting rewards. You should not trust anyone too much who can’t do so, especially when he or she openly confesses to it without understanding the third-ratedness of such a moral. Those guys are also taking pleasure in certain parts of their minds, and they are even willing to create precedents. Nevertheless they have not understood what life is about. When your mind is misled, as peaceful or happy it may feel, your actions will not be too wise. Zen is about bridging that gap and make your deeds rooted in the power of powerlessness.

Whatever neuroscience tells us about the neuronal field that reacts to our meditation, concentration or contemplation, it is basically the relation of action with nonattachment and independence, the freed mind, that corroborates an awakening, the root of wise deeds. Our politicians appear to be clever, voters may even believe they might have acquired some wisdom, but their dumb analysis of their own needs and motives speaks the language of delusion. We have to turn our view back from ideas and neurons inside to the matter outside, the matter that sticks to a Tibetan monk as well as a German politician. If neuroscientists fail to find this connection, they will have fallen for the same limited concept of the mind that lies behind Buddhist’s “intention” (cetana) which is supposed to create karma: “Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, and intellect(Anguttara Nikaya). Let us correct: What one does and what one is can not solely exist in the brain (mind). That goes for any empathy, be it a monk’s or a politician’s.

You may have noticed that a lot of so called “zen masters” are fans of “Engaged Buddhism”. This is a Buddhism that gets involved in political topics and moral dilemmas of society. One example was given by a teacher named Glassman. He built up a bakery where homeless people and ex cons found work and self confidently learned to make profit. Glassman’s “Peacemaker Order” did a lot of other good things. One of Glassman’s rather strange ideas was to do sit-ins in former German concentration camps. Glassman’s disciple Anshin Thomas copied his teacher’s idea of street retreats and living with the homeless. So what is wrong here?

In Zen tradition we find stories of masters who mixed with the homeless. The point was of course that a common person would not detect them by the eye, one had to watch the homeless closely or get them involved in a zen dialogue to find out. Still others tried to blend in wearing their robes, Menzan Zuiho wrote an illustrated booklet about the life of one exemplary zen beggar named Tosui. In another story a guy wants to become the disciple of a certain homeless teacher. “You can’t do it”, the teacher says, “you’d have to do what I do.” – “Of course I will”, answers our guy, and the teacher browses a load of garbage to retrieve a gnawed away and dirty riceball and eats it. Disgusted, our guy turns away. “See, I told you: You can’t follow me.” The reason those stories are given is to teach us non-attachment. They are not meant to show us how to copy a certain lifestyle. They go far to shatter the mindframe of the disciple.

Sitting in former concentration camps does not go thus far (only sitting in current concentration camps would do so). Neither does living with the homeless for a week or so, when you have the chance that they are provided with in modern cities, to find shelter, clothes and food in all the organisations that care for them. Recently I saw a German documentation on TV, an experiment with a couple of people that were well-fed and had good jobs. They became homeless people in Berlin for a short time and found different ways to deal with it (some of them gave up early). One entrepreneur created a clever way to beg for money that provided him with so much money that he usually could sleep in a hotel room. A young physician, married with children, said this experience helped him to understand the unfortunate in society. He was later visited by an older guy whom he had met in one of the homeless shelters (well, a house with beds, meals etc. run by Christians). This older guy was allowed to stay overnight at the doctor’s house.  He seemed much too educated, well-versed and dressed to me. Anyway, he  stole the doctor’s watch and other things and left early in the morning; he had also mixed with the homeless, probably just to find fools like the physician. That is why wrong views are weighing more heavily in Buddhism (as part of delusion, a main root of suffering) than the lack of empathy.

Actions like becoming homeless without naturally being so or sitting in concentration camps that are museums nowadays have the touch of marketing stunts. Those stunts will be quoted often to characterize the teachers who did so. It is no wonder that the zen guy most famous for it is a Jew by origin. This “zen-act” was actually more a proof that he has not gotten rid of his family’s roots and education (but beware, this is what becoming homeless means).  At least he could have been conscious of the danger of being perceived that way. And living from the remains or donations of others is in itself what monks are supposed to do anyway, although the homeless in our documentation complained that (contrary to monks) they were not really acknowledged, not “seen”. There we have it again. It is just the robe that changes people’s attention in a certain cultural field (where the robe makes sense).

Of course zen history knows a lot of masters who gave advice to emperors. Muso Soseki was one of the most famous. It is not uncommon for zen monasteries to get involved even in martial activity, as the history of the Shaolin Temple shows. Modern zen adepts on the other hand should neither be living copy machines of the past nor the parrots of political parties or grassroot movements. When you make an individual decision to participate in a social activity, you may ask yourself if it is to stand out or to “get lost”, to blend in. And when you answer to current questions of moral like assisted dying or stem cell and embryonic research, you should not fall in the categories of manmade ethics and law but ask yourself what insight into the human condition has taught you.

A decade ago the German Buddhist Union in a press declaration made by engaged Buddhists refused to support such research that was ironically started in almost all developed Buddhist Asian countries at the same time, with one aim for sure, to alleviate the physical suffering of living beings. It was, by the way, not even possible to turn the one hundred thousand Buddhists in Germany into organ donators because some of them believe they might have a consciousness after being braindead. Clinging to life is a form of attachment that Buddhist practice should qualify, i.e. provide the understanding that a suffering human life in terms of Buddhism is one that can suffer from its (developed and active) mind and consciousness. No embryo and no braindead person can obviously do so. It is not for Buddhists to stop research in the area of physical suffering of those beings with an active mind and consciousness. Often the politically active and “engaged” Buddhists do a lot of damage to the potential of Buddhist ethics. And they seem to be worse in the Western world than in Asia.  The fear of Germans particularly stems from their attachment to the past, a phase of euthanasia in their ancestor’s history. Here they do not differ much from the attachments of the Glassmans and Thomasses.