Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Zen is the Heart of the Vehicle of Oneness: A survey of Ekayana Buddhism - Introduction

[This is the first draft of the introduction to an essay I'm working on. (c) 2008]

Introduction To Ekayana

The thesis of this essay is that Zen is the heart of Ekayana Buddhism, that is, the Buddhism known as the One Vehicle or more accurately the Vehicle of Oneness. While many have heard of Zen Buddhism and of the major branch of Buddhism known as Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism, within which Zen is usually located, and heard also of the Mahayana charge of Hinayana (Small Vehicle) views against opposing branches of Buddhism, few in the West have heard, fewer still have appreciated, and even rarer have been those who realize the meaning of Ekayana Buddhism. By Zen I do not mean Zen as a religious institution but the Zen of awakening that is the unity of meditation (dhyana-chan-zen) and wisdom (prajna) within the context of one's straightforward daily activities (sila). The primary purpose of this paper is to inform English speaking Buddhists about the importance and centrality of Ekayana Buddhism as it relates to their own Buddhist practice in whichever tradition they find themselves. Secondarily I hope to speak to non-Buddhists who are wondering how Buddhism relates to their own spiritual practice.
Though the Ekayana is Shakyamuni's true and direct Dharma, the basic problem is that even most Buddhists have failed to see and acknowledge the central role of Ekayana. This is a problem of failing to see the forest for the trees. This problem is explained by the Ekayana as being the result of that essential aspect of consciousness that divides the world into the images of separate categories and things and turning this divisive mental process onto Buddhism as well. Thus, instead of having a clear appreciation of Ekayana Buddhism and how it functions as the complete unification of Buddhism, we have Buddhist sectarianism and arguments over the centrality of one sutra or another, the methods of one sect over another, or even sometimes the nature of the goal of Buddhism itself. The history of Buddhism is in large part a history of the resurgence of the Ekayana spirit and its subsequent re-fracturing when the spirit is overtaken by the religious politics of the day.
There are certain myths in Buddhism and Buddhist studies that Ekayana does not accept. Among them are the notions that Hinayana and Mahayana are irreconcilable, that Chinese Buddhism is not based on Indian Buddhism and that the Chinese development of the sects of Tiantai, Huayan. Zen, and Pure Land are inherently different from each other or have different goals. And there are beliefs about Buddhism in Buddhist studies circles that make no sense without an understanding of Ekayana. For example, it is often said and commonly believed that Zen and other forms of Buddhism "look to Hua-yen for their philosophical foundation." (Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, p. xii) However, this implies a sectarian reliance that doesn't make sense. It is not that Zen looks to Huayan as a separate school for its philosophy, but that both Huayan and Zen are parts of the Ekayana as a perennial spiritual movement within Buddhism. The teaching of the Huayan Sutra may be said to represent the grand philosophical aspect of Ekayana while Zen presents the direct practice aspect of Ekayana. In this way, all of the Ekayana Sutras and their schools of study (not just the Huayan) are the lobes of the brain-mind of Ekayana as Zen is the heart-mind.
A caveat: One of the most primary ways we learn is by assimilating strange ideas and images through metaphors relating to something we are already familiar with, e.g., body parts like brain and heart. The downside of that learning method is that we may take the metaphor too literally and come to falsely believe something about the strange new thing that is not true simply because the idea is contained in the transitional metaphor and not in the new thing. For example, someone who had never before seen or heard of a lion or tiger may learn something accurate about a lion or tiger by being told it is like a very large house cat. But then the person would be misled upon taking the metaphor to mean that the usual lion or tiger was as docile as the usual house cat. Metaphors are good for making strange things familiar, but they are not substitutes for the facts themselves.
To be introduced now to Ekayana may seem strange to many if not most Western Buddhists who have heard frequently of Mahayana and of the debate over the uses of the term Hinayana, and who even may have heard of Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle), but have not heard the term Ekayana before or having heard it not really registered it as a term of significance. This sense of strangeness might be reduced by learning that Ekayana is a little like Gnosticism within Christianity; it is an essentially ecumenical movement within Buddhism that refuses to allow itself to become a separate sect and so, to deal with the sectarian mentality of human beings, it appears within all the sects to greater or lesser degrees. In other words, while there are the sectarian divisions known as Zen, Pure Land, Huayan, Theravada, Vajrayana, etc., just as the word Buddha means the Awakened One, the threads that weave the tapestry of the Ekayana movement will be found throughout Buddhism wherever an individual in a particular sect has had a real and genuine awakening which is the one goal shared throughout all Buddhism.
Another caveat: to see Ekayana Buddhism as the "One Vehicle" or "One Path" does not mean what it may seem to imply if taken narrowly: that Ekayana is an exclusive form of Buddhism. For example, those Buddhists who are already familiar with the term Ekayana, or the One Vehicle, through the Lotus Sutra may be surprised to learn that the Ekayana doesn't mean believing in the Lotus Sutra as the one and only best teaching of Buddha. This mistaken belief about Ekayana -- taking it to mean only one framework of belief based on one sutra as the "One Vehicle" -- is as mistaken in the Buddhist context as the mistaken notion that taking Jesus as personal savior is the only "one Way" in the Christian context while denying that every other view of Christianity has any legitimacy. Such narrow mindedness is best known under the label "fundamentalism" which, as a human dilemma, affects Buddhism just as much as it affects every other religion. Taking one sutra or another as "the One Vehicle" is the mistake of literalizing the Ekayana and seeking the Buddha's Dharma of Ekayana in the words of the Buddha and not in the practice, realization, and manifestation of Buddha's awakening.
Woven in the history of Ekayana are several common themes which may be outlined as: (1) Buddhism is the religious science of the One Mind, (2) the One Mind is known by many names such as Dharmakaya (the body or essence of Dharma), Buddha-nature, Tathagata-garbha (the womb of the One-Who-Comes-Thus), Sunyata (Emptiness), Alaya-vjnana (the Storehouse of Consciousness), etc., (3) since all the teachings of Buddhism, including both Mahayana and Hinayana, are essentially teachings about the One Mind they must be taken as an organic whole and this reconciliation of apparent oppositions or contradictions within Buddhist teachings is the synthesis of Ekayana, (4) as all beings share equally the One Mind there is an absolute basis for human equality, (5) realizing this absolute basis of the One Mind is not accomplished as an intellectual pursuit but must be accomplished by experiential practice, and (6) since all people share This One Mind there is no fundamental distinction between monk and lay practitioner in the potential for -- or actual realization of -- awakening in Buddhism.
The Ekayana has played a crucial role at every stage in the outward movement of maturing Buddhism from its birthplace in the borderlands between India and Nepal. Ekayana was central to the development of what became known as the Mahayana when Buddhism spread to Southern India and northwest into Kashmir and across the Hindu Kush where it met the Silk Road in what is now Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Ekayana also played pivotal roles in the transplantation of Buddhism to China, Korea, and Japan. Now that Buddhism has come to the West, and especially with an emphasis on lay practice, it is necessary for Western Buddhists to at least understand and appreciate -- and hopefully realize -- the meaning of Ekayana for Buddhism to become meaningfully alive within our Western cultural framework. It should not be a surprise that the religion of Buddha's enlightenment has met fertile soil in the West today where we can see the ecumenical spirit of Ekayana working unconsciously in the Western Buddhist communities as it touches those aspects of the Western psyche that are Ekayana in spirit and grounded in the psychological and philosophical traditions of gnosis, the Age of Reason, and the Western Enlightenment. When individuals awaken and express their awakening, which then comes to a shared awareness in a living community, then that is the presence of the living Ekayana of Buddha Dharma.

#end Introduction#

The outline of the essay continues with the following section headings:

Bodhidharma's Ekayana
Ekayana in Pali Scriptures
Ekayana in Mahayana Scriptures
Ekayana in Chinese Buddhism
Fazang's Ekayana
Huineng's Ekayana
Zongmi's Ekayana
Ekayana in Japanese Buddhism
Prince Shotoku's Ekayana
Hakuin's Ekayana
Ekayana Today

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