Vladimir K Reviews “If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break: Field Notes from a Zen Life.”

Vladimir K, who runs the amazing Zensite, has just reviewed If You’re Lucky.

He says…

“James Ishmael Ford is a Zen teacher with Boundless Way Zen and a senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island. I have to confess here that I am suspicious of Zen teachers that mix Zen Buddhism with other religions, especially Christianity. While some have expounded an ecumenical meeting of religions (Robert Aitken Roshi tried hard to bring Zen and Christianity together, not very successfully in my opinion), I have always been very dubious of this approach. Certainly there are similarities amongst all religions but there are also vast differences. I don’t believe a syncretic approach to Buddhism is in the best interests of Zen practitioners. Some scholars aver that the decline of Zen in China was partially due to syncretistic tendencies with Neo-Confucian philosophy and the practice of nembutsu (invocation of the name of Amitābha Buddha) as well as adverse political circumstances. (see Dumoulin (1994-1998) n.124 pp 295-296: “The critical stance of Neo-Confucian philosophy, above all the strong aggressions of the greatest thinker of the age, Chu Hsi, inflicted heavy casualties on Buddhism. To that we must add the sign of internal weakening, above all that produced by syncretistic tendencies…”)”

But, I hope you don’t want to stop there.

For the rest of the story, go here.

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  • Wayne

    And yet, this ‘mixing’ is the very definition of religion! Those nasty trade routes. Not to mention monks who travel by ship. Slaves who show up in the wrong place at the wrong time telling stories. Nutcases who pack up the whole family and drive their herds off toward the middle of nowhere because they think their descendants are going to be numbered as the…

    And this ‘mixing’ takes place in the warm bodies of mammals ['hsin' - 'mind-heart-body'] not (just) in the cold skulls of ‘defenders of the faith’. It ignores committees and monarchs, steals horses, falls asleep in the sun, slips across rivers in the dead of night, and leaves a lot of dust and rubble.

    Let’s hear it for Chu-hsi, ‘internal weakening’, and ‘heavy casualties’!

    Confession: As a zen practitioner my confucian (and yes, I fully confess, even taoist, and christian) tendencies will break out during the full moon. I don’t always remember what has happened afterwards. Something about hunting down and rending those ‘Indian’ importations. And, yes, when there’s a full moon during sesshin I do have to crawl down into the cellar during kinhin and gnaw on my fists to keep from howling. When the moon has waned I will just have involuntary tremors at too much sutra chanting in the liturgy or often a stifled sneezing fit when ‘absolute’ language is use a bit much. I’ll break out in uncontrollable itching at some of Dogen’s language but then his confucian tendencies calm me down.

    Warning to practitioners with bodies, if you run into someone standing in the middle of the way giving out with warnings about ‘the best interests of Zen practitioners’ you might want to politely walk around them and continue on. Of course if you choose to turn and deliver a swift kick to the posterior (brocaded or not)…

    So, is the following Buddhist, Confucian, or Taoist: “How does one understand the Way? I reply, through hsin ['mind-heart-body']. And how can hsin understand it? I reply, because it is empty, unified, and still. …. Hsin is always storing things, and yet it is said to be empty. Hsin is always marked by diversity, and yet it is said to be unified. Hsin is always moving, and yet it is said to be still. Human beings are born with awareness, and when there is awareness there is memory. To remember is to store, and yet hsin is said to be empty because what has already been in it does not impede what is about to be received. From birth hsin has awareness, and where there is awareness there is consciousness of differences. Consciousness of differences means that one is aware of different things simultaneously, and when one is aware of different things simultaneously, there is duality. Yet hsin is said to be unified. When hsin is asleep, one dreams; when it is unoccupied, it moves on its own and, if one allows it to do so, it will make plans. Thus hsin is constantly moving, and yet it is said to be still because it does not allow these dreams and imaginings to disorder its understanding. Therefore it is said to be still … Being empty, unified, and still is called great and pure acuity.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkeymind James

    Thank you, Wayne. And don’t forget Vladimir is just getting warmed up with that lead paragraph. One has to go to the full review for his larger picture…

  • Wayne

    Did read it. A good review. Just had to circle the wagons around old Chu-hsi.