Saturday, July 27, 2019


-- 艸庵歌 Caoan Ge  (J. Soanka)

By  Shitou Xiqian (Shih-t’ou Hsi-ch’ien, J. Sekito Kisen)
(b.700 - d.790)

Translated by Gregory Wonderwheel

I tied up the straw thatched hut without precious objects.
With the cooked rice finished, I followed the aim of appearances and soon slept.
As the first season was accomplished, I saw the thatch was new.
Later when it is worn out, I will repay my debt and reconstruct the thatch.

The resident hermit -- subdues permanent residency,
And does not categorize the middle space with inside or outside.
A worldly person resides in a place; I do not reside.
A worldly person has affection for a place; I do not have affection.

Although the thatched hut is small -- it contains the Dharma-realm (Dharmadhatu).
In a square ten feet, an old man studies liberation of the essential body.
A bodhisattva of the Supreme Vehicle trusts without doubt.
The middle and inferior hear it and surely give rise to (a sense of) strangeness.

Asking about this thatched hut -- poor or not poor?
Poor and not poor: the original master is present.
Not dwelling south or north and east or west
A foundation on top of "the firm and stable" therefore becomes superlative.

Green pines below -- light inside of the window.
The Jade Palace (of Heaven) and the Vermilion Tower (of Hell) do not compare.
With a patched cape covering the head, the 10,000 affairs come to rest.
Here and now, this mountain monk already does not meet (anyone).

Residing in this thatched hut -- ceasing to work on liberation.
Who boastfully spreads out a mat aiming for customers?
Revolve the light and turn back your illumination, then you come back to the origin point,
Breaking through to the boundless root of the spirit, you do not face backwards.

Meet the ancestral masters -- be intimate with the teachings.
Tie straw for a thatched hut; do not create backsliding.
Abandon your 100 years (of lifespan), yet be alive vertically and sideways.
Wave a hand, then do, just without doing wrong.

One thousand kinds of words -- ten thousand categories of liberation,
Are only necessary not to obscure the teaching for long.
If you desire to know the undying person inside the thatched hut,
How is it free from and yet right now covered by the skin bag?

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Before Dogen there was Zongmi saying "practice and proof."

Bursting another bubble here. Dogen did not coin the phrase "practice and realization" (修證, PY. xiūzhèng, J. shusho) or as I prefer to translate it, "practice and proof” (could also be “cultivation and confirmation” or "practice and verification"). Virtually every phrase or slogan that Dogen is famous for in his writings (circa 1230 to his death in 1254) was not coined by him, but picked up and used by him in his unique stylization of poetic prose. This also applies to what is perhaps his most famous phrase “practice and realization” (sometimes “practice and enlightenment” or “practice and verification” depending on the translator).  The term zhèng (J. sho) is a subject of some controversy because it means “proof, witness, verification, confirmation,” etc, but is very loosely translated as “realization” or even “enlightenment.”  Dogen specially emphasized that practice and its proof are one (修證一如), that is, we don’t practice to be able to prove enlightenment later, but that our correct practice is itself the proof of enlightenment.   This is just like the English idiom “the proof is in the pudding.”

This teaching of Japanese Zen Master Dogen is so famously known in Zen circles by its Japanese pronunciation “shusho” that many Western Zen students and teachers erroneously believe that Dogen coined the phrase. Not so.  I have not done an extensive search for the origin of the phrase, but I did come across it in the opus text written 400 years before Dogen, circa 835, by Chinese Zen Master Gjuifeng Zongmi titled Introduction to the Collection of the Various Expositions of the Fountainhead of Zen.

Sadly, the voluminous collection of the main text has been lost and only the introduction remains extant.  In his “Introduction to the Fountainhead of Chan” Zongmi details how Chan/Zen is the stream of Buddhism related to the direct awakening to mind and how the Chan/Zen stream relates to the stream of the teachings of the sutras and treatises. In doing so, Zongmi distinguishes the characteristics of the various branches of the Chan/Zen lineages stemming from Bodhidharma and correlates them to the various categories and teachings of the sutras and treatises.

In a section naming the Diamond-Cutter Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra and affirming that “these two sutras are the essence of our mind,” Zongmi points out how disciples of the time have confused ideas about this and who practice or cultivate mind consider the sutras and treatises as a separate lineage and those who explain and articulate the sutras and treatises consider the Chan/Zen Gate as a separate Dharma.  Zongmi then says, 

Hearing discussion of cause and effect and of practice and proof, they immediately suppose it belongs to the family of sutras and treatises. They don’t know that practice and proof are directly the root matter of the Chan gate.
Hearing the articulation ‘exactly Mind is exactly Buddha,’ they immediately suppose it belongs to the Chan of inner feelings. They don’t know Mind and Buddha are directly the root mentation of the sutras and treatises.”

So it looks like Zongmi’s phrase “practice and proof (修證, J. shusho) are directly the root matter of the Chan gate” struck a chord with Dogen and he elaborated on the theme.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Do You Believe In Rebirth?

Lion's Roar magazine is asking you to 
Share Your Wisdom: Do You Believe in Rebirth?

Do you believe in rebirth?
If you’ve got an answer, we want to hear it. So, tell us by sending an email to Please keep your response to a maximum of 200 words. We might well include your answer in our magazine department “Share Your Wisdom.”
Be sure to include your name and location, and a photo of yourself (at least 400 pixels wide).
Here's my submitted response to the question: Do you believe in rebirth?

1) No and yes.  As Carl G. Jung said to the question "Do you believe in God?", I say, "I don't believe; I know."  

2) Also, cross-culturally, Jung said that all cultures have some variation of rebirth/reincarnation incorporated in their worldviews.  

3) This life is the proof of life after death.  There is no logical basis to say this is the "first life" or refute this is a "rebirthed life." 

4) I've experience past life memories that are equal to any early childhood memory.

5) The logic that no physical energy is lost, but only changes form, applies equally to the mind energy of empty-suchness and its change of form from one life to another.

6) No individual ego-self or 'soul' is reborn, but the wave formation patterns of karma are perceived as "transmigrated" from the perspective of our constructed time-space continuum. A single life is like a single peak of a wave in an ocean that not move horizontally; it moves vertically up and down. The karma wave is what moves horizontally, so the Lankavatara Sutra says it is the ocean that is reborn in each peak, not the person of the previous peak.

Gregory Wonderwheel
Santas Rosa, CA

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Capitalism is a religion.

Capitalism is a religion.
The highpriests of the religion are called “the owners.”
The thologians of the religion are called “economists.”
The promise of religious salvation is called the opportunity to achieve wealth.
The superstitious articles of faith of the religion are that the owners deserve what they own because they have earned their wealth.
The truth is that no capitalist has ever earned their wealth, because all wealth derives from labor and the land, and the capitalist has always used armed soldiers to steal the land and its fruits from the community residing on the land and has always stolen the fruit of the worker’s labor unto themselves and called it “profit.”

That's how it has looked to me, for at least 50 years.  And, of course, I'm not the only one who has noticed that "Capitalism is the West’s Dominant Religion".

Abraham Lincoln knew that good government would restrain the capitalist from taking the fruits of labor from the laborer. He said, 

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

"And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government."

I would argue that the religion of Buddhism is much closer to the religion of Lincoln than to the religion of capitalism. Buddhism says it is a meritorious virtue not to steal, not to tell lies, and not to kill.  Capitalism depends on all three: killing, lying, and stealing, just to survive, much less to thrive.  

The Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso has said, “I am a socialist.”    He elaborated in an interview
Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes--that is, the majority--as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. I just recently read an article in a paper where His Holiness the Pope also pointed out some positive aspects of Marxism.
As for the failure of the Marxist regimes, first of all I do not consider the former USSR, or China, or even Vietnam, to have been true Marxist regimes, for they were far more concerned with their narrow national interests than with the Workers' International.

The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.
I agree in the main with these observations.

Whether or not it is called "socialism", any economic system that does not kill, lie, and steal in order for it to function is consistent with Buddhist values.  Of course this means articulating the contextual dimensions, contours, and limits of such terms as killing, lying, and stealing, but the discussion needed to provide that articulation is exactly the discussion that is taboo in the religion of capitalism. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

What Happened to the Unconscious?

The first half of the 20th century brought into the light of Western consciousness the great discovery of the unconscious.  The great initial pioneer Sigmund Freud, followed by the even greater explorer and surveyor Carl G. Jung, showed the world the actual workings of the unconscious in our conscious lives, from the most individually mundane effects, such as our tics and foibles, to the most collective inundations of our collective consciousness in war and mass phenomenon such as fascism, communism, and commercialism.

Then after the most compelling and complete demonstration of the overcoming of collective rationality by the irrationality of the collective unconscious from WWI to the culmination that was World War II, Western collective consciousness reacted by closing down and shutting away the very acknowledgement of the unconscious.  Western psychology turned to rationalism in hope of explaining the irrational, and the unconscious was driven out of psychology, with “psychology” being redefined without the unconscious element as “behaviorism,” “cognitive studies,” ”neuro-psychology” “evolutionary psychology,” etc.  This is an utter and complete failure, because the totality of the psyche includes both the conscious and the unconscious, and any attempt to rationally explain the irrational aspects of the unconscious by ignoring the unconscious is set up for failure.    

The rationalist delusion of the previous 70 years has forced the psychology of the unconscious underground.  And as Jung noted over and over again, when an important part of our psychic reality is submerged, it always and inevitably comes back to overwhelm us in ways we find problematic.  The denied elements of our personal unconscious, the complexes, reappear as disturbances in our body or mental functions, as somatic symptoms or psychic disturbances such as hauntings or obsessions.  The denied elements of our collective unconscious, the archetypes, reappear in stark polarized contrasts as “demons,” “daimons,” or “divinities,” as social contagions resulting in genocide, occupation, and apartheid, as social mass movements for weal or woe seeming to appear overnight, etc.

No matter how much people may try, there is no exclusively rational explanation for the election of Donald Trump as president, because it is an expression of the repressed unconscious factors that created a “faith” mentality in the people who voted for him. The rationality of consciousness (organized as it is around the ego complex) can never deal with faith, because the best that rationality can offer can never touch the unconscious basis of faith.  Rationally can only call “faith” a form of nonsense, i.e. irrational, and then believe it has taken care of the matter.

In analyzing the problem of the rationalist critique of faith without reference to the unconscious, Jung wrote in “A Psychological Approach to the Trinity”:  “Naturally, it never occurs to these critics that their way of approach is incommensurable with their object. They think they have to do with rational facts, whereas it entirely escapes then that it is and always has been primarily a question of irrational psychic phenomena.” (p. 153 of Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 11.)  It is the denial of a basic recognition of the collective psychic phenomena at work in the Trump election that befuddles all attempts by the political and social pundits to explain it.

We have seen over and over again interviews with “Trump followers” who deny the basis facts of Trump and instead project onto Trump a faithful expectation that he will eventually fulfill their desires for a better government.  This is an act of faith of the deepest feelings. The factual historical personality is obscured behind the projections of the unconscious looking for an appropriate screen upon which to projects its symbols.  When faith is at work for a “higher cause,” it is invariably the archetype of the totality of the person, i.e., the individual’s wholeness, attempting to find its way into consciousness.   The psychic phenomena of a person who feels cut off, separated, and estranged from both themselves and their society stimulates their collective unconscious to respond by insinuating the archetype of their self-realization of their fundamental totality into their personal consciousness.  This is experienced directly and irrationally, and even the person’s own rationalizations used to explain it come after the fact.

The recognition of the unconscious opens a door to the confusing and terrifying emotions, imaginings, and thoughts of our inner life that most people are more than happy to close immediately. The anti-Trump voter as well as the Trump voter are equally eager to pretend there are no psychic phenomena at play here, and it is all just a matter of rational analysis and discussion to determine the facts. But the abrupt and widespread appearance of the social meme of “fake news” in conjunction with the “Trump-era” shows the archetypal influence behind Trump’s meteoric rise in politics. The label “fake news” is telling us to our faces that the collective social forces we are dealing with are irrational psychic forces working on the level of symbols not facts. Itr is not a question of which media outlet is or is not dealing in “fake news,” because at bottom, they all are in their own ways.  The New York Times has its particular way of presenting “fake news” just like FOX News has its own way of presenting “fake news.” The common denominator of all fake news is its failure to address its contextual prejudices supporting its perspective, and this is due to the failure to acknowledge the unconscious psychic phenomena at work in the presentation of the news.   

The completeness which the archetype of our own wholeness seeks is not something that can tamed or determined by our conscious ego.  Our conscious ego seeks our wholeness from within the bifurcated environment of consciousness, and therefore can only conceive of wholeness and totality as “perfection.”  But real wholeness and totality must necessarily include our nocturnal side, the very aspects of ourselves that we have shunned or exiled.   Thus when we consciously open ourselves to a search for our wholeness, we are faced with the problem of suffering and “evil” in the world and in ourselves as intimately expressed by our own shadow side.  People who long for such wholeness, but have no personal guide who has experienced the journey, are confused by the necessity to confront the world of suffering directly and personally as the gateway to inner unity. They think they can find the perfection of wholeness without facing suffering.  In his extensive monograph “Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self,” Jung notes:

“To strive after teleiosis in the sense of perfection is not only legitimate but is inborn in man as a peculiarity which provides civilization with one of its strongest roots. This striving is so powerful, even, that it can turn into a passion that draws everything into its service. Natural as it is to seek perfection in one way or another, the archetype fulfills its own completeness, and this is a τελείωσις (teleiosis) of quite another kind. Where the archetype predominates, completeness is forced upon us against all our conscious strivings, in accord with the archaic nature of the archetype. The individual may strive after perfection (“Be you therefore perfect— τελειόι--as also your heavenly father is perfect.”) but must suffer from the opposite of his intentions for the sake of his completeness.”(p. 69 Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part II.) 

When we seek the wholeness of ourselves, we are usually drawn by affinity to a living archetypal symbol of that wholeness such as the Buddha or the Christ.  If we follow the Buddha we must begin the journey with the First Noble Truth of Suffering, and if we follow the Christ we must begin with identification with the Passion (i.e., suffering) and crucifixion of the Christ.  The Taoist archetypal symbol of wholeness, the Taiji  is not anthropomorphic, but its containment of the opposites of yin and yang, dark and light, within the circle of completeness confronts the follower directly with the necessity of dealing with their own dark side if wholeness is to be realized.  Ultimately there is no way to wholeness except through the confrontation and integration of suffering and the shadow side of ourselves. We can’t become complete by running away from suffering.

It is the archetypal unconscious impetus to seek completeness being perverted by the conscious prejudice against suffering that leads to the illusion we can become perfect by getting rid of the “bad things of life.” This psychic phenomenon is exactly expressed in the Trump voters’ resonance with the symbol of “draining the swamp” projected onto government.  Those who would be personally perfect and then project this desire onto the social screen desire a perfect government. Their own sense of imperfection, as a being personally filled with swamp creatures within their own inner world, is projected outward onto the government as a swamp needing to be drained.  The psychic dimension of this projection is evidenced by the denial of the Trump voters who literally can not see that Trump has brought more “swamp creatures” into his government than any previous president. This self-blinding in consciousness is a primary symptom of the archetype’s unconscious influence. 

Trump is the manifested expression of our denial of the unconscious. The so-called anti-Trump resistance is also an expression of our denial of the unconscious as shown by its psychic contagion of a new Mc Carthyite “red scare” anti-Russian hysteria.  Because the anti-Trump forces can not acknowledge either the conscious or unconscious psychic forces behind Trump’s popularity, they project their dissociated psychic contents, with the sense of “evil,” onto an available target like “Russia,” so that they no longer care for the facts to be proven before they are certain of their conclusions. Their certainty before the determination of any evidence and their eager grasping at any straw or suggestion of “collusion” without a verification demonstrate conclusively the unconscious influences. 

So what happened to the unconscious?  It seems that humankind’s struggle with its own dark side in WWII was so traumatic that our collective consciousness revolted against itself and drove out the messenger that offered the only hope of understanding what had happened because merely trying to understand was too terrible. Using the terminology of rationalism, the study of the unconscious was tarred and feathered as “mystical” or, to use a more technical term, “woo woo.”  .  This kind of over-rationalization and sloganeering literalization by the perspective of materialism shows the unconscious influence in the repression itself.   Materialism became the new religion of science and dogmatically repressed the scientific study of psychic phenomenon from the psychological perspective.  Only the materialist perspective was officially allowed in the post-war study of the psyche within the major educational institutions funded by commercial and military interests.   

Psychology deals with the facts of mental contents. The fact that the idea or symbol exists as a psychic phenomenon is the truth that psychology studies. Thus the fact of the idea or symbol of a God (or the Buddhist Dharmakaya of Taoist Taiji) as the symbol of our own desire for wholeness, and the incarnation or birth of that symbol as a person who manifests that wholeness in human form (e.g., Christ, Buddha, or Immortal), is the rightful object of the study of psychology, and this is not a question of neurons firing or the literal historical objectification of the symbol in any particular individual. It is not the individual but the archetypal symbol projected onto the individual that allows the historical person to be honored or worshipped far beyond the historical death of the individual, precisely because the archetypal aspect is collective not individual.. 

As Jung said, “It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and commons sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal overwhelming forces.” (p. 15 of Coll. Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 11.)    The impersonal overwhelming forces of the collective unconscious that brought Trump to the presidency must be studied and understood or we make a fatal mistake in regard to the human psyche as well as to our society and culture. .


Monday, December 25, 2017

Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications: The meaning of ‘ Mind-only’


Caveat Lector:  Examples of false or misleading statements to beware of:

(1) “The ' Mind Only School’ is a Mahayana school founded by Asanga.”

(2)  The Chittamatra ( Mind-Only) Philosophical School.”

(3)  “[he]was influenced by the development of Buddhist ‘idealism’, the Yogacara or Cittamatra tradition.”

(4)  “Hsuan-tsang selected K‘uei-chi as the chief transmitter of the Mind-Only Buddhism that he brought back from India.”

(5)  “Ge-luk-ba scholars hold that even for the Proponents of Mind-Only the Perfection of Widsom Sutras are the supreme of sutras, even though their literal reading must be interpreted.”


(1) “ Mind-only” or cittamatra, is not synonymous with Yogacara and is not a formal “school” in the manner of the Yogacara school foundered by the half-brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu (or in the manner of the Madhyamaka school founded by Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and their followers).  Mind-only is an orientation or perspective based on meditative realization whose coherence may be called a movement or tradition, not a doctrinaire school. There is no “founder” of the teaching of Mind-only awareness outside the Sutras.

(2)  Mind-only is not a philosophical school and is not “a philosophy” in any modern sense of the word. The terms “doctrine” and “philosophy” just do not apply to Mind-only.

(3)  Mind-only is not ‘idealism’ as that term is used in Western contexts.  Tibetan Buddhists, because of their emphasis on commentary over Sutra, erroneously hold that there are only two major streams of philosophical thought in Buddha Dharma: that of Madhyamaka and Cittamatra, and they mistakenly use the name Cittamatra or Mind-only as a term for the Yogacara tradition and teachings. Yogacara teachings are primarily  Consciousness-only (Skt. vijnanamatra) and  Conscious-data-only (Skt. vijnaptimatra), and only indirectly and tangentially connected to Mind-only.

(4) The Buddhism that Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang, 596–664) brought back with him from India was one of the Yogacara school’s branches as taught by Dharmapala, as opposed to the other 7th century Yogacara branch taught by Sthiramati. And neither of these two branches was the 6th century Yogacara branch perspective based on One Vehicle Buddhism brought to China by Paramartha 100 years before Xuanzang, and also taught by Wonchuk a student of Xuanzang who did not completely accept his version of Yogacara because he had previously studied Paramartha’s version and would not disavow its perspective as demanded by the other students of Xuangzang establishing their otrthodoxy. 

(5) Actually, Mind-only, i.e., cittamatra, is a core teaching of the One Vehicle (Skt. Ekayana) movement that appeared prior to Asanga and Vasubandhu and is found in the One Vehicle sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra, Avatamsaka Sutra, Samdhinirmocana Sutra, and Lankavatara Sutra, that the Samdhinirmocana Sutra termed “the Third Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma”. Thus, it is the One Vehicle Sutras that are received as “the supreme sutras” for the proponents of Mind-only, not the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom or Transcendent Wisdom) Sutras. In general, the Yogacara teachers who self-identified as such, with best intentions, appropriated the Mind-only teachings from the One Vehicle sutras, but they extracted them out of context to construct a separate system of doctrines that emphasized their own commentarial schemes. 


I learned about “ Mind-only” (Skt. cittamatra, while some translators capitalize the “-Only” I do not and follow the convention of other translators such as D.T. Suzuki.) through the so-called “East Asian” Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan. In the Buddha Dharma that permeated China and flowed through to Korea and Japan, the “ Mind-only” movement and perspective is derived from the One Vehicle Sutras and expressed in such phrases as:

I designate not giving birth to antithetical conceptions and the complete realization that existence and nonexistence are nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind.” (Lankavatara Sutra)  

That, in the clear and pure mind of one’s own nature yet there is contamination, is difficult to be able to comprehend.”  (Queen Srimala’s Lion’s Roar Sutra) 

“The three realms are vacant and false, and are only the doings of mind.”  (Dasubhumika-sutra, part of the Avatamsaka Sutra)

“Since there is only the ultimate meaning of mind, characteristics depend on the root emptiness, on objectless emptiness, on the emptiness of one’s own essence, on the essenceless emptiness of one’s own essence, and on the emptiness of the ultimate meaning, that sever those characteristics of difficult cultivation and practice.” (Samdhinirmocana Sutra)

Though the designation seems to be lost to modernity, Chan/Zen Buddhism was called the “Buddha Mind School (Lineage)” (佛心宗) for its emphasis of the Mind-only perspective through such teaching phrases as “ Mind is Buddha,” “ordinary Mind is the Way,” “the Dharma of the One Mind,” etc. And of course there is the famous Zen motto: 

"Not established by written words,
Transmitted separately outside the teaching,
Pointing straight to the human mind,
To see the nature and become Buddha.” 

Thus, the One Vehicle tradition found in Tiantai, Huayen, and Zen were the expressions of the Mind-only tradition.  For example, Chan/Zen Master Huangbo Xiyun (J. Obaku Kiun) (d. c. 850) said in the Synopsis of the Dharma of Transmitting Mind of Zen Master Duanji of Huangbo Mountain (黃檗山斷際禪師傳心法要) written by his lay disciple Pei Xiu (797-870), a government official and member of the Chinese literati:

The Tathagata appeared in the world and wanted to explain the True Dharma of the One Vehicle, however the multitude of beings did not believe and raised slanders, sinking in the sea of sufferings.  If he did not explain at all, however, he’d fall into stingy greed, and not serve as the subtle Way of universal renunciation for the multitude of beings.  He proceeded to establish the expediency of explaining there are three vehicles. For the vehicles there is great and small; for attainment there is shallow and deep. All are not the original Dharma.  For this reason it was said, “There is only the Way of the One Vehicle, two or more however, are not true.”  So, in the end, because he had not yet displayed the Dharma of the One Mind, he called Kasyapa to share the Dharma seat and separately handed over the One Mind, going away from words to explain the Dharma. The Dharma of this One Branch decrees a distinguished practice.  If you are able to agree with those who awaken, then you arrive at the Buddha stage! (My translation from [T48n2012Ap0382b03 to T48n2012Ap0382b09])

This distinction seemed straight forward to me with the Yogacara School being correctly labeled the Consciousness–only (vijnanamatra) or Conscious-data-only (vijnaptimatra) tradition as distinguished from the Mind-only (cittamatra) tradition of Huayen and Chan/Zen.  The term vijnapti is not uniformly translated in the way that vijnana is. Vijnapti has been translated as “representation” (e.g. D.T. Suzuki), “perception” (e.g. Stefan Anacker), “projection” (e.g., Ben Connelly and Weijen Teng), “forms of consciousness” (e.g., Wutai)  “cognition” (e.g. Sāgaramati), “consciousness” (e.g., Diana Paul), etc.  Because of the common root conscious “vijna” shared with conscious-ness (vijna-na), I say that the word vijna-apti (one of the “a”s is dropped in the conjunction) should be translated using “conscious” as the prefix and a term for “apti as the suffix. The term “apti” means that which is noticed and what is represented in consciousness, i.e., the information or data of consciousness. Thus, vijnapti has connotations suggesting of the modern notions of semiosis or sign process. So I am currently preferring to translate vijna-apti as “conscious-data” to indicate the meaning of the data points of consciousness. Other translations could be “conscious-sign,” “conscious-notice,” “conscious-information,” etc.   

However, when I came into contact with Tibetan Buddhist teachings there was an immediate cognitive dissonance and frustration with their use of the term “ Mind-only.” The Tibetan traditions are derived from post-seventh century Indian Buddhism that had morphed into a Doctrinaire Buddhism based on Treatises over Sutras on the one hand and Tantric Buddhism on the other. While Chinese Buddhism is derived from pre-eighth century Indian Buddhism that was primarily Sutra based. 

For example, wanting to learn what the Tibetan teachings are on Mind-only entailed, I picked up Jeffrey Hopkins’ Emptiness in the Mind-Only School of Buddhism and was completely shocked to see that they use the label “ Mind-only” erroneously for the Yogacara teachings and do not have a distinct awareness or acknowledgement of Mind-only as a different tradition from Yogacara.  This erroneous designation is found in other books describing Tibetan Buddhism such as the generalist survey Mahayana Buddhism, The Doctrinal Foundations by Paul Williams. Caveat Lector: Williams does not advise the reader that he is presenting Mahayana Buddhism from his Tibetan Buddhist perspective, so that unacknowledged standpoint makes his presentation of Yogacara as Mind-only into an expression Tibetan Buddhist prejudice.  Reading these books using the label “ Mind-Only” when they mean Yogacara was nearly nauseating to me, in the sense of creating a vertigo sensation where many times on nearly every page I have to do a mental translation to read “Yogacara” or “ Consciousness-only” when they write “ Mind-only.”

Though I personally came to this understanding of the Tibetan usage of “ Mind-only” relatively late, as I had mostly ignored Tibetan Buddhism until a couple years ago, this problem was acknowledged in a paper from the journal Philosophy East and West, volume 27, No.1, January 1977, by Whalen Lai titled “The Meaning of ‘ Mind-only’ (wei-hsin): An analysis of a sinitic Mahayana phenomenon.”  His paper begins:

Modern Japanese Buddhologists, following a distinction that was evident already in the T'ang Buddhist circles, speak of a Mind-Only (Sanskrit: Cittamatra) school usually covering Zen and Hua-yen as being distinct from, and superior to, the Consciousness-Only (Sanskrit: Vijnaptimatra) tradition, represented by the Wei-shih school (Fa-hsing) of Hsuan-tsang's followers.(1) This distinction between the so-called Wei-hsin (Mind-Only) and Wei-shih (Consciousness-Only) is often assumed to be self-evident. However, there is, in Indian Buddhism, only one term, Yogacara or Vijnaptimatra, covering these two distinct branches in China. In the Tibetan Buddhist canon also, the section known as Cittamatra designates only Yogacara texts. There is no sharp distinction made in India or Tibet between Cittamatra and Vijnaptimatra,  Mind-Only or Consciousness-Only, or, for that matter, between citta, mind, or (alaya) -vijnana, (storehouse)-consciousness. In Yogacara traditions, citta is often another term for alayavijnana. How is it then that the Chinese and then the Japanese have this clear notion that Mind-Only is something other than, and superior to, Consciousness-Only? (Page 65, I have altered his style of writing the Sanskrit words.)

Yes, in my studies of Mind-only from the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhist perspective , I too learned that Mind-Only is “other than and superior to Consciousness-Only.” While I agree with Lai on many points, especially the acknowledgement of the problem, I don’t agree with much of his analysis (as he tries to make the problem out to be a translation issue and not a systems issue), and I think that he too misunderstands the Indian sources for Mind-only when he denies their existence.  The problem seems to lie in the distinction between placing primary reliance on the Sutras themselves or on the Treatises (Shastras) of the Indian doctrinal masters, and as followed by the Tibetan masters of doctrinal scholasticism, that interpret the Sutras.  When Lai says, “There is no sharp distinction made in India between Cittamatra and Vijnaptimatra,  Mind-Only or Consciousness-Only” he is referring to the distinctions made by the Indian Yogacara teachers’ treatises, not in the Sutras themselves. This is not surprising in that the Yogacara teachers were confusing the mind and consciousness teachings of the Sutras and deliberately failing to acknowledge the distinctions between the terms. 

D.T. Suzuki refers to this problem in his Studies of the Lankavatara Sutra:

There is one thing in the foregoing account given by Tao-hsiian of the history of the Lankavatara that requires notice: that there was another school in the study of the sutra than the one transmitted by [Bodhi]Dharma and Hui-k'e. This was the school of Yogacara idealism. The line of Hui-k'e belonged to the Ekayana school (一乘宗) of Southern India which was also the one resorted to by [Bodhi]Dharma himself when he wanted to discourse on the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. To this Ekayana school belong the Avatamsaka and the Straddhotpanna as well as the Lankavatara properly interpreted. But as the latter makes mention of the system of the eight Vijnanas whose central principle is designated as Alayavijnana, it has been used by the Yogacara followers as one of their important authorities. (P. 55.)

The doctrine expounded in the Lankavatara and also in the Avatamsaka-sutra is known as the Cittamatra and never as the Vijnanamatra or Vijnaptimatra as in the Yogacara school of Asanga and Vasubandhu. (P. 181.)


     Suzuki adds in the introduction to his translation of the Lankavatara Sutra:  

This is the point where the Lanka comes in contact with the Yogacara school. The Yogacara is essentially psychological standing in contrast in this respect to the Madhyamaka school which is epistemological. But the Alayavijnana of the Yogacara is not the same as that of the Lanka and the Awakening of Faith. The former conceives the Alaya to be purity itself with nothing defiled in it whereas the Lanka and the Awakening make it the cause of purity and defilement. Further, the Yogacara upholds the theory of Vijnaptimatra and not that of Cittamatra, which belongs to the Lanka, Avatamsaka, and Awakening of Faith.  The difference is this: According to the Vijnaptimatra, the world is nothing but ideas, there are no realities behind them; but the Cittamatra states that there is nothing but Citta, Mind, in the world and that the world is the objectification of Mind. The one is pure idealism and the other idealistic realism. To realise the Cittamatra is the object of the Lanka, and this is done when Discrimination is discarded, that is, when a state of non-discrimination is attained in one's spiritual life. Discrimination is a logical term and belongs to the intellect. Thus we see that the end of the religious discipline is to go beyond intellectualism, for to discriminate, to divide, is the function of the intellect. Logic does not lead one to self-realisation.

The problem of confusionof terms can be traced at least back to Vasubandhu who at times failed to clearly distinguish the difference between Consciousness-Only (vijnanamatra) and Mind-only (cittamatra). Though in his Thirty Verses he appears to distinguish  Consciousness-only (vijnanamatra) from Conscious-data-only (vijnaptimatra) without mentioning Mind-only, and in his The Teaching of the Three Own-Beings he does mention Mind-only in a manner that can be construed as being superior to Consciousness-only (vijnanamatra) from Conscious-data-only (vijnaptimatra), the followers of the Yogacara school in general tend to overlook these distinctions and be comfortable with the confusion caused by conflation of the terms.  For example, Vasubandhu begins his “Twenty Verses and Commentary” stating:

In the Great Vehicle, the three realms of existence are determined as being perception-only [vijnaptimatra].  As it is said in the [Dasa-bhumika section of the Avatamsaka] sutra, “The three realms of existence are citta-only.” Citta, manas, conscousness, and perceptions are synonyms.” (Stefen Anacker translation in Seven Works of Vasubandhu, p. 161, brackets added by me.)

We can see from this excerpt that Vasubandhu can blithely gloss over the very important distinctions between the terms mind (citta), cognition (manas), consciousness (vijnana), and perceptions (vijnapti, i.e., conscious-data, not perception samjna).  Mind , consciousness, and conscious-data have all had the term “-only” (matra) attached to them in various teachings, while manas never has “-only” attached to it in that way. Thus, any approach to understanding Mind-only (cittamatra) must begin by distinguishing it from Conscousness-only (vijnanamatra) and Conscious-data-only (vijnaptimatra) which is exactly what the Yogacara teachers Asanga and Vasubandhu fail to adequately do. Instead Vasubandhu uses the terms mostly as synonyms because of, it seems, his preference for the terms Consciousness-only and Conscious-data-only which he uses much more frequently than Mind-only. However, while I think this “error of synonyms” is Vasubandhu’s greatest weakness, it should not suggest that I think any less of Vasubandhu’s great works overall.  

A further discussion of the differences between these three “-onlys” of Mind-only,  Consciousness-only, and  Conscious-data-only will have to wait for a subsequent post. For now, the important point is that Mind-only is inclusive of consciousness, and conscious-data but that the other two are not inclusive of mind in the sense of all things are only manifestations of mind. From the Mind-only perspective, mind is the ocean, consciousness is the dynamic surface of the ocean, and conscious-data are the apparently individual peaks of the waves on the ocean.  Thus, to say that either the peaks of the waves or the moving surface of the ocean are synonymous with the ocean is an absurdity. They too are the ocean, and they are not separate from the ocean, but they not the round fullness that includes the profound depths of the complete ocean. 

This leads us to the question of where genuine Mind-only teaching is to be found in the Tibetan doctrinal systems that mistakenly call the Yogacara “ Mind-only.”  It is found in two places. First it is hidden in the doctrinal discussion of the so-called Tathagatagarbha texts, which is actually a misnomer when applied to the One Vehicle texts. Tathagatagarbha means the “Inner Tathagata” of each person and is an interesting word composed of three elements thus (tatha), come (agata), and inner (garbha). “Tathagata,” the “Thus-come-one,” or “One who comes as thusness”, is the self-referential term used in the Sutras by the Buddha instead of the first-person pronoun “I.”  Without going into too much explanation, I translate garbha as “inner” to render the term Tathagatagarbha as “the Inner Tathagata” in the sense of the psychological term the Inner Child.  Garbha has several connotations, such as fetus, womb, matrix, and sanctum sanctorum, i.e., a very private or secret place.  The garbha of the tathagata is the private place or buried seed within each of us from where our Buddha Nature is germinated and brought forth.  In other words, it is the essence of our own mind’s most personal being that is identical with Buddha in the sense of Mind is Buddha. 

The scholars’ conflation of the Tathagatagarbha teaching with the teachings of the One Vehicle Sutras, and thus obscuring the One Vehicle teachings, is the second most important reason (after the confusion of synonyms) that Mind-only has not been sufficiently analyzed in the doctrine-oriented scholarship of both Tibetan monastic colleges and Western academies.  This is because the scholars (both of old and today, in both Tibet and the West) prefer to extract and appropriate specific teachings out of the One Vehicle Sutras to create doctrinal systems to ply against each other. 

However, the primary purpose (paramartha) of the One Vehicle Sutras is found in their synthesis and syncretism of the Buddha Dharma. So when the One Vehicle Sutras, like Queen Srimala’s Lion’s Roar Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra address the various topics like the Eight Consciousnesses, the Three Own-natures, the Four Noble Truths, the Five skandhas, Emptiness (sunyata), Dharmakaya, Tathagatagarbha, etc. it is not listing them in order to be extracted by various schools, but listing them as notions already variously taught within the Buddha Dharma that must be synthesized and syncretised in order to personally know and see the Tathagata’s awareness as the inclusive, whole or compete teaching (圓教) known as the Third Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma. 

And second, from my reading of Hopkins, the genuine Mind-only teaching in Tibetan Buddhism is found in the Jo-nang-ba school promoted by Shay-rap-gyel-tsen (1292-1360). The Gelug-ba school’s founder Dzong-ka-ba (1357-1419) was a prolific author who appears to have written one of his most famous treatises The Essence of Eloquence in large part to refute the real Mind-only teachings of Shay-rap-gyel-tsen (diacritical marks omitted, hereafter “Shay” when not in quoted material) and his Jo-nang-ba school by presenting the Yogacara as the only legitimate and orthodox Mind-only school. Using a process of “synthesis” (a hallmark of the One Vehicle) Shay coined the term “the Great Middle Way” which appears to be his own version of the One Vehicle. (Yes, I need to study this more before making too firm conclusions.)  As Hopkins points out:

For instance, he [Shay] considered separate passages of the Sutra Unraveling the Thought [Samdhinirmocana Sutra], usually considered to be Mind-Only [i.e., Yogacara] to present the views of Mind-Only and the Great Middle Way, the latter being concordant with Ultimate Mind-Only, or Supermundane Mind-Only, which is beyond consciousness.” (Hopkins, p. 51.)

The terms Ultimate Mind-Only, or Supermundane Mind-Only appear to refer to the real Mind-only, not to Yogacara’s “ Mind-only,” as Shay notes his Ultimate Mind-Only is beyond the  Consciousness-only of the Yogacara. This concordance of “Ultimate Mind-Only” with the “Great Middle Way” indicates Shay is referring to a perspective consonant with the One Vehicle’s ultimate purpose (paramartha).  As stated, one primary hallmark of the One Vehicle is its syncretic approach to the plethora of teaching in the Buddha Dharma.  Hopkins says,

Thus Shay-rap-gyel-tsen’s synthesis was by no means a collage drawing a little from here and a little from there and disregarding the rest. Rather, he had a comprehensive, thorough, and overarching perspective born from careful analysis. For him, others had just not seen what the texts themselves were saying and, instead of that, red into the classical texts the views of single systems. (Hopkins, p. 52.)

This exactly describes my own observations of the usual scholarly systems built upon material extracted and appropriated into doctrinal teachings outside the context of the Sutras.  One point the previous quotation seems to overlook is that Shay’s perspective was not actually just “born from careful analysis.” Elsewhere Hopkins acknowledges that Shay’ new (as to Tibetan’s doctrinal systems) perspective was born of his own direct realization of the nature of reality through meditation during an intensive retreat.  Hopkins adds,

His view of “other emptiness,” based largely on his profound understanding of the Kalachakra Tantra and commentary by Kalki Pundarika and bolstered by the Lion’s Roar of Shrimaladevi Sutra, and so forth, was received with amazement and shock. (Hopkins, p. 49.)
           This reference to Queen Srimala’s Lion’s Roar Sutra is more evidence that Shay was taking the perspective of the One Vehicle, as the One Vehicle is the central teaching of that Sutra. The reference to the Kalachakra [Wheel of Time] Tantra indicates the profound meditation techniques of this method of Tantra. “Other emptiness” refers to the label used to indicate Shay’s challenge to the Yogacara model of seeing phenomenal things (dharmas) as having an inherent self-nature, so that while dharmas are ultimately empty, they are not empty of self-characteristics . Under the rubric of “other emptiness,” Shay “taught that conventional phenomena are self-empty, in the sense that they lack any self-nature, whereas the ultimate is other-empty, in the sense that it is empty of the relative but has its own self-nature.” (Hopkins, p. 49.)  This “own self-nature” of the ultimate is none other than the True Suchness of the One Mind of the One Vehicle teachings.

The nuances of this “other-emptiness” verses “self-emptiness” debate are too convoluted to detail here, .As stated earlier, Hopkins’ book details the attempt by the Gelug-ba school’s founder Dzong-ka-ba to refute Shay’s teachings in the Mind-Only section of Dzong-ka-ba’s treatise The Essence of Eloquence.  However, as I read Hopkins translation and synopsis of the text, Dzong-ka-pa does not present persuasive arguments against Shay’s teaching of other-emptiness nor does Dzong-ka-pa present a clear rationalization for the validity of his separation of systems when contrasted to the One Vehicle’s and Shay’s syncretic approach.  Dzong-ka-ba fails to refute Shay’s accurate presentation of the relationship of the Three Own-nature (trisvabhava) and agues unsuccessfully in favor of the Yogacara misinterpretation.  Based on Hopkins book, Dzong-ka-ba’s doctrinal analysis appears to be mostly logical fallacies of smoke and mirrors, relying on intellectual wordiness and being oblivious to Shay’s (and Zen’s) necessity of actual meditation methods taking one beyond words to generate one’s own realization that all things are only manifestation of mind, which is the genuine Mind-Only teaching. 

            So be alert to the use of the term “ Mind-only,” and when you see it be sure to distinguish if it is being used wrongly as the synonym of the Yogacara school or correctly as label for the genuine Mind-only teachings of the One Vehicle school.

See Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications for links to this series.