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Distinguishing Soto and Rinzai Zen: Manas and the Mental Mechanics of Meditation

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 55, Number 3, July 2005
pp. 426-446 | 10.1353/pew.2005.0031


Scholars have underestimated and misunderstood the distinction between Sōtō and Rinzai, the two major branches of Zen Buddhism, because they have either parroted the sectarian polemics of the schools themselves or, as in the case of prominent scholars Carl Bielefeldt and T. P. Kasulis, dismissed these polemics as deriving from institutional politics rather than substantive doctrinal or practical differences. Here it is attempted for the first time to understand the polemics of these two schools as reflecting a real disparity in concept and practice.The psychological concept of manas of the Yogācāra or "mind-only" school, a Buddhist philosophical tradition that is foundational to Mahāyāna Buddhist meditation practice and to Zen, is investigated.This concept is used to explicate the mental mechanics of meditation in order to appreciate the criticisms of classical Zen Masters directed against each other and thereby to understand important conceptual and practical differences between the two schools.

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