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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life After Death: A Zen Response.

A samurai once asked Zen Master Hakuin where he would go after he died. Hakuin answered 'How am I supposed to know?' 'How do you not know? You're a Zen master!' exclaimed the samurai. 'Yes, but not a dead one,' Hakuin answered.

James: What Master Hakuin understood was that so long as this samurai was obsessed with what happens after death, (if anything) he might as well already be dead. In clinging to worries about death, he is dead to the present moment. Therefore, the samurai is not able to experience and enjoy the vibrant life that is already unfolding around him!! Why concern yourself with an existence after this one if you're not even experiencing the current one?!! This is why Zen doesn't focus too intently on afterlife.

It advises people to live each moment as though it were their last, which leads us to live a life of greater awareness of our actions; and that causes less suffering for us and those around us. In this way, we will live a healthier spiritual life to where any concerns or fears about a possible afterlife will naturally fade away.

PHOTO: The altar where I meditate at home.

~may all beings know peace~

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Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hakuin never said anything of the sort. This is just another made-up fake "quote" attributed to a Zen Master on teh interwebs. Anyone familiar with Hakuin (or, for that matter, with actual Zen teaching) can spot this instantly as phony.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

This appears to be a badly mangled version of a genuine traditional story about Hakuin that is related by Nyogen Senzaki in "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones", under the title, "The Gates of Paradise".

Here is a link:

And here is the story:

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"

"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.

"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.

"You, a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."

Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"

At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.

"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.

Kirsten said...

Thank you for the reminder--I don't care if its genuine or not. Present moment, wonderful moment!

They call him James Ure said...

@Apuleius Platonicus...Thanks for the clarification on Hakuin. I assure you that I didn't intend to mislead people as to the author's identity. I still think the wisdom within the quote is very helpful and wise, however.

So would you disagree then with the essence of my commentary that Zen teachers often don't focus so much on the afterlife?

I have been a Zen practitioner for awhile now and heard many Zen teachers say it is better to focus on the present moment than worry about the afterlife.

My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Seung Sanh and Guido Nishijima are among those teachers. Thank-you again for the information about the quote.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Karma and rebirth are central to the teachings of all schools of Zen just as they are to all schools of Buddhism. This is true in the Soto and Rinzai schools in Japan, and it is also true in Korean Seon and in the teachings of Chinese Chan.

Seung Sahn was very clear on the importance of Karma and Rebirth as basic teachings of Buddhism. He would often teach that our relationships in this life are determined by karmic relationships from past lives. He even said that just brushing past a stranger on a busy street indicates that you and that stranger have shared karma for 500 lifetimes.

Check out Seung Sahn's "Compass of Zen" at googlebooks (link), and do a search on "rebirth".

Liz said...

What a beautiful blog. As a new-ish blogger myself you are an inspiration.

many thanks....and i would welcome your feedback on our blog:

Mumon said...

The samurai story notwithstanding one if his writings Hakuin talks about how one might get an expectation of one's level of realization by inquiring about the koan related to the death of Nan'chuan.

Without giving the answer away (and it's an "answer" that has to be realized in one's marrow anyway)it is not inappropriate to say the answer's not far from the story written here.

fAb said...

I loved the message of both stories and thanks for sharing them with us...

James your little meditation temple is beautiful :) I guess that's Thich Nhat Hahn in the picture at the right...

Saludos desde Costa Rica!!

qbrick said...

This popular phrase: to focus on the present moment - isn't that utterly pointless? I simply can't find-get-hold it, only the illusion of it.
IMO it's the same with the mind.

They call him James Ure said...

@Apuleius Platonicus...I agree that karma and rebirth are an essential part of the Zen teachings. However, I was simply making the observation that we shouldn't be too attached to the idea of an afterlife; Such as: "Will I be reborn a rat? Etc.")

It was my observation that being mindful and aware of my actions in the present moment is where I notice spiritual growth. I do believe in rebirth.

I personally find, however, that obsessing over the "how/where/when/what/why" of the process to be a bit of a distraction to being alive and present in the here and now.

My death will come soon enough, so I guess, in part, I'm saying that I'd rather spend my time being in the now, rather than in a cerebral maze of Buddhist dogma about rebirth. That, however, is not to say that knowing some dogma isn't important.

They call him James Ure said...

@Kristen...Thank-you!! I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I'm hoping I can get back to writing more on a regular basis.

@Liz...I'm glad that I am an inspiration for you and I look forward to hearing from you in the future. I will try to check out your blog.

@Mumon...Thank-you for your insight on the post/quote. Indeed, we would all do well to contemplate upon this koan further. I will be doing just that when my wife and I visit Taos over part of next week!! Meditation in the high desert!! Sounds blissful. :)

@Fab...You're welcome. Ahhh, sunny Costa Rica. Paradise!! I think fondly still of our days visiting your gorgeous homeland. I wish we could have stayed longer. I'm glad that you're still reading the blog!! And thank-you for the kind words about our meditation corner. It truly is a nice quite refuge for us.

@Qbrick...Hmmm, I can't answer that one for you. Maybe meditating about it will give your more insight. I'm still understanding new facets of Buddhism; despite being a Buddhist for almost a decade now. Let me know if anything comes to you.

Passerby said...

I like to introduce the most recent update to my blog:

Braden Talbot said...

Another helpful shift is seeing death not as an ending, but as a continuation.

Tao1776 said...

The essential point of this post is not the quote is accurate, although that point is taken, it is about spaciousness; greater than belief/no belief. We call ourselves Buddhists, atheists, Americans, or philosophers: are these any different from having a view on an afterlife?

Ken said...

"Being in the now" is an exercise. Abiding in it is futile. Now will never come. Or rather, it will never come to "you".

Awareness can't keep up with the flow of this impermanent reality. Training to stay in the now could benefit the effort to let go of the story of you and free up space for being to become obvious. Aim for being only. Forget the now.

Why do buddhists keep talking about rebirth when even the historical guy Gotama clearly indicated for his followers that there is no one to be reborn?


Ariki said...

Karma and Rebirth may be considered important to many - but not to all - and they're certainly not "central" to Buddhist teaching.

The Buddha constantly reiterated that awareness in the here-and-now is much more important than speculation on the afterlife.

To this effect (and I know James would agree) I highly recommend the Kalama sutta for clarification on this subject.

NetZen said...

Karma and rebirth are a part of Zen teaching sure, but these are the conventional truths. These ideas manifest from the store consciousness as artifcats of self. Seeing what is "thus come" is a way out of this kind of thinking.

William B. said...

Are those Tibetan Prayer Flags in the back of your altar?

They call him James Ure said...

@William...Yes, they are miniature, Tibetan prayer flags. I like the symbolism that they send out compassionate energy as they flap in the breeze/wind.

Brid said...

What a beautiful way to look at life. It's so true that in thinking of death, one is dying to the moment. I love that.

jvs. said...

If anyone wants to call themselves a Zen practitioner or Buddhist and goes about arguing or trying to prove themselves correct have they really studied Buddhism?

My sister passed away a few days ago and it has been very difficult for myself and my family. These words (whether modified or not) spoke to me and reminded me to not focus on where she might be or whether she is simply gone and all I have is memories and stories to keep her alive. This helps me focus on the now, a very important Zen teaching.

Thank you for sharing.

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