The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism by John Daido LooriThis is good. It could be worthwhile to read this if youve heard of Zen from say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or some Alan Watts books, because this book can help to capture some aspects of Zen practice that you may have missed reading that sort of stuff alone. Maybe dispel a few Pop Zen misconceptions. This feels like the real deal. Nothing wrong with ZAMM or Watts, just that theres potentially more to Zen than that.
I worry that I only think its a good book and that its the Real Deal because people I admire in Zen seem to think highly of the author. So be warned, this could just be praise by imitation. To be honest, I think I only understood about 30% of the book. A lot of the Zen way of talking (the donkey looking at well, well looking at donkey etc) just plain flies over my head. The koans likewise, zoom zoom, Loori asks us questions about them and I just stare back eyes glazed over. The things I react to are literal, like his speculation on how the Wild Fox koan came to be (his take: Baizhang is having a walk one day, notices a fox carcass and seizes upon the opportunity to make a teaching of it (hides it in some cave for later)). So maybe its just truthiness Im reacting to. Or maybe Im just reacting to the sound of Looris voice (if youve listened to some WZEN podcasts, his voice is sticky, deep with a sense of authority and urgency).
Oh maybe I should stick this on a shelf and come back read it again in 5 years, see if I understand it better. Is it wrong to walk away inspired a book you dont actually understand? To say “this has deepened my commitment to the Path”, when most if flew straight over your head?
Some things I found useful from this book: the concept of “buji Zen” (the mistaken “anything goes” attitude that comes from superficial/intellectual encounter with Zen); the idea that greed/compassion, anger/wisdom, delusion/enlightenment are all two sides of the same coins, differentiated only by the sense of separation between self and other. I also found it helpful that Loori tied these dusty old koans to modern dilemmas; that American Buddhist teacher that infected a bunch of people with HIV by having unprotected sex because he thought he was free from cause-and-effect (Bam! reincarnated as a fox), the Mount Tremper vs. the New York Dept of Environmental Conservation thing, etc. Still alive, these stories.
One thing which resonated with me from this is what I like to call “strict morality; flexible behaviour”. Context is everything in the precepts. The outward manifestation of the precepts varies from context to context to context, but you must preserve them. Theres no rulebook, no commandments; but you have to figure it out for yourself in your own life. The emphasis on non-separation of self and other also hit home. Its probably optimistic to say that Zen is without dogma, but come on, if “self and other are not separate” is what weve got for dogma, Id say were doing pretty good.
One thing which deeply irritated me is using the Precept about not misusing sexuality as an argument against genetic engineering. That annoys this geek.
But overall, the book feels “right”. Its a reminder to practice. Moment to moment, context after context, breath after breath, returning to the practice. Remind me to read this again in 2017. Maybe Ill understand things differently?
Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one's self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse. Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the "Five Precepts". These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God.
Most Buddhist traditions the main two being Theravada and Mahayana share a common ethical code for lay followers, while monastic codes tend to vary by region and tradition. The common ethical principles of Buddhism were articulated by Gautama Buddha. They include the Five Precepts or virtues and three of the eight points on the Noble Eightfold path to enlightenment. These imperatives are not to be construed as commandments as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but more as guidelines for attaining enlightenment. It is in these terms that an act or series of acts is generally deemed ethical or unethical.
Buddhist ethics is a term of convenience that we may use here to describe systems of morality as well as styles of moral reasoning that have emerged in Buddhist traditions. Moral reflection has taken various forms in Buddhist civilizations, beginning with Buddhism's origins in South Asia two and a half millennia ago to its gradual spread across most of Asia through very diverse cultural contexts. While several patterns in moral thinking broadly shared by most or all forms of Buddhism may be suggested at the outset, deeper investigation must attend to particular expressions of Buddhist ethics in their historical and contextual diversity. Actions that are prompted by virtuous and discerning intentions yield beneficial results both in this life and in the next. Conversely, actions that are rooted in bad states of mind — in particular, greed, hatred, and delusion — are harmful to self and others and thus result in unfortunate rebirths for those who commit them. More positively, Buddhists have looked for moral guidance to the noble eightfold path, which, in addition to describing key elements of wisdom and contemplation crucial for the soteriological path, also articulates a positive description of ideal moral conduct in terms of right action, right speech, and right livelihood. Such descriptions enjoin truthfulness and nonviolence as defining "right" practice.
Tuttle Co. Loori then recounts the story of a dharma teacher in America who knew that he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS and yet had sexual relationships with students.
How do Buddhists approach morality? Western culture seems at war with itself over moral values. On one side are those who believe one lives a moral life by following rules handed down by tradition and religion. This group accuses the other side of being "relativists" without values. Is this a legitimate dichotomy, and where does Buddhism fit into it?
Buddhism represents a vast and rich intellectual tradition which, until recently, received very little influence from Western philosophy. This tradition contains a variety of teachings about how to live and what to do in various situations. Buddhism tells us to purify our own minds and to develop lovingkindness and compassion for all beings. The various forms of Buddhism offer systematic frameworks for understanding the traits of character and types of actions that cause problems for ourselves and others, as well as those qualities and actions that help to heal the suffering of the world. When starting a Buddhist path, one agrees to follow rules of moral discipline that forbid various destructive actions; but once the mind has reached a very high degree of spiritual development, the rules are transcended and one acts spontaneously for the benefit of others.