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."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Emptiness at the Heart of the Heart Sutra

Here's something inspired by James Ford's recent Facebook reference to his earlier blog post "How to Live Forever: a Meditation on the Heart Sutra" from December 4, 2014.

Thanks James. Good words.  Loving the Heart Sutra is inconceivably deep.

The word “skandha” is often translated as aggregate or heap, but I think the more accurate translation is “shoulder,” where the arm branches off, or “crotch,” as in the crotch of the tree where branches part.  The skandha is that part of the stem or trunk where the branches begin, or a large branch or bough that stems therefrom.  The five skandhas are the five shoulders or crotches of the five main branches of the tree of a person. The terms heaps or aggregates creates the image of separate entities piled into heaps, as if counting all the pieces and bits that make up a person and putting them down into one of the five categories.  However, this image is too artificial and contrived for the organic interconnectedness of what the  psychological paradigm of the skandas is pointing toward, which is the holistic living limbs of the psyche of the person. The five are not heaps of bits, they are the five living branches of the tree of life. The appearance of many bits and pieces are actually the living manifold twigs and leaves on these five branches, not disconnected items piled up like lifeless gravel.

I’m confused about what is meant by “The traditional list is form or matter, sensations or feeling, mental formations or impulses, and consciousness, discernment.”  Is that four or five?  It looks like four to me:  (1) form or matter [1st rupa], (2) sensations or feeling [2nd vedana], (3) mental formations or impulses [4th samskara], and (4) consciousness, discernment [5th vijnana]. It seems the 3rd skandha of perception or samjna is missing from the list.

By using the common Latin root "capere"--to seize, take, grasp, lay hold of, etc.-- in its combining forms such as -cipere and -cep, to show their mutual interrelationships, I like to list the five skandhas as (1) inception/to incept, (2) reception/to receive, (3) perception/to perceive, (4) conception/to conceive, and (5) deception/to decieve.  This formulation of the five skandhas as the five forms of "ception" and pointing out that consciousness is inherently deceptive is worth an essay in itself.  Suffice to say, the "vi" in "vijnana" refers to the division, bifurcation, or polarizing of knowing, "jnana." It is this inherent split that is both the benefit and the bane of consciousness.  This split or division of our knowing makes self-consciousness possible, but it is also the basis for all the false dualities and oppositions arising out of the conceived  "self" that are the root of our suffering and vexations.  This "vi," or duality within the 5th skanda's consciousness "vijnana," is the deception at the heart of the myth of eating form the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This is why self-consciousness is inherently deceptive and why we feel banished from the primordial Garden upon eating from the tree of knowledge.  Until we encounter the flaming sword that "cuts us into one" held by the Bodhisattva Manjusri, i.e., the Archangel Michael standing at the Gates of Eden in the Christian context, we can not reenter the Garden.     

"Manjusri's most dynamic attribute is his sword, the vajra sword of discriminating wisdom or insight. The sword cuts through ignorance and the entanglements of conceptual views. It cuts away ego and self-created obstacles. Sometimes the sword is in flames, which can represent light or transformation. It can cut things in two, but it can also cut into one, by cutting the self-other dichotomy. It is said the sword can both give and take life."
I mostly like Red Pine's translation, but I feel compelled to pick two nits. First, the use of the word "memory" for the 4th skandha is very problematic, not so much because of the technical application of the terminology, if the word memory is used in its widest possible connotation, but because of the common usage of the English word memory, which is very much more limited and narrow than the 4th skandha's "samskara," which literally means “putting together,” “making complete,” “correctly together” etc.  Memory is commonly conceived of as information that is encoded, stored, and retrieved, thus nominalizing it as data rather than seeing it as the active living function of mind’s organic patterning in fields that make self-consciousness possible.  Memory is commonly used with the file cabinet or computer analogy of encoding, storage, and retrieval, and to the extent this limited view is what the word is conjuring up, then it is wrong to use “memory” for samskara  

The 4th skandha is the most psychologically challenging of the 5 skandhas to understand. Carl Jung coined the term “complex” in his attempt to describe this very function of the psyche, while in other contexts he simply called it the function of "thinking."  In the context of Jungian archetypal psychology, the 4th skandha includes all the complex mental formations that at one end of the spectrum are the individual complexes upon which we base our idea of impulses and our self-image of personal volition, and at the other end are all the mental formations we call the archetypes of the collective unconscious that act upon us a the deepest levels and upon which our worldviews are established.  If we remember (pun intended) that “memory” is the mental activity and function, not just the data, that includes entirely all the mental formations and complexes, both individual and collective, that make up our self-identity and worldview then the word memory is not an invalid translation.
Second of less concern, but still concerning, is Red Pine’s use of the designation “mantra of great magic,” also because the term magic conjures up the paranormal or illusory.  As Ford suggests when he points out the problems with seeing a mantra as a tool of magical efficacy, most people will read “magic” and hear “mantra of great illusion” or “mantra of great superstition” or ‘manta of great hocus-pocus.”  This reading is funny but does a disservice to the Heart Sutra.  If seen as the “great magic” that is a child’s smile, or at the sea shore with the waves revealing marvelous shells, or the supernatural magic of drawing water and carrying firewood, then no harm , no foul.
I greatly appreciate Ford's discussion of emptiness and the warning against being too reductive.  Becoming worm food is most definitely not what emptiness is about, and he has hit the bull’s eye with the phrase “a vastly more wonderful truth.”  
I lament that there has been so much focus on the first example of “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” while the other four skandas are overlooked and neglected.  Yes, there are four more parts of that formula that are rarely examined and only contained in the phrase “also like this” or “the same holds for…”  To be whole, and to avoid one-sidedness, we should always include in the discussion of emptiness in relation to the Heart Sutra the remaining four variables in the formula: “sensation is emptiness, emptiness is sensation; perception is emptiness, emptiness is perception; “complex-formation is emptiness, emptiness is complex-formation; and consciousness is emptiness, emptiness is consciousness.”  For more on this, see my blog on the Heart Sutra without the shortcuts.

While the statement, “there is no part of us that is outside the phenomenal world,” is not incorrect, it is problematic as it may be easily misunderstood.   The problem, as I see it, is that most people begin from the stand point that there is a “phenomenal world” that is outside us, and conceive of the “inside of us” as outside the outside of us.  So to point out that there is no “part” of us that is separate from the phenomenal world is correct if we mean that everything that is identifiable as a “part” of anything is exactly a thing of the phenomenal world, even all the parts that we think of as "inside us."  But this does not address the deception of a "phenomenal world," as it is the emptiness of those parts themselves that is the second fold of the two-fold emptiness of self (atman) and things (dharmas), and I fear that, while many people will acknowledge that the “parts” of us are not outside the phenomenal world, they will still conceive of those parts as existing inside a “phenomenal world,” rather than becoming free of the whole conceptual apparatus of “outside and inside” and of “phenomenal world.” 

The "phenomenal world" is not outside or separate from mind.  The phenomenal world is mind. Mind is the phenomenal world.  That is, while "it" is not a “part" and "it" is not "outside,” there is "that one who is shining brilliantly," who is neither outside nor inside the phenomenal world, and who is listening right now to the Heart Sutra.  That one is the emptiness of the Heart Sutra.  

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Zen is the Art of Imagination.


I was thinking of calling this "Zen and the Art of Imagination" but then it became clear to me why I don't like that formulation. They are not two. Zen "and" the "Art of this or that" creates an artificial duality of Zen and whatever "Art" is mentioned.  However, Zen is the Art of Imagination because the Art of Imagination is life and Zen is life.

Imagination is the function of the mind that we call mental activity. Fantasy and scientific conceptualization are both activities of imagining. Memory and hallucinations are both activities of imagining. In modern terms, the central nervous system’s biological activity of recognizing and identifying any aspect of our peripheral nervous system is the psychological activity of imagination. There is no "red rose" except that by our imagination we have designated "red" and "rose." Analyzing the central psychological activity of imagination has been one of the main features of Buddha Dharma for over two millennia.

I have recently heard talks by two American Zen teachers emphasizing the importance of having a clear understanding of imagination when approaching Zen and Buddhism.  One is by Zoketsu Norman Fischer of Everyday Zen Foundation in the S.F. Bay Area, California, who has given talks on the theme of Zen and Imagination before, but in a Zen retreat on 12/07/2016, he gave a particularly important talk on imagination and its central role in consciousness from religion to art and science.  In this talk Fischer refers to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Coleridge’s use of the distinguishable terms imagination and fancy, which is a differentiation that is central to this discussion. 

The other notable talk is by Ejo McMullen of Buddha Eye Temple in Eugene Oregon, given on 11/10/2016 for the first in a series of classes on the Lotus Sutra. In this talk, McMullen emphasizes the importance of understanding imagination when reading Mahayana Sutras such as the Lotus Sutra. As one anchor to the discussion, he refers to a chapter in the book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” by James W. Fowler, to present the view of imagination as the deep activity underlying religious faith.   

Both of these talks circled around the Jungian view of imagination as imaginal psychology and brought to the fore in my mind how images form and shape our entire worldview and self-identity. “Imaginal psychology stands alongside other major orientations to psychology- cognitive behavioral, depth, humanistic and transpersonal. What is distinctive to imaginal psychology is its care of the soul. The soul expresses itself primarily in images, from whence this orientation derives its name.” 

The connection of the central importance of imagination with Buddhism is found in the teaching known in Sanskrit as "trisvabhava," which can be translated as the "three own-beings" or "three own-natures."  This teaching was promoted and popularized by Vasubandhu and his half-brother Asanga during the 4th century C.E.  Zen incorporates this teaching, as it also incorporates Vasubandhu in its teaching lineage legend. On the one hand, Zen does not emphasize or make a big deal about the formal teaching of the three own-natures as a doctrine, but on the other hand, we find it frequently acting as an unannounced framework for the direct style of Zen teachings.  For example we can see the three own-natures in the framing of the three levels of the teaching, elementary, intermediate, and complete as taught by 8th century Zen Master Baizhang and in the three statements of Baizhang's grandson in the Dharma, Zen Master Linji.

The technical terms for the three own-natures are parikalpita-svabhāva (the fully-contrived own-nature), paratantra-svabhāva (the relatively-dependent own-nature), and pariniṣpanna-svabhāva (the fully-complete own-nature), and these Sanskrit terms naturally result in different English translations of each. In our naïve view as humans, every thing (dharma), as a quantum of identifiable pattern, has these there aspects of its own-being.  So when we perceive any particular thing, our imaging of its own-nature can always be categorized in one or more of these three ways. 

The practice (yoga) of Buddhism as therapy for what ails (dukkha) us can be understood as comprised of learning the distinctions between these three own-natures and how we confuse ourselves and generate our own mental vexations and emotional afflictions out of this confusion by mistaking our imagination of one own-nature for another.  This is a most intimate process as no one else can do it for us.  When we can’t tell what is contrived fantasy from practical relative truths, then on the personal level we become anxious about things we can have no control over and do not change the things we do have control over, and on the social level we go to war over political fantasies.
While no one can cure our delusions for us, we have to practice in relationship with a teacher or other friends in the Dharma to develop our awareness of how we confuse ourselves.   

[slightly edited 2/9/2017]

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Before and After the Full Moon

Before the full moonrise, six sensory dusts.

After the full moonrise, one Dharma rain.

When the full moon sets, still just singing in the rain.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Turning the Light Around

In Zen, the most important function of consciousness is "to turn the light around," also known as "to turn yourself about" or "to take the backward step" (Sanskrit paravrtti).  But because of the very bifurcation function of our underlying “sub”-consciousness (the manas level of consciousness) that enables us to have self-consciousness,  we immediately make a mistake about this pointing out of what we must do if we want to comprehend our nature, our great meaning in life. That mistake is to literalize, objectify, or reify the pointing finger of “turn the light around” and look to an “inside” compared to the “outside.”  There is nothing wrong with this, except that we then create objectifications of “inside” and erroneously call our subjectivity our “inside” and vice versa.  This is why people mistake Buddhism as a kind of “subjective idealism” when we speak of mind, because they think Buddhism uses the term ‘mind” to mean subjectivity, when that is not the case at all.  

In the Buddhist context, the phrase “turn the light around” means to become free of that fundamental bifurcation of making reality into two sides: the objective-subjective or external-internal.  To turn the light around doesn’t mean to turn the light from the objective to the subjective, or to turn the light from the external to the internal; it means to turn the light around from our own deepest mental activity of dividing reality into an objective realm verses a subjective realm, or an external world opposed to internal world. We are taking a backward step that steps back from our instinctive need to polarize and reify our dualistic imagination.  When we are able to turn the light of our awareness around from our habitual bifurcation process, our awareness penetrates or “sees through” that veil created by this deepest polarizing activity of our own mind to awaken to, witness, and confirm with our own realization the unity throughout the root, branches, twigs, and leaves of the living universe of awareness.

Friday, September 02, 2016

“Caveats of Zen” by Wumen

Here’s my translation of the “Caveats of Zen” by Wumen.
This brief admonition for practice titled “Caveats of Zen” (禪箴, Chan Zhen, J. Zen Shin) is by Chinese Zen Master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260, J. Mumon Ekai) and is appended to his koan collection Gateless Checkpoint of the Zen Lineage (禪宗無門關 Chan Zong Wumen Guan, J. Zen Shu Mumonkan).  This is a genre of Zen writing especially popular in the 12th and 13th centuries in China and Japan, with such titles as “Caveats of Zen” or “Caveats of Sitting Meditation (Zazen).” The word (zhen, J. shin) has two primary meanings, first as “caveat,” “admonition,” “warning,” etc. and next as “needle” (either for sewing or acupuncture) or “probe” (in the sense of a “lancet”).  A similar but different genre is that of the etiquette, rules, or instructions (, yi, J. gi)  for Zen or Zazen, such as the well known example of Japanese Zen Master Dogen’s “Zazengi” (坐禅儀) and “Fukanzazengi.” (普勧坐禅儀). The “yi” texts are more in the line of prosaic “how to” instructions, while the “zhen” literature is more poetic in style and addresses the right view or frame of reference for Zen and sitting meditation (zazen). 
As we can see from the Chinese text below, Wumen's piece is constructed as eleven lines of eight characters for each caveat, followed by three lines of concluding admonition to make the effort put it into practice.


“Caveats of Zen”

            Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope. 

            Moving freely vertically and horizontally without obstruction is the nightmare army of the way of outsiders. 

            To preserve the mind and to purify it by letting impurities settle to the bottom in quiescence is the perverted Zen of silent illumination. 

            With unrestrained ideas neglecting the written records is falling into a deep pit.

            To be awake to awakening and not in the dark is to wear chains and shoulder a cangue.

            Thinking good and thinking evil are the halls of heaven and hell.  

            A view of Buddha and a view of Dharma are the two enclosing mountains of iron.

            A fellow who perceives immediately arising thoughts is playing with spectral consciousness.

            However, being on a high plateau in the habit of samadhi is the stratagem of living in the house of ghosts.

            To advance results in ignoring truth; to retreat results in contradicting the lineage.

            Neither to advance nor to retreat is being a breathing corpse.

            So just say, what steps will you take to do this?

You must now give birth to great effort to finish it.

[Zen] doesn’t teach eternal suffering or extra misfortune.


Here's the original Chinese: