04 September 2010

A Theravādan in Mahāyanā Clothing?

A friend and Dharma brother mentioned to me yesterday that he had been listening to podcasts or somesuch out of the insight meditation community, and he had been struck by the frequent references to morality, ethics, and the practice of the pāramitās in them. He offered that he rarely heard such references in Zen talks, hearing instead rather frequent mention of enlightenment, awakening, and the like. He wondered aloud whether that might not have something to do with the kinds of shenanigans that just about every Zen center and temple has had to put up with from many "enlightened" teachers.

I don't know the answer to that question at all.

I do know that I find myself these days reading in the Pāli canon more than in the records of the Zen masters. I do know that I could stand to benefit from a fortnightly or monthly precepts recitation and repentance ceremony (I notice that some Zen centers have incorporated this into their schedule). I do know that from "All beings are already enlightened" it does not follow that "I am enlightened today." I do know that even if all beings will one day attain the heights of Buddhahood, I'm still very much in the lowlands of ego and attachment. And I do know that poo-pooing the ideal of arhatship is something I can never do, since I don't know that my pinky toe has come even remotely close to entering the stream.

I've developed such a gag reflex when the word 'enlightenment' or its relatives is used in reference to anyone other than Śākyamuni that hearing the question, "Was the monk enlightened?," when working through a koan is getting harder and harder to endure.

I sometimes wonder if that means I should trade in my black and blue robes for saffron or ochre. In the end I think that what it really means is that, at least for me, the generosity and expanse of the Mahāyanā vision can never be uncoupled from the humility and patience that Theravādan practice embodies.

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