When We Evaluate Zen Buddhism by it’s Own Standards

The book The Three Pillars of Zen (by Phillip Kapleau, ed., 1965) includes a series of explanations and teachings by a series of master teachers of Buddhism. One of them, Yasutani, starts out in his first lecture by telling us the following:

We need therefore to return to our original perfection, to see through the false image of ourselves as incomplete and sinful, and to wake up to our inherent purity and wholeness.
.    .    .
How can we bring the moon of truth to illumine fully our life and personality? We need first to purify the water, to calm the surging waves by halting the winds of discursive thought. In other words, we must empty our minds of what the Kegon sutra calls the “conceptual thought of man.” Most people place a high value on abstract thought, but Buddhism has clearly demonstrated that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion. I once heard someone say: “Thought is the sickness of the human mind.” From the Buddhist point of view, this is quite true. . . So long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, they can well be called sick. (p.28, 29)

On reading this, my first thought went back to a brief encounter I once had in a bookstore. I walked upon a store clerk speaking to a customer. The clerk explained that he was very familiar with Christianity, and that Jesus taught essentially the same things as Buddhism. Part of me wanted to butt in and explain that he really did not know what he was talking about, and part of my just sighed in frustration, not knowing where to start when someone was so seriously mistaken. In the end the introvert in me won, and I walked away without saying anything, frustrated that there were people in the world who thought such things.

The quote above begins with telling us that it is false that we are sinful. By contrast, the Bible tells us repeatedly that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus forgave sin, but He never taught that it did not exist. He instead told sinners to “go and sin no more.” If we want to know Jesus’ reaction to sin, read Matthew chapter 23. Deep down all people know that they commit sin, for we have an inherent moral law which acts upon our hearts. The contrast between the essential teachings of Christ and Buddhism could not be more clear.

The Buddhist teacher then tells us that we should “halt the winds of discursive thought” and “discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion” and “thought is the sickness of the human mind.” These statements and the ideas behind them are central teachings of Zen Buddhism, at least in the form presented by Yasutani.

While we may need more calm in our lives, the statements above are clearly false. When we measure them, even by their own yardstick, they are found wanting.

It strikes me quite odd that Kapleau gives us his book, which is a 350-page discourse that tells us we should not listen to discourses. It asks us to think about Zen to get well, even though thinking allegedly makes us sick. We are asked to discriminate between Zen and non-Zen, even though discriminatory thinking is a delusion. If, as this book tells us, it is bad for us to discriminate between ideas, and we should empty our minds of thought, why should I read Kapleau’s book which is full of ideas and thoughts? By Zen’s own standard, Kapleau’s book is leading me to delusion by teaching me how Zen works. Further, if we have “inherent purity and wholeness” then how is it that our thinking is sick and we are in need of Zen?

If a Zen master gives us an answer to these questions, he would again be explaining things in a way that we should discriminate true from false. But the book just told us we should not discriminate between thoughts. Such is merely the beginning of the nonsense in this book on Zen Buddhism.

But Kapleau and Yasutani are partially correct. They tell us that our minds are fettered and sick, which is true. They are incorrect on what do do about it, though. The Bible tells us that God’s word can “renew our minds” (Romans 12:2). It tells us that we should actively think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise (Philemon 4:8). Only in God’s word, the Bible, will we find the answer to our sick minds.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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2 Responses to When We Evaluate Zen Buddhism by it’s Own Standards

  1. J.W. Wartick says:

    I enjoyed your post here quite a bit. I think we need to work to issue internal critiques of other faiths so that we both do not misrepresent what they are saying and so we can analyze them on their own grounds.

    One quick note: the title uses the wrong form of “it’s” and should be “its.” Not to be annoying!

  2. Pingback: RRP 6/5/15 | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

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