Sunday, November 01, 2015

Breaking Down the House

Here's an interesting and compelling comparison of sayings from the Buddha Dharma and the Christian Gospels.
From the Dhammapada we have the two verses 153-154 from Chapter 11 – Old Age:

Wandering through countless births, transmigrating without cessation,
searching for the house-builder, suffering birth again and again.
You are seen, house builder, nowhere to dwell again.
All the rafters are broken and the ridge of the house is destroyed.
Mind has come to the unconditioned, experiencing the extinction of thirst.
And from the Gospel According to Thomas we have these two sayings:
Saying 71: Jesus said this, "I will first destroy the house, and nothing can build it another time."
Saying 98: Jesus said, “The kingdom of the father compares to a man wanting to kill a powerful man.  He drew the sword in his house -- he stabbed it into the wall so that he might realize whether his hand had the inner strength.  Then he slew the powerful one.”

I suggest for your consideration that there is a truth here that deserves inquiry as being transcendent of cultural clothing and pointing directly to the human mind and how we build houses of illusion to live in that require us to destroy them for our liberation.

And then we have this too,

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Record of Transmitting the Light

I posted my translation of the cases and capping verses from Zen Master Keizan's Denkoroku~The Record of Transmitting the Light.   The translation is downloadable.
I'm still figuring out how this Academia.Edu website works. It is posted as a draft paper with a "session" open for comments for a month. I definitely will appreciate comments.  I have a particular (if not peculiar) translation style so I like to get feedback about what does or doesn't work for the reader.
You have to join and sign-up to view pages as Academia-dot-Edu, but it is free and not an intrusive process. You can sign up with google-plus, facebook or individual email.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Karma and Rebirth Revisited - Part Two

Continued from Part One.
As Buddhism comes to the West, it cannot be stated emphatically enough, that a paradigm shift is necessary to understand karma and rebirth, because from the modern materialistic perspective of secular scientism karma and rebirth seem like supernatural mysticism or superstition and from the modern materialistic perspective of the Abrahamic religions karma and rebirth seem like amoral ungodly atheism. On the one hand, we have to give up our attachment to the idea that only what is tangible is real; and on the other hand we have to give up our attachment to the idea that what is revealed by God written in a sacred text is literally real.  The core problem with the so-called secular Buddhist movement is that the participants do not want to acknowledge the necessity for this paradigm shift, of needing to change their perspective about what is real, and to inquire deeply with determination and vigor into the foundations and the fountainhead of our own mind.

Here are some commonly asked questions by people trying to understand karma and rebirth from within the secular modernist perspective.

Question: By virtue of what feature(s), attribute(s) or quality(s) is karma to be distinguished from ordinary, goal-directed behavior?
Reply:  Karma basically (most simply, directly) means action, activity, acts, i.e., the shared meaning element of actions, deeds, behavior, conduct, etc.   So the question should be restated as “what distinguishes karma from ordinary, goal-directed karma?  The reply is nothing, other than that ordinary goal-directed karma is a subset of the general category karma.  The two adjectives “ordinary” and “goal-directed” limit the subset and exclude the karmas that are both extraordinary and non-goal-directed karma.  In other words, the question established four categories of karma, (1) karma that is ordinary but not goal-directed, (2) goal-directed but not ordinary, (3) both ordinary and goal-directed, and (4) neither ordinary nor goal-directed.  Whatever features, attributes, or qualities that are defined for the terms “ordinary” and “goal-directed” are the features, attributes, or qualities that distinguish these categories of karma.

Q.: In what medium do the effects (fruits) of karma propagate?
R.: Mind is the medium.  From the point of view of the thinking consciousness (mano-vijnana) which fabricates and establishes the concept of medium, the propagation of waves requires a medium in which the wave formation propagates.  The Lankavatara Sutra uses the simile of the ocean and the wave.  When the karma wave is propagated, the mind is symbolized by the ocean, and it is the ocean that is reborn with the wave propagation, not an individual entity.   But while this image is a useful tool, is should not to be over-utilized or stretched too far as a metaphor.  We can also consider the wave formations of light and how they propagate through empty space with no apparent medium.  For a long time scientists assumed that there had to be a medium for light wave propagation and they came up with ideas like ether. But then living with paradox became possible in physics, so now we have the wave-particle duality, or wavicle, for understanding light wave propagation without a medium.  Sometimes light appears and acts like a wave propagating through a medium and sometimes light appears and acts like a particle traveling through empty space.   Likewise, the mind is often compared with empty space with karma appearing to act like a wave through a medium (like the ocean) or like a particle (seed, bija) propagating in space without a medium.  Either seen as the ocean medium or as space, it is mind where karma propagates.     

Q.: What is it, exactly, that connects me to particular persons no longer living and not yet born?

R.: There is no connection to someone “not yet born,” because there is no one “not yet born” except in the constructed imagination with a reality of the category of a unicorn or a rabbit with horns.   The connection to a particular karmic stream of actions of the past is what is called in the present “identity.”  This is the same as what connects us to the particular baby we were at birth when all of the cells of the body of that infant have died and been replaced by new cells, so that physically we are not the same accumulation of molecules and cells, but a stream of molecules and cells that are knit together by our “identity.”  Identity is what is called the volitional aspect of karma.  Karma is created by the identity that attaches to an action. If we have an action without any volitional identity attached to it, then the action does not create karma.  The non-karmic action may have an effect on the physical level, as when someone bumps our elbow and we spill some coffee, but the arm’s activity would not propagate karma. However, our identity-conditioned action upon experiencing the spilled coffee, such as getting angry at being bumped, would be a karma propagating activity, exactly because our identity would be conditioning our emotive action in that case.

Q.: If it is some form of mental causation that connects “lives,” how does it continue after the dissolution of the current brain?

R.:  Mind’s capacity for consciousness is conditioned by brain conditions, but mind is not identical with brain.  The brain is the main physical organ of the central nervous system, but our mind is not our central nervous system.  For example, our spectrum of hearing is limited compared to dogs, so our mind is conditioned by the sensory organ and the central nervous system differently than dogs are conditioned. But the mind still hears within that conditioned limitation.  The mind is what hears, not the brain.   

This is one of the most important points of trying to translate the law of karma into the worldview of modern science which has a basis of materialism.  Much of modern physics, because of the integrity of the adventurous minority of genuine scientists. has slowly chipped away at the bias and prejudicial idea of matter.  Matter was first seen as composed of the four primary elements of earth, water, fire, air. Then the elements were seen as molecular compounds. Then the compounds were seen again as chemical elements. But then the elemental structure was reviewed and revisioned, and in a way re-simplified, into just three primary elements: electrons, protons, and neutrons. And then the world broke open again to reveal the confusing plethora of sub-atomic particles.  Se now we have a view of “matter” in which there is mostly space with tiny swirls and whirlpools of energy force-fields strung together to create the illusion of stuff and matter.

As the Wikipedia article says, “Wave–particle duality is the fact that every elementary particle or quantic entity exhibits the properties of not only particles, but also waves. It addresses the inability of the classical concepts "particle" or "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.” 

Trying to understand karma from what is a “classical” concept of matter and materialism is bound to fail, just like trying to understand physical matter using classical concepts is bound to fail.  We have to acknowledge that while karma may be discussed by analogy to physical processes, such as “seeds” in the storehouse-consciousness (alaya-vijnana) or waves in the ocean, karma is not a physical process, it is a mind activity.  In Western parlance we would say that karma is a “psychic activity” using the psychological sophistication of Carl G. Jung.  But due to the extreme prejudices and unrelenting oppression of the physical view of reality, psychic activity has been given a bad name, Jung has been defamed as a mystic, the study of the mind and psychology itself has had all the mind and psyche driven out of it by the false views of physical neurology that equates the mind and psyche with the physical brain, etc. 

Buddha’s enlightenment is not a physical event, it is a psychological event, i.e., a psychic activity.  Buddhist sages and bodhisattva-caryas have used physical analogies as skillful means to try to teach and communicate what awakening is, but it remains essentially a psychic event, not a physical event subject to direct objective measurement with a ruler.  There is the modern attempt by so-called self-described secular Buddhists to remove all psychic activity from Buddhism, just has scientific modernity has attempted to remove all psychic activity from the world. But in the end, this is just a denial of the unconscious mind which buries certain psychic actions (karmas) which only come back to haunt us with the fruits of that denial.

The modern secular Buddhist, such as Robert Scharf and Stephen Batchelor, wants us to believe that only the perceptions of the five senses are real and that there is no point to speaking of "experience" in the context of karma and rebirth since we can't see it, hear it, touch it, etc.  The basic problem with this approach is that it is not Buddhist, it is secular, because Buddha Dharma accepts reality of the 6th sense of thinking, the 7th level of consciousness and the unconscious level of the 8th consciousness.  Or in the framework of the Five Skandhas, Buddha Dharma accepts the un-conscious levels of the first four skandhas in relation to the 5th skandha of consciousness.
The best Western bridge that I have found to understanding the required paradigm shift from the materialistic secular frame of reference limited by the 5 sense perceptions to the Buddhist frame of reference is the work of Carl Jung.  In the quote that follows, Jung uses the term “sense perception” to indicate the frame of reference of the 5 senses.  Jung’s psychology is based on the view that there is more to heaven and earth than what is perceived by the 5 senses.  For this Jung has been called a mystic.  But from this truly psychological view, that is, a view of the reality of mind, it is the idea that only the 5 senses show us what is real that is the "vulgar notion" and belief. 

Here is the opening paragraph (par. 206) of section 2 “The Psychology of Rebirth” of Carl Jung’s paper “Concerning Rebirth” found in Volume 9, Part I, of The Collected Works titled The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious 
“Rebirth is not a process that we can in any way observe.  We can neither measure nor weigh not photograph it.  It is entirely beyond sense perception.  We have to do here with a purely psychic reality, which is transmitted to us only indirectly through personal statements.  One speaks of rebirth, one professes rebirth; one is filled with rebirth.  This we accept as sufficiently real.  We are not concerned here with the question: is rebirth a tangible process of some sort?  We have to be content with its psychic reality. I hasten to add that I am not alluding to the vulgar notion that anything ‘psychic’ is either nothing at all or at best even more tenuous than a gas.  Quite the contrary; I am of the opinion that the psyche is the most tremendous fact of human life.  Indeed, it is the mother of all human facts; of civilization and of its destroyer, war.  All this is at first psychic and indivisible.  So long as it is ‘merely’ psychic it cannot be experienced by the senses, but is nonetheless indisputably real.  The mere fact that people talk about rebirth, and that there is such a concept at all, means that a store of psychic experiences designated by that term must actually exist.  What these experiences are like we can only infer from the statements that have been made about them.  So, if we want to find out what rebirth really is, we must turn to history in order to ascertain what ‘rebirth’ has been understood to mean.”

We can see here that Jung discovered the paradigm shift needed to understand Buddha Dharma and called it "psychology."  The statement "the psyche is the mother of all human facts" calls forth the mind-only (citta-matra) perspective of the Lankavatara Suta's view that all things are "only the manifestations of one's own mind" (自心現量).   Jung's "store of psychic experiences" directly calls forth the storehouse-consciousness (alayavijnana).  Because Jung dared to challenge the paradigm of secular science's prejudice for the tangible he was tarred as a mystic, and the discoveries of his analytical psychology, as well as the psyche itself, have been pushed aside by the materialist secularism of the physical sciences masquerading as psychology.  But when Jung was on his deathbed, he was reading Zen master Hsu Yun's talks on the Eight Consciousnesses in Charles Luk's Chan and Zen Teachings: First Series, and he asked his secretary to write Luk and report "He was enthusiastic... When he read what Hsu Yun said, he sometimes felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just it." (From a letter dated September 12, 1961.)

Jung was still a man of his time, so to maintain his empirical objectivity, he recommended the study of history to learn what has been understood about rebirth.  In turning to history, Jung's methodology was a cross-cultural and cross-historical approach to determine and identify the shared meaning elements among the plethora of manifestations of myth, folklore, legends, fairy tales, prophetic visions, dreams, etc. that have gripped the imaginations of people throughout history.  In this way he could arrive at an empirical conclusion (as a scientific hypothesis) of the unobservable intangible aspects of psychic reality.  However, this is only half of the story, the half that is available for the researcher from the "outside."  The other half is what is available to the researcher from the "inside," that is by direct experience through the practice of meditation or other psychic practices such as what Jung called "active imagination" or even hypnotherapy. 

However, we have to be forewarned and aware that what is a directly experienced psychic reality must still be analyzed and subjected to evaluation.  That is, we don't always come to the correct conclusions about our own experiences and need to understand how we can delude ourselves. The primary example of this in relation to rebirth is the concept of a self.  We have direct experience of our own life and come to the erroneous conclusion that we are an individual self, a separate soul. Rather than being seen through for the illusion that it is by a direct experience of rebirth, this mistaken notion of a soul actually can be reinforced by past life memories that may be accessed through meditation or trance states such as hypnosis.  Thus, the Buddha's great discovery of the reality of the non-soul, no-self, perspective was applied to the then current ideas about karma and rebirth, not to say that the psychic reality of karma and rebirth was false, but to clarify that the psychic reality of karma and rebirth does occur, but not within the context of our mistaken notions of a self or soul.
To be continued...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

An excerpt from the "Discourse on Arousing Confidence in the Great Vehicle"

Presented below is a translation that I completed this weekend from a section of the Discourse on Arousing Confidence in the Great Vehicle (a.k.a. The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana; Skt. Mahayana-Sraddhotpada Shastra; Ch. 大乘起信論 Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun).  I'm using the Chinese translation by Paramartha (C.E. 498-569) from the Sanskrit found in Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 32, No. 1666.  It was also translated by Siskananda in Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 32, No. 1667. The Sanskrit text is no longer extant.
Without going into the details, I will say that I do not accept the tendency of modern academic views to claim that Paramartha actually wrote it in Sanskrit, attributed it to Asvagosha (As'vagos.a), and then passed it off as something he was translating. This is just a defamation of Paramartha. D.T. Suzuki says, "While [Asvaghosa] may not have been the author of this most important treatise of Mahayana philosophy, there was surely a great Buddhist mind, who, inspired by the same spirit which pervades the Lanka, the Avatamsaka, the Parinirvana, etc., poured out his thoughts in The Awakening." (From the Introduction to The Lankavatara Sutra, by D.T. Suzuki, p. xxxix.) While it is quite possible that the attribution to Ashvagosha was legendary as it came down in the version that Paramartha was translating, I do not accept that Paramartha would have invented it on his own and foisted it off as another's.  Indeed, Paramartha, along with Kumarajiva and Bodhidharma, has been named one of the three monk-scholars from India who "stand indisputably highest in Chinese estimation."  (Buddhist Monks and Monastaries of India, by Sukumar Dutt, p. 303.) Whether or not Asvaghosa authored the Discourse, since Paramartha did publish other works that he had written under his own name, there is no good reason to believe he would not also publish this work under his own name if he had written it. 

I also agree with D.T. Suzuki's view that the Discourse should not be confused as a Yogacara text and instead is essentially an outline or systematic presentation of the teaching of the Lankavatara Sutra. (Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, D.T. Suzuki, p. 182.) As Suzuki notes, the teachings of the Lankavatara and the "Awakening of Faith" are in line with the perspective of the One Vehicle (Ekayana) school that Bodhidharma brought from Southern India and are also associated with the Avtamsaka (Flower Garland, Huayen) and Mahayana Parinirvana Sutras.

This translated section highlights the foundational teaching of "no-thought" which has been a crucial teaching of Zen since the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and thus shows the Zen manner of discourse to be well rooted in the sutras and treatises. 

This section addresses the difficult, yet critical, issue of how our original-enlightenment (本覺. a.k.a. root-enlightenment) shared by all beings must be activated by an originating-enlightenment (始覺) of our own realization.  Zen students will immediately recognize this as the fundamental koan question at the root of Zen master Dogen's personal quest that took him to China.  

The analysis begins with the first distinction between enlightenment and non-enlightenment.  Each of us has the original-enlightenment of the Tathagata (Buddha) in our own mind, but because of our non-enlightened ways of thinking using polarized and dualistic conceptualizations (such as "self and other", "me and not me") our original-enlightenment is obscured by our own mind. The Discourse outlines the return of our non-enlightened thinking to its enlightened root by the next distinction between our latent original-enlightenment and its actualization called originating-enlightenment (始覺). Though we all have original enlightenment, we still must initiate or originate that enlightenment to make if actively manifest in our actual life.  The next distinction is made by identifying three stages in the activation of originating-enlightenment:  (1) resemblance-enlightenment (相似覺), (2) approximate-enlightenment (隨分覺), and (3) ultimate-enlightenment (究竟覺).  This is useful, because it helps explain a continuing point of confusion to Western students of Zen and Buddha Dharma, this is, how there are different degrees of enlightenment and that the first openings of enlightenment, while genuine, should not be confused with the final or ultimate enlightenment.
The section concludes by showing that no-thought is the essence of ultimate-enlightenment, and with no-thought we can know for ourselves how the characteristics perceived as the world’s birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction are not other than enlightenment.
Following the practice of other translators, headings are inserted to assist the reader in identifying the sections. The wording of the bracketed headings is taken from the text with as little editing as needed.
            [The Gate of the Mind’s Birth and Extinction]
            That which is the mind’s birth and extinction depends on the Inner Tathagata (tathagatagarbha), and for that reason there is the mind of birth and extinction that is designated as the unborn and the unextinguished, together with the unified harmony of birth and extinction, neither one nor different, and is called the activity of the Storehouse Consciousness (alayavijnana).  
            [Birth and Extinction as the Activity of the Storehouse Consciousness]
            This consciousness has two kinds of meaning: the capability of containing all things (i.e., the aspect of alaya) and giving birth to all things (i.e., the aspect of garbha).  What are said for the two?
            That which is first is the meaning of enlightenment.
            That which is second is the meaning of non-enlightenment.
            [A. Wherein is Declared the Meaning of Enlightenment]
            [1. The Original-Enlightenment of the Dharmakaya]
That which is actually declared the meaning of enlightenment designates the essence of mind free from thought.  That which is the characteristic of “free from thought” is equal to the realm of space, and there is nowhere that it is not everywhere. The oneness of the Dharma-realm is exactly the Tathagata’s universal Dharma-body. On this basis, the Dharma-body is articulated and called “original-enlightenment.”
            Because why?
            [2. Original-enlightenment in activation]
            [(a) The Meaning of Original-Enlightenment Depends on Originating-Enlightenment]
That which is the meaning of original-enlightenment is paired with the articulation of the meaning of originating-enlightenment, and by this means, that which is originating-enlightenment is exactly the same as original-enlightenment.
            [(b) The Meaning of Originating-Enlightenment Depends on Original Enlightenment]
That which is the meaning of originating-enlightenment is because it depends on original-enlightenment, and then (yet/nevertheless) there is non-enlightenment.  Because it depends on non-enlightenment to be articulated, there is originating-enlightenment.

Again, by means of enlightenment, the fountainhead of mind is therefore called ultimate-enlightenment, and by non-enlightenment, the fountainhead of mind therefore isn’t ultimate enlightenment.
Why is this meaning stated? Because by such enlightenment, the common people know their prior thinking aroused evil and they are able to stop subsequent thinking by directing that these [evil thoughts] do not arise. Because even though it is repeatedly called enlightenment, actually it is non-enlightenment.
Like the two vehicles’ wisdom from contemplation (i.e., vipassanya) and the idea that first blossoms into the ranks of the bodhisattvas (i.e., bodhicitta), the enlightenment with the characteristics of the difference of thoughts and the non-difference of thoughts, because it uses renouncing the crude parts of attachment to the discrimination of characteristics, is called the resemblance-enlightenment.

Like the ranks of the Dharmakaya bodhisattvas, the enlightenment with the characteristics of the abiding of thought and the non-abiding of thought, because it uses being free from the discriminations of the characteristics of coarse thinking, is called the approximate-enlightenment.

Like the Bodhisattva stage corresponding to the fulfillment of expedient means in a single thought, the enlightenment with the characteristics of the beginning mind arousing the beginningless mind, because it uses being far removed from the subtlest of thoughts and is able to perceive the nature of mind, the mind that is exactly always abiding, is called ultimate-enlightenment.  
For this reason, the sutra articulates, “Because, in the multitude of beings, if there are those who are able to contemplate no-thought, accordingly they become turned toward Buddha-wisdom.”
    Furthermore, as to that which arises in mind, there does not exist a beginning characteristic that can be known, and yet that which is declared ‘knowing the beginning characteristic’ exactly designates no-thought.  For this reason, all the multitude of beings are not called being enlightened, because by following the continuity of thought after thought coming from the root, they have never been free from thought and articulate beginningless ignorance.

(Added 9/23/15:)

    If those who gain no-thought consequently know the mind’s characteristics of birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction, because they use the rank of no-thought, then truly there is no existence of difference from originating-enlightenment. Since the four characteristics [of birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction] are simultaneous, then there is in each and every case no standing on their own, and because they equally and universally come from the root, they are one and the same with enlightenment.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Karma and Rebirth Revisited – Part One

This is a response to James Ford's recent blog on the marvelous question of karma and rebirth as Westerners attempt to make sense of this Buddhist teaching.  The Karma and Rebirth Debate Within Contemporary Western Buddhism: Some Links to Follow

Ford's blog begins by saying,

Way back when he reviewed the Buddhist monk Stephen Batchelor’s lovely book “Alone With Others,” The Western Buddhist John Blofeld wrote an introduction praising the young monk scholar and his writing. Blofeld went on to say it was unfortunate that Batchelor did not touch upon the critical doctrines of karma and rebirth, but understood there is only so much one can do in one book. He added how he hoped Batchelor would turn to the subject some day. Some years later, after Blofeld’s death, Batchelor did.
I can only imagine that John Blofeld must have been “turning over in his grave” when Stephen Batchelor finally got around to writing about karma and rebirth taking the position of a "Buddhist Atheist.".  At this point, one wonders if Batchelor can still even be called a Buddhist.

To me, the most socially interesting aspect of this "debate" on karma and rebirth is in determining the ground upon which the debate occurs. How can people with completely different orientations find a common ground upon which to debate? Or will the "two sides" be forever upon opposite shores of the river?   The "Western" Buddhists who are fully attached to their materialistic and dualistic views of corporal reality will not even admit the ground upon which the non-materialist mind-only Buddhist stands.

That ground of the mind-only Buddhist is most closely related to psychology in the West, but not the pseudo-psychology of current academia.  Today, Western Scientistic Buddhist thinks psychology is the measurement of neuro-physiological brain activity. They have no appreciation for what psychology even means, especially from the perspective of the greatest psychologist of the 20th Century, Carl G. Jung, who even wrote a psychological essay titled "Concerning Rebirth" (found in Volume 9.A “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” of “The Collected Works.”). More on this essay in Part Two. 

What usually happens in these so-called “debates” is that the people are using the same words, such as “rebirth,” with vastly different meanings all without fully revealing the premises and assumptions upon which they stand and base their argument. I found this especially true of the Robert Thurman-Stephen Batchelor exchange in Tricycle, titled "Reincarnation: A Debate" where the two were arguing past each other like “ships passing in the night” or going around and round like "ring around the rosy."
So it’s essential in any dialogue about karma and rebirth to know what views the participants hold. Based on their views, there are several discussions that could be going on. Just as not all Christians have the same views about the nature of works or grace, not all Buddhists have the same views about karma and rebirth.

We may consider first the discourse between Buddhists and non-Buddhists.  Here, the Buddhist needs to know what preconceptions the non-Buddhist holds.  There are non-Buddhists who believe in rebirth from a Christian or Hindu perspective that holds the personality (pugala) or soul (atman)transmigrates.  There are, of course, the non-Buddhists who scoff at the whole idea of rebirth as primitive superstition, in which case, there must first be a recognition that there is no common ground as yet developed for the discussion of whether rebirth is a viable concept. Here, until there is a bridge built that would satisfy the disbelievers with definitions of rebirth that clarify the materialistic biases present in their skepticism or denial, there can be no hope for removing the confusion of bifurcated conceptualizations and the conversation will be unproductive if not outright unbeneficial.  Another way of saying this is that karma and rebirth are not grounded upon or based within a materialistic worldview or frame of reference, and attempts to "debate" karma and rebirth from such a materialistic worldview, either the materialistic view of the soul or the materialistic view of matter, will be fruitless.

Likewise, the non-Buddhist needs to know which kind of Buddhist is on the other end of the table, because some self-purported Buddhists also still hold onto unorthodox notions of a personality or soul transmigrating on the wheel of life  Similarly, Buddhists in mutual discussion need to be aware of each other’s presumptions with talking about rebirth.  The modernist scientistic Buddhist may have an "ordinary person" perspective that is called “bompu (凡夫)" Buddhism. This is a Buddhist whose views are generally considered to be within "the teaching of humans and divines" characterized by correct belief in cause and effect, nonetheless still longing for enhanced spiritual states and seeking to escape lesser states, that is, Buddhists whose practice is oriented to good behavior and right views for the purpose of being reborn in the better conditions of human life or heavenly realms.  The ordinary person Buddhism includes those who are merely agnostic about rebirth, maintaining a “don’t know” position, but with an open mind, or they may actually be pseudo Buddhists who atheistically deny rebirth with a closed mind based on a preconceived non-Buddhist materialist stance.  Also, traditional Buddhists may be engaged in the discourse using either Pali-canon or Sanskrit-canon terminology and perspectives that can be confusing when not distinguished from each other.  

We also need to clarify the dimensions if the discussion, i.e.,  are we talking about whether or not rebirth occurs or about whether rebirth is even a viable notion, and not confuse that discussion with the technical discussion of how rebirth occurs.  In the Buddhist context, there is great importance given to the basic understandings of no-soul or no-self (anatman) and impermanency (anicca), and in the context of the fundamental question of birth and death, these two characteristics of all appearances distinguish the Buddhist orientation to karma and rebirth from non-Buddhist perspectives on karma and rebirth.

It is primarily the question of the two marks of no-self and impermanence within the analysis of karma and rebirth that creates the foundation for confusion with Western Buddhists.  The question of the two marks (i.e., no-self as the emptiness of separate independence and the impermanency of codependent origination) also provide the Western Buddhist with a fundamental dilemma when it comes to understanding Buddhist ethics.  In "Korean Buddhist Philosophy," Chapter 27 of the book The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, Jin Y. Park writes, "If things are by nature void of independent essence and polar opposites are to be understood according to their mutual penetration, how does one construct an ethical system from such a nondual philosophy?"  Though this question is asked in regard to ethics, it is equally relevant in regard the grappling with the systems of karma and rebirth. 
In The Way to Buddhahood, Venerable Yin-shun presents the question rebirth in the context of no-self and impermanence in this way.
For theists and those non-Buddhists who are connected to the Buddha Dharma, however, such a concept is extremely difficult to believe and understand. How can there be transmigration without an entity of the self?  If birth and extinction are momentary, how can the previous life and the future life be connected?  In the Buddha Dharma these questions have been asked since ancient times.  For example: "If the self is really nonexistent, who is it that goes from one state of existence to another in the cycles of birth and death?" (pp. 315-16.)

If the terms and positions of the participants of the rebirth discourse-cum-debate, are not clearly set out in the beginning then only further confusion is sure to follow as the discussion proceeds at crossed purposes and definitions. 

Continued in Part Two.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Who Has Ears to Hear?: the Psychology of Political Dehumanization

Conflict and adversity are inherent in living a life.  This is one of the general applications of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.  Not only does this truth act as the entry to understanding our personal life, it is also a key to understanding our national political life.  In fact, modern Republicanism uses this truth as its currency in trade by encouraging a certain reaction to this truth via the means of both concealing its source by projecting its contents onto objects and objectifying, i.e., dehumanizing, people, and by capitalizing its hidden value by keeping its source in the psyche unconscious. 

Regardless of whether it is called theocracy, plutocracy, or democracy, all political power derives from “the people.”  But this power arises directly from, and as, configurations of the individual and group psyche, not as external structures of physical reality.  The people, as a tribe or nation, will coalesce around those unconscious patterns of political relationships that bring them the most conscious sense of security and hope, without having an inkling that the true source of their political behavior arises from their own psyche.
As Carl G. Jung wrote, "The psychology of the individual is reflected in the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual continues to do it, the nation will do likewise. Only a change in the attitude of the individual can initiate a change in the psychology of the nation. The great problems of humanity were never yet solved by general laws, but only through regeneration of the attitudes of individuals. If ever there was a time when self-reflection was the absolutely necessary and only right thing, it is now, in our present catastrophic epoch. Yet whoever reflects upon himself is bound to strike upon the frontiers of the unconscious, which contains what above all else he needs to know."  (From the preface to the first edition of "The Psychology of the Unconscious" in Volume 7 of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung.)  These comments stated in 1916 in the midst of what we now call World War I, are as germane today as they were one hundred years ago as our public failure of self-reflection seems to once again be on the upsurge.

Humanity in general, nations and individuals in particular, are still largely psychically immature and psychologically ignorant.  We ignore what goes on within us by our fascination with what goes on around us, but it is this very immaturity in regards to our own mind, demonstrated by that very ignorance in failing to see the causal connections of our political life based on our inner life, that leads to the exacerbation of life’s normal adversities into outright social and political catastrophes.

Who has ears to hear? We so get caught up in the propagandistic sloganeering and the simplifications of projections that we childishly just listen in fascination or revulsion to the stories being told, instead of actually listening to the telling of the story.  To understand the level of childish regression in our current political environment we just need to listen to the rhetoric.  The easiest entry to evaluating the immaturity of political discourse is to listen to how the politician’s opponents are described.  Does the politician dehumanize those people who are categorized and labeled as the adversary?   (By the term “politicians,” I include both the politician on the stage and the class of “owners” behind them for whom they are mere spokespeople.)

A first step in the process of political manipulation of the people’s general psychic ignorance is the personification of our normal adversity into an adversary.  All life entails suffering, stress, conflict, and adversity.  This fundamental truth can lead us to mature inquiry into its foundational conditions, thereby ultimately leading us to awakening, or we can be led into dependence on our childish fears and desires to be saved from such adversity. The first step in manipulating the people for political purposes is to shape and steer our normal concern with this “truth of adversity” into psychic channels that externalize and objectify our unease and offers the hope of overcoming it by the projection of adversity onto “an adversary.”  Once an adversary is identified and the blame for our adversity is personified thereby, the consciousness of adversity in the social psyche can have a sense of hope in its desire to vanquish “the adversary,” however described. 

In order to allow the unconscious contents to be unconsciously projected (rather than consciously integrated) to capitalize on their political potential, the next step is to dehumanize “the adversary.”  Here is where the question, “Who has ears to hear?” becomes centrally relevant. It is reasonable and normal, even though immature, to personify our adversities onto adversaries. This is not a function that is immediately strange or odd to the conscious psyche.  However, the process of dehumanization is literally strange and odd, and its very existence is what tells us that unconscious archetypal forces are at work in the political life of the people.  That the people "allow" their public imagination to be so manipulated as to conceive of other people as essentially non-human flies in the face of rational behavior, yet it occurs so frequently that it is seldom publically questioned. The lack of public awareness and discourse on political dehumanization is evidence of the unconscious influences coming to the fore in the collective psyche. 

Dehumanization appears in several ways, most frequently as the imagination of demonization, animalization, or medicalization.  Examples of demonization include calling the political opponent a “a devil,” "a demon," “evil” or “immoral”; of animalization include such name-calling as “cockroaches,”, “apes,” “dogs,” “snakes,” etc.; and for medicalization there are terms for people as “a cancer,” “germs,” or “tumors” on society.  It is here that we must have the courage to insist on the integrity of our public consciousness and ask ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens, “Who has ears to hear?” when we hear these terms of dehumanization used in public political discourse, whether on the political stage or the pulpit.  Without the individual’s courage to confront this form of political projection, no society will ever mature to a level of psychological health in dealing with adversity.   

This is not the end of the question, but it is certainly the first step in questioning. When we in the USA listen to the usual Republican (and occasional Democratic) discourse that first blames an adversary for social adversity and then dehumanizes that adversary, we can know for ourselves that an unconscious psychic phenomenon is taking place within the public psyche and is being capitalized upon for the political purpose at hand.  That is, there can be a mature political discussion about the sources of social adversity, as well as an attempt to explain certain causal conditions for that adversity, by pointing out the people who may bear responsibility for that adversity without any dehumanization entering the discussion.  But when we hear metaphors, images, or symbols of dehumanization enter into the rhetoric of “the adversary,” then we can certainly hear that unconscious psychic contents are being stirred up to overpower a mature discussion by the use of childish imagination based on fear and longing for safety.  Who has ears to hear?   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Differences Between Consciousness Only And Mind Only.

Here's a first-go at a table briefly outlining some of the distinctions between the teachings of mind only (cittamatra) and consciousness only (vijnaptimatra). 

I have observed that in Tibetan Buddhism the distinctions seem to have been lost or never established when Buddha Dharma came from India to Tibet, and so the Tibetan system usually employs consciousness only and mind only interchangeably without distinction. 

Zen Buddhism is in the lineage of the Indian ancestral master Bodhidharma who brought the "One Vehicle lineage of Southern India" to China with his manner of teaching the Lankavatara Sutra.  Therefore, at different times Zen has been called the "Mind Only School" and the "Buddha Mind School" because the mind only tradition of the One Vehicle takes mind as Buddha.
Differences Between Consciousness Only And Mind Only.
consciousness only
mind only
vijñaptimatra (etym. divided-knowing-getting-only; lit. representation-only, information-only, or cognition-only); vijñānamatra (etym. divided-knowingness-only; lit., consciousness-only) D.T. Suzuki clarifies that vijñaptimatra is the proper technical term used by Vasubhandu, but confusion has caused vijnanamatra to be the commonly used label consciousness-only. Vasubhandu said, “So long as consciousness (vijnana) does not abide in a state of cognition-only/representation-only (vijnaptimatratva), there is no ceasing of the remorse of the two-fold grasping (i.e., dualism).”
cittamatra (etym. that which perceives-only, that which comprehends-only, that which reflects upon-only; lit. mind-only); cittadṛśyamātra (lit. mind-seen-only)
school or teaching lineage
Yogacara (the Practice of Union or Unification Practice)
Ekayana (the One Vehicle)
central idea
everything we become aware of is nothing but the representations of consciousness; the world is the objectification of consciousness.
everything that manifests is nothing but mind; the world is the objectification of mind
what is mind?
mind (as manas) includes the 6, 7, & 8 consciousnesses
mind (as citta) includes all 8 consciousnesses
relation between mind and consciousness
mind (manas) is an aspect of consciousness
consciousness is an aspect of mind (citta)
alayavijnana’s purity or impuity
alayavijnana is purity itself with nothing defiled in it (as the most profound depth of mind). Ignorance only arises as a function of the 1-7th consciousnesses.
alayavijnana contains the seeds of the pure and the impure and is the impurity phase of the undefiled Tathagatagarba which contains both good and not-good roots, while the essence of mind (citta) is pure (in the sense of transcending both purity and impurity) in its most profound Dharmakaya aspect which is the original nature of both TG and AV.  Ignorance arises as a function of the alayvijnana.
the successive depths of mind
mano-vijnana, manas, alayavijnana
mano-vijnana, manas, alayavijnana, Tathagatagarbha, Dharmakaya (AV, TG, and DK are three names for 3 aspects of the one and same. “the Tathagatagarbha
is the Alayavijnana”)
tathagatagarba (TG)
sees TG as too close to atman/eternal self/ego substance and as contrary to teaching of anatman
sees TG as how consciousness perceives Dharmakaya and as how Dharmakaya transforms into alayavijnana
process orientation
emphasizes the process of transformation which takes place in the alayavijnana to realize that consciousness is only representational activity
emphasizes the process of transformation that takes place in the alayavijnana to realize that consciousness is only mind’s activity and so mind becomes Buddha
relations between the 1-7 consciousnesses and the 8th alayavijnana
the 1st to 8th consciousnesses are distinguished functions of consciousness.
The 1st to 7th consciousnesses are the activity of the 8th alayavijnana as the waves are the activity of the ocean.
Comparison to Western views of the unconscious
The 7th consciousness is analogous to the subconscious and the 8th is analogous to the Freudian unconscious, in which the 8th storehouse only contains contents deposited there from the 1st to 6th consciousnesses via the 7th.   
The 7th consciousness is analogous to the subconscious and the 8th is analogous to the Jungian collective unconscious, in which the 8th storehouse contains additional contents that were not deposited there from the 1st to 6th via the 7th and are contents inherently arising from the Buddha nature.   


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Are plants sentient beings?

An article in the Guardian reviews a new book Brilliant Green that asks "Are plants sentient?"  I answer with a general yes. Obviously the entire range of flora have different degrees of sentience just as the entire range of fauna have differing degrees of sentience. The wide meaning of sentience means feeling-perception-awareness, e.g., any kind of sense of environment, and the narrow meaning is self-conscious or intelligence measured by self-consciousness.

With the wider meaning, all living beings have some degree of sentience, i.e., awareness. Otherwise they would not be living beings. Traditionally, with the earlier and less sophisticated narrower views of sentience, only people were considered sentient beings having our kind of self-consciousness as our definition of intelligence, and animals and plants were not considered sentient. No recognizable self-consciousness meant no consciousness and therefore no sentience or intelligence.   However, life means interaction, relationship, stimulus and response, so I include all living beings in the category set of sentient beings because responding to the environment, no matter how simplistic or limited, is the sign of "feeling" and the presence of awareness and is thus being active in the response to the environment. Therefore to me, all living beings are sentient.

Next is the question of the degree of sentience. Obviously, there is a spectrum of sentience with mammals at one end and perhaps mold or plankton at the other end. Here, I think the question of self-consciousness is relevant. While all sentient beings are sentient, not all are self-conscious to the same degree.  However we have to watch for species-centric bias because as mammals, we humans can't even access the ranges of sentience on the sensory spectrum that some other mammals can. For example, we can't hear the range of sound that a dog or dolphins can. So there may be many areas of the field of sentience that we are unaware of. An open grass prairie and a redwood forest have different feelings to them for us, and these different feelings arise from them, not just our imagination. The different feelings that we are sensing are our limited perception of the sentient fields of those different plant communities.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Buddha fields or Buddha lands which are of infinite variety and relate to all the fields of sentience of all the sentient beings. In addition to Buddha lands being other dimensions or other planets or galaxies, they are also other being's fields of consciousness, such as the Elephants' Buddha land where beings can communicate with stomping on the earth or dolphins' Buddha land where beings communicate by whistling, clicking, sounds.

When trying to assess a degree of sentience in terms of self-consciousness, the Buddhist model of the 5 Skandhas is helpful. All living beings have the activity of all five skandhas, (1) sensory data, (2) feeling-reception of senses, (3) perception (4) complex activity for identifying and responding to the perception, and (5) consciousness.    It is the degree of the complexity of the fourth skandha's unconscious formations and complexes that conditions the degree of self-consciousness of the fifth skandha. From our human perspective, ants, bees, and other hive creatures appear to lack an individual self-consciousness as we would understand it, yet we perceive what appears to be some kind of group- or hive-mind self-consciousness.

Again, we are high up on the predatory food chain and have "conquered" the planet according to our own species-centric assessment, yet there is much we do not understand about other creatures, both animals and plants, and when we destroy our own ability to live on the planet by pollution, climate change, or nuclear war or power radiation, there are other species of sentient beings who will survive, and then from their perspective they will be the meek who have inherited the earth.