What we call Zen today would hardly be recognized as Zen by the ancestors of Zen. Let me explain…
First, nobody called the Buddha’s teachings “Buddhism” which is a term that the 16th century Brittish called what the Yellow Robed monks believed in when they colonized Southern Asia.
Ch’an in China was simply termed “The way” or “the path” or just even ‘Nature’, and a whole constellation of Bodhisattvas were prayed to for blessings. People came to the temples to make offerings to the Bodhisattvas (incense and prayer/mantra) and leave something for the monks (food, money, clothing) who tended the temple.
This by in far, was considered Ch’an. The people truly believed in the Bodhisattvas who are supernatural and can cure diseases, heal wounds, bless crops, bring children, and good fortune. Liken to the vast array of deities in Tibetan Buddhism, the Ch’an Mahayana has many bodhisattvas in where each had a mantra to recite that would bring different blessings. Yes, this does look and act very similar to Catholicism that dominated the west in the 14th to the 17th century.
Many ask me about this Zazen. I have to point out that Japanese Zazen is a creation of the 12th century Tendai monk Dogen, in where he states that ‘all things have buddha-nature…rocks, trees, the grass and ground’, and to sit like a Buddha statue is to Absorbe Buddha nature and become a Buddha. He deemed Zazen as a Holy action! This is a vast departure from the shikantaza of Chinese Ch’an and the dhyana of Southern Asia monks. Actually, it is heretical! Fortunettly, Dogens views where short lived, as Keizan brought Soto Ch’an to Japan and absorbed Dogens minor temple into the fold, though Dogen later was credited as the first Soto priest posthumous.
The revelation that Zazen is purely a Japanese creation often boggles the minds of the western Zen student. They just assumed that the Chinese Ch’an ancestors also engaged in ‘Zazen’ yet, we now that is not so.
“The deluded person is attached to the characteristics of dharmas and grasps onto the samādhi of the single practice, merely saying that he always sits without moving and without falsely activating the mind and that this is the samādhi of the single practice. To have an interpretation such as this is to be the same as an insentient object! This is rather to impede the causes and conditions of enlightenment!” (Platform Sutra 353a)
Just to note, Huineng is the only ch’an master whos writings are given ‘Sutra status’, and entered into Canon.
Dogen, the 12th century Tendai monk, says the opposite:
“In sum, descendants of the Buddha’s Ancestors need to explore through their training with their Master that seated meditation is undoubtedly the one Great Matter. This is the genuine seal that is Transmitted directly, one-to-one.” (Shobogenzo, section 26)
There are many quotes from the Ch’an masters who do not advocate Still Sitting (Zazen) as a meaningful practice.
More from Huineng:
黃檗傳心法要曰：“即心是佛，上至諸佛，下至蠢動含靈，皆有 佛性，同一心體。所以 達摩從西天來，唯傳一法。直指一切眾生本來是佛，不假修行。但如今識取自心，見自本性，更莫別求。”血脈論曰：“若欲見佛，須是見性，性即是佛。若不見性，唸佛誦經，持齋持戒，亦無益處。
The patriarch transmitted the essence of the mind saying: “The mind is the Buddha, all the Buddhas above, down to the stupid containing the spirit, all have the Buddha nature, the same mind body. Therefore, Dharma came from the Western Paradise and transmitted only one method. He pointed out that all sentient beings are originally Buddhas, without any practice. But now know your own mind, see your own nature, and do not seek otherwise.” The Bloodline Theory says: “If you want to see the Buddha, you must see the nature, and the nature is the Buddha. If you do not see the nature, reciting Buddha’s scriptures and keeping fasting and precepts is of no benefit.
The message from the Ch’an patriarch is that no practice based in materialism, such as an performance art of ‘Zazen’ can do anything at all for you.
To ‘See the Buddha’ you have to leave behind your mortal eyes! In this, you develop your spiritual eyes, a non-materialistic vision (Intuition) that instinctively knows the nature of Buddha (enlightenment).
“Why do I trip and fall?
Because of your own two feet!”
It is our own attachment to Materialism as a Savior, in that something here will ward off death, disease, and old age. Many seek this, many insist it is here…They just tell everyone that they have to find it.
Zen students today look to ‘Zazen’ as a “Savior”, that Practice that I call an Performance Art, this materialistic expression that if performed will make one a Buddha! Have they not read any of the Ch’an Patriarchs? How many Zen Students have stood up from the seated meditation pillow and declared themselves Buddha? Do they not know that they are already Buddha, it is just these materialistic clingings they have that blind them to this fact?
For those who are still seeking, still doubting the Buddha teachings – Pray to the Bodhisattvas for guidance. This is a divine prayer you offer, and silently admit your doubts and fears to the Bodhisattva.
Many in the old Zen Ch’an days pray to Guanyin for help. How many Zen students pray to the Bodhisattvas for help? For they are there to help you, all you have to do is call to them.