Abott Obora

Buddhism adopted Yoga methods, and dhyana discipline was the final step before realization. The Zen sect, founded in China by the Indian patriarch Bodhidharma, lays special emphasis on meditation practice, and claims a special tradition handed down ‘from heart to heart’ from the Buddha himself. The main tenets of Buddhism and of Zen be found in Abbot Obora’s Heart Sutra commentary in ‘A Second Reader’, and they need not be summarized here.
In Zen as in other mystical schools there are spiritual crises, and the teacher has a very important role in resolving them. The teacher does not normally take on a student unless the latter displays great resolution and energy in his inquiry. This is technically called Great Faith. After some time the disciple’s hidden doubts and reservations appear in the form of a crisis, generally centring round some point of the teaching or some action of the teacher. When the problem fills all the waking hours without a moment’s forgetfulness the stage is called the Great Doubt. The working of the mind ceases. Finally there is a flash which is called in Japanese satori or Realization.
Classically satori was once for ever, but in later Zen, especially in the Rinzai transmission, special methods were used for bringing about the Great Doubt more quickly. The disciple was presented with a ready-made riddle, generally one which had formed in the mind of a disciple in the Tang dynasty, the golden age of Zen in China. The advantage of the ready-made riddle, or Koan as it is called, is that crystallization of the pupil’s doubts takes place more quickly; the disadvantage is that the crystallization, not being spontaneous, may be incomplete, and then in spite of a satori experience the process must be gone through again with another Koan. In the life of Hakuin (in the Yasenkanna section of this book) we see a number of crises, some centring on a Koan and others spontaneously arising on the classical pattern. Teachers of the Soto transmission of Zen do not make so much of Koan technique.
This technical point explained, the texts here translated can speak for themselves. I am grateful to Primate Takashnia and Abbot Obora for Zen instruction and for permission to translate from their writings. My thanks also go to the Japan Broadcasting Corporation for the stills from their documentary on Zen. Dr. E. Conze very kindly read the manuscript and made some valuable suggestions. Two or three of these translations have appeared in the English Vedanta magazine Self-Knowledge.

© Trevor Leggett

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