Kurama; Buddhist precepts; "You got your mind right?"

Today, Kurama. This mountain is the birthplace of Reiki; Gogen Yamaguchi trained here. There's also a legend about the swordsman Yoshitsune learning from a tengu (goblin) here.

So I was quite interested in seeing the place. The temple (which pretty much owns the mountain, apparently) used to be Tendai, but now is independent, which I found interesting.

But the I get there and get the brochure. "More than six million years ago, Mao-son (the great king of the conquerors of evil and the spirit of the earth) descended upon Mt. Kurama from Venus, with the great mission of the salvation of mankind." Uh, yeah, sure. And it seems from the tone of the brochure that they take this, not as a legend about the temple's founding, but an article of faith. So that was a turn-off.

Hiked up to the main temple; didn't agree with me. A priest inside chanting, which was lovely, but everyone coming in seemed to just want to drop their money in the box and buy some salvation. The mountain so beautiful, and this is what we do to it?

Then hiking on. Up the hill, top of a peak, little side path - where's it go? Can't tell. A lady pilgrim who I'd matched paces with up to the top, she hiking up the mountain in flip-flops(!), seems to beckon. I follow. Grove of trees, and man and a woman touching them, communing. A small shrine, log benches for sitting or services or whatever. A handmade, probably child-drawn, ema, hanging on a tree.

This is the right way. At least for me. I grow weary of big ornate temples. (At least the Zen ones are more spare, and have good gardens.)

Hiked on, found the shrines to Yoshitsune, to Fudo no myoo, paid my respects. Even did a kata (Seienchin) when I had the place to myself for a few minutes, seemed a good dedication.

The mountain, rocks. Skip the main temple, though, and let the mountain tell you its secrets itself.


It occurs to me that I've covered two of the five Buddhist precepts (five main ones, there are all sort of extra detailed ones for monastic practice, beyond my scope here). I should perhaps do a little bit on each of them for the book, though the remaining three are a maybe a bit more straightforward, so less interesting to discuss. So let me make a few random notes:

The precept against killing: pretty much every school of wisdom has figured out that murdering people stirs up trouble and is contraindicated. The interesting edge cases are war, self-defense, and the treatment of animals.

The Buddha taught kings and princes to try to find ways to end war. But there have been Buddhist kings who fought wars (Ashoka), and of course there's the whole Zen and the samurai thing.

On the other hand, there have been monks who refused to kill even in self defense. A story is told about one monk who became the national teacher of China: thieves stripped him naked and tied him to the ground with the grasses. Then the Emperor came by and saw this naked man in his august presence; outraged, he sent his guards to slaughter the monk. The monk had no problem with this, but just asked that they untie him so that in thrashing around he didn't tear up and hurt the grass. When the guards reported this, the monk was freed and the Emperor asked to become the monk's student.

The whole issue of vegetarianism in Buddhism gets a bit complex, since the Buddha and his followers begged for food, which meant that in a way they took food for teaching the dharma. There's no doubt that the Buddha was an advocate of being kind to animals, including not killing them for food; but we need to consider the way that plays out under a different economic system.

My shiatsu teacher once observed that it's easier to get people to change their religion than their diet; if the Buddha had made vegetarianism mandatory, he'd probably have faded into history. (Same with the early Christians and kosher dietary laws.) But he did advocate it, and forbid his followers - even lay ones - from being slaughterers of animals, so if eventually everyone started practicing the buddhadharma, there'd be no meat.

The precept against stealing: well, duh. Not terribly controversial; like murdering, stealing tends to raise a ruckus and make for an unquiet life. But is does raise the question, what is legitimately "property"? Today the Buddha couldn't sit under his tree, that piece of land would be someone's "property", and he's be tossed out into the street. Being a homeless mendicant meant something different when you could just go set up camp in the woods freely.Turning land into a commodity is one of the roots of the desecration of the natural world.

And we ought to consider that the Buddha's red robe was a stolen burial cloth. What does this say to us about minor theft in desperate need?

The precept against lying: is one that Buddhist teachers feel free to violate with "skillful means" if it helps. And many teachers have observed that if a lie will save a life, then tell that lie. What is right out, though, is slander, perjury; deliberate lies told to damage another's reputation.

Which then raises the question, how should one respond to lies and slander? The literature has several cases of those who were falsely accused of various improprieties, and who they remained calm and serene, allowing the truth to make itself known.

All three of these are "simply" (of course there's nothing simple about it) cultivating and applying compassion for others. The remaining two precepts are more about how we treat ourselves (though the one about sexual conduct obviously affects others and ought to be considered in the light of compassion).


Walking around today, I was also thinking of the line form Cool Hand Luke: "You got your mind right, boy?"

That is after all the goal: right thought and right mindfulness, the transmission of Buddha-mind as a state of being. Problems come about, though, when someone else gets to decide what's "right" mind for the rest of us, thus the Buddha's constant exhortation to investigate for ourselves. Organized Zen, though, must live in the tension between this and the need for a certain amount of standardization for an organization of human beings to persist. Tricky.

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