Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Buddhism is very different from other religions because it refuses all dogma and embraces, promotes and teaches doubt. Buddhism goes even further and insists that advanced right-views are to have no-view and even denies that it is itself teaching the truth about the world and remains a faithful enterprise working towards 'enlightenment' by embracing doubt and rejecting all dogmas.


In some religions certain teachings become Dogmas. For example, Papal infallibility is the idea that the Pope can, when speaking for the Church, speak the infallible word of God. Other religions have different versions of where their infallibility comes from (eg, the Qur'an in Islam and the Tannaim and Amaraim in Judaism).

In contrast Zen denies the possibility of Infallibility and it insists that doubt is a good thing. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh put it [1]:
In Zen Buddhism, the greater your doubt, the greater will be your enlightenment. That is why doubt can be a good thing. If you are too sure, if you always have conviction, then you may be caught in your wrong perception for a long time.”
Buddhist doubt is not the 'systematic' doubt of the western philosophical tradition and it is not concerned with whether a thing exists or not (eg, is there a heaven or the nature of atoms), but is an attempt to break away from intellectual pontification with the aim of attaining Bodhi or enlightenment. Right view in Buddhism means to see directly the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to do this one must dispense with dogma and practice meditation and compassion.

The often misquoted Kalama Sutta (Angutarra Nikaya 3.65) says that revelation, tradition, hearsay, sacred texts, pure logic, and appearances should be rejected as sources of knowledge. It says that you should not believe in something because it seems logical or agreeable to you or even because your teacher told you it is so. Elsewhere we are told that we should not seek any external refuge but must be ‘islands unto ourselves' [2]:
“ islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge...[Contemplate] the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge;”

We are told that we must contemplate on the Dhamma which in this sense means cultivating the knowledge of laws of natural phenomena that exist in dynamic interdependence and harmony. In other words, we must use meditation to find the truth for ourselves and not rely on the words or teachings of others. We are also warned that accepting wrong views are both a waste of time and actually stop you reaching Enlightenment [3]:
"[T]here are countless philosophies, doctrines, and theories in this world. People criticize each other and argue endlessly over their theories. According to my investigation, there are sixty-two main theories which underlie the thousands of philosophies and religions current in our world. Looked at from the Way of Enlightenment and Emancipation, all sixty-two of these theories contain errors and create obstacles… A good fisherman places his net in the water and catches all the shrimp and fish he can. As he watches the creature’s try to leap out of the net, he tells them, ‘No matter how high you jump ,you will only land in the net again.’ He is correct. The thousands of beliefs flourishing at present can all be found in the net of these theories. ...don’t fall into that bewitching net. You will only waste time and lose your chance to practice the Way of Enlightenment."
The Buddha is recorded as stating that the teachings of other sects contained many erroneous theories, and that falling into those errors would prevent one from attaining permanent liberation from suffering. For example, wrong views about the universe included:

1. The universe is infinite.
2. The universe is limited.
3. The universe is horizontally limited but vertically infinite.
4. The universe is neither infinite or limited, nor not infinite or limited.

In other words to hold a view on the universe is the wrong thing to do. Rather we should get
on with the important business of finding out who we really are through meditation. It is worth remembering that when Buddha outlined the sixty-two wrong views he did not offer a sixty-third that was then correct view.  Correct view is 'no-views' or rather a state of mind where one overcomes all views by 'non-clinging' and 'non-attachment' to them.  The state of mind of complete 'non-clinging' and' equanimity' is to 'see things as they really are?'


Every Buddhist knows about 'right-view' as it is contained in the Four Truths and Eightfold Path.  However, what is less emphised, if at all is that 'right-view' occurs in stages and all stages are not the same.

In other words all 'right-views' are not the same.  For example, ditthi-sampanna (Mundane-right-view) is used to describe a 'right-view' of stream-attainment.  In the Anguttara-nikaya it explains that at this low level of'right-view' one has abandoned identity (sakkaya-ditthi), doubt (vicikiccha), clinging to vows and precepts (silabbata-paramasa), greed (raga), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha) A III 438.

It is said repeatedly that one should not be attached to the 'purified and bright-view' (ditthi parisuddha pariyodata) as that is just a form of craving (Ps II 109) and 'supermundane-right-view' (lokuttara-samma-ditthi) represents that which is 'neither defiled nor defiling' (dhamma asankilittha-asankilesika). In other words, knowledge of the dharma that is associated with 'supermundane-right-view' is completely free from craving and attachment of any kind.

As the Buddha said (sn480):
"One who has knowledge (vedagu) does not become proud because of view or thought … He cannot be influenced by action or thought … He cannot be influenced by an action of learning: he is not led into cling to views.”
Don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting for a second that Buddhists should not have views, but one should not be attached to them at all which is what Buddhism calls an advanced 'right-view.'  It's an important but subtle difference.  For example, the Buddha says in the Mahaviyuha-sutra:
"[do] not submit to figments.Do not follow views andhave no association with knowledge and knowing common-place opinions. Rather be indifferent to them (saying) 'Let others take them up."
The Buddha's teachings are a path to be walked with a destination in mind.  One starts cultivating 'right-views' from the start taking baby steps and ultimately the cessation of stress is the end of clinging.  The whole path is the end of clinging, aversion and ignorance.

The danger is, that one gets attached to 'right-views' or 'emptiness' when it's not about conceptual thinking at all, but rather going beyond and transcending that.  It is so easy to think about 'right-views' on an abstract level but giving up clinging is bloody difficult.  


The aim of Buddhism is to find the true self through meditation. In other words there is only one question that a Buddhist is trying to answer and that is, Who am I?” As Master Seung Sahn put it [4]:
"Correct meditation means understanding my true self. The path of this begins and ends by asking, 'What am I?' It is very simple teaching, and not special. When you ask this question very deeply, what appears is only 'don't know.' All thinking is completely cut off, and you return to your before-thinking mind. If you attain this don't-know, you have already attained your true self. You have returned to your original nature, which is mind before thinking arises. In this way you can attain your correct way, and you attain truth, and your life functions correctly to save all beings from suffering. The name for that is 'wake up.' That is the experience of true meditation."


Zen teaches that even Buddhism can not help you find the answers, and Buddhism is not truth but rather you must find it for yourself. As Master Dae Kwang put it:
"When the Buddha left home he didn’t go to a library to try and find the answer to his great question. Instead, he started looking inside himself to find the answer. We are the same. Just like the Buddha, no outside source, even Zen teaching, can’t give us the answer."
Master Seongcheol explained why there were so many Buddhist teachings and why despite them pointing at the one truth they could not be considered truth themselves [5]:
"There is an old saying that you have to regard the Buddha and all the Zen predecessors as enemies before you can begin to study....To become enlightened, and thus free-flowing, you must transcend the Buddha and you must transcend the records of the masters. If you feel that you have to listen to this person talk or that person talk, or if you get tied up in this expedient or that expedient, you will continue to do nothing but fail in your quest and you will not live eternally. To come to know genuine truth, rather than just knowing about it, we must rid ourselves of all expedient...We have to look beyond the finger to see the moon.
The Buddha spoke to meet the needs of the occasion and to meet the needs of whoever he was addressing. He spoke like a child to children, like a student to students, to commoners like a commoner, to royalty like royalty so that whoever was listening would understand him. Consequently, we have the 84,000 Dharma Teachings to meet the needs of so many kinds of people. So these are not the real truth, but expedients for coming to an understanding of the One Truth."

In addition to doubt Zen also teaches we need faith. This is not the faith in gods, or heavens, or the scriptures, but faith that through determined effort one will reap the fruits of the Zen practice. There is a famous Zen saying:
"To achieve enlightenment you need faith, determination and doubt.
To achieve great enlightenment you need great faith, great determination and great doubt."
This Great Faith is the one and only necessary belief in Buddhism.  This one necessary belief is that the practices of Buddhism are worthwhile and lead to 'enlightenment.'  This one belief, of the worthwhileness of Buddhist processes is the only dogma, if you will, of Buddhism. As such there are teachings and understandings in Buddhism but no dogmas, and no scriptural authority.  Buddhism teaches instead for us to let go of all views and seek the answers for ourself by practising meditation and compassion.


[1] White Collar Zen, Steven Heine, 2005, Print ISBN-13: 9780195160031
[2] Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta
[3] Brahmajala Sutta
[4] Seung Sahn, (1997). The compass of Zen. Boston, USA: Shambala. 8.
[5] Master Seongcheol. General Dharma Lecture, Full Moon of the 5th Lunar Month, 1982, Haein-sa

No comments:

Post a Comment