Mishima Pass is in a mountainous area to the north of Mount Fuji, near the border of the former provinces of Kai and Suruga. A towering cypress is embraced by travellers who express their exuberance and triumph at reaching the ancient tree. Even Mount Fuji in the distance is dwarfed by the monumental tree. The contrast of the small human figures and the giant natural forms reveals Hokusai’s empathy with the travellers.
With thanks to © Metropolitan Museum of Art
Question: An academic friend of mine has done some research and come up with the theory that the historical Buddha didn’t really live, that the Buddhist teachings were of a later period. Is the personality of the Buddha important for Buddhist practice?
Ajahn Sumedho: It’s a convention. It doesn’t matter whether there was ever a Buddha or not, it still works. If you want to say there was nobody like Siddhattha Gotama who became the Buddha, and this was all made up by Joe Bloggs, or somebody, it still wouldn’t make any difference in terms of practice. People, now, want to prove that Jesus Christ never existed. There’s a great deal of interest in history, in trying to prove that this didn’t actually happen, or this person didn’t really exist, but that is being very simplistic and shows a blind faith in history as being reality.
What works? What really works? This you have to find out for yourself. I find the Buddhist convention a very skilful one for me. Buddha was really not leaving anything to be grasped, and so one often feels frustrated by the practice. There’s something in us that wants to grasp something and hold on, but every time we do, it’s pulled out. So you may become an Advaita-Vedantist for a while because you would really like a metaphysical doctrine, or you would like to have, say, Buddha-nature. ‘That’s it!’ You know, get a nice name for it, something you can name and have faith in. But in the long run, even that is relinquished, even the hope and the need for grasping anything, any concept. The Simile of the Raft is a very good simile of what the Buddha was teaching. He was just giving us a convenient vehicle, a practical vehicle to use, not something to hold or grasp, but to use. Continue reading
Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications
Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings, by Andrew Ferguson.
Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Heze Shenhui (670–762) was an eminent disciple of the Sixth Ancestor. He strongly supported and promoted Huineng’s place in Chinese Zen history. Shenhui championed the Southern school of Zen, and vociferously attacked what became widely known as the Northern school, the school associated with Yuquan Shenxiu.
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