09 July 2007

Compassionate Hitting?

In a talk sometime after our "ordination," one of the Venerables told a story about a monk-in-training whose teacher asked him, "Why did you come here?"

"I want training."

The Master shouted, "You think only of yourself!" and beat him with a stick.

The next day the Master asked him again, "Why did you come here?"

The monk-in-training said, "For your training."

The Master hit him with a stick again and said, "Answers can't come from outside! They have to come from you!"

Still the monk-in-training came back a third time. (Stories like this always have a third time, don't they?)

The Master asked, "Why have you come?"

The trainee said, "If you want to beat me, beat me."

And he was enlightened.

I'm not sure this story translates, culturally. I don't know about you but I don't want to learn anything from someone who is hitting me. Call it ego, call it pride, call it resistance....I call it self-preservation. I guess that's the point, that it's that "self" that gets in the way of realization but, I dunno, the idea that hitting can be compassionate just plain makes no sense to me. My parents spanked us. I hated it. It was shaming. It felt like the ultimate exercise of power of the big over the small. I don't remember learning anything from it except secrecy and guile.

At one point the Venerable said we "preceptees" (i.e. temporary monastics-in-training) had it much easier than the real trainees back in Taiwan: they have no place to sleep they can call their own, for example, and the detailed rules are rigidly enforced, sometimes with sticks. A little research turned up the fact that the Rinzai sect of Mahayana Buddhism is known for this. Here's a link to a pretty well-known Zen monk named Brad Warner (author of Hard Core Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up, among others) explaining the source of this practice by talking about the beginning of Rinzai and Master Rinzai, himself.

All I know is, it's hard enough to put up with the fierce scowls from the Discipline Master and the threats of public tongue-lashings; I can't imagine lasting one day if hitting were part of this.

It's a good thing that people keep talking about the ways in which Buddhism changes as it becomes established in a new culture. (*see below for more on this) It's hard to imagine this stick thing surviving in any form of Western or American Buddhism.

Note: Some of these links are in the column over there ======> in the "Stuff to listen to" list but here are a bunch of links where Brad Warner talks about Rinzai Buddhism at the Victoria Zen Center in Victoria BC, Canada:

(and there are number of other talks on this site: Living Zen)

* Cultural differences in Buddhism
The two main branches of Buddhism are Theravada, which is found primarily in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia, and Mahayana, which is practiced in Japan, Korea, and Tibet. (Both are represented in the United States.) Grossly simplified, Theravada says you should focus on your own salvation; Mahayana says the salvation of others comes first. Theravada is older. Mahayana is more popular.

Tibetan Buddhism, the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama, is quite different from the Chinese Rinzai/Pure Land/Ch'an that's practiced at the Hsi Lai Temple. Because of its distinctive characteristics, Huston Smith refers to Tibetan Buddhism as the "third way." It's a great example of the way in which Buddhism settles down over time in a new culture. Tibetan Buddhism came directly from India but it incorporates some of Tibet's pre-Buddhist deities and has a more mystical tradition. In China, Buddhism interacted with Confucian concepts of social order and so became something quite different from Tibetan Buddhism.

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