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Spencer J. Palmer, gBuddhism,h Ensign, Jun 1972, 67

Part 2

Zen, perhaps the best-known gschoolh of Buddhism in the occidental world, has flourished particularly in Japan and has infused richness into almost every part of Japanfs cultural life. There it has provided inspiration and guidelines for the development of drama, painting, flower arranging, rock gardening, swordsmanship, and haiku poetry. (Photo: Japan-Guide.com)

A thousand years after the historical Buddha, a monk from India named Bodhidharma came to China and established the Zen (Sanskrit Dhyana; Chinese Chfan; Korean Son) tradition in that country, from where it was later transmitted to Japan.

Although Zen ideals have gained wide acceptance in north Asia and have become associated with its native culture, this way of thought might more properly be identified with the ancient meditation schools of Hinduism and Indian Buddhism.

Zen teachings are often summed up in four well-known lines:

gA special tradition outside the scriptures;
Not to depend on books or letters;
To point directly to the heart of man;
To see onefs own nature and become a Buddha.h

Zen neglects karma (the law of cause and effect), reincarnation, and Nirvana, but it still demands meditation, concentration, and physical discipline. Its unique teaching is that enlightenment (called satori in Japanese) may come to dedicated laymen and that this enlightenment may occur suddenly and instinctively, not necessarily requiring years of study.

Enlightenment in Zen is not a rational or methodical process. Zen training in the characteristic cross-legged position and the teaching of koans, or non-logical riddles, are designed to help the student to leap outside his customary paths of thought and to experience the universe of original, eternal, and absolute being. Knowing ourselves is a part of the absolute oneness; ego disappears and problems of ego—sin, pain, poverty, fear—are all expected to dissolve. Once a person has gained this state of satori, he is expected to be aware that all living things share equally in the eternal.

This Zen awareness is mystical and subjective. No one can explain what satori really is. At best it suggests an approach that harks back to the ancient asceticsf concern for union (yoga) with the world soul.

The most basic teaching of the historical Buddha was that men should rely on inward universal power (the Buddha mind), not on a personal God. The concept we accept that God lives in heaven and is a personal being who should be worshiped and obeyed would not have been an acceptable concept to the founder of Buddhism, who taught introspection, who denied the idea of a first cause or Creator, and who decided that there was a Buddha nature within man—a gstream of consciousnessh that was seeking escape from the rounds of physical rebirth. This fundamental approach was never lost sight of when Buddhism spread to the countries of northern Asia, although theistic touches were added.

Buddhists believe that a former existence is an important preliminary to manfs condition upon earth. Unlike the Latter-day Saints, Buddhists teach reincarnation: a sequel of rebirths that are an inexorable sign of bad karma in previous lives. Thus, Buddhism essentially regards mortality negatively and with pessimism and rebirth here as an estrangement from ultimate reality.

In Buddhist thought, all mortal satisfactions are ephemeral blossoms that suddenly flower and as suddenly disappear. Loving self and loving attachment to others alienate people from the ultimate blessing of Nirvana. Benevolence is greatly emphasized, but love is disparaged.

Buddhism teaches that men must subdue their selfish craving for the physical things of this world and seek the eternal through meditation and prayer, thereby awakening unseen spiritual forces within themselves. These are fundamental teachings.

The Buddha instructed his disciples to remove the dust from the mirror of their minds that light might shine forth. One cannot visualize Gotama apart from the bodhi tree or the act of quiet reflection. He pondered upon the woes of the flesh and the material cares of life.

Once when visiting Anathapindika, Gotama was approached by a young man of wealth who sought instruction on how to follow the right way. He asked if it would be necessary for him to give up his possessions in order to attain peace. The Buddha replied that it would be necessary to follow the eightfold path in order to obtain bliss, and that one must rid himself of wealth and the cares of the world before they overpowered him: gIt is not life and wealth and power that enslaves men, but the cleaving to life and wealth and power.h

Buddhism teaches that in mortality men run the ever-present risk of neglecting the inner man, the higher spiritual forces of life. In his struggle for existence man seeks the satisfaction of his physical needs and his mind is engrossed in material things. He faces the hazard of spiritual atrophy, through involvement in the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of its riches. Buddhists believe that the only antidote is withdrawal, repairing to secret chambers and quiet places of worship where reverence for the eternal can be encouraged.

In Buddhism, all reality is one. The starting point is a belief in the ultimate nonexistence of separate personalities, and the ultimate goal is negation of ego. The Buddhist approach follows the assertion of Gotama, gall is without a self,h which is basic to the Buddhist explanation of manfs predicament.

According to Gotama, one of the causes of a personfs anxiety is his clinging to the notion of individuality. Man should eliminate the conception of a craving for a permanent, separate personality.

For Therevada Buddhism and Zen at least (and ultimately this applies in the Amida and Nichiren schools of Northern Asia as well), nothing exists outside the mind. Salvation is an experience of enlightenment that consists of discovering the Buddha mind within, or realizing an essential unity underlying the transient phenomenal world.

The restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that God and man are self-conscious, self-determining beings who know how to make plans and execute them. This means that God can create things other than himself and allow events and forces other than himself to occur that are out of harmony with his will. He distinguishes between good and evil, and he is able to act in favor of that which he approves and to persuasively oppose what he disapproves.

This leads to the question of ethics in Buddhism and particularly to the ethical implications of Buddhist genlightenment.h Buddhism has probably been the most important civilizing force in all of Asia. It has exerted an especially profound influence upon culture, the arts, and literature.

In Buddhist doctrine, concern for morality certainly is not lacking. The first six steps in the eightfold path deal with the ethical aspects of life. Under the fourth step there are five precepts that have their counterpart in five of the ten commandments given by Jehovah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Such doctrines have established Buddhism also as one of the great humanitarian forces in the world.

Yet, Buddhism has no ultimate concern for ethics. The Buddhist goal transcends all opposites, including good and evil. Enlightenment is to apprehend underlying unity—that all things are of one essence.

Since the idea of objective reality is not taken seriously in the underlying Buddhist concept, and ethical concepts of right and wrong or truth and falsehood are almost irrelevant, so also is the idea of historical actuality.

Lehi persuasively reasoned that git must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. c all things must needs be a compound in one. ch (2 Ne. 2:11.) This is precisely the Buddhist position.

So long as the Buddhist believes that true reality is one Inclusive Mind, such gospel teachings as creation, sin, repentance, the atonement of Christ, and judgment are irrelevant.

Of course, the simple fact is that the basic premises of Christianity and Buddhism cannot both be true. If the universe is the offspring and creation of a living, personal God, it cannot merely be a complex of ideas in one all-inclusive mind. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, such things as individual personalities do exist and Buddhists, like other men, were created by God.

Buddhism has been the most imposing religious force in Asia for nearly two thousand years. No other religion has affected the thought, culture, and politics of so many people in that area of the world. But popular Buddhism, as practiced and known among the masses of the Asian people, has been marked traditionally by superstitions, the use of amulets and charms, magic, relic worship, divination, the belief in myriad ghosts and devils, and a jungle of traditions and myths.

Particularly since World War II, Buddhism has been seriously challenged by Christianity and by many other forms of western civilization, including government, science, and technology.

Finding itself in a state of disrepair and suffering from the added disability of a traditional emphasis upon other-worldliness (escapism), passivity, and unreasoned ambiguities, in a day when mankind is bent on shoring up the natural order and building satisfying and enduring social and economic conditions for man, contemporary Buddhism has been under pressure to reform and to re-evaluate its place in national histories and world civilization. Its traditional doctrines have often been criticized for being impractical, inapplicable, and ineffectual to the needs of modern man.

Thus, in selected areas of East Asia in recent years there have been signs of a new vitality in Buddhism. An excellent example of this dynamic movement in Japan is the Sokagakkai faith, one of a number in that country that has managed to infuse modern contents into an old Buddhist sect. This group has been able to relate Buddhist themes to the needs of a generation disillusioned by defeat, the breaking-up of families, and an incomplete revolution. Here is a faith born of crisis, taking shape out of discredited and disorganized traditions, with promises of better health and material well-being and with a strong insistence that it is the only true Buddhist faith. It claims to be the fastest growing religion in the world. (Picture: Sokagakkai Head Office from commons.wikimedia.com)

Sokagakkai was founded in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944). It draws its religious inspiration from Nichiren Shoshu, a religious sect based on the reinterpretations of Buddhism by a man named Nichiren (1222–82). Adherents of Nichiren Shoshu consider Nichiren to be the true Buddha, replacing Gotama Sakyamuni.

Sokagakkai in Japan is only one of a number of new religions that have flourished there and in neighboring countries since the end of World War II. Several other religions, characterized by a mixture of the old and the new, an appeal to national consciousness and self-respect, and the ultimate aim of physical utopia, exert a vigorous influence in Korean social and religious life today. Pak Tfae-sonfs Olive Tree Church and Mun Song-myongfs Tfong-il (unification) Church are leading examples of such movements. Similar hybrid religions now also flourish in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Sixth largest of the worldfs religions, Buddhism today claims approximately 180 million followers.

Notes

Dr. Palmer is a professor of history and religion at Brigham Young University and chairman of the Department of Asian Studies. He served as Korea Mission president (1965–68) and currently teaches the priesthood genealogy class in Edgemont Eighth Ward, Edgemont Stake.

 

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