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"not even a religion"[edit]

The idea that something which has temples, priests, monasteries & rituals is "not even a religion" is somewhat problematic.

  • Is a zendo a temple, or a sitting room?
  • Is a roshi a priest, or a teacher?
  • Monasteries, or contemplative storage units shelters for surplus males? (this was said to be the case in some Tibetan eras.)
  • Rituals, yes, but OCD individuals have those too.

The absence of a creed seems to nudge the balance the other way, towards not being a religion. In the words of the Kalama Sutra:

"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."

It's a fuzzy line, to be sure. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 23:02, 18 March 2011 (UTC)

Religion has many aspects. Creed is one aspect, morals, rituals, institutions, etc. are others. What is essential to religion? Well, I think the answer is going to be like Wittgenstein's question of what is a "game"? Is there something all games have in common? Card games, board games, video games, ball games, word games, drinking games, war games... He suggests not - they are all called "games" because they have things in common with each other, but they don't all have the same things in common with each other - as a whole, there is no one factor common to them all. I think the same is true of religion - one can have a religion without a creed, or without morals, or without rituals, or without institutions, or so on. Take too many things away, it isn't a religion any more - but you can subtract any one aspect and still have a religion. --(((Zack Martin))) 23:42, 18 March 2011 (UTC)
Is it possible to have a religion without a deity?
Investigation of how humans group things (including metaphorical things) into categories is ongoing, and fascinating. See, for example, the work of Eleanor Rosch, George Lakoff, and Mark Johnson. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 05:24, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
This looks a lot like special pleading. In Japan & E Asia, Zen exists alongside various other styles of Buddhism, with many of the same beliefs, practices & traditions. Sure, there are some differences, but none that mark it out as being something completely other than than a religion. In modern western culture, Zen exists in a watered down "Buddhism as a philosophy not religion" form, which arguably is not a religion. But you can't apply that definition across the whole culture & history of Zen and state that Zen is "not even a religion" as if this a factual statement & not a particularly arbitrary one. WėąṣėḷőįďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 11:03, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
Once more with feeling: is it possible to have a religion without a deity?
In Western culture, secular schools exist alongside parochial ones, and it could be argued that the secular form arose from the religious. Does this make all schools religious? Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 12:17, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
p.s. I doubt I will sit down any time soon in front of a Western zen master and inform them that their lineage has been watered down. An honest report of such an encounter would be interesting. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 12:26, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
Is it possible to have a religion without a deity? Yes, of course. ŴêâŝêîôîďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 12:41, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
Examples of religions without deities, please.
Is Scientology a religion? Don't think for a moment that I consider that cult (ack. ptui.) in a class with zen. It is, however, another example of a group whose status as a religion is debated; United States law recognizes it as a tax-exempt religion, but does anyone here call that sufficient proof that it is authentically a religion?
Richard Dawkins may not be the foremost authority on religion, but he claims that different religions are mutually incompatible. It is widely claimed that practising zazen does not interfere with one's being a sincere devotee of a religion in the conventional sense, such as Anglican Christianity or Roman Catholicism. That said, I'm trying to remember who (Jack Kornfeld? Daido Loori?) pointed out that many zen sitters come from a background of Judaism, Catholicism, or "the modern Western religion, psychology." Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 14:31, 19 March 2011 (UTC)

Speaking to my own experience with the Shambhala Buddhists in Nova Scotia, which is hardly watered down (the leadership is first and second generation from Tibet), it is accepted that things like past lives, reincarnation, the Buddhas themselves, the Bodhisattvas, etc. all exist, but it doesn't matter if any of them do or not, and it's pointless to worry about it one way or another. What matters is an individual's practice and study, and things like Gods and even the Buddhas themselves are just distractions and trivia. I may be misunderstanding, but that's more or less how it was explained to me at the temple. --Kels@school

The Tibetan taxonomy of spiritual beings is luxuriant. Even in that context, it may be a distraction, as you say. Some English-speaking practitioners prefer to use the term "rebirth" instead of "reincarnation" since we seem to have latched on to the latter term as meaning things like "behave yourself, or you will come back as a toad!" I don't believe the wheel works like that.
This article is about the practice in the Japanese lineages called "zen." Do zennies believe in hungry ghosts? I seem to recall reading about a time when the Buddha grew impatient with questions about god(s) and the soul, saying something like "pssht! When did you ever hear me saying anything about that?" Seems more like ignosticism to me.
Random insight that arrived recently: Zen is to Buddhism as pencil-sharpening is to education. Probably wrong. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 18:12, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
Religions are cultural memes involving (usually unfalsifiable) beliefs in the supernatural (i.e. in things which we cannot observe empirically but which are said to exist) & activities or observances relating to these beliefs. Religions involving deities are most familiar to us, but this is by no means crucial to the definition. Scientology's legitimacy as a religion (rather than a scam) is disputed, & hence its entitlement to recognised religious status & tax exemption, but there is no doubt that it is marketed as a religion. Where it is not recognised as one, this is down to how Scientology is perceived a commercial venture, & has nothing to do with whether or not its belief system includes deities. Religions are also not necessarily mutually incompatible, though again we are most familiar in the Western world with ones which are. In Japan, the vast majority of citizens observe both Shinto & Buddhism; in China, many follow Buddhism, Taoism & Chinese folk religions. You've already said that the line defining religions is fuzzy, so why are you so convinced that your own interpretation re Zen carries more sway than the vast weight of public opinion & literature on the subject, which define it is a religious movement? WéáśéĺóíďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 10:43, 20 March 2011 (UTC)
Zen does not involve supernatural beliefs; it is an empirically grounded practice. "Public opinion" on this subject is ludicrously uninformed, and need not be given any weight. What cognizant literature defines Zen as a religion? Defines Zen, not Buddhism, as religion, even though any separation between the two may be difficult to locate precisely. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 13:29, 20 March 2011 (UTC)

Depends on how you define temples and priests and rituals etc. The law courts in the UK are dominated by these functions. So is the house of 'Lords' and government institutions. Are these religions also? Possibly... Dirk Steele (talk) 08:04, 26 April 2013 (UTC)

Robert Pirsig[edit]

Robert Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had almost no impact on the spread of Zen in the West. In fact, the book has very little to do with Zen Buddhism and only uses it as a loose metaphor.--WickerGuy (talk) 17:10, 11 April 2012 (UTC)


So... Do the Zen not believe in reincarnation? Do they eschew praying to Buddha? Do they have no shrines? No pretas, asuras, or devas?--User:Brxbrx/sig 03:41, 6 July 2012 (UTC)

Are you sure you are not confusing Zen with Vedanta? This is the first time I have seen "the Zen" used as a demonym. Many people keep using that word, and I do not think it means what they think it means. Zen teaching does make extensive use of parables. Consider the notion of a "nose-hole society" which I invite you to look up in the google.
Rebirth may play a part in dependent co-origination, but it is not what you might think it is. Which Buddha will you "pray" to, and for what? What more is needed besides a body breath mind and perhaps a pillow? Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 11:49, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
Okay, but do you have anything where a big face in Zen explicitly denounces the supernatural? If I were to start my own sect of Christianity, wouldn't it be rational to assume that my sect's beliefs are in line with mainstream beliefs of Christianity unless said otherwise? You clearly know far, far more about the subject than I, but so far I'm not seeing any reason to say that this is an atheistic religion. Admittedly, most of what I know comes from the Wikipedia article on Zen. But if we cast aside any discussion of Wikipedia's reliability, I saw nothing to indicate that Zen Buddhism is nontheistic or atheistic.
Maybe the section should instead be about how some practitioners are atheists--User:Brxbrx/sig 16:17, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
The problem you are getting into, Brx, is attempting to apply a western view (atheism, and frankly "religion") to a culture where those concepts are not only foreign, you cannot bend them to make them apply. roughly 80% of japanese people consider themselves to be atheist. However, 60% of them are buddhists, and virtually all of them "are" Shintoists, to the extent anyone is shinto besides standing priests. They have a deep tradition of spirits and sacred places, worthy of "worship". But while they are "supernatural" to us, they are in a very real way, "natural" to the Japanese. They are figments of the land, of the rocks, of the streams. Zen grows directly out of this tradition. It is both atheist and not atheist. It is both a religion and not a religion. And that is *our* problem in the west, when trying to force Christian derived labels onto things, not theirs. Atheist is the best term to describe the religion, by western standards.Green mowse.pngGodotFire! Fire! Fire! (please send spare firefighters) 16:31, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
It's also worth looking into the debate over "Confucianism" in the west from this perspective (Also, Tu Weiming's excellent Centrality and Commonality) Not to mention that "Zen" as it is practiced in Japan is frequently blended with other strains of Buddhism, making distinguishing what constitutes Zen from what constitutes the soup that is Japanese Buddhism difficult in the extreme. As for prominent Zen practitioners who explicitly reject the supernatural, there's always Gyomay KuboseWikipedia Unsigned, by: ORavenhurst / talkDo You Believe That? 16:36, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
Actually, a better example than Kubose is Gudo Wafu NishijimaWikipedia who treats everything as explicitly biological without any trace whatsoever of "supernatural" influence. — Unsigned, by: ORavenhurst / talkDo You Believe That? 16:39, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
The nearest thing to a god I can find in my reading around Buddhism is the Dharmakaya, which may be regarded as a body of truth or reality, an empty blue sky, or a mirror. Of course more may be said about it than just that. It is possible to find quotes from teachers or accomplished scholars saying things like "we avoid speaking of God, to avoid confusion with the Christian concept of a deity." Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 16:53, 6 July 2012 (UTC)

Sexual predators[edit]

Shouldn't there be a section on sexual predators among Zen teachers? Three of the four major Zen teachers from Japan in the US were sexual predators:[1] Eido Tai ShimanoWikipedia, Kyozan Joshu SasakiWikipedia and Taizan MaezumiWikipedia. Or is hypocrisy just zen? Bongolian (talk) 20:09, 22 March 2015 (UTC)