Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Difficulty of Receiving Buddhism in the West

A primary difficulty of receiving Buddhism into the West (as a psycho-social cultural context) is due to the peculiarity that Buddhism has nothing to teach, or to be more accurate, Buddhism is an un-teaching, not a teaching and not a non-teaching.  Buddhism, as a terminology, is a word created within the Western psycho-social context that adds the suffix “ism” to the core word “Buddha,” and that very process is among the first moves by the Western worldview to Westernize, appropriate, acclimate and accommodate the Buddha Dharma. This process of adaptation is human, normal, and indeed, inevitable, and took place on every occasion that the Buddha Dharma expanded outside its original context of Brahmanical culture in the India of 5th century BCE.  

The Sanskrit word dharma (Pali, dhamma) is very interesting and very difficult to translate into a single English word.  It has meanings that range from the minute to the all encompassing.  At one end of the spectrum, “a dharma” refers to a quantum of thingness, i.e., to that which makes a thing a thing, or in other words, to the fundamental pattern of a thing’s thinginess.  At the other end of the spectrum of connotations, “the Dharma” refers to the worldview or Weltanschauung of the person or context being described.  In the time of the Buddha, when two wandering spiritual mendicants (sramana) met each other on the road, they would inquire “Whose Dharma do you follow?” by way of sizing up and knowing where each other “was coming from” spiritually and intellectually.  A follower of Siddhartha Gautama, known by the two titles Shakyamuni Buddha, or simply the Buddha, would say, “I follow the Buddha Dharma.” It is because this is the widest and most inclusive connotation that it is conventionally capitalized in English.  Between these two ends of the spectrum, dharma can refer to a specific method of religious or skillful practice, to a teaching, to the law or duty of an individual, to the laws and duties of a society or culture, to a truth, to the Truth, to real things, to Reality, etc.   

In English, the myriad difficulties of translating the affective idea complex of “the Buddha Dharma” into English are dodged by simply using the suffix “ism” and saying Buddhism. While this has utility and is within lexicological validity, it creates some acculturation problems, because “ism” includes the two connotations of “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory” and “an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude,” both of which are erroneous when applied to Buddha Dharma.  Thus from the get go, the term Buddhism has problematic and mistaken connotations as the English word for the Buddha Dharma.  For example, some Christians believe that Buddhism is not even a religion because it is an “ism,” without understanding that their term Christianity is simply a fancy way of saying ‘Christism’.

Most importantly for understanding Buddhism in the West, is the awareness that Buddhism, as an “ism,” is not “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory.”  This is immanently hard for Westerners to grok.  The best way to get this is to know that Buddhism is more like a mental medicine, a prescription for what ails us spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically (known by the term dukkha), and is not a doctrine or theory to be asserted, grasped onto, and promoted as a standard of belief.  The medicine of Buddhism requires a certain degree of faith in its efficacy, but it does not require any degree of belief in it as if it were a doctrine or dogma of tenets.  In other words, Buddhism does espouse a distinctive diagnosis of the cause of our suffering, dissatisfaction, and sense of imbalance in life (again, all coming under the term dukkha) and a prescription (which can be taken as a theory or hypothesis until personally proven to oneself) for the treatment and cure of that experience of off-centeredness.  In this sense, Buddhism does include a distinctive cause and theory to be put personally to the test of one’s own practice, proof, and realization, but without a doctrine or dogma to be taken merely on belief. It is only in this way that “ism” may be applied to the Buddha Dharma which is the .

This is the main source of the Western misunderstanding of how Buddhism relates to the stories of karma and reincarnation. Many Westerners feel some immediate, direct, and inherent affinity toward Buddhism, but are appalled, more or less specifically or vaguely, by the teachings of karma and reincarnation (or its synonym rebith) found in Buddhism.   What is not appreciated in the West is that the Buddhist views of karma and reincarnation are not truth assertions in themselves, but are truth responses to the Brahmanical doctrines about karma and reincarnation.  The Buddha’s awakening, for which he earned the title Buddha or Awakened One, gave him insight into the true workings of karma and rebirth, functions that the Brahmanical culture and doctrines were mistaken about. 

Brahmanical teachings on karma and rebirth emphasized the roles of atman, our essential or true self, and Brahman, the Universal Self of True Reality, and held that our psycho-spiritual liberation from what ails us is achieved when we personally realize that atman and Brahman are identical.  This was defined as the insight into the true nature of reality.  Buddha agreed with the frame of reference that our liberation is achieved when we realize an accurate apprehension and correct comprehension of the true nature of the universe, but based on his own insight into this true nature, he had to respond to the Brahmanical conceptual errors about the notion of self, both personal and cosmic, and therefore the Buddha taught the idea anatman, no-self, as the antidote to that mistaken idea of self.  Similarly, in response to mistaken Vedic and non-Vedic ideas about causation (including such views as a first cause similar to the ‘Big Bang’ and causation by a supreme being) , the Buddha taught the idea of dependent-origination (pratitya-samutpada) and that this was another aspect of the liberation arising upon viewing true nature of the universe accurately. 

Thus, the Buddhist response to the binding characteristics of the religions and philosophies of his day was to acknowledge the phenomenological basis of the worldviews he encountered, but to provide corrective analyses of the observed phenomena.  Integral to his analysis was the inquiry and examination of the mental constructs by which phenomena are observed, categorized, and analyzed.  That is, the Buddha Dharma is based on an approach to experience that inquires into its basis and an appreciation of that the phenomenological basis of reality lies in the phenomena of cognition and awareness.

So when Buddhism teaches about karma and rebirth, it is not positing a dogmatic assertion, but a corrective treatment for the misunderstandings about karma and rebirth.  To the extent that someone holds a wrong view of karma and rebirth, then the Buddha Dharma addresses that mistaken notion.  But we should remember that a view that denies there is any phenomenological basis for the ideas of karma and rebirth is just as mistaken as the Brahmanical or Christian views of karma and rebirth that depend on the literalization or essentialization of a self.  However, and this is the nuanced and subtle point that Westerners almost always miss, if a person has no view at all about karma and rebirth and neither denies their workings nor asserts a mistaken view of their workings, then Buddhism has no need “to correct” that person’s views on karma and rebirth because there are none and so Buddhism is able to leave well enough alone.  But in truth, it rarely happens that a person genuinely has no view of karma and rebirth, and the Christian idea of a cul-de-sac heaven or the atheist idea of nothing continuing after death both need correction by the Buddha Dharma. 

So when Buddha Dharma comes to the West and presents its ideas, we should remember that it is presenting responses to the ideas that are encountered in the West in terms of the Buddha’s awakening.  At least that is the ideal. But of course, in practice, Buddhist teachers and students have a wide range of personal insights and degrees of awakening, and therefore, many things get said and transmitted about Buddhism that are either merely fuzzy or downright inaccurate.  

The goal of Buddhism is liberation from what produces our psycho-spiritual ills and ailments.  Fundamentally, it is our own bifurcated and polarized consciousness that is the trunk of the branches and leaves of those ills.  As Buddhism comes to the West, Buddhism does not need to impose any specific set of dogmas onto Westerners because the whole project of Buddhism is to free Westerners from our own presuppositions, not to inculcated a new and foreign set of presuppositions.  This is the only very narrow seed or grain of truth in the secular Westerner’s doubts about karma and rebirth.  And since many new students or converts to Buddhism don’t fully understand the Buddhist view of karma and rebirth there has been much confusion sown.  Likewise, some foreign teachers of Buddhism have come to the West and mistakenly attempted to teach karma and rebirth as if they were speaking to members of their own culture and have thus muddied the waters unnecessarily and inappropriately. 

When Buddhism came to China, it met and had to deal with the preexisting religions of Taoism and Confucianism.  For example, as with Buddha teaching a correct view of the preexisting idea of karma, Buddhists in China had to teach a correct view of the preexisting Taoist idea of “the Way,” the Dao (Tao), and they did so by accepting and acknowledging the phenomenal basis for the idea, not by rejecting the idea.  Then they acculturated Buddhism by providing a re-visioning and re-articulating of what that idea was conveying but from a Buddhist perspective in order to liberate people from the bondage that the mistaken attachment to the idea had generated.         

Likewise, with Buddhism coming to the West, its goal is not to inculcate foreign ideas like karma and rebirth where they have not already arisen.  But actually, many if not most Westerners do not themselves know how deeply the ideas of karma and rebirth are already embedded in Western culture through Greek, Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources just to name a few. The Christian idea of “you reap what you sow” is basic karma, and the idea of going to hell or heaven after we die is a teaching of rebirth.  But much of modern Western culture is a stream that flows away from religious views and embraces a secular view of materialist science, and this current of modernism dismisses all views that hint of religion as mere superstition.  So Buddhism has two main rivers of Western culture that it must simultaneously address: Western religion and Western science. 

It is the Western stream of secular scientism that gives rise to the voices proclaiming and advocating an anti-karma and anti-rebirth secularization or normalization of Buddhism.  That’s okay, and these voices need to be responded to, but we should not neglect or forget that the voices of Western religion must just as necessarily be responded to by Buddhists if Buddhism is to acclimate and acculturate in the West.  Buddhism must respond to and address both Western science’s mistaken views of materialism and consciousness as well as Western religions’ mistaken views of God and spiritual salvation.  But in order to do so, Buddhism does not deny God and salvation and does not deny science.  Buddhism addresses both God and science by acknowledging that they are each systems of conceptual response to experienced phenomenological reality. Buddhism then adds the nuances of its perspective that arise in the light of Buddha’s awakening. 

As Buddhism comes to the West, it provides a revisioned approach to both science and God.  In a sense, Buddhism will “blow up” the preconceptions of both God and science as it accustoms itself to the West. As for God, Buddhism sees God without anthropomorphism in the same way that it sees both the individual person and the cosmic personage of Brahma without a self (anatman).  As for science, Buddhism asks what is “matter” and how can matter be maintained as a substance or a thing in light of the relationship between energy, mass, and light in the same way that it asked how can karmic energies and influences be reborn when there is no self or substance to carry them? And of course Buddhism asks science how does consciousness arise if there is only brain matter and no mind?  In these ways, Buddhism does not deny science and instead encourages science to delve deeply into its own assumptions and premises and to not stop short by clinging to comfortable notions of matter as if the fundamental questions have been resolved.   The answer to the questions of karma and rebirth lie exactly in this questioning of science’s own presumptions of matter and materialism by using the scientific method itself.     

The preeminent psychologist Carl G. Jung pointed out that some variety of the notion of reincarnation and rebirth appears in every culture and therefore should be taken as a universal psychological phenomenon worthy of study.  This is the view of a Western scientist who takes psychology as an empirical science based on the psyche, not on matter.  In Western culture, the inquiry of the universe can be done in two modes: that of matter or mind, i.e., physics or psyche.  Aristotle called the first physics and the other metaphysics, or what was beyond physics.  Sadly for Western science, scientific inquiry in the 20th century became dominated by the first, and scientific study via the second was usurped and almost entirely atrophied by disuse. This conceptualization of metaphysics as the study of the non-physical obfuscated and relegated the field of psychology away from empirical scientific inquiry because it was not physical and created for psychology the guilt by association with religion and superstition which were metaphysical.  That is, Western materialists who studied natural phenomenon as “matter” denigrated and despised the study of natural phenomenon as mind and psyche.  The term psychology as the scientific study of the psyche as mind has been nearly entirely usurped by the study of the mindless but measurable physical reactions of a material body and brain matter.  This is one of the core problems of Western science and materialist secularization that Buddhism is and will address in order to liberate people from the bondage that Western materialism has imposed on its own Western science and the Western worldview. 

Western secular Buddhists may be skeptical about what they imagine that Buddhism is asking them to believe about karma and rebirth (when in fact Buddhism is not asking them to believe anything), but as yet, those who are vociferous about this skepticism have not seemed to glimpse that the real danger that Buddhism poses for their Western worldview has nothing at all to do with karma or rebirth but with their own closely and dearly held beliefs about matter and mind.  Buddhism asks that they inquire into their own materialistic worldview along with its presumptions and its assumptions of observer and the observed that their science utilizes in forming its dominant and domineering relationship to the universe as matter and energy.  Whether they know it yet or not, this is the genuine difficulty that secularists face with receiving Buddhism in the West.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A response to James Ford’s Blog on Modernist Buddhism

James Ford’s take on Modernist Buddhism seems to present a noble hope for an integration of Buddhism with a Western world view that is just doomed to failure, because it attempts to straddle a divide that cannot be straddled.  Buddhism can accommodate itself to science but not to the religion of scientific materialism, because scientific materialism is a belief system that should not be confused with the activity of science.  

The label “Modernist Buddhism” is about as useless as the label Modernist Art. The adjective provides no descriptive content and only detracts and demeans the noun being modified.  The complete failure of the term is shown by the suggestion that Thich Nhat Hanh and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, could be considered as such within its penumbra. 

No, karma and rebirth are not “an explanation for human hurt” any more than gravity is an explanation for the art of Jackson Pollack.  Buddhism’s response to the question of original sin is the chain of causation, in which ignorance about our own true nature is the key link, not a projected anthropomorphic creator who is the cause.   The Three Marks are about the marks of conditioned things, not about our own true nature of awakening which is unconditioned.  Things don’t “exist within their moments,” unless those moments are seen as a dream. Because moments don’t exist either, both the “thing” and the “moment” only appear as a dream. 

To believe that one can “capture the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha of history,” is a delusion that rests upon the failure to fully digest the meaning of the Three Marks.  Historical materialism was not created by modernists, but has been a central problem of human consciousness since the dawn of history.  Both historical anthropomorphism and historical materialism are cognitive illnesses resting on the mental activities of reification and literalization. 

The literalizations of rebirths is the problem, but the denial of rebirth is not the solution, deliteralization is.  That people believe there is an entity that is reborn is the problem, not rebirth.  You, the reader, are the living proof of rebirth, whether or not you know it to be so.  Do you remember your first day out of your mother’s womb? Just because you don’t remember your first day of breath does not mean it never happened.   The “entity” that you are today is not the “entity” of your first day. Not a single cell remains. Yet through the magic of memory you have crafted a reification of identity that you believe is reborn from day to day.  Don’t let memory fool you, the no-self that is reborn from day to day is the no-self that is reborn from life to life.   Rebirth is not merely a motivational ploy, it is a fact of the universe that won’t go away by ignoring it, any more than the laws of physics will cease when people don’t pay attention to them.

If the books Buddhism Without Beliefs to After Buddhism are the standard of Modernist Buddhism, then the Buddha Dharma is in good shape because those books show how their author is not really interested in Buddha Dharma, and is only interested in his own views.  However, one could say that readers are in deep trouble when they read those books and are mistakenly lead to believe they are learning about Buddhism.  Here is where the label Modernist Buddhism becomes a negation of actual Buddhism.

I recently saw and heard Richard Wright at my local independent bookstore Copperfield's Books in Sebastopol, CA, during his book tour for Why Buddhism is True and while he may be entertaining to people who have no knowledge of Buddhism, and he does give a credible outline of some of the basic ideas in Buddha Dharma, overall, his attempt to wed Buddhism with modernist scientific materialism is an utter failure.  His portrayal of the scientific view is filled with the anthropomorphic creationist jargon of what is oxymoronically called “evolutionary psychology.” For example he says that "natural selection has designed us" and "natural selection has created ur minds" and "the way we are wired."   

That Modernist Buddhists “do not believe in a literal rebirth” is not the problem with Modernist Buddhism.  As I noted above, the belief in a literal entity being reborn is the problem for which the Buddha provided the medicine. But Modernist Buddhists want to throw out the baby of rebirth with the dirty water of literalizing. The Modernist Buddhist believes in the birth of the literal person in this life, but not in the rebirth of the deliteralized currents of the life streams that make up the karmic seeds and perfumes.  The whining about karma and rebirth by Modernist Buddhists only shows their lack of scientific inquiry.  The presumption that karma and rebirth are merely superstitious supernaturalism is held with religious fervor as a doctrinal tenet.  

From whatever perspective, if karma and rebirth are denied, then that stream is not in the Buddha Dharma watershed. This is because the unique perspective on karma and rebirth is an essential part and parcel of the greatest discovery of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The story is that under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha realized the Three Direct Knowings:  The first was that of his past lives and the past lives of all beings. The second was of the laws of karma. The third was that he was free of all obstacles and released from attachments.
There is absolutely nothing in the discovery of the Buddhist view of karma and rebirth that is contrary to or incompatible with modern science. To suggest otherwise only shows that the suggestor has a warped and perverted view of science. Saying karma and rebirth are silly because there is no good theory for their application is just like a time when a person said that gravity is silly because there is no good theory or “proof” of its existence (i.e. before Newton). Likewise it is like a time when we said that people’s characteristics were transferred by the blood, before anyone knew of DNA. Karma and the rebirth of karmic characteristics are vastly more complex and difficult to describe and analyze than DNA or the laws of physics, but those laws of karma exist just the same whether or not we have the language to scientifically describe them with accuracy, just like the laws of physics existed before they were adequately described.
When a person has a genuine kensho experience, then the vision of karma and of rebirth as  characteristics conditioned by karma become intuitively clear, even while the scientific language for it is lacking. In my view, this could even be used as a litmus test for genuine, or at least genuinely profound, kensho. That is, an intuitive knowing of rebirth and the laws of karma.  There may be something like a genuine kensho, even it if is shallow, that does not touch the knowing of karma and rebirth, but that should not be used as confirmation for a genuinely adequate kensho, and a person should not be encouraged to use such a shallow kensho, if indeed it is a real kensho, as the measurement for the truth of karma and rebirth.  .
Yet, even with a deeply profound kensho, because the person lives within a social context, they are reduced to using concrete metaphors and imagery for describing it. Yes, the concrete imagery is susceptible to literalization and a falling back into pre-Buddhist paradigms for expressing the understanding of karma and rebirth in which a “person” or “soul” is discussed as transmigrating. But if this type of language is used by a Buddhist, it is a Buddhist using non-Buddhist terminology and thus causing confusion.
The great discovery of the Buddha was that karma and rebirth function absent the need to hypothesize a “person” or “soul.” It is not until modern physics and science that we are now in the position to begin a scientific study of the karma and rebirth phenomenon. The traditional Buddhist view, as expressed in the Lankavatara Sutra uses the image of the wave and the ocean. Karma is the wave action and what is reborn is the ocean itself, not an individual person or soul. Thus, we can see that the “modern” Buddhist can and should accept that karma and rebirth are pre-scientific descriptions of laws that are similar to wave formations, the ambiguity of analyzing light as a wave or a particle, etc.
The notion that “We are birthed out of the conditions of existence, live, and then as we die, it all falls apart. There is no extra or after for most modernist Buddhists.” is a result of not being able to deal with the ambiguity of the “wavicle” phenomenon of karma and rebirth. If a person says, “it is all too confusing for me, so I won’t make an opinion about karma and rebirth”, then that is not at all problematic to me. However, if someone says, “based on my limited view I assert there is no karma or rebirth, there is no extra or continuation of life” then to me, that person is not a Buddhist, even though, they may be friendly to Buddha Dharma otherwise.  

Likewise, a focus on “ethics and purpose” in Buddhism is well and good, but severely limited. Zen master Guefeng Zongmi listed five levels of profundity in Buddhism from shallow to deep, and “ethics and purpose” are teachings found in the two shallowest levels. The question “I wish I were happier” is in the shallowest level, and “why is there so much suffering” is found in the second shallowest level.  This means that they are questions common to all levels of Buddhism, as the surface levels of the ocean are common to the entire ocean. But sticking to “ethics and purpose” in such a way is like telling an oceanographer to only study the sea to a depth of 36 inches. Sure you will map the perimeter of the ocean’s shoreline that way, but you will overlook the depths entirely.   

Framing the question as one of “human flourishing” is exactly the kind of commercialization of the self-help genre that is selling nowadays.  Human flourishing has been the perennial project of all spiritual projects since humans became self-reflective. In this context, the fact that the idea of rebirth is swimming against the tide of contemporary materialism is one of its chief arguments for being a medicine of our modernist ailment and materialism disease.  The roll that materialist naturalism plays in the disease of our culture is exactly what the medicine of Buddha Dharma is well placed to cure.  By adhering to the disease and denaturing Buddhism into a materialist naturalism only perverts Buddhism. It is the appropriation of the medicine by the disease, not the cure of the disease by the medicine.

The idea that “consciousness can be fully accounted for by reducing it to material processes” is anathema to Buddhism. This is not Buddhism.  This is the materialism that removes the psyche from psychology, usurps the word psychology for what is actually physiology, and then presents this perversion as science.  

Let me say this plain and simple: any person, in the West or the East,  who truly believes that our best knowledge of the world is achieved by analyzing phenomena as the outcome of processes of physical causation; posits that there’s no world behind or beyond the material world of physics, chemistry, and biology; and believes  that consciousness can be fully accounted for by reducing it to material processes JUST IS NOT A BUDDHIST. They may be an artificially Buddhist flavored modernist, but they are not an actual Buddhist.  Today, Buddhists do not capitulate themselves to the “modern sense of the world” any more than they did to the then modern sense of the world in the past centuries and millennia ago.   To capitulate to the conventional sense of the world is just not Buddhism.  Yes, one must accommodate one’s views in public to a certain extent if it seems that an Emperor would chop off our head for stating the truth that challenges that conventional truth.  So to the extent that modern materialists would chop off the heads of Buddhists who go against the materialist sense of the world, then it behooves Buddhists to somewhat go along to get along. 

The idea that modernists need a “glue” to hold together traditional Buddhist ethics because they are shaped by modern materialist culture is just another way of saying modernists want to appropriate Buddhism to suit their own purposes.  Aristotle had some good ideas, but his concept of the dilemma is at the root of everything that is wrong with modernist materialism.  Aristotle said that life can be examined as physics and as metaphysics, i.e., that which is not physics. That was good. But he then formulated the concept of the dilemma which states that a proposition is either true or false.    When Aristotle’s concept of the dilemma became directed at his own outline of inquiring about the universe as physics and metaphysics, the materialists in favor of physics said their side was true and the other side, the metaphysics, was false. Thus Aristotle’s eudaimonia became, in the hands of the materialists, both one sided and narrow minded as merely a flourishing of their materialist perspective.  

The project of Buddhism is to transplant itself into the West, not to transplant Aristotle into Buddhism.  The “endpoint” of Buddhist practice has NEVER been about “ending rebirth,” except to the extent as envisioned by the shallowest surface understanding of Buddhism by those who are attached to their view of the person as an entity.  The endpoint of Buddhism has always been awakening, as the title Buddha means an “awakened one.” 

To formulate the endpoint of Western or Modernist Buddhism as “living the best kind of life one possibly can” is like saying the endpoint of one’s vacation is to have a well functioning car.  This is a reinterpretation of the Buddhist awakening that trivializes its scope and depth. Labeling it “eudaimonic enlightenment” is just a fancy name for genetically modified enlightenment. This is clear by the need to immediately provide the warning that Aristotle’s virtues are not Buddhist virtues. And there is a whole lot more to the Buddhist wisdom of prajna and jnana than mere insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and the absence of self-nature. 

So while one may be sympathetic with Modernist Buddhism, it is not Modernist Buddhism to accept the presence of Tathagatagarbha in the human heart-mind. So while I agree that the wisdom of the Mahayana Mahaparinivara Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Diamond Cutter Sutra, and the Treatise on the Mahayana Awakening of Faith are absolutely congruent with the foundations of Zen awakening, the awareness of the exact identity of the causal world and awakening, that is, of delusion and enlightenment, is something that completely blows up modern materialism, not something that affirms materialism.

James Ford arrives at a destination with a panoramic view of Zen and the Heart Sutra. But it is only with a rationalizing sleight of hand that the Heart Sutra or any other Mahayana Sutras, as well as many if not most of the Suttas of the Pali Canon, can be made consistent with the materialist Buddhist Modernism.  In other words, it is no defense of Modernist Buddhism to describe a Buddhism that burns away the materialist superstructure yet pretends there is no inconsistency. 

To say “things are real but they are temporary” is another toy rattle to give to a crying child that has no greater or lesser degree of fact than to say “you are reborn from one life to another.”  Once awakening, even by the names kensho or satori, is acknowledged, we have left the precincts of Modernist Buddhism, and I don’t think it does anyone any good to pretend otherwise.  An admonition that any emergent Modernist Buddhism must take awakening into account is doomed to failure exactly because materialism cannot coexist with awakening.  


Some links in Ford’s original post:

by Marjorie L. Silverman

Why Secular Buddhism is Not True
by sujato.

A MoreEnlightened Way of Being, The entrance of Buddhist ethics into the modern world 

By Seth Zuiho Segall

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Zen Soliloquy

To sit, or not to sit, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous karma

Or to be mindful against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end samsara: to nirvana, to cessation
No more; and by cessation, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a cessation
devoutly to be wished. To nirvana, to cessation,
To cessation, perchance to be reborn; aye, there's the rub,
for in that cessation of death, what rebirths may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause. There's the respect
that makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
the Oppressor's wrongdoing, the proud man's insults,
the pangs of despised Compassion, the Dharma’s delay,
the insolence by police, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his quietude make
with a bare samadhi? Who would these burdens bear,
to grunt and sweat in weary samsara,
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
no traveler returns with memory in tact, puzzles the will,
and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus egoism does make cowards of us all,
and thus the native hue of the Bodhisattva Vow
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Erroneous Thought,
And from sitting with great pith and moment,
to this regard their practice turns away,
And loses the name of Bodhisattva Action.

[With due apologies to The Bard, dashed off in a flash of FaceBook fun, so begging the reader's pardon for any wrinkles of confusion.]

Monday, July 17, 2017

So the Universe rests on imperfection, who would have guessed?


The Dharma, incomparably profound and minutely subtle,
Is rarely encountered, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas.
We now can see it, listen to it, accept and hold it,
May we completely realize the true meaning of the Tathagata.

This (or a close variation) is the verse chanted before Dharma talks in Zen centers through out the world. The line about the rarity of being able to encounter the Dharma is often taken as some kind of self-aggrandizing hyperbole. A kalpa is an eon of very long time with several colorful analogies, such as the length of time it would take for a butterfly's wing brushing up against Mt. Everest to erode it to smooth ground   But the article, "This One Imperfection In Nuclear Physics Allowed Earth To Exist" by Ethan Siegel, explains how the rarity is literally true, because of the crazy quilt of conditions that must occur in order for planets to arise and for life on those planets to appear.

Of course, it begs the question of how those early sages of India were able to conceive of the inconceivable eons of time and the innumerable numbers of galaxies as many as the sands of the Ganges River that are the context for this one precious life, a couple thousand years before Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for daring to propose that the universe is infinite.  

The article describes the rarity like this:

In order to create a rocky planet that's teeming with life, the Universe needed to create large amounts of the heavy elements required for life's processes. To make many of those elements, such as Tin, Iodine, Selenium, Molybdenum, Zinc, and Copper, you need supernovae to have occurred many times in our galaxy's past. To get many more, such as Iron, Calcium, Cobalt, Sulfur, and Potassium, you need stars massive enough to create them....The only reason we can exist, today, is because one tiny imperfection in the early Universe allows the stars to grow hundreds of times as massive.

Since we are only able to appear on the basis of that one original "imperfection" then all appearances can be said to be the continuation of that imperfection, which gives credence to Zen master Dogen's phrase, ‘Shoshaku jushaku,” which according to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in his book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, means “'to succeed wrong with wrong,' or one continuous mistake.”

Buddhism is the religion of the science of mind, or the psychological religion.  I recognize that is a controversial claim, even for some Buddhists, but it is stated from a perspective in which it is a valid statement, so instead of saying why it appears invalid from one perspective, I would ask that the critic make the effort to stand, if only for a moment, in the spot where the view makes sense. Here are a couple Tibetan Buddhist perspectives adopting the Buddhism is a science of mind approach.

Buddhism, as the science of mind, empirically observes, investigates, and analyzes mind with its mental states, conditions, and phenomena, that comprise all our cognitions, thoughts, emotions, feelings, views, desires, joys, etc. (i.e., the Tin, Iodine, Selenium, Molybdenum, Zinc, and Copper of our mind). This empirical study of mind was Carl G. Jung's definition of the science of psychology (i.e., "psych" = mind; "ology" = study or science).  In other words, Buddhism explores the universe as mind not as matter.  What we are now discovering by Western Science's exploration of the universe as matter, not mind, is that there is a confluence and congruence of findings.  Over the preceding 400 years,(Bruno was killed by the Catholic Church in 1600 C.E.)  the exploration of the universe as matter has grown to include such previously inconceivable (at least to the West) ideas as infinity, laws of cause and effect, unseen forces of gravity, the strange nature of light (constant speed and indeterminacy as wave or particle),  dark matter and dark energy, etc., all of which have their analogues in the discoveries of Buddhism's exploration of the universe as mind.

The classic early Buddhist scripture The Dhammapada begins in the first two verses from this startling vantage point:

1. Mentation is the precursor of things; mentation is the ringleader; mentation is the producer.

If mentation is corrupted, just so the voice, just so the act,

Thereupon unease is enabled, just as the wheel follows the transporter’s (e.g., ox or man) foot.

2. Mentation is the precursor of things; mentation is the ringleader; mentation is the producer.
If mentation is clear, just so the voice, just so the act,
Thereupon ease is enabled, just as the shadow follows and does not depart.

Here, "mentation" (Pali and Sanskrit, mano & mana(s)) means the cognitive activity of mind, and "things" (P. dhamma, Skt. dharma) means both discrete things and the thingness of all phenomena.  So we find many variations in translation from the strict to the loose, from the prosaic to the poetic, such as:

All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader, and of mind are they made.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.

The important point here is that mentation (manas, also known as the 7th consciousness in Mahayana analysis), as the basic cognitive activity of mind, can be either corrupted or clear, and when it is corrupted all manners of antithetical conceptions and oppositional dualities arise that are taken as literal, fixed, and substantial.  This is what Buddhism calls the primordial ignorance, or in the words of Siegel's article "a tiny imperfection," in the arising of consciousness that leads to the 'creation' of the universe and life on a planet.  But there is the inherent possibility that what begins as corrupted and the source of all unease (dukkha) in life, can become clear and the source of ease (sukkha).

The Treatise on the Mahayana's Arousing of Faith (date unknown, translated into Chinese in 553 C.E. by the Indian monk Paramartha (499-569 C.E.)) contains an outline for how the universe appears (using the mind paradigm, not matter paradigm) that was elaborated on by Zen master Guifeng Zongmi (780 – 841 C.E.) and used by him to establish his taxonomy of the teachings (panjiao) of Buddhism.   In Zongmi's Treatise on the Origin of the Person (原人論 Yuan Ren Lun), based on the Arousing of Faith, the universe is the One True Mind and "initially there is only one true numionous nature, that is not born, does not die, does not increase, does not decrease, does not become, and does not change.  

The "big bang" of the appearance of consciousness occurs with the bifurcation of this unity into enlightenment, i.e., the clear mentation of the Dhammapada, on the one hand and unenlightenment, i.e. the corrupted mentation of the Dhammapada, on the other.  The word corrupt is used, not in a moral sense, but in a phenomenological sense of having a "broken" view of the phenomenon of thingness. This broken view is what is called "false conceptions" or "false thinking" and is taking the bifurcated view of consciousness as substantially existing and seeing things as fundamentally separate rather than unified.   Zongmi cites the Flower Garland Sutra's version of the Buddha's calling out upon his enlightenment:

“Children of the Buddha, there is not one of the multitude of beings who nevertheless does not completely possess the Tahtagata’s innate awareness and wisdom. Yet by means of false thinking and clinging they nevertheless do not verify getting it."     

The analogy to this question of unity or separation in the Western science of taking the universe as matter has been revealed through the changing nature of the theory of the universe from mechanics to quantum physics. Once things were taken as essentially separate, independent, and discrete things, and now their nature is seen as energetic fields of potential and actuality of non-thingness.

When the big bang of mental bifurcation takes place, the "world of birth and death" begins to appear, and by natural evolution, consciousness flows in a stream of ignorance called unenlightenment that reverberates into the condensation of subject and object (i.e., inner and outer orientations) and with further evolution becomes discrimination, continuation, attachments, conceptual elaborations, karma, and the fruit of karma in varying degrees of suffering within the six paths of birth and death (i.e., hell, ghosts, animals, humans, titans, and celestials).  

The Dhammapada's promise of clarifying mentation is seen by the Zen of Zongmi as the promise of enlightenment which begins (and ends) in the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta) that first appears as a dawning intuition or intimation, then as a faith or trust in it's actual possibility, then as turning toward it as a path to cultivate, then the practical acts of cultivation, experiencing the fruit of that cultivation, and ultimately having one's own realization of enlightenment with its unassailable clarification of what had previously been thought of as broken ("mentation corrupted") and the manifestation of the mind of suchness.  As Zongmi points out, this teaching of the manifestation of the One True Mind, indistinguishable from one's own Buddha Nature, is the One Vehicle.         

"That Which Is The One Vehicle's (Ekayana) Teaching Of Manifesting Nature clarifies for everyone having sentience that everybody has the root enlightenment of True Mind.  Beginningless is how it comes, and it always abides clear and pure.  Its luminosity does not darken and is completely and constantly aware.  It is also called Buddha Nature, and is also called the Inner Tathagata (tathagatagarbha)."

So we can appreciate how this Dharma teaching is incomparably profound and minutely subtle and why it is so rarely encountered, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of eons, because, in the context of the universe as mind, the evolution of consciousness is synonymous with the evolution of the universe, and only after the process of evolution comes to the realization of its own nature can we see it, listen to it, accept and hold it, and completely realize the true meaning of the Tathagata as the coming and going of True Suchness.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

One Vehicle Zen

Personally, the one most important point about the history of Chan/Zen that I think is most under recognized, understated, and undervalued is that Bodhidharma was said to teach the Lankavatara Sutra "depending on the One Vehicle Lineage of Southern India" (依南天竺一乘宗).  This comes from Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks, Scroll 25, in the section on the Lankavatara teacher Fachang    I learned of this reference in two places, first in D.T. Suzuki's Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, pages 54-55, in a discussion of how Huike, and those who learned from him, taught the Lankavatara Sutra differently from the teachers who taught the sutra in a Yogacara style, and second in Philip Yampolsky's book The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, on page 29 in footnote 87, and it opened my eyes to what had been the missing dimension of the historical unity of Chan/Zen that explained so many things, such as why Guifeng Zongmi said that the One Vehicle of Manifesting the Nature was the most profound level of Buddha Dharma, why Mazu said “Mind is Buddha,”  why Chan/Zen was known as the Buddha Mind School or Lineage, etc.   

D.T. Suzuki wrote, “The line of Hui-k’e belonged to the Ekayana school (一乘教) of Southern India which was also the one resorted to by Dharma himself when he wanted to discourse on the philosopphy of Zen Buddhism.  To this Ekayana school belong the Avatamsaka and the Sraddhotpanna as well as the Lankavatara properly interpreted.”  According to Suzuki, and I agree, if taught according to the Yogacara style the Lankavatara is improperly interpreted, because such teaching does not stand on the One Vehicle lineage/school of interpretation brought from Southern India by Bodhidharma.  Once we realize that Bodhidharma was a teacher of the One Vehicle Lineage of Southern India, then the Mind-only, One Mind, Buddha Mind, and One Buddha Vehicle emphasis of Chan/Zen makes perfect sense.

The Fifth Ancestor Zen Master Hongren, Huike’s “great-grandson” in the Dharma, wrote the Discourse on the Most Supreme Vehicle in which he said that we know that keeping the original (root) true mind is the lineage of the twelve divisions of the scriptures because in teaching the multitude of beings, “the Tathagata accords with the gate of the true mind to lead them to enter the One Vehicle.”  And he also says, “This discourse shows the One Vehicle to be the lineage, so that they who live in confusion arrive at the meaning of the Way.”

In the Platform Sutra of The Sixth Ancestor, Great Master Huineng, who was Hongren’s Dharma son, taught a reciter of the Lotus Sutra about the correct One Vehicle from the Chan/Zen perspective in Chapter 7:  

"The Buddha articulated the root for ordinary men, he did not articulate it for Buddhas.   If there were those who were not willing to have faith in this principle, then they withdrew from the sitting mats to follow another.  The difference is from not knowing that, while already sitting in the cart of the white ox, still you are involved in seeking the three carts outside the gate. Compare the clear language of the Sutra that says to you, ‘There is only One Buddha Vehicle, without having extra vehicles that seem to be two or seem to be three.’
"From beginning to end, the numberless expedient means by every kind of causes and conditions, illustrations and metaphors, words and phrases, were because in all cases the Dharma is for the One Buddha Vehicle.  Why you do not understand is because the three carts were provisional for former times, and because the One Vehicle is true for the present time."

Also, at the beginning of Section 9 of the Platform Sutra, the Emperor and his Queen say to the two resident masters residing in the Imperial Palace that they wish to inquire into the One Vehicle, The two masters defer from the task and say the Imperial majesties should ask Chan Master Neng.  Thus, whether or not the account is historical, it shows that Zen master Huineng was considered by the authors of the Platform Sutra to be the preeminent teacher of the One Vehicle (Ekayana). 

As Yampolsky muses in his footnote, the reference to Bodhidharma teaching the One Vehicle Sect/School/Lineage of Southern India may be the real source for Shenhui's calling the lineage-school (宗 zong) of Huineng "the Southern School or Lineage" (南宗 Nanzong), and that name may not be just a reference to the geography of China.

So while it has been said by some that the One Vehicle school died out in India, the truth is that Ekayana (One Vehicle) Buddhism came to China with Bodhidharma, and the Chan/Zen lineage is the quintessence of One Vehicle (Ekayana) Buddhism and the continuation of the One Vehicle Lineage of Southern India brought to China by Bodhidharma..

Earth Day Requires Repudiation of Capitalism

EARTH DAY RANT: I'll be blunt. If you support Earth Day but don't see the relevance of an economic analysis that demonstrates the fundamental cause of climate change is capitalism, then you are either ignorant of the facts or complicit in that very same climate change.
We simply cannot honestly embrace Earth Day and Support Science in public demonstrations if we do not include an analysis of society based on socialized economics, depth psychology, and spiritual ethics.
Science is good, but scientists who sold out to capitalism, selling us the "benefits" of pesticides, nuclear fission, fossil fuel energy, pharmaceuticals, etc., all as if science had rigorously established that there was no down side, have perverted science, every bit as much as the Catholic Church perverted the teachings of Jesus by their Crusades, Inquisitions and Witch-hunts. Thus the scientists who have sold their services for the almighty immoral "Dollar" and thereby have destroyed the objectivity and integrity of scientific studies in our universities are themselves the responsible parties for today's anti-science backlash.
By following these three moral precepts of Buddhism scientists could easily redeem science:
1. Do not kill, support life;
2. Do not steal, be giving;
3. Do not lie, be truthful.
But this requires that scientists must call out the death-supporting, stealing, and lying conduct of their fellow scientists.  Today, the vast majority of scientists protect each other from external criticism nearly as strenuously as the Blue Line of law enforcement does. To redeem science, scientists must point out when a colleague or university department has blurred the lines of the scientific method in order to get that grant or endowment or that paper published. 
Above all else, science must be an ethical calling, not an industry in service of capitalism, because capitalism is inherently anti-democratic, routinely unethical, and necessarily places a higher virtue on making profits than on protecting the environment and honestly practicing the scientific method.   

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications

This is a new feature for the TWW Blog with the hope of adding a little more coherence to the line up.  Under the title of “Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications” I will be outlining my pet peeves about Buddhism’s “coming to the West.”  Being aware of the processes of accommodation, acclimation, and acculturation that occur in transplanting Buddha Dharma into another culture is my primary concern.  The Buddha Dharma is the teaching of how mind awakens.  This awakening is not bound to any particular culture and is universally available to and inherent within each and every single person and living being. 

One of the most important factors in Buddhism’s arrival in the West is the necessity of disentangling the cultural aspects of Buddha Dharma from those aspects that are the common denominator of the human mind, i.e., the Buddha aspects. This happens whenever Buddhism enters a new cultural context.  It happened whenever and wherever Buddhism spread beyond the region where the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, actually walked as a living, breathing, spiritual mendicant, e.g., into the areas now known as Southern India, Northwestern India, Southeast Asia, Ancient Gandhara, Centeral Asia. China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

The core problem is that we mostly do not know what is cultural and what is mind. As Buddhism spread throughout the regions of Asia, there was a general cultural communication that facilitated the transplanting of Buddha Dharma without a head on collision of cultural themes.  For example, Buddhism moves relatively easily into a culture that has either an animistic-shamanistic or pluralistic-pantheistic approach, because it can either become one more view among others in a panoply of perspective, or can integrate the perspective of the mind’s awakening within the preexisting metaphors of awakening in a shamanistic cultural matrix. 

But Buddhism has more difficulty in cultures that worship and idolize an anthropomorphic monotheistic hegemonic God, such as the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  It is therefore historically significant that Buddhism is now able to come to the West, only after the West has had its own form of “Enlightenment” wherein the Dharma of Science has been able to free its own culture from the dogmatic rule of an anthropomorphic God.    

This current historical condition now presents problems of its own for Buddha Dharma coming to the West, as now practitioners of Buddha Dharma must take advantage of the cultural space created between the old precincts dominated by the God-religion and the new fields of the scientific worldview, while at the same time addressing the concerns of each.  Buddhism’s finding its place in the West between the polarization of an other-worldly God religion and a worldly science is analogous to Buddhism’s finding its place in China between the preexisting forms of Taoism and Confucianism. 

Part of the difficulty will be for Buddha Dharma to simultaneously shed the Indian, Chinese Tibetan, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultural encrustations, yet remember and retain Buddha Dharma itself.  As we wash off the cultural accretions, this of course presents us with the paradigmatic conundrum of not throwing the baby out with the bath water.   As just one example, we can see in the West that some adherents to a materialistic scientific worldview misperceive karma and rebirth as merely cultural aspects of Buddha Dharma that can be jettisoned.  But as I see it, we have in the scientific field of psychology the common denominator of the study of the psyche with which Buddha Dharma can ally itself to show us that in the scientific study of mind, every single human culture that has existed has some form of teaching about karma and rebirth, e.g., the Christian teaching of “you reap what you sow.”  
For instance, in 1939 Carl G. Jung wrote an essay titled "Concerning Rebirth" recognizing that the concept of rebirth has various aspects and outlining five categories of rebirth as psychological forms that the archetype of rebirth manifests itself.  Jung points out that rebirth is not a materialistically measurable phenomenon, it can't be weighed or photographed, but it is a "purely psychic reality." Jung said,

Rebirth is an affirmation that must be counted among the primordial affirmations of mankind. These primordial affirmations are based on what I call archetypes. In view of the fact that all affirmations relating to the sphere of the suprasensual are, in the last analysis, invariably determined by archetypes, it is not surprising that a concurrence of affirmations concerning rebirth can be found among the most widely differing peoples. There must be psychic events underlying these affirmations which it is the business of psychology to discuss--without entering into all the metaphysical and philosophical assumptions regarding their significance. [The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9.1, Par. 207.]
Therefore by recognizing the role of psychology we can scientifically determine that karma and rebirth are not merely cultural notions to be discarded but are archetypes of the universal collective unconscious that is the foundation of all cultures, and both karma and rebirth can be scientifically and personally studied today, with the 2500 year history of such Buddhist study providing insights for us today .    

For this series, the heading “Caveats” will warn about and point out the problems in sentences and ideas that I come across in English speaking texts, usually describing the Buddha Dharma erroneously, giving false impressions, causing confusion, or generally mistaking or misstating something about the Buddha Dharma.

The heading “Corrections” will attempt the brief restatement from my perspective to correct what was written.

The heading “Clarifications” will articulate the reasons for announcing the caveat and making the correction.

It should go without saying that I’m not writing from a position of a particular orthodoxy, but from a particular perspective.  The point is not that these corrections are intended to establish objective dogmatic views that everyone must adhere to, but that they reveal the “truth of perspective” itself, which is a central aspect of the core teachings of the Buddha Dharma, i.e., having an “Aligned View” is the first of the folds of the Eightfold Path that is basic to Buddhism.     

Here, the Buddha Dharma view we are centrally aligning with is the One Vehicle. This mind-only perspective “stands on zero” as the nondual teaching of emptiness (sunyata) and manifests Buddha Nature as the coming and going of thusness (Tathagata) for the great matter of bringing people to hear of, learn about, and enter into the Buddha’s seeing and knowing in order to alleviate the imbalance and off-centeredness (dukkha) that inevitably arises with self-consciousness and causes the general distress and dissatisfaction inherent in our lives that leads to our greed, hatred, delusions and the whole plethora of vexations, and ultimately to our killing, harming, stealing, lying, and generally bad behaviors towards each other.   

My initial anticipation is that many of first blogs of the series will circle around the areas of confusion between the One Vehicle and the Yogacara and Tathagatagarbha themes of Buddha Dharma as understood by scholastics in the West. 

This page will act as the introduction and table of contents for the blogs posted in this series, as well as a preview of blogs I hope to include.  The posted blogs can also be found by clicking on the “CCC” link in the list of Labels on the side of the pages.

If you have any suggestions or pet peeves of your own about how Buddha Dharma is being accommodated and acculturated in the West, please let me know in the comments.



Anticipated Topics for Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications:

~ Manas, the 7th Consciousness
~ Alayavijnana, the 8th Consciousness
~ Mind Only (citta-matra), Consciousness Only (vijnana-matra), and Notification Only (vijnapti-matra)
~ Lankavatara Sutra, The Sutra of Going Down to Lanka
~ Zen and Zen Samadhi
~ Samatha Vipassyana and Samadhi Prajna
~ Tendai Shikan and Zen Shikantaza
~ Five Types of Zen

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Unconscious in Buddha Dharma

            As we in the West are discovering the teachings of Buddha Dharma about mind and consciousness, we are confronted with the necessity of rediscovering our own repressed traditions of the study of the psyche, consciousness, and the unconscious.
Western explorers of the psyche discovered the unconscious in the 19th century.  The Buddhist explorers of mind, through their deep meditation, discovered the unconscious over two thousand years ago.  Since then, the Buddhist admonition to “turn the light around and shine it on yourselves,” as stated by Linji in the 9th century (or “take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward on your self,” as Dogen restated it in the 12th century, or “to personally turn around to face inward” as Hakuin restated it in the 18th century) is the direction to study the unconscious by introspection.  In Buddhism, the unconscious is called the storehouse- or treasury-consciousness (Skt. alayavijnana) and the fruit of this introspective study was the Mahayana Sutras.    
In the 20th century Carl G. Jung explored the unconscious more than any other psychologist. He identified two layers or poles of the unconscious, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious (the later he also called the impersonal, transpersonal, or universal features of the unconscious). [CW 7, §§ 102, 103, 445, & 452. See note.]  The first layer consists of those elements, features, or aspects of the unconscious that are acquired during one’s own lifetime and experience.  Jung emphasized that the deeper layer of the collective psyche is inherited, and he called this the region of the archetypal contents where these “primordial images are the most ancient and the most universal ‘thought-forms’ of humanity.” [CW 7, §§ 104.]  In Buddhist terminology (using agricultural metaphors of the time, as we would use computer metaphors for the mind today), the personal features are those seeds (Skt. bija) of the storehouse consciousness that are “planted” (continuing the cultivation metaphor) during one’s lifetime, and the impersonal features in the storehouse are the seeds placed there “from past lives” as immeasurable in number as the grains of sands of the Ganges river.   
Jung found that the personal unconscious contains all the material that was once conscious, e.g., memories, repressed material, subliminal sense perceptions, etc., while the collective unconscious contains “all the material which has not yet reached the threshold of consciousness.”  [CW 7, §§204 & 441.]  These structural elements of the deepest unconscious are the archetypes. They are psychic structures that are just as inherited, as impersonal, and as collective as the physical structures of our bodies, e.g., our bilateral symmetry,  our circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems, etc..  As our individual bodies are unique expressions of these universal forms, so to are our individual consciousnesses unique expressions of the universal forms of mind.
In the Five Skandhas, one of the Buddhist’s schematic representations of mind, the structures of the unconscious are called the first four skandhas with consciousness designated the Fifth Skandha.  Early Buddhism through such schematics of mind as the Five Skandhas and the Eighteen Dhatus tacitly recognized that there is an unconscious dimension to mind, but it was the later Ekayana/Mahayana development of the schematic representation of the Eight Consciousnesses that made the unconscious explicit in Buddhism with the eighth storehouse consciousness as the storehouse of all the seeds that are present in mind either as submerged or as not yet conscious. Jung’s reference to inherited primordial “universal thought-forms” corresponds directly with samskara, the Fourth Skandha, which is often translated as “mental formations.”
A primary problem we have to face directly in Western culture, as we meet, accommodate, appropriate, and acculturate the Buddha Dharma, is this question of the unconscious, because in Western culture, as it is dominated by the scientism dogma stating that only the physical exists, the mind does not exist, and “the psychic” has had its relation to mind stripped away and is considered as nothing more than superstitious supernaturalism or hallucinatory imagination.  
The fact is that the study of the psyche is the study of mind “from the inside” while the study of neurophysiology is the study of mind “from the outside” as a brain.   The West is deeply confused about this distinction.  The two approaches to mind are not the same, and while there is value in correlating the discoveries made from each perspective in this field of study, the study from the outside can never and will never replace the need or importance of the study from the inside.  This study “from the inside” is exactly what Buddhism calls “turning the light around and shining it inward on ourselves” and points directly to the appeal that Buddhism has in the West for those who long to escape the domination of the field of the study of mind by the physicalist dogmas of physicists and other practitioners of the physical sciences.  

[Note: Jung quotes from The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung, Vol. 7. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. ]

[Edited 3/11/17]

Connected blogs:
Zen is the Art of Imagination

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Linji on Turning the Light Around

Here's a passage from the Record of Linji that I have finished translating today.  This comes from near the end of the untitled Part One.   Various translators insert their own titles like "Discourses" or "Ascending the High Seat," but since the text itself does not have a title for the beginning section which is the largest section, I have not added one. Part Two is titled "Examining Differentiation" and Part Three is titled "Record of Travels."

The Record of the Words of Zen Master Linji Huizhao of Zhenzhou.
Collected by Huiran, a minor teacher of the inherited Dharma, dwelling at Sansheng. 

Greatly Virtuous Ones, what object are you searching for that you go splashing about on the land toward the various directions, treading on until your feet are [flat like] planks? 

Broadly, there is no Buddha that can be sought; there is no Way that can be accomplished; there is no Dharma that can be attained.  To seek outwardly for a Buddha with characteristics gives you unassociated appearances.  Desire to be conscious of your original mind.  It is not to be united with, likewise it is not to be separated from.

Drifters in the Way, the true Buddha has no shape; the true Way has no essence; the true Dharma has no characteristics.  The three things are blended harmoniously and united in one locus.  Since this discernment is not attained, you are called out as the multitude of beings who create bustling karma consciousness.

Question: “So what is the true Buddha, the true Dharma, and the true Way? We beg you to come down to open and reveal it.”

The master said, “That which is Buddha is the mind’s purity. That which is Dharma is the mind’s radiance.  That which is the Way is the clear light that is everywhere unhindered.  The three are exactly one, and in every case are empty names and have no solid existence.  Thus for the person who correctly studies the Way, from moment to moment mind is not interrupted.

When on his own, Great Master [Bodhi]Dharma came from the Western Land, he only searched for a fundamental person who did not receive people’s delusions. Afterwards he encountered the second ancestor who then understood at a single word and for the first time knew that previously he was a fellow who vainly used effort.

This mountain monk nowadays sees the locus as ‘not separate from the ancestors and Buddhas.’ If you attain within the first phrase, you become a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors.  If you attain within the second phrase, you become a teacher of humans and heavenly beings.  If you attain within the third phrase, your own deliverance is not completed!"

Question: “So what was the intention of [Bodhidharma] ‘coming from the West’?”

The master said, “If there was an intention, then his own deliverance was not completed!"

[The questioner] said, “Since there was no intention, say how did the second ancestor attain the Dharma?”

The master said, “That which is which is attainment is no-attainment.”

[The questioner] said, “Since it’s supposed to be no-attainment, say what is the basic meaning of no-attainment?”

The master said, “As you chase around everywhere seeking, mind is not able to rest. Wherefore the ancestral masters declared, ‘Bah! You disciples with a head going searching for a head.’  Put down your words, then turn the light around and shine it on yourselves.  Transformed by not separately seeking, you know that mind and body and the ancestors and Buddhas are not separate.  You will get down to having no affairs.  This method is called 'attaining the Dharma'.”

 [From CBETA T47n1985_p0501c22 to p0502a13]


"Drifters in the Way" is my translation of 道流 daoliu.  The salutation 道流 daoliu is difficult to translate and has a double entendre. The character dao is “the Way,” and liu has the primary meaning of “flow, stream, current” (as either a noun or verb) and includes the connotations of “spread, float, drift, wander, meander,” as streams do or as things in streams do.  Related Buddhist terms are “the stream of wisdom”  and “the stream of the passions.”  So 道流 daoliu  is literally “Way–stream,” “Way-flow,” “the steam of the Way,” or “the drift of the Way,” which, when used as a salutation to address the audience members, means "You Who Are in the Stream of the Way" and can be translated as "Way Streaming Ones," “Way Streamers” or “Way Flow-ers” or “Streamers or Floaters in the Way,” etc. 

As this water image is perceived as somewhat clumsy in English, most translators use “Followers of the Way.” I don't like “Followers of the Way” for several reasons. First, because it has the connotation of "following behind" and not being personally immersed in the stream of the Way. Second, the term "follower" loses its root connection to the early water image used for the term designating beginning disciples, srota-apanna, 入流, i.e., Stream Entrants. I take it that Linji's use of the term 道流 daoliu for the Mahayana disciples in his assembly is harkening directly back to this earlier water based term for the sravaka disciples of the Early Schools.   

As a stream meanders in its way, it could be translated as “Meanderers of the Way.”  As a stream “seeks” lower ground as the gravitational direction to flow toward, the term liu also has the connotation of “to seek, to search for,” so 道流 can be more loosely translated as “Seekers of the Way.”  But because liu also means to drift in the flowing stream or current, and because the word drift captures the meaning of another favorite term of Linji's, 無事 wúshì, in Japanese buji, "to have no affairs" which also appears in this section, my current preference for translating 道流 daoliu is "Drifters in the Way." 

Also, it sounds cool to me and evokes personally pleasant nostalgia imagery from my childhood. For example, Paul Butterfield's "Drifting Blues."  And the popular phrase "drifting and dreaming," as used in poetry, song titles, and lyrics, combines the word "drifting" with another important word in Buddhism "dreaming," as when in the Diamond Cutter Sutra the Buddha says that the bodhisattva views this world as a dream. 

Lastly, of interest to Buddha nerds, there is a double entendre that occurs because the term liu is sometimes used as a synonym for lou (flowing, running, discharge) to translate the Sanskrit technical term asrava, derived from the image of the foaming liquid that overflows a pot of cooking rice, and means “outflow” or “leakage” and is sometimes translated as “defilement” because the activity of the mind that objectifies an external environment is called “outflowing” and imagined like the outflowing, leakage, or discharge of fluids like pus, snot, or sweat from the body, and this leaking mental excretion is the source of the mind’s defilement as its mistaken perceptions about the world. So Linji’s double entendre lies in his slyly calling his audience “defilers or leakers of the Way” as he is teaching them about the Way.


"Turn the light around and shine it on yourselves" is a colloquial way of describing the technical term asraya-paravrtti which means to "turn around or turn back to the seat, basis, or resting place" of what we call the light of knowing, consciousness, or awareness.  

Variations of the phrase "turn the light around and shine it on yourselves" are now well known in Western Zen communities. Whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, this is the essential method of practice in Zen and the common denominator of all Zen lineage schools.  This central teaching is found in the works of most of the Zen masters, such as in works after Linji of Dogen's 13th c. "Fukanzazengi or Rules for the Universal Recommendation of Sitting Meditation," and Hakuin's 18th c. "Zazen Wasan or Song of Zazen," as well as in works before Linji such as the 8th c. Chinese Zen foundational text The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and Sengcan's famous 6th c. Zen verse "Inscription on Faith in Mind." Asraya-paravrtti or "return to the basis" is found as the phrase "return to True Suchness" and "return to the root" in the important 6th c. work <大乘起信論> "Treatise on the Mahayana Arousing of Faith" translated into Chinese by the Indian scholar-monk Paramartha.  

Before the Zen Masters of China asraya-paravrtti was a staple of Indian Masters such as the 4th c. half brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu, as found in the later's "Trimsika-Karika or Thirty Verses."   At its earliest appearance it was given canonical authority in the Mahayana Sutras espousing the One Vehicle or Ekayana such as the Lankavatara Sutra or The Sutra of Going Down to Lanka, and The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar.

Without the actual experience of turning the light around to shine it upon ourseves, our understanding remains at the intellectual level only.  To Mahayanists, asraya-paravrtti is the true meaning of the purification (visuddhi) espoused by the Early Schools, because in returning the light of awareness to its source or fountainhead, the contrived dualistic delusions are cast off and the purity of not-two is realized.  Thus Linji said "Buddha is the mind's purity."  As Zen Master Hui Hai said, this is "the ultimate purity" because "it is a state of beyond purity and impurity."