Thursday, October 20, 2011
Zen and Astrology?
I will be away from Friday October 21st to Tuesday, October 25, 2011 for a sesshin (intensive meditation) at Ryumonji Zen Monastery At the sesshin I am scheduled for my Jukai/lay ordination.
I haven't said too much about my Zen Buddhist practice, but I thought it might be useful to talk about it a little. We live about 1/2 a block from the Iowa City Zen Center, very convenient! Since we were so close, we thought, "clearly a sign!" and started attending zazen.
This particular Zen center is affiliated with Shoken at Ryumonji Monastery. Shoken is a dharma heir of Dainan Katagiri in the Soto Zen School.
Ok, what does that mean? Buddhism arose in India and passed to Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan. In the middle ages in China the Chan (Chinese for dhyana or meditation) School arose as reform movement within the Chinese schools and lineages. It passed to Japan as Zen. In Japan there are 3 schools of Zen, Rinzai, Obaku and Soto. Over simplifying Rinzai focuses on koans, impenetrable statements like the classic "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" while Soto is very focused on zazen, sitting meditation. Rinzai does zazen, of course and Soto can use koans. Obaku is a later import of the Chinese Rinzai lineage. Here's a little taste of Zen from the Matrix.
One key tenet of Zen is the idea of direct transmission from master to student. Earlier Zen masters basically confirmed that the student had had a basic enlightenment experience called kensho or satori. Nowadays dharma transmission is basically the last step in being an osho (monk/priest) and doesn't necessarily indicate anything about enlightenment experiences.
Unlike many Western spiritual traditions Zen has an unbroken tradition and lineage. I can read Dogen (the "founder" of Soto Zen) and he is describing the ritual and teachings that my teachers tell me.
I have done zazen (sitting meditation) every day now for a year. Up till last year I found it impossible to meditate at all. I could not even sit still. Now I am doing an hour a day. At sesshin we do about 15 hours of meditation over 2 1/2 days and a full day. At Rohatsu, an 8 day meditation session, they traditionally stay up later and later each night and all night meditating on the last day. I don't think I am quite up to that yet.
The meditation has had clear positive effects. For example, I am much calmer and less likely to react immediately emotionally. This is not the main point, however. I am convinced that the accounts of kensho and other enlightenment experiences are correct and that they can be obtained through Zen and other spiritual traditions.
Now, what does this have to do with astrology and magic? First, my Zen teachers have been very supportive of my astrological work. Zen, to Americans, seems like an atheistic/materialist iconoclastic spiritual tradition, easy to fit into their modern ego based consumer lifestyle. It is, in fact, very ritualized and does a good amount of what can only be described as magical ritual and invocation. This is
just not as major a focus as it would be in Shingon or other Vajrayana/Tantric Buddhist schools.
Secondly, there is a long tradition of syncretizing local spirits and native spiritual cultural elements into Buddhism and Zen. The Hindu devas, Chinese Taoist immortals, and Japanese Shinto kami were blended into Buddhism. The stars and planets are already part of Chinese & Japanese Buddhist practice, so my adding in the Western style astrological spirits, basically as dharma protectors and cosmic gods, is not much of a stretch.
And why do I want to integrate them at all, doesn't astrological magic stand on its own? I've found astrology and astrological magic useful from a practical standpoint, after all it is great to be able to accurately predict the future and to do practical magical tasks. But the most valuable quality of practicing traditional astrology and magic is that it confirms for moderns, steeped in atheistic/materialism, that the spiritual exists. Once we know that then following a spiritual path and affirming the primacy of the spiritual over the material becomes logical and, for some, inescapable.
I'm pleased that I have found a living spiritual tradition that allows me to continue my practical studies and work in astrology and magic, but points me to a path leading beyond the material, beyond merely attempting to sate the ego self.