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1. Introduction

The core principle of Buddhist belief regarding to “life is suffering” is not only relevant for individual human existence but also for family members, community and larger society. Within the Buddhist traditions, suffering is caused from unnecessary human delusion and ego that can be expressed through uncontrolled desire and anger. Especially, social institutions and policies are understood as changing entities to reflect delusion regarding to human greed and materialism. Therefore, as Macy (1991, p. 191) mentions that humans establish institutions and policies through their actions. Particularly, there is a movement that has been increasingly growing in recent years called socially and environmentally engaged Buddhism especially Chan/Zen tradition.

In fact, Buddhist meditative practice in Chan/Zen Buddhist tradition has some common conceptions to emphasize the elimination of emotion and desire for the interest of achieving equanimity and spiritual perfection. However, although the strong placement on controlling emotions is stressed, an important social element is very necessary. As Hershock (19996, p. 86) argues major figures in Chan/Zen Buddhist tradition is the engagement with daily life for social wellbeing. This understanding of enlightenment enhances social and flexible factors to engage not to avoid life are changing and impermanent.

This paper will focus on the socially and environmentally engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism in respect of emotions that have attracted many interest and criticism in many literatures in the philosophy and psychology. Normally, emotions are understood as simple hindrances to clear thinking. But some literatures have the same view with Chan’s concern that emotions are not obstacles to enlightenment. The following paragraphs will analyse some insights and limitations of Chan/Zen practice regarding to emotions into social engagement.

2. Socially and environmentally engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism practices and insights in the respect of emotions

From the perspective of Chan/Zen Buddhism, learning about the self and the nature of mind are main keys in the Buddhist way. Especially, meditation is useful to help practitioners recognize their true self that is beyond gender, theories, opinions, or personal stories but it is not separate from these things. The true self is understood as continuously changing and impermanent that eliminates the misleading separation between self and others. However, when Chan/Zen Buddhism is more engaged into social and environmental development, emotion is naturally an essential factor for meditative practices. 

In the recent decades, there are a number of researchers from the area of psychology, cognitive science and philosophy that have different views of emotions. The important role of emotions is put in the context of decision-making such as categorizing the relevant from the irrelevant, detecting clarity, and boosting decisions without decisive judgment. Nevertheless, it is really significant to recognize the integration of reason and emotion for self-liberation from habit and inflexibility that support the view of Mahayana to encourage compassionate engagement with other beings. Also, emotion is helpful to avoid suggestions that come from cognitive transformation used to empty the mind as in some Chan/Zen tactics for koan introspection. Moreover, emotion clarifies common elements within ancient Chan and contemporary Zen for the roles of emotions in spiritual and social life as well as relationship to cognition despite of social context, historical and cultural variations.

2.1 Discussions on foundational Chinese and Japanese details on emotional transformation and enlightenment

In the research of Parkes (1995, p. 213), the Chan School has two elements that are contrary to other forms in Buddhism. To elaborate, on one side, it is a profound doubt of sutra study and related attachments to religious identity.  Other concern is related to severely sharp criticisms for Buddhism’s quietist factors and the path to enlightenment for self-cultivation. These criticisms raise the matter for the role of emotions in Buddhist practice as Chan followers expressed the destruction of thought and emotion as a threat that needs to recognize. This means that the tendency of quiet practice create a new and more bad forms of attachment in life. However, Hershock (2005, p. 68) emphasizes that Chan was committed to a positive of emptiness that shift from a traditional of sutra-study to the practice of expressing the true and Buddha-nature in any situations. Additionally, Bodhidharma puts effort to transform cognitive state away from distinguishing and critical patterns of everyday reasoning as no picking or choosing for and mind-clearing meditation path. Similarly, Huineng criticizes on people who rely too much on rational understanding and analysis the sutras (Yampolsky 1967, p. 136). From his viewpoint, the practice of self-awaking is the attaining purity by escaping the effect of senses, as the Buddha-nature is always clean and pure. While Hakuin encourages responsiveness and emotional sensitivity during meditation, Parkes (1995, p. 216) argues that the tendencies of Buddhist practices are to eliminate emotion, release attachment to a development of enlightenment.

It can be seen clearly that there are ongoing discussions in relation to emotional transformation. But the importance of emotional transformation to enlightenment is hardly found in literatures. Although emotion is taken seriously, Chan and Zen Buddhism concentrates on cognitive and perceptual tendencies that seems maintain illusion with an existing individual self that is distinct from the mainstream of consciousness. For some Westerner commentators, Chan and Zen tradition put emphasis heavily on meditation and koan to cultivate cognitive and perceptual transformation but not an exploitation of positive emotions such as loving kindness for self transformation like other Buddhist meditative principles.   

2.2 The application of Chan/Zen Buddhism in reality 

The koan tradition from Zen is emphasized as the key figures in Chinese and Japanese tradition. More importantly, it has been practiced recently in Western countries that raise the issues related to emotional challenge for the people who follow this practice. As Suzuki (1994, p.18) points out important connections between the koan exercise and Chan’s concerns with the quiet in meditative practices, the koan has become a breakthrough that helps to quiet the mind and suppression the feelings for enlightenment path. There are some main key factors when experiencing with koan practice. Firstly, the practitioner has to reach the highest state of consciousness to cope with koans in nervous systems that can reflect personal character through solutions with koan. Secondly, within Chan/Zen Buddhism, it is not a passive mind to engage into contemplation. It is rather an intensely active exercise for concentration on the object of thought. The final aim is not a state of thoughtless state or quiet mind. However, the above psychological considerations do not include the elaboration of the aim of enlightenment. To be honest, for Westerners when practicing Zen tradition, the question about cognitive transformation is essential for them to understand more on how koan study can help with emotional challenge and transformation. The analysis on koan study aspect emphasizes that this engaged practice for Westerners is not a kind of empty-minded cognition but a simple return to natural thinking. It is more about the attentive, productive, emotional-cognitive interaction.

Furthermore, there are many researches within Chan and Zen tradition regarding to enlightenment experiences. It has to consider the element of distinction making that contributes to decision making at the end. Some gradualists criticize on the rational of engaging koan practice. This is more about the process of distinction making mind in koan puzzles. To explain clearly, a passionate mind when involving in koan study, the mind accepts the invitation and engage to solve the questions in koan. However, this process demonstrates an emotional development including cognitive and distinction making functions that are being forced into situations suggested by koan. In this circumstance, the nervous system of one individual works in respect of processing collected information combined with personality of the practitioners. According to Wright (1992, p. 113), he also argues that the enlightenment experience is unique to individual. But it can not deny the fact that koan has been become popular in community activities. Koan confrontations can be found in conversations with the Zen master, the meditation retreat or in daily life individual experiences as the way to transform on how one individual thinks, feels and experiences. This is a step of one’s social development with the engagement in social context. This practice is useful not only for monastic people but also for a normal person to find a state of consciousness and reflect emotions as well as observations for phenomena in a meditative approach. This strategy illustrates Zen practices engage into daily life that do not differentiate cultures or times.

As a result, Chan/Zen Buddhism develops emotions through their meditative practices that provide some insights into the nature of enlightened state of mind. It is more concentration on ego-transformation with a transformation of emotions that becomes common for any practitioners or followers without cultural or historical differences. However, this implication has confronted with many criticisms that are explained in the next part with the views of natural and social sciences. Emotions seem to be different across cultures as many factors and elements that are discussed in later parts.

2.3 The views of natural and social sciences on engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism 

In natural and social sciences, it is a different picture. To elaborate, there are some controversies for emotions, their relationships to cognition and their positions in decision and actions. From this point of view, there are differences appears in relation to emotions. Looking at the examination of relationship between Western and Japanese Zen Buddhism, differences can be found in respect of the conception of the self and the relationships of self with social connections that cause different emotive implications. These significant implications influence on the process of personal liberation and the nature of liberation. For example, in the research of Marcus & Kitayama (1991, p. 224), there are differences in emotions of Japanese-Western or Asian –Western, especially “disengaging positive emotions” (feeling of pride and superiority – independence and individualism) and “engaging positive emotions” (respect and friendliness – interdependence and socialism). It is proved that happiness has connected with disengaging positive emotions among Westerners and engaging positive emotions among Asian or Japanese. Therefore, self-esteem is highly important for Westerners. This fact has a significant implication to understand the nature of interactions between Zen masters or teachers and disciples within the social engaged of Chan/Zen Buddhism. It has to have a deep consideration on how to break down of cognitive and emotional elements in connection with ego-preservation (Kitayama et al 2000, p. 93).

On the other side, Tafarodi (et al 2004, p. 97) in the study of Canadian, Chinese and Japanese, he discusses that Asian cultures play more importance on moral than Western cultures regarding to contextual adaptation of personal behaviours. This fact raises a concern if the inner self among Asians is experienced as less continuous or unchanging. Hence, there is a need to look at social models rather then individual to see the close relationships between emotions and reason. And cultures can influence on emotions and cognition.  

2.4. Insights of emotions in respect of engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism 

Critically, it seems that emotion is more severely concerned in self-centred spiritual limitations than is naturally acknowledged. This factor contributes to a long tradition of Chan/Zen Buddhism criticisms of the trend to put emotion as something to be suppressed in a practice in order to quite the mind. Moreover, there are also increasing arguments that emotion is used to explain a way of transformation and being connected to the development of compassion. Similarly, Heine (2008, p. 20) emphasizes the importance of connecting Zen to social activism. In fact, Chan/Zen Buddhism has many choices to engage in a community such as global social, environmental and health care improvement that are in need of compassion among Zen practitioners.

Interestingly, Shaku (2004, p. 84) insists the place of purification and cleaning dust from a mirror on the purpose of enlightenment in his research. The authors observe the point of view that emotions are more than dust that need to be cleared. More importantly, emotions influence one’s competences to act and react as well as interact with compassion. Relatedly, as Hershock’s discussion on the Platform Sutra, a significant transformation is a thoughtful understanding of wisdom. It is the approach of emptying and quieting the mind with grate elements such as kindness, favour, graciousness, benefit. From Huineng’s point of view, meditation creates an opportunity to develop skilfully an understanding of kindness as the realization. More importantly, the realization of enlightenment includes a skill of caring responsibility (Hershock 2005, p. 104). It is worth to notice that in the Platform Sutra, emotions are not obstacles to enlightenment but the hindrance behinds passions to awaken that can put us in the failure of practice emptiness.

Consequently, it can be seen that Zen/Chan Buddhism has a distinctive path to quiet the mind and reach the emptiness or even awakening state. For socially and environmentally engaged Zen/Chan Buddhism, this tradition has been considered as a meaningful approach that helps to purify the minds by controlling and releasing emotions arising due to the effect of contextual phenomena. Emotions are naturally happening for any individuals and even Zen practitioners. However, the important point is how to skilfully develop emotions in a way to support for the aim of emptiness. It must be wisely to see the inner hindrance of emotions that can lead to fail of emptiness state due to the passion of awakening. Engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism brings many benefits for contemporary modern society in respect of emotions. For example, it helps the practitioners develop positive emotional state to prevent unwholesome arises. Moreover, it is valuable to put an individual into a confrontation with any situations in an acknowledgment and awareness emotions positively to enhance the enlightenment rather than being controlled by emotions. In fact, psychology area has done many researches to explain scientifically the emotions in the mind of Zen practitioners. It is believed that engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism contributes meaningful tools for both individual wellbeing and social wellbeing.   

3. Conclusion 

To summarize, Chan/Zen Buddhism is popular in the emphasis of the elimination of emotion to achieve equanimity and spiritual perfection that has been used in daily life engagement for a purpose of awakening and recognition of the mind’s true nature. This paper focuses on the elaboration of the socially and environmentally engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism in respect of emotions that attracts many interests and critiques in the area of philosophy and psychology. Initially, the investigation starts with discussions on foundation Chinese and Japanese details on emotional transformation and enlightenment to provide valuable information assisting the background understanding of Chan/Zen Buddhism tradition. Next, the application of Chan/Zen Buddhism in reality is elaborated and discussed clearly to examine the role of emotion in the practice of Chan/Zen Buddhism in contemporary society through typical koan meditative practices. It has been found that there are no differences in emotional development across cultures or histories through engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism. Later, the views of natural and social sciences on engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism is discussed that demonstrates a different point of view for differences of emotions among cultures. At last, the insights of emotions in respect of engaged Chan/Zen Buddhism is clarified to provide some meaningful implications of the role of emotions in the path of enlightenment by the practices of Chan/Zen Buddhism.


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