In Defense of Treeleaf

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  • Myozan Kodo
    Friend of Treeleaf
    • May 2010
    • 1901

    In Defense of Treeleaf

    On foot of a recent discussion, Taigu asked me to post on the whole question of teaching the Dharma online. Here goes! :wink:
    ###
    If I said to you that Dogen appeared to me last night in a dream and gave me Dharma Transmission, what would you think? That he had come to me, in his tattered Kesa, emaciated with TB and near death, and given me his robe and bowl? If I believed the dream to be true, you'd think I was crazy, right?

    I didn’t have this dream. But it isn’t for nothing that Dharma Transmission of the dream-realm isn’t recognized. If I did dream this – interesting though it may be to a psychoanalyst – it would have very little purchase in the conscious world. No one, not even for a second, would consider that my night-time hallucinations carried any weight.

    Jundo and Taigu's teaching of the Dharma over the World Wide Web, particularly their giving of Jukai and Shukke Tokudo over Skype, has been criticized by some. I have read their critics summon the inadmissibility of Dharma Transmission in dream or from the dead as a way of undermining what happens here at Treeleaf. But this criticism is fallacious. No analogy can be drawn between what Jundo and Taigu are doing and interactions in either apparitions or dreams.

    As we know from our reading of Master Keizan's Record of Transmitting the Light, "warm hand to warm hand" transmission is given great emphasis in the Soto tradition. Such a Transmission can be verified. An apparition can be the product of a deluded mind, while a dream may be nothing but a manifestation of repressed or wishful thinking. But at each end of a Skype exchange sits a real person. Teacher and student are communicating together intentionally and in real time. As Shohaku Okumura writes in Realizing Genjokoan, there is a "unity of subject and object". The reflection (in this case the flickering image on the computer screen) is a real reflection of the person being reflected. There is no separation between them:

    [Dogen] is saying that a mirror and reflecting water are not separate from the objects whose images they reflect. In other words, there is no separation between the person who experiences and the objects that are experienced. The subject of experience, the object of experience, and the experience itself are all truly one reality (Okumura: 67).
    Radically, the reflection of the moon is at one with the moon. And so it is with Dokusan on Skype.

    Incidentally, while dreams get a rough time in Buddhism – just think of the close of The Diamond Sutra – Dogen sees even these dreams as belonging to this one reality, which, as we know, is ultimately empty. And as emptiness goes, critics of encountering the dharma online should bear in mind ontological reality as understood by Dogen in the Shobogenzo.

    For Dogen, representations (like Skype 'projections') have the same order of being ultimately that our very flesh and blood has. It is a denial of emptiness to argue that our physical bodies are ultimately real and that our internet selves are not. In Dogen's view, all – our physical selves and our representations or projections – have the ontological status of "painted cakes".

    [You will realize that] life and death, coming and going, all are a painted picture/ painting a picture (gato); supreme enlightenment is none other than a painted picture/ painting a picture. All the dharma world and the empty sky – there is nothing whatsoever that is not a painted picture/ painting a picture (Dogen: Shobogenzo, ‘Gabyo’).
    Those that place Jundo and Taigu's endeavor in a lower order of existence are therefore making a fundamental mistake. In more senses than one, the moon [the person] and the moon’s reflection [the person on Skype] all can be broken down to the essential emptiness of form – or, to put it another way, these forms are all empty.

    As Kee-Jin Kim says in Eihei Dogen – Mystical Realist: “all existences were the flowers of emptiness (Kim: 91)” for Dogen. In Dogen’s words: “all things themselves are ultimate reality (Shobogenzo: ‘Kuge’).”

    The moon and its reflection. Taigu sitting in Japan and Taigu filling the frame of my computer screen. This is “warm hand to warm hand” communication. Taigu is alive. Jundo is alive. They are not ghosts or some kind of dream. Their representations are not apparitions (although sometimes they can be a bit ghostly, especially on Justin TV). When we talk to Jundo and Taigu, it can be verified that it was not a dream that took place.

    Maybe Treeleaf’s critics should go back to Master Dogen and have a rethink for themselves. Or maybe they should just do as I'm about to do now: simply revert to silence and sit. Gassho.
  • Eika
    Member
    • Sep 2007
    • 806

    #2
    Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

    Well said!

    I'd add that there is nothing to defend. Whether or not we convince all the nay-sayers that what happens here is legit really doesn't change things. We do what we do. They will do what they do.

    Last point, the forum is not Treeleaf, in my opinion. The world is Treeleaf's temple, place for samu, and zendo. The forum is our water cooler and bulletin board and classroom. That point gets lost on outsiders who apparently think that the only sphere of our practice is what we post online or discuss on Skype. That is the tip of our Zen iceberg. The stuff they see online is a small percentage of what is going on here. Again, just my opinion.

    Peace,
    Eika
    [size=150:m8cet5u6]??[/size:m8cet5u6] We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life---John Cage

    Comment

    • Seiryu
      Member
      • Sep 2010
      • 620

      #3
      Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

      Very well said. In the end Treeleaf doesn't need to be defended. Our practice and community show the authenticity of this Sangha with ever post.

      Thank you
      Humbly,
      清竜 Seiryu

      Comment

      • Seiryu
        Member
        • Sep 2010
        • 620

        #4
        Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

        Very well said. In the end Treeleaf doesn't need to be defended. Our practice and community show the authenticity of this Sangha with ever post.

        Thank you
        Humbly,
        清竜 Seiryu

        Comment

        • Heisoku
          Member
          • Jun 2010
          • 1338

          #5
          Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

          Well explained Soen and a good point too Eika _/_
          We all use Treeleaf in one way or another but ultimately as Eika says our individual practice extends into our own worlds and that is also where Jundo and Taigu extend their teachings of Dharma, through our embodiment (however that may be expressed) of this practice.
          I have read some of these criticisms and wonder how people have the time and energy to waste on it!
          Perhaps they should direct themselves towards 'adulthood' (in the Uchiyama sense pp136-7).
          Heisoku 平 息
          Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. (Basho)

          Comment

          • Geika
            Treeleaf Unsui
            • Jan 2010
            • 4980

            #6
            Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

            Great post, soen. You make a good point: they are alive-- not dreams. When they teach, they know who they are teaching to and they are molding their teachings to those people. We are a true Sangha. We do more than the average social forum and we have a totally different dynamic. I would say the proof is in the pudding: I have improved my practice since learning with them, and I anticipate improving more, even though there is nothing really to improve and nothing to practice. :wink:

            There is no temple of my practice near me. Does that mean I drop it and decide that I can't learn the Dharma because it won't be in the traditional way? I don't think Buddha would jive with that very well-- especially when there are teachers here willing to teach me honestly and whole-heartedly.

            Thank you, Jundo _/_, Taigu _/_ and soen _/_ for writing the original post.
            求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
            I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39453

              #7
              Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

              Thank you, Soen ... a lovely, magical post. In fact, a dream!

              After a time, I will put it over with the "THE WORLD IS VIRTUAL, THIS SANGHA IS REAL" essay so that we can keep it around.

              viewtopic.php?f=19&t=3343

              But ya know, funny you should mention Keizan. In centuries past, dreams did not have such a questionable reputation among Zen folks. In fact, Keizan was one of the great dreamers. There is a wonderful book about that (although a bit heavy going at times, in a French intellectual sort of way. C'est vrai, Taigu? Nes pa? 8) ), describing Keizan's many dreams, including one in which he was visited by the Bodhisattva Kannon who told him where to build his monastery ... Find page 114 here (Chapter 5, Dreaming) ...

              http://books.google.com/books?id=rbrtd0 ... 22&f=false

              And actually, in China, "Dharma Transmission" via dream or vision from dead masters the recipient sometimes had never met (called Yaosi, or "remote succession") was quite common in the history of Chan/Zen, although frowned upon and often criticized (rightly!) for potential abuse. A rather popular living master who claims Transmission by a "vision of his deceased teacher Seolbong Sunim, who had come to him to give Dharma transmission", is the Korean Teacher Samu Sunim, although he later received Transmission from a living teacher.

              http://sweepingzen.com/2009/12/23/samu-sunim-bio/

              I also would greatly greatly doubt and likely reject any "Dharma Transmission" by dream or vision. I am a skeptic on such things who believes, to misquote Freud, "usually a dream is just a dream".

              Gassho, J
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • JohnsonCM
                Member
                • Jan 2010
                • 549

                #8
                Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                I can agree with the majority of what's here but I would also submit this:

                Who ordained and transmitted Buddha?

                I see things like this, yes it is an important aspect to continue our tradition and our lineage, and to ensure that the way taught by the masters of our line continue, but in the end, all ways up the mountain (and to quote Jundo, what mountain?)

                With that in mind, true understanding of the dharma is transmission in and of itself. To say that the only real way of transmitting the dharma is to have a flesh and blood person do the transmitting is like to saying that you can never comprehend the Dharma without another person pointing the way. Transmission is the authorization to teach, but if one really understands the Buddha Dharma, is it not that person's obligation to all the sentient beings of this saha world to bring forth the teachings? Doesn't that sort of diminish the profundity of the dharma, by saying that a person must pass it on, when our understanding of the nature of enlightenment is beyond the bounds of flesh and blood, and our understanding of Buddha Nature is that all possess it already?

                I'm not saying that teachers are not required, if you read other posts I've written, I'm a staunch supporter of the teacher / student paradigm. What I am saying is that, the true apprehension of the nature of the dharma is, to my mind, its own ordination, its own transmission.

                As to the question of how one would know if their understanding of the dharma is "true" and not delusion, that's a bit harder to say. But then again, there is no shortage of persons within our religion who recieved ordination and transmission from the hands of a flesh and blood teacher, and then ended up being the source of scandal and, to be frank, embarassment, to the Zen and Buddhist community at large.

                Transmission from a dream or from a flesh an blood person? Hmmm.....maybe the jury needs a little more time to deliberate that one.
                Gassho,
                "Heitetsu"
                Christopher
                Sat today

                Comment

                • Martin
                  Member
                  • Jun 2007
                  • 216

                  #9
                  Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                  Well said all. As Eike says, Treeleaf doesn’t need defending from its critics. We work our work, they theirs. And, anyway, who would be the judge?

                  As some of you will know, I work as a mediator. Mostly in the “real” world, travelling round the country, staying in less than glamorous motels (I’m in one right now). But I also mediate on line through an on line mediation platform I designed. There’s plenty in the “mediation community” who queued up when we launched that platform to tell me that “You can’t mediate on line”. “It’s not real mediation”, apparently. They protested that only through being physically in the same place can the mediator really form a link with the parties, pick up their body language and tone of voice, and establish the trust that mediation depends on.

                  Maybe so. Maybe not. But here's the thing: the cases still settle. People are still relieved of their disputes. Conflict is taken out of their lives. And they’re still relieved and grateful. In fact, it doesn’t even look as if the settlement rate for on line mediation is any less good than for face to face mediation.

                  What matters is the connection. Not how it’s made.

                  Gassho

                  Martin

                  Comment

                  • andyZ
                    Member
                    • Aug 2011
                    • 303

                    #10
                    Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                    Good points above.

                    As I said in one of my previous post on the subject, the criticism is a healthy thing if handled properly. If one doesn't become defensive about it, but rather takes this opportunity to investigate the matter for yourself and answer for yourself. In case of Treeleaf – those are all good questions. Why are you doing it here? Is Internet a good medium for learning the dharma? Where am I slacking off comparing if I was living with a teacher 24/7?

                    I, for example, would be the first to criticise anybody who's giving away dharma transmission left and right on the Internet but that's not the case here. Having been here only a few months I can already see that Jundo and Taigu are taking this stuff seriously and it would a long a hard work before anybody gets a transmission from them.

                    Meanwhile as Amelia said the proof is in the pudding and there's plenty of this proof here on Treeleaf.
                    Gassho,
                    Andy

                    Comment

                    • Taigu
                      Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                      • Aug 2008
                      • 2710

                      #11
                      Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                      What matters is the connection. Not how it’s made.
                      Spot on, Martin.

                      Thank you.

                      Gassho


                      Taigu

                      Comment

                      • Shohei
                        Member
                        • Oct 2007
                        • 2854

                        #12
                        Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                        Hi

                        Id like to add to the "Does not need defending" though I often feel the urge to do so
                        Wonderful post Soen, thank you! Thank you to all that comment after too.

                        Treeleaf has ordained 3 priests and holds yearly Jukai ceremonies along with precept study etc. Thus far. Has proceeded carefully, openly with no real short cuts! There is no mill here, no Dharma transmission either, yet may change some day, as Martin directly pointed out its not how the connection was made its the connection and it is as real as any other.

                        Gassho
                        Shohei

                        Comment

                        • Stephanie

                          #13
                          Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                          I still come to the forum here to read from time to time, and several times I've been tempted to come out of "lurking" to make a post on this subject, but have resisted. This thread, however, brings out the topic in such a way I feel compelled to respond.

                          I used to be a defender of Treeleaf and the Internet as a medium for Zen teaching and training. Now, in hindsight, looking back at the time I "practiced" at Treeleaf, I see "no merit."

                          I left Treeleaf out of concern about the energy and time that participating here was taking away from time and energy that could be spent building relationships and ties in my local community.

                          But in hindsight, that was only a glimmer of a larger issue.

                          I no longer believe that Zen can be effectively taught in this format. By "this format," I do not necessarily mean the Internet, but specifically the Internet with an emphasis on participation in a discussion forum like this one. Why? Writing on a forum like this goes in the opposite direction of Zen training. Forum-posting nurtures and supports living life through the filter of narrative and concept, rather than breaking down and challenging our love of simple narrative explanations of our lives.

                          Writing a post entails transforming a complex, largely unknown experience, into a narrative form that links causes and effects together. We thus "make sense" of our lives.

                          The real liberation is not in this act of "making sense," but in letting go of the compulsion to do so.

                          Everything in Treeleaf is presented in the form of an idea. Even personal stories about non-conceptual experience become conceptualized into neatly packaged stories with morals. Everything seems so much clearer and more solid once you've written a post about it.

                          It is exactly this sort of cognitive activity that traditional Zen practice seeks to disrupt. To shock us out of our usual story-making and conceptual justification of our activities. To arrest the endless stream of comparison, strategy, and rationalization.

                          People rarely challenge each other's stories here, usually only doing so when those stories go against the "dogma" of Treeleaf. Not such a bad dogma, as far as dogmas are concerned--the perfection of things as they are. The problem is not the content of the dogma, but the process of dogma--in which a lived, experiential reality becomes a belief one either subscribes to, or does not. Beliefs can be invoked, like ritual magical objects, to ward off the demons of anxiety, but they do not truly liberate or transform.

                          The most damning piece of personal evidence I have against Treeleaf and Jundo is the absolute failure of this practice community to respond in a time of dire spiritual need in my life. (Chet was the only one able to do so, and he shares with me the questionable honor of having been one of only a few people ever banned from here for not being "leafy" enough.) I personally do not believe that any person or group so unlearned about the shadow can be a reservoir of truth. It is like having a knight who is good at cutting worms in half, but who faints in horror when the dragon shows up. I was taught at Treeleaf to fear the dragon; the journey I went through, against Jundo's advice, allowed me to befriend it and become more fearless, patient, and compassionate as a result.

                          It is hard for me to write this post because I like so many people here, in the limited extent to which I know them, and admire what people are trying to do here. But my personal conclusion is that this is a failed experiment. Not failed in the sense it won't continue to go on being what it is, but in the sense that it will continue to offer the opposite of Zen practice in the costume of Zen practice. I believe no one capable of great transformation will find it here.

                          Transformation, you say? What are we transforming? What need is there to "transform"? A Zen teacher with whom I recently had an interview spoke of finding what makes you come alive. This is transformation to me--coming alive, instead of living in dead ideas and concepts. I talked to him about feeling lately like I couldn't really, sincerely ask or connect with the questions that brought me to practice. To ask them cognitively feels like rote exercise. He pointed me to the fact that the posture, the act of sitting, these alone are the expression of a question, that even if not articulated in words at the forefront of your mind, is there, in your gut, throughout your entire being. And I felt, at the very core of my being, that this was true--the questions are still there, in some form, and they are the engine keeping my practice going.

                          I listened to a talk by John Daido Loori on a similar theme a while back, in which he pointed to the power of questions, and how it is the energy of those questions that drives practice. It was a deep, burning existential question that drove me into depression in 2008. And I came here with it. In hindsight, it is a blessing that I was driven away from here, because Treeleaf is a place where questions come to die.

                          To be driven by a question is to be driven toward aliveness. The more power in that question, the more power in the demons driving you, the more power there is at the root of your life. That kind of intensity alarms this community, which responds to it aggressively. At Treeleaf, anyone who cannot sit and smile nicely and talk about how wonderful the status quo is, does not really fit in. Someone whose questions pressed her to the very edge of despair? A heretic, an ill person, someone whose passion should be medicated away. At Treeleaf, you are taught to abandon the questions, to not play with fire.

                          What is the point of posting this? I do not know. I don't think it will likely do anything other than press people to defend this place. Maybe it is simply folly and quixotic delusion to come here and post this. But I am haunted by how radically Treeleaf failed to address the questions and raw emotional power of my existential search, and how in hindsight most of my time here seems wasted in folly, trying to neuter and destroy what I should have been drawing from and celebrating.

                          Comment

                          • Hogen
                            Member
                            • Oct 2009
                            • 261

                            #14
                            Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                            by defending Treeleaf, you give the impression there are reasons for it to be defended. It's the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" factor.

                            people will try to poke at things on the internet. let them poke without a reaction and they will find better targets.
                            Hogen
                            法眼

                            #SatToday

                            Comment

                            • Hogen
                              Member
                              • Oct 2009
                              • 261

                              #15
                              Re: In Defense of Treeleaf

                              Originally posted by Eika
                              Well said!

                              I'd add that there is nothing to defend. Whether or not we convince all the nay-sayers that what happens here is legit really doesn't change things. We do what we do. They will do what they do.

                              Last point, the forum is not Treeleaf, in my opinion. The world is Treeleaf's temple, place for samu, and zendo. The forum is our water cooler and bulletin board and classroom. That point gets lost on outsiders who apparently think that the only sphere of our practice is what we post online or discuss on Skype. That is the tip of our Zen iceberg. The stuff they see online is a small percentage of what is going on here. Again, just my opinion.

                              Peace,
                              Eika
                              good points. I know we like to say that Treeleaf is not a forum but a Sangha. well, that 's mostly true. It still remains a forum with [img] code and moderation functions and the like. And with that comes anonymous users who don't always have good intentions. Having been involved in BBS, Muds, and forums since the dawn on time (well, measured from the advent of the Mosaic browser ), these people stick out and are easy to spot. When these people arrive (however infrequently), they need to be handled in the manner of a moderator/user relationship and not a sensei/student one, IMHO.
                              Hogen
                              法眼

                              #SatToday

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