I only know what I know

Lately, I’ve been reading the excellent compilation of articles on Japanese religion by George J. Tanabe Jr, called Religions of Japan in Practice, among other things.1 It is a hefty tome, but has lots of interesting articles about lesser-known aspects of Japanese religion.2

Anyways, after reading some writings by the founder of Japanese Rinzai Zen, Myōan Eisai (明菴栄西), I’ve developed a further interest. Eisai is in many ways overshadowed by Soto Zen’s founder, Dōgen, and by the Chinese founder of Rinzai, Linji. Frankly, I knew almost nothing about him.

I don’t have time to write in detail about his writings from the book right now, will in later posts, but I wanted to share this cool quote that Yueheng had posted on Twitter, and on an old entry on his blog:

“I don’t know anything about Buddhas of the past, present, or future. But I know cats exist, I know that cows exist.”

I thought this was pretty cool and shows how Buddhism, when practiced well, keeps one well-grounded. This was difficult then with all the vast and complex ritual and philosophical debates at the time, but even more so now that we are flooded with information in books, websites and so on. I am definitely the scholar-type, and I enjoy studying Buddhism quite a bit, among other things, and I feel that knowledge of the underlying philosophy is very helpful for practice,3 but there’s also a time to ground yourself in reality, and start with focusing on the mind. It’s easy for the mind to wander off into all kinds of ideas and abstract concepts, but the Buddha in various sutras said over and over again that he merely observed the arising and cessation of phenomena, and it helps us to stay well-grounded and to do that too.

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha

P.S. Can’t wait to return home in 6 weeks and link up with some Buddhist groups there. Missing the feeling of a sangha quite a bit, as a kind of group motivation, but also to engage in discussions that don’t suffer the same ugly fate all Buddhist-forums do.

P.P.S. For some reason I think of Popeye, the cartoon character, when I read this title. :p

1 This is in keeping with my habit of reading through a few books at once. I read a little of one book, then read a little of another book, and so on. Eventually I finish them all. The only reason I think do this isn’t some kind of super-intelligence, but poor attention-span, and impatience.

2 There’s another article in there about the Neo-Confucianist movement in Tokugawa-era Japan called shingaku (心学) that I am eager to share, as well as a letter that greatly clarifies Buddhism’s stance on celibacy and sex. More to come in the following days. :)

3 Reading the Yogacara book mentioned in past articles has helped my understanding of Buddhism immensely. I feel like that was the missing theoretical puzzle I needed to round things out. So, lately, I am focusing on how to put it into practice more.

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
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2 Responses to I only know what I know

  1. Jishin says:

    On the subject of Japanese Neo-Confucian thought this text is interesting:

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/cfu/sz/index.htm

  2. Doug says:

    That’s awesome, thank you! I haven’t been able to find a concise compilation like that. :)

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