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Buddhists/6 realms of existence and Taoist immortality


Hi Joe,

Sorry I have a two part question first:

I just wanted to know what the Zen perspective was on the 6 realms of existence of Buddhist cosmology?

Is it more symbolic and metaphorical or actual realms to be reborn into?

Also does it differ from Soto to Rinzai or is it universally the same throughout Zen buddhism.

Second is in regards to the Taoist view of immortality, is that a later edition to Taoism from Chinese folk religion or was that the original part of Taoism and if so how is it to be viewed.

Thanks in advance!

Hi Nikola,
 Thanks for your question.  Since Zen is that which, ‘ does not rely on words or letters, dogma, ritual or tradition seeking direct insight into our true nature’ you would assume that it does not address the 6 realms or any Buddhist cosmology.  Zen at its root has always seen these things as a distraction from the way.  Zen should always return to, ‘who is asking the question?” because that is the essential goal of Zen, not understanding Cosmology.  Having said all of that I have sat in on lectures by both Sotoh and Rinzai teachers in the US and they embraced all kinds of traditions, rituals and prayers and don’t see a conflict with ‘not relying on words or letters….”.   One master actually extolling the virtue and necessity of rituals which I don’t understand at all.  So the Zen I see here in the US is not at all what I learned but it does present itself as Zen today but it may well take a stance on the 6 realms.

If you are asking my personal perspective on the realms I would say that it is a explication of the forms of consciousness and self identification that create the illusion of self and therefore attachments. That was one heck of a sentence!  When you delve into these things they only lead you away from the core.  There is a tradition that awakening is like taking a square and hammering the corners to round it out to create a circle.  One of my teachers, Masao Abe Sensei, said that with each blow you create two more corners thus now being farther from a circle than before.  It is the goal of Zen to drive the student to see here and now your true nature.  You need not know anything about Buddhist thought or Cosmology to do this.

Taoist immortality is an unending argument among Taoist scholars.  I see no basis for it in the Tao Te Ching or the Inner Chapters.  The idea of the ‘diamond body’ and the esoteric practices does not exist within these texts.  There is a wonderful book by John Blofeld called “The Secret and the Sublime” exactly on this issue.  He traveled around China in the 1920’s-30’s seeking Taoist masters and studying with them.  He held the belief, as I did, that there were two different Taoism’s; the philosophical as taught by Lao tze and Chuang tze and the folk religion with the esoteric practices.  Much to his surprise the recluses living in the mountains were very well versed in the philosophy and still involved in the practices.  In his view they had become one and the same.  Some of the recluses clearly saw the contradictions of immortality and Taoist thought.
I do think it is a later addition simply because it is not in the founding texts.

I hope this has helped you.  
         Take care,


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Joe McSorley


I can answer questions dealing with Taoist philosophy and Zen and not the historicity and religion of Buddhism and its different schools. I studied under Dr. Richard DeMartino and Masao Abe of the Kyoto School of Zen.

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