What is Rinzai Zen practice?

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Meido
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What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by Meido » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:10 pm

Over at Dharmawheel a while ago, someone asked "What kind of practice is done in the Otokan lineage?"

A little background: "Otokan" refers to the Chinese Linji Chan lineage transmitted by Xutang Zhiyu (Kido Chigu, 1185-1269) to his Japanese student Nampo Shomyo (also called Daio Kokushi, 1235-1308). Daio returned to Japan and in turn transmitted it to his heir Shuho Myocho (Daito Kokushi, 1282-1337). Daito transmitted it to Kanzan Egen (1277-1360).

This lineage, called "Otokan" after Daio, Daito, and Kanzan, is the sole surviving Rinzai line in Japan, eventually inherited by Hakuin and now also carried by us in the West. The question I responded to, therefore, was essentially: What is practiced in Rinzai Zen?

Several folks at DW had also responded, mentioning susokukan (breath-counting meditation), koan practice (including the first koan assigned, often Joshu's "Mu"), and wondering if the shikantaza practice of the Soto school is utilized.

Since there seems to be a lot of confusion about Rinzai practice (and koan practice in particular) I contributed the following post there. It may be useful here as well to post and discuss if anyone is interested.

********

Koan kufu (practice using koan/wato) is a major method. The first koan taken up can be "Mu," but there are several others commonly used, all in the class of hosshin (Dharmakaya) koans. That is, they are to enter the gate of kensho.

There are a lot of misconceptions about koan practice e.g, that it is a fixed curriculum, that there are standard "answers" that one must present, and so on. Most importantly, popular discussion of the practice can't grasp what the teacher's role is. But without sanzen, mutual investigation done in relationship with the teacher, it is not Rinzai koan practice.

Another thing many people don't understand is that koan practice serves also as a kind of "skeleton" or structure for one's overall practice. That is, within koan practice there are places where pointers to other things are made which one will then take up.

As an example, at some point one investigates the go-i (Five Ranks of Tozan) koans. Through these koan, one begins to really understand what is meant by actualizing or integrating the recognition of kensho, and the rapidly ascending path revealed thereby. The oral instruction given at one point during the go-i koans is to secretly practice the hokkyo zanmai (Jewel Mirror Samadhi) and hen sho ego zanmai (alternating samadhis of hen and sho) for at least 3 years. What does this mean? Well, the experience of what those terms signify is grasped through the koan practice, with the teacher displaying and transmitting the essential points. Then, by undertaking the practice as directed, one can begin to actualize kensho as realization; as my teacher said, "this is where you make it your own." It takes a minimum of three years to stabilize this in a meaningful way that will not regress.

So, that is an absolutely essential part of Rinzai practice...the crux, so to speak, of post-kensho training; but books talking about koan practice, and discussions online like this, usually have no idea about these things that are carried within the container of so-called "koan training." The focus is always on the koan writings themselves, not on the actual function for practitioners. Of course this is understandable, since one couldn't know without going through it.

RE susokukan, it is indeed common for it to be given as a first method in zazen, since most people lack the ability to hold a koan or wato in samadhi for any period of time. If one cannot hold the koan uninterruptedly, it won't work as a method. It will likely lapse into conceptualization about the koan's meaning, etc. So susokukan is a very useful method for working with the posture, breath, and method to remove obstructions, develop meditative stability, etc.

Of course for some people, susokukan could itself be a sufficient method for their entire lives. Not everyone is suited to koan practice.

RE shikantaza, in my experience we don't use that word in Rinzai practice. But I would say that what is signified by practice of hokkyo zanmai is not different from a genuine shikantaza practice from the Rinzai standpoint, meaning shikantaza in its actualized fruition as the oneness of practice and its confirmation, the unity of samadhi/prajna, and so on. It is a point where we could understand what is meant by "practice-less practice", and that zazen is not actually a method for anything.

Aside from all this, cultivation of the breathing used in zazen (tanden soku) is important. The energetic cultivation methods passed down from Hakuin were important in my experience. There are many things. Of course the usual other practices one encounters in Zen e.g. ritual practice, walking, prostrations, work practice, integration of arts and physical culture, etc. can all found in Rinzai training. A lot depends on the experiences and interests of past holders of a particular lineage...there can be a lot of variation. Since Zen in general takes recognition of one's nature as the entrance to, and basis of subsequent, cultivation, really we can't say there are fixed methods at all. But naturally different teachers and students have different expressions, tools, powers, abilities, etc.

*****************

The one thing I'd add to this now: if someone asked me what the primary or essential practice of Rinzai Zen is, I would say that while of course everyone practices zazen, and koan practice is well-known and refined to a high degree, the one irreplaceable practice in Rinzai Zen is sanzen: mutual investigation of Zen, in direct encounter with the teacher.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org
Madison, WI Rinzai Zen Community [機山龍源寺] - http://www.madisonrinzaizen.org
The Rinzai Zen Community - http://www.rinzaizen.org

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Wayfarer
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Re: What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by Wayfarer » Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:26 am

Thank you Meido. I am looking forward to your book coming out. I also hope to be able to attend some training at Korinji in the future. Meanwhile I will maintain my daily practice.

:namaste:
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michaeljc
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Re: What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by michaeljc » Fri Jan 12, 2018 6:41 am

Thank you Meido

Caodemarte
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Re: What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by Caodemarte » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:45 pm

Thank you. I just came back from a Rinzai retreat. The point was made by the teacher that once you get past the form shikantaza and koan zazen were the same. Being no expert in any I have long felt that Rinzai zazen, Soto zazen, and Silent Illuminaton were the same in the end. Then again, the more I learn the more I feel that Christian prayer and othe non-Buddhist meditation and contemplation when deeply done can lead to the same place

Shoshin
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Re: What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by Shoshin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:51 pm

Thank you for taking the time to put this down, Roshi. As I have mentioned to you before, I have been stumbling my way along the path as a solo practitioner for somewhere over a decade, always feeling that something was missing. This tells me that I was on the right path, as far as that goes!

It also reinforces the need for rigorous daily practice, which I have been somewhat lacking in over the past years.


Thank you!

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Meido
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Re: What is Rinzai Zen practice?

Post by Meido » Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:02 pm

Thanks everyone, I'm glad that little breakdown has been of interest or use.
Caodemarte wrote:
Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:45 pm
Being no expert in any I have long felt that Rinzai zazen, Soto zazen, and Silent Illuminaton were the same in the end.
Yes, I am certain we must say this is the case. All Zen methods and paths, in their fruition, must arrive at the same embodiment of awakening.
Caodemarte wrote: Then again, the more I learn the more I feel that Christian prayer and othe non-Buddhist meditation and contemplation when deeply done can lead to the same place
Though I have some hesitation to say this is generally true (wanting to avoid an unconsidered universalism, which I think is a bit of a common and problematic viewpoint), I do definitely believe we can point to instances where this is true. One of my teachers said as much, describing how there were particular writings of other traditions that - when he read them - he believed were discussing the same realization (even looking at Western philosophy, he liked Plotinus and recommended we read him).

Actually, in our particular koan shitsunai there is a place at which this question is specifically addressed, vis a vis an episode in which a non-Buddhist text (the I Ching) was used by a Zen teacher.

In my book I included a chapter discussing Zen's place within so-called hierarchies of Buddhist traditions, and another titled "Zen and Abrahamic Faiths." These questions of encounter, commonality, and differences are very interesting to me...and particularly as the encounter of different traditions (e.g. in a forum like this) also brings with it the at times triumphalist rhetoric carried by each.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org
Madison, WI Rinzai Zen Community [機山龍源寺] - http://www.madisonrinzaizen.org
The Rinzai Zen Community - http://www.rinzaizen.org

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