The Ceasing of Notions: An Early Zen Text from the Dunhuang Caves with Selected Comments

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9781614290414: The Ceasing of Notions: An Early Zen Text from the Dunhuang Caves with Selected Comments

Among the writings from the Dunhuang Caves, discovered in the mid-twentieth Century, are the Zen equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls--ancient texts unknown for centuries. The Ceasing of Notions is one such text. It takes a unique form: a dialogue between two imaginary figures, a master and his disciple, in which the disciple tenaciously pursues the master's pity utterances with follow-up questions that propel the dialogue toward ever more profound insights. And these questions prove to be the reader's very own. Soko Morinaga brings alive this compact and brilliant text with his own vivid commentary.

This volume also includes a generous selection from Morinaga's acclaimed autobiography, Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of my Own Stupidity.

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About the Author:

Soko Morinaga, was head of Hanazono University and abbot of Daishu-in in Kyoto, one of the twenty-four sub-temples of Daitoku-ji. After finding himself adrift following World War Two, he took up Zen training at Daishuin under Goto Zuigan, formerly abbot of Myoshin-ji and at that time abbot of Daitoku-ji. Morinaga later became the Dharma successor to Oda Sesso Roshi, becoming head monk of Daitoku-ji. He taught regularly at Rinzai temples in California and in England during the latter part of his life. He is author of Pointers to Insight: Life of a Zen Monk, The Ceasing of Notions: Zen Text from the Tun-Huang Caves, and Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity. Morinaga Roshi passed away in 1995.

Martin Collcutt is a professor of East Asian studies and history at Princeton University, where he teaches Japanese intellectual and cultural history. He also has a particular interest in the introduction and development of the monastic practice in Japanese Rinzai Zen. In the 1960s he studied and practiced Zen in Japan and met Morinaga Roshi at Daishuin in Kyoto. Subsequently he served as Roshi's interpreter on some of his visits to the United States and England. His academic background in Japanese Zen and his personal and longstanding involvement with Morinaga Roshi and his teaching makes Professor Collcutt's informative introduction a valuable contribution to the understanding of this classic text.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

*from the foreword•

The Ceasing of Notions is the title given to the translation of the Chinese texts from Dunhuang, which are called the Jue-guan lun in Chinese and Zekkanron in Japanese. The vast caves near Dunhuang, an oasis on the ancient Silk Road in the Gansu province of western China, also known as the Mogao Caves and the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, comprised a network of 492 ancient temples. From the fourth until the fourteenth century, Buddhist monks at Dunhuang—who used the remote caves as places for prayer and meditation in their search for enlightenment—collected scriptures, sacred paintings, and statues from western Asia and Tibet. Pilgrims passing through the area painted murals covering some four hundred and fifty thousand square feet inside the caves. Construction of the Buddhist cave shrines began around 366 CE as places to store scriptures and works of art. The caves thus came to serve as repositories for thousands of sacred texts and contain some of the finest examples of early Buddhist art spanning a period of a thousand years.
Sometime after the eleventh century, some of the caves were walled off and used as storehouses for used and damaged manuscripts and religious objects. They remained virtually unknown until the early twentieth century. Then, in the early 1900s, a Chinese Daoist named Wang Yuanlu, who was acting as the guardian of some of these cave temples, discovered a walled-up area beside a corridor leading to a main cave. Behind the wall was a small cave stuffed with an enormous hoard of manuscripts and paintings on hemp, silk, or paper dating from 406 to 1002 CE. These included ancient Buddhist texts in Chinese and other Asian languages. Among them were several manuscript copies of the text offered here as The Ceasing of Notions.
Around 1907, Wang Yuanlu sold many of the ancient scrolls to Western travelers exploring the Silk Road, including Sir Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot, who eagerly acquired these rare Buddhist texts and carried them back to Europe. The Japanese Buddhist scholars D.T. Suzuki and Kuno Horyu, among others, seem to have rediscovered copies of the text in Pelliot’s collection in the early 1930s.
Discussing, as it does, the path to enlightenment, this text has long had an important place in Chinese and Japanese Zen thought and practice.
[…]

Let us now look more closely at the text of, and Morinaga Roshi’s commentary on, The Ceasing of Notions. Here, using one or two examples, I will try to point out some of the ways in which Morinaga makes this elusive ancient text accessible to readers who, like Emmon, have many questions to ask about their own search for the Way of the Buddha, and their possible attainment of enlightenment.
The Ceasing of Notions is clearly intended as a practical straightforward translation of, and guide to, an early Zen text that crystallizes many of the essentials of Zen thought, and one that is as relevant now as it was in Tang dynasty China. The work itself is in the form of a dialogue or series of questions and answers between two imaginary figures: master Nyuri and his disciple Emmon.
Although the original Chinese text is undivided, the Japanese editors have divided it into fifteen sections. This division is followed in this English translation of The Ceasing of Notions. Each section clusters questions and answers around a principal topic. Section I, for instance, deals with the central question of finding the Great Way of the Buddha and pacifying the heart (or, as it was translated by McRae, the mind—the Chinese character xin is the heart, moral nature, the mind, the affections, and the intention, but it is translated here as heart throughout):

1a The Great Way is without limit, fathomless and subtle, beyond comprehension, beyond words.
Master Nyuri (whose name means “Entrance into the Principle”) and his disciple Emmon (“Gate of Affinities”) discuss the truth.
The enlightened Zen master Nyuri is guiding his disciple Emmon in his search for self-understanding. Their conversation opens with Nyuri’s presentation of the Great Way (of the truth of the universe) as “without limit, fathomless and subtle, beyond comprehension, beyond words.”
In his comment Roshi discusses fathomless and subtle by raising the issue of causation in Buddhism, expressed in the Japanese term innen, which he explains in terms of its two constituent characters: in, “inner cause,” and en, the factors contributing to that cause. And then, to clarify this rather abstruse distinction, he introduces the analogy of a bell in which the ability to make sound is its in and the factors contributing to that sound—the clapper, the metal, the size of the bell, etc.—are the en. And when they meet the sound of the bell is manifest.
Just as master Nyuri uses “skillful means” to shake Emmon out of his confusion and into self-awakening, so the Roshi too uses skillful means to clarify the text, and its true meaning, for his students and the reader. He uses traditional Japanese analogies like the bell and its ability to make sound, examples from daily life, and natural phenomena; he explains in detail Buddhist terminology and formulae that are only briefly referred to in the text, such as emptiness, thusness, karma, and the four erroneous views of phenomena. In the course of his commentary he makes us familiar with passages and ideas from other sutras and introduces us to many of the sayings and doings of Zen masters over the ages. Roshi’s comments on Master Nyuri’s questions and Emmon’s responses help readers to find their own awakening and true nature in the ceasing of notions. In conclusion Roshi comments:

When even the last traces are gone, that is when all the dirt of delusions has been washed off, together with the soap of the teaching, training, enlightenment, and nothing at all remains—no smell of Zen, no ideology, no philosophy, no Buddha—then the true nature functions freely and without any obstacles.

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