Rude Trees

Kevin J. Rice, Kevin@justanyone.com, http://JustAnyone.com

Religion Paper 4, Operative question 1 of 2: What is the difference between Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism?

It seems that the differences between Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism lie in two primary areas. These are the objects of their quests and the methodology for getting there. No two religions can differ on more than those issues, but the differences were not really that large due to their origins being similar.

It can be said that the two sects had the same goal and just differed in the timing of when one could receive it. Pure Land Buddhism held that there was a western-style heaven, albeit one where everyone was in a state of nirvana. Zen, on the other hand, aimed at that same nirvanic state as an earthly reward that one receives within one's own lifetime, not after death.

The method that Pure Land Buddhism believed was the proper path to that nirvanic state was a life of faith: complete devotion to the Buddha. The strenuous life of good works was not the primary motivator anymore, it was the faith in the ideal that the Buddha represented. Zen Buddhism, similarly, regarded good works as non-primary. They took it one step farther, though, in saying that rituals and intellectual effort were useless and indeed almost counterproductive in the search for nirvana. They urged their followers to attempt to break out of the constraints of ordinary logic and look inward to one's heart for the path to nirvana. To intuit was more valuable than to intellectualize, no matter how paradoxical the argument was that was required to allow the seer to break free from the constraints of logic.

Religion Paper 4, Operative question 2 of 2: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

According to the Streng text, this question is a Koan, or "a riddle used by Zen masters to help a student break away from intellectual conventions and see things directly." I cannot improve on that definition of a Koan. I can note, however, that the question is functionally the same as asking if a tree falling in a forest when there is no one there to hear it really says "Shit!" (Koan courtesy of Shel Silverstein).

By equating intangible situations I have successfully missed the point by attempting to empericalize the unknowable. My imagination is limited, and my faculties dimmed, by 23 years of living in civilization's confining paradigms. I cannot imagine these sounds because my logical mind has trapped my imagination behind the wall of reason that says "If an act seems impossible then it is merely not understood well enough." This definition leaves no room for acts that are by definition impossible since they cannot occur in a rational world by my experience.

There is the possibility of imagining a man sitting crosslegged moving one of his arms 'just so' and some sound emanating from that event, but that misses the point entirely. I realize that the object is to attempt to throw off rationality and approach the world without preconceptions. Fortunately or not, I cannot breach that barrier. I can attempt to determine what my preconceptions are by reduction. I believe that our observations of the world can be explained in terms of certain fundamental laws that are mathematically self-consistent, that one and one are always two. Proposing an impossible event, such as one plus one equaling three, means that for me to accept that I would have to cease the evaluation of it. For me to give up my abilities to judge the world's events, I would need to nearly give up all my experiences and judgements about the way the world is. I have fought hard for those judgements (such as deciding that making love is fun) and I am unwilling to accept the loss of individuality inherent in that religious system.

So, by my unwillingness to attain the mindset due to its heavy price, I am unable to answer the question posed. I make no apologies.


Rude Trees

by Kevin J. Rice

Tuesday, October 16th, 1990

Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990


Working Notes:

It seems that the differences between Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism lie in two primary areas. These are the objects of their quests and the methodology for getting there. No two religions can differ on more than those issues, but the differences were not really that large due to their origins being similar.

It can be said that the two sects had the same goal and just differed in the timing of when one could receive it. Pure Land Buddhism held that there was a western-style heaven, albeit one where everyone was in a state of nirvana. Zen, on the other hand, aimed at that same nirvanic state as an earthly reward that one receives within one's own lifetime, not after death.

The method that Pure Land Buddhism believed was the proper path to that nirvanic state was a life of faith: complete devotion to the Buddha. The strenous life of good works was not the primary motivator anymore, it was the faith in the ideal that the Buddha represented. Zen Buddhism, similarly, regarded good works as non-primary. They took it one step farther, though, in saying that rituals and intellectual effort were usless and indeed almost counterproductive in the search for nirvana. They urged their followers to attempt to break out of the constraints of ordinary logic and look inward to one's heart for the path to nirvana. To intuit was more valuable than to intellectualize, no matter how paradoxical the argument was that was required to allow the seer to break free from the constraints of logic.


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