The following excerpt is taken from "Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice" edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright. It provides an informative counterbalance to the western perception that Zen is inherrently anti-ritualistic.
"That Zen life is overwhelmingly a life of ritual would not always have been so obvious to Westerners interested in Zen. Indeed, early attraction to this tradition focused on the many ways in which irreverent antiritual gestures are characteristic of Zen. This side of Zen is not a misrepresentation, exactly, since classical literature from the Ch’an/Zen tradition in China includes some powerful stories and sayings that debunk ritualized forms of reverence. Huang-po’s Dharma Record of Mind Transmission, for example, dismisses all remnants of Buddhism that focus on 'outer form.' It says: 'When you are attached to outer form, to meritorious practices and performances, this is a deluded understanding that is out of accord with the Way.' Following the lead provided by that image, the Lin-chi lu directs its strongest condemnation to what it calls 'running around seeking outside.' Such seeking is deluded and irrelevant because, from Lin-chi’s radical Zen point of view, 'from the beginning there is nothing to do.' 'Simply don’t strive — just be ordinary.' 'What are you seeking? Everywhere you’re saying, ‘There’s something to practice, something to prove’ . . . As I see it, all this is just making karma.' Other now famous stories in classical Zen drive the point home, from Bodhidharma’s provocative line to the Emperor that all his pious observances warrant 'no merit' to Tan-hsia’s sacrilegious act of burning the sacred image of the Buddha."
"This critique of ritual piety in early Chinese Ch’an was later understood to be part of a larger criticism of any aspect of Buddhist thought and practice that failed to focus in a single-minded way on the event of awakening. Encompassing formal ritual, textual study, and magical religious practices, a full range of traditional Buddhist practices appear to have been submitted to ridicule — what do any of these have to do with an enlightened life, some Zen masters asked? In this antinomian stream of Zen discourse, ritual was simply one more way that mindful attention could be deflected from the central point of Zen. What the essays in this volume make clear, however, is that although slogans disdainful of ritual can be found in classical texts, the traditions of Chinese Buddhism appear to have proceeded in the same well-established ritual patterns as they had before the critique, even, so far as we can see, in monasteries overseen by these radical Zen masters. Ritual continued to be the guiding norm of everyday monastic life, the standard pattern against which an occasional act of ritual defiance or critique would stand out as remarkable."
Visited the Lankarama Buddhist Temple at Schofields this morning and had a chat with the head monk. The temple is situated 2.5km down the road from where we are building our new house. They follow the Theravada tradition, similar to the Buddhists we met in Thailand.
How is the Christian church different from the Jewish synagogue, or the Muslim ummah, or the Buddhist Sangha, or the Wiccan coven? They are all words which refer to community after all. Is there any difference in your experience? Should there be any difference?
Some reflections by John P. Keenan on The Emptiness of Christ :
The scriptural words of and about Jesus likewise describe him as empty of essence.
[The] function of doctrine in Mahayana theology is not to communicate a body of information about God, but to engender a sense of the presence of God beyond all words.
It is impossible to understand him apart from the web of relationships that form his life.
The scriptural words of or about Jesus do not analyze the divine nature. God is described time and again as beyond any definition. God dwells in light inaccessible. No one has ever seen God.
But this proclamation does not offer any definitive knowledge of what God is. Rather, it renders us, Job-like, aware of the total otherness of Yahweh, of the absence of any limiting definition.
Still, it is clear from the tradition that the meaning of Christ is not simply a contentless sign of an empty God.
Emptiness and dependent coarising are convertible, signifying complementary insights into essence-free being. Jesus then is not distinctive in virtue of a unique and different definition, but in virtue of his teaching, his death, and his resurrection and ascension - all of which he shares with us.
His divinity may be seen precisely in the emptiness of his personal identity, whereby he transparently mirrors the presence of Abba.
The crucial point is to remember that both the initial descriptions and the consequent theologies, both the principles and the inferences, are contextual and never absolute.
The contextual, relative words spoken by an enlightened person both hide the truth and reveal it to be other than, different from, those words.
He is the son of God as the sacramental sign of the otherness of Abba.
By disappearing in the experience of Abba and the commitment to the rule of God, Jesus embodies the reality of God in himself and for us.
In virtue of his abandonment of essence and self-definition, Christ reflects the direct experience of Abba and calls others to engagement
It is as "worldly convention-only" that Christ shares in the divine otherness of God. That is to say, it is not by clinging to an exalted, divine being, but by emptying himself of being that Christ mirrors the divine and is one with the silent Father.
[We need] tools for constructing a Christology that is at once mystical and critical.
[Mahayana Christology] avoids the old conundrums of essentialist Christology, always in danger of falling to one side or the other and always teetering on the point of presenting a schizophrenic picture of the Lord.