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I'm new here. I have a question regarding "Not-Buddhism" as the highest level of Buddhism.

I'm not sure where is the source, but this is the koan.

Tozan said to his monks, "You monks should know there is an even higher understanding in Buddhism." A monk stepped forward and asked, "What is the higher Buddhism?" Tozan answered, "It is not Buddha."

What does Tozan mean by "It is not Buddha"?

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Whenever Zen Buddhist talks of 'emptiness', or 'no', they are essentially referring to dependent origination with the terminology as used by the Madhyamaka. As stated by Nagarjuna:

All dharmas that arise from causes and conditions,

I call them emptiness.

They are also provisional names,

And also the Middle Way.

What Nagarjuna is saying, is that because all dependent originated phenomenon are due to causes and conditions, by their very conditionality they are impermanent and without self. As stated by the Buddha.

Pratītyasamutpāda

"When this is, that is;

This arising, that arises;

When this is not, that is not;

This ceasing, that ceases."

Therefore because things are impermanent and without a true lasting self. He call them 'empty'.

So Huineng's famous stanza response to Shenxiu:

Our body is the Bodhi tree,

And our mind is like a bright mirror with stand,

Diligently we wipe them all the time,

And let no dust alight.

As Shenxiu indicates: we need to practice to cleanse ourselves of defilement craving, aversion and delusion as represented by the dust. This is reflected in the practice of mindful concentration (following monastic discipline and meditation) which can suppress the effects of our mental afflictions.

There is no Bodhi Tree

Nor the stand of a bright mirror,

Since all is void,

Where can the dust alight?

However Huineng using wisdom pointed out that in fact the body and mind are themselves dependently originated. That is they are caused and conditioned, impermanent and without self, so where are afflictions actually coming from?

The 'dust' themselves are dependently generated craving. This is the root source of suffering. As noted earlier, emptiness means impermanence and not self. The defilement has a condition for appearing, and when the condition is removed (through the application of wisdom), the defilement dissipate. The awareness of impermanence, selflessness and understanding of dependent origination is the tool for this. Of course that level of insight only comes with the practice of ethics and concentration. So Huineng is not denying the validity of what was said by Shenxiu, but that there is a deeper way of seeing things with wisdom.

Tozan said to his monks, "You monks should know there is an even higher understanding in Buddhism." A monk stepped forward and asked, "What is the higher Buddhism?" Tozan answered, "It is not Buddha."

So Tozan (Chan master Dongshan Liangjie) is pointing out that true wisdom is seeing emptiness, impermanence and selflessness even within the Buddha. That a Buddha is dependently originated too.

Ultimately Buddhism is still talking about dependent origination, impermanence, not self, suffering and the end of suffering.

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The Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta shows how the Buddha treats views about the cosmos being eternal and views about the fate of the Buddha after death.

"Vaccha, the position that 'the cosmos is eternal' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.

And another quote,

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' Because of this, I say, a Tathagata — with the ending, fading away, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit — is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released."

Having a position about what is Buddhism has similar drawbacks to having a view about the eternal-ness of the cosmos. Tozan is discouraging views like "This practice Buddhist" or "That idea is part of Buddhism".

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  • A teacher of mine said, "Be positionless." – user2341 Jul 6 '17 at 11:06
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Many Zen teachings seem to regard 'non-discrimination' as the highest thing, such as when Huineng said:

There is no Bodhi Tree

Nor the stand of a bright mirror,

Since all is void,

Where can the dust alight?

Note: This does not conform with the original Buddhism of the Buddha, which is only concerned with eradicating craving & self-views rather than eradicating all discrimination (which the Buddha rejected as Nirvana).

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  • In @Hugh answer, the Buddha seems to advocate for eradicating all discrimination. Why did you say that non-discrimination does not conform to the original Buddhism? What is your source that the Buddha rejected it as Nirvana? – Kyoma Dec 23 '16 at 0:16
  • @Kyoma We must be careful with any sutta given to Vacchagotta because Vacchagotta was confused & thinking too much and those sutas are teachings given specifically for the sake of Vacchagotta. The sutta referred to says the Buddha does not hold a position in relation to unknowable things & also in relation to 'personality views' about the Buddha himself. Eradicating all discrimination (labels, concepts, words, etc) is immaterial jhana, as taught by Alara Kalama, which Buddha rejected as Nibbana before his enlightenment. Regards – Dhammadhatu Dec 23 '16 at 1:40
  • The following words, particularly "construings" & "excogitations", need to be examined carefully (which I have not done): "a Tathagata — with the ending, fading away, cessation, renunciation & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit — is, through lack of clinging, released." For example, in MN 140, the word "construing" refers to construing the thoughts: "I am". Therefore, I would imagine "excogitations" refers to the same kind of egoism or self-views, which is the main subject of the verse. – Dhammadhatu Dec 23 '16 at 2:01
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    Vacchagotta was obsessed with his view of the Buddha as a "person" or "personality", so Buddha debunked him. The sutta is about giving up self-views rather than giving up all discriminations or labels, such as 'dog', 'tree', 'book', 'food', "Buddha", etc. – Dhammadhatu Dec 23 '16 at 2:03
  • You don't actually understand Huineng's position. – Yinxu Dec 25 '16 at 4:23
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This is basically a call to keep on focusing on the real thing and a warning not to get stuck in any concept, even or especially high order concepts from within the doctrine. Even those are to be transcended. If not, it is just another form of clinging and discerning.

No intricate speculation about emptiness is needed to explain this one. From a doctrinal point of view one would rather think of the Prajnaparamita tradition where a concept (e.g. Buddha) is first confirmed only to be negated the next moment (not-buddha). What comes out of this, is the 'real meaning'.

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The idea is similar to the philosophy of Adwaita Vedanta in Hinduism.

We may worship GOD with form (sakara , finite) or without form (Nirakara ,Infinite) .

Worshiping a Human being as God or Son of God or Incarnation of God or Representative of God on Earth (Prophet, teacher, leader) etc. ,..is the First stage of Human Spiritual Development.
Worshipping the INFINITE Nature or Universe -- or-- the Invisible Power or Laws that move and control it,..is the Second sage of Human Spiritual Development.

Scientists Studying the Universe or Cosmos , trying to discover the Laws , that Govern the Universe , are in practice , worshipping that Infinite God . An would be cosmologist , first studies the works of Scientists like Newton ,Einstein etc. and second studies the Universe Himself ,taking the latest available information into consideration.
He gets satisfaction only in the second stage .
As he continues his study ,he might change or modify the thinkings of previous scientists , like Newton or Einstein and at a later stage , may give his own views or theory of the working of the Universe.

So , the logic is this --- First ..Worship and follow the Buddha and then Second.. , go beyond Buddha , and think of the Infinite Universe YOURSELF.

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