zen of tomorrow #2 . . . the Whole, the One, “the Way”

I want to tell you a little more in the Thursday blog today about the influence of the Tao on Zen . . . and how “The Regarder of the Cries of the World” became a Goddess.

Incense and Bamboo Baltimore 2011

This blog is part of my continual teaching on the roots of Zen and Yoga: both growing from the same source of ancient teachings in India: Tantra – and part of my initiating you into an understanding of how zen has always changed with the culture, because culture changes zen. “Culture” is Dharma, or the Way . . . it is both what culture needs of us, and what uncovering our true selves brings to the Way.


“The reason why the universe is eternal is that it does not live for itself; it gives life to others as it transforms.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


As Zen travelled through Oriental Asia with the patriarchs, mysticism, deeply rooted in the ethics and discipline of Yoga and India, merged with the spirit of emptiness of Buddhism, the mystery of the One-ness of the true nature of the Tao – the way of Heaven that permeates and guides everything – and the earthiness of Confucionism – the way of Earth, into a deep spirit that is Zen . .  . the Way.

Incense and Bamboo 2 Baltimore 2011

As the Bodhidharma taught, everyone has a buddha mind, part of the One-ness and which is uncovered in meditation: there is no hierarchy or superiority and anyone can become a Buddha through meditation’s transformation. The foundation for learning Zen, direct transmission, mind to mind with the teacher, became the Spirit of Zen.

Korea’s greatest Zen Master, Chinul (1158 -1210) taught that there is a sentient intelligence within each person, the principle behind seeing and hearing:  the individual mind, the buddha-nature.  This principle is what makes it possible for human beings to become enlightened – human beings are capable of using all aspects of their intelligence for enlightened living.  Each has its place in the grand scheme of buddha nature.

Master Chinul also taught that all external sign-oriented phenomena are invitations to experience a truer, deeper understanding at the absolute level of wisdom: in other words, as we say, in meditation a solitary person can open their heart and mind to signs from heaven which show you the way to living from your wisdom mind. The path of enlightenment is here and now, through symbols and words, as well as through experience.

And, experientially, by the time Zen reached Korea, via China, the mythical Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara had changed gender.  By now the god had become a “she”.

Myth and Culture

That the Gods of Yoga could be both male and female, and there being no sanskrit male/female pronoun for divinity in India, was a strange concept when Buddhism arrived in China.  But as usually happened with myth in culture, benign deities could be easily assimilated, and so when the Buddhists imported statues of Avalokiteshvara to China, the Chinese didn’t have a tradition of bisexual gods containing all the divine male/female energy of creation, they understood the figure to be female.  He/she became the “Goddess of Compassion” Kwan Yin, and “The Regarder of the Cries of the World” in the Zen tradition became “she”.

The Yin and The Yang

There is an ancient Taoist story of the separation of the yin and yang, which seems to be an origin for the Tao version of the Avolokiteshvara myth, The Regarder of the Cries of the World, and it’s about the origin of  The Cry:  tens of thousands of years ago just as humankind was beginning to be able to think, we were also beginning our separation from the One, in order to evolve and develop. The Yin and the Yang separated and the pain of separation was expressed in the deep cry of the heart of mankind – a hunger and a yearning. In the story, our cries are always heard and our yearning to return to the whole is watched over with great compassion.  And in order to return to the whole, we must learn to surrender our thinking-mind back to the One Reality, consciousness.

The early Chinese Zen patriarchs were well versed in the Chinese classics, and they integrated Zen with the accepted philosophies of China, particularly Taoism. Each of the patriarchs contributed in their own way to integrating Buddhism and Taoism to form the uniqueness that is Zen: Taoism sees all phenomena in the world as yin and yang opposites, whilst Buddhism views all as emptiness, and Zen blends the two in the “vast Great Way that is neither easy or difficult” (Zen Master Seng-ts’an).

As usual, Zen changed with the culture and the culture changed with Zen.


Caring for the Whole

And so, compassionately and non-judgementally, caring for the Whole and all the while watching over the innumerable, countless numbers of humanity . . . .  the goddess/god of compassion had made her way through India, through the lands of the Tao and Confucious, to Zen in Japan and, in listening to our cries of hunger . . . to us in the West.

In one of the elegant, completing-the-circle brushstrokes of Zen, we in the West heard the deep-heart cries of those in difficulty in the land of Zen, Japan, following the catastrophic wake of the Tsunami.


The Way of Tea

As a final aside, Master Eisai (read my blog strand on The Tea Way over the last few weeks) also brought the tea ceremony with him from China to Japan –  he brought tea seeds back with him and planted the first tea garden on monastery grounds which eventually lead to the Tea Way: tea drinking as a Zen Art. Elements of the tea Way are to accept, appreciate and revere what naturally occurs, exactly as it is – in an atmosphere of  harmony, tranquillity, purity and reverence: we are all equal when we take time out for tea, with the concerns of the world temporarily distant.


I’m leaving with you with my own words that the light dancing in the dark brought to me this week:

Our lives are so fleeting, floating motes
dust on the light of the Universe’s dark canvass
that is the night of the soul
and still, we dance in the mystery
Susan (d. 20??)


Sources:  Sheldon B. Kopp:  If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!;  C. Alexander and Annellen Simpkins:  Simple Zen;  Simple Taoism: A Guide to Living in Balance;   Dainin Katagiri:  You have to Say Something; The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara:  The Myth of the Great Secret: An appreciation of Joseph Campbell (Celestial Arts, 1990);  Barbara Shoshanna: Zen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane World.


My teaching, writing, and Spoken Word anthems as the artist SuZen, is about dedication to practice of Zen, Meditation and Yoga: it stands for spirituality, understanding, Zen, energy and nutrition through practices.

“As founder of SuZenYoga, I’m delighted to be your teacher and guide during these exciting times in human existence: a time when we are so close to a new dawn of re-balancing our world – and I aim to teach simply and with inspiration and hope. Practice may not be easy, but it’s the only Way for some of us.”

Meet The Teacher | Susan Ni Rahilly | SuZen


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Published by SuZen

Teacher of Zen and Yoga Meditation, Writer and Spoken Word Artist SuZen

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