Saturday, September 27, 2014

To see in black and white is to be colorblind

In an important essay on our Summer of White Supremacy , author  surveys the United States of Fear that many of our citizens must live within.  However, by its own terminology and frame of reference, the article contains the seed of its own failure because it adopts the falsehood at the core of white supremacy, that is, it assumes the very core of the model of reality, i.e., the premise of "race," that white supremacy created to foster its ideological goals. As long as we continue to assume the framework that race exists, then we have adopted and clothed ourselves in the framework of the white supremacy movement, and we are subtly promoting the very perspective that we are against. 

Put another way, a black and white television is a colorblind television; so if we don't want to be colorblind, then we need to get out of the framework of seeing the world of human diversity in the colorblind terminology of "black" and "white."  The very slogan "the denial of black humanity" actually does deny the humanity of everyone in the category of "black" by its own framework.  Humanity can not be divided into "black humanity" and "white humanity," and to divide humanity so only falls into the scheme created by white supremacy.  Thus, even as one would argue for the equal humanity of black humanity, one has already given into and adopted the falsehood of the ideological model of the white supremacists, i.e., that there is a "white humanity" and a "black humanity" instead of only one humanity that comes in many different colors, none of which are "white" or "black." 

Here's a simple test. If you think you are "white," then just place your hand on a sheet of plain white paper and tell me that your hand is the same color. Obviously, it is not.  When you can state the color of your hand as it really is, without using the word "white," then you will have liberated yourself from the colorblind state of mind that the white supremacists have brainwashed people with for centuries.

Similarly, for those who of you who think you are "black." When you can state your own skin color without using the word "black" and refer to people of European ancestry without the fake name "white", then you will have liberated yourselves from the colorblind state of mind that the white supremacists have brainwashed us with for centuries. 

Until we throw off the imaginative and linguistic shackles of the mind that force us to view people and speak of them as "white" or "black," we will never be able to free ourselves from the worldview created by white supremacists and prevent white supremacy from continuing to reign supreme in our land.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

They should be called "Islamic Dynasty" or DIIS not "Islamic State" or ISIS or ISIL

They should be called "Islamic Dynasty" not "Islamic State," but what's in a name?  You might be confused, as many people are, by the various names used for the most recent bogey-man group known in various English translations as ISIS or ISIL. The organization's name is al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, which would make it's acronym DIIS. However, English news organizations did not want to explain the use of the Arabic initials (even though they did not have a problem with the Russian KGB or Spanish FARC), so they attempted to translate the name into English. It could have been translated as State of Islam in Iraq and Sham or SIIS, but the English translators did not know what to do with the Arabic term "sham." It includes more than Syria but doesn't include quite all of what is called the Levant in English. So some translators used "Syria" and others use "Levant" even though both were technically incorrect. And instead of saying State of Islam, they use Islamic State. Thus we have been given both ISIS for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and ISIL for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, even though both are actually erroneous. 

Somewhere along the way, the English speaking media thought that "Islamic State" sounded like a better enemy than either "ISIS" or "ISIL," so that name began to be bandied about as well.   Apparently the leadership of  al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham also thought that "Islamic State" sounded much cooler and tougher and now we hear that they have shortened their name to just al-Dawla al-Islamiya and they want to be called Islamic State in English. 

But is "Islamic State" a correct translation for "al-Dawla al-Islamiya"? Originally the word "al-dawla" meant "reign" or "dynasty," referring to the reign or dynasty of the current caliph.  But in the modern times of secular states with no caliphs or caliphate to reign in dynasties, the term has been used to indicate the sovereignty of the secular state.   However, since the specific goal of al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham is to create a caliphate and not a secular state, the term "al-Dawla al-Islamiya" should be translated into English according to the earlier meaning as "Islamic Dynasty" not the secular meaning of "Islamic State."  It would make a very different impression if we were hearing about a group accurately named "Islamic Dynasty" rather than "Islamic State."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Israel is a Serial Killer That Must Be Stopped


We have to stop lying to ourselves.  The whole notion of Peace Talks to solve the Israel and Palestine question is a complete and utter sham. Israel has no intention of solving the Palestinian issue by any other means than genocide and ethnic cleansing. The whole world must ask itself, how do you negotiate with a serial killer to stop the killing?  

In a fundamental way, how is the Likud Party any different than Hamas?  Or to be even more blunt and to the point, how is the Likud Party today any different from what the NAZI Party of Germany was in the 1930s?  

The Israelis demand that the Hamas Party “recognize Israel as a Jewish State” before everything else, but why does no one on the world stage demand that the Likud Party “recognize a Palestinian State”? The Likud Party has in its charter the claim of divine right that the Jordan River is the permanent eastern border of Israel and that the Palestinians have no right to a state.  The Likud Party has no intention of allowing Palestinian control of any of the land of “Greater Israel.” As the Likud Party Charter states:

The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting." 

Thus, the Likud Party has no intention of ever conceding the settlements and only intends the ultimate expansion of the settlements to include all of the West Bank and Gaza and their current leadership of Israel demonstrates by their attacks on Gaza and their apartheid administration of the West Bank their primary intent of gaining the whole territory that they claim is Israel by either genocide or ethnic cleansing of the land. For the Likud Party and their supporters, the end game is the conversion of the entire Palestine Mandate into the Jewish nation of Israel. Yet, where are the current world leaders who dare to criticize this for what it is?  

We in the USA can’t avoid any responsibility for what is happening in Israel and Palestine.  Now, U.S. supporters of Israel are supporting the holocaust in Gaza, are supporting the war crimes of Israel, are supporting genocide and apartheid committed by the Israelis. The government of Israel has ceased to be legitimate by its own acts.

This is not a question of politics, nor is it a question of religion; it is a question of humanity.  As the article “Central to the Achievement of the ‘Zionist Dream’ is theNotion That Jewish Lives Matter More Than Arab Lives  by Donna Nevel makes clear, at every crossroads of the so-called roadmap to peace, the Israelis have chosen the road that values Israeli lives while dehumanizing Palestinian lives, just as the Nazis dehumanized Jewish lives. 

If anyone thinks this is over stated, and my comparison to the Nazis is just a crass example of “Godwin’s Law” the issue is settled by simply taking any official statement of the Likud Party or the current Israeli government and substituting  the roles with words like “Jewish” changed to “Aryan” and “Isreal” changed to “Germany.”  The language and the intent will be just as clear today as it was in 1930s Germany.

For instance, the Likud Party Charter also states:

"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs."

How is this any different from Nazi German propaganda which would have likewise stated:

"The Government of Germany flatly rejects the establishment of a Jewish state north of the Mediterranean Sea. The Jews can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Germany’s existence, security and national needs."

Doesn’t that make the very idea of a “framework of self-rule” a complete farce? Of course it does, but this is the official position of the leaders of Israel and the leading party of Israel and the people of Israel who continue to elect Likud and the other right-wing Zionist parties into government.

Israel has become a serial killer.  Out of the depths of despair and the atrocities committed against it, the nation of Israel was born. This is how most serial killers began: abused and tortured as children and then they grow up.  If we look into the lives of serial killers we can feel compassion for their early childhood, for the complete deprivation of empathy and love in their development, for the cruel punishments that twisted parents inflicted upon them, and so too, can we feel compassion for the Jews who suffered and survived the Holocaust that birthed the nation of Israel.  But when the tormented childhood gives birth to the adult personality of the serial killer, no amount of compassion for the child can excuse the acts of the serial killer.  Likewise for Israel, no amount of compassion for the suffering experienced in the Holocaust that has no given birth to the serial killer nation of Israel can condone or excuse the holocaust, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid that Israel is now inflicting on another people while mentally and emotionally protecting itself under the iron dome of propaganda that the people and nation of Israel are more valuable and scared as human beings than the people whose land the Israelis have taken over for their Jewish homeland.

The serial killer nation of Israel must be stopped. Even if it ever was, the government of Israel is no longer legitimate because its actions against the Palestinians are no more legitimate than the Hutu treatment of Tutsis in Rwanda, than the Afrikaner treatment of the native South Africans in South Africa, or than the treatment of the Nazis against the Jews in Germany.

The USA is the only nation with enough power over Israel to stop it.  We are the primary and chief nation enabling Israel’s serial killing spree.  Without the aiding and abetting of US support Israel could not maintain its blockade of Gaza and the West Bank, could not maintain the settlements, and could not maintain the apartheid occupation. At any time, the US has the power to stop vetoing United Nations Security Council review of the conduct of Israel.  The USA is completely hypocritical at the UN Security Council when it demands intervention for nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, yet prevents discussion of intervention to protect the Palestinian people. 

Since the USA won’t act, the only other avenue is for another Nation to take the reins and lead a movement to break the blockade of Gaza and the West Bank in the manner of breaking the 1948 Berlin Blockade.  Some nation of compassion must unilaterally step forward and begin an airlift and sealift to Gaza and airlift to the West Bank to remind the world that the serial killing by Israel must be stopped.  Only by calling Israel’s bluff aimed at other nations, only by directly challenging the legitimacy of Israel’s apartheid occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and of Israel’s serial killing of Palestinians, will the world wake up from its delusional dream that Israel is and remains a humanitarian nation no matter what is does.

A movement to Break the Blockade must be based on humanitarian principles and avoid any politicization of the issue.  In fact the Break the Blockade movement has already begun with several organizations such as the Free Gaza Movement, and people’s flotillas, such as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla  of May 2010 that attempted to provide aide to Gaza that was stopped and illegally seized by Israel. But no nation came to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s protection in international waters and so Israel was allowed to commit piracy on the open seas.  

The second flotilla named “Freedom Flotilla II” was publicly opposed by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Canada, the “Middle East Quartet” (consisting of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States), and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Thus, these are the nations with direct complicity in Israel’s continuing serial killings.  And this is why there must be a nation that comes forward to conduct either a flotilla or an airlift to show that Israel’s attack on attempts to break the blockade are acts of war against humanity that are not condoned and abetted by the so-called “important” nations.  

What nation of stature and compassion could dare to confront the imperial nations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia?  The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Spain, are possibilities. Could the people of Canada, France, the UK, or even the USA change their governments positions?  Could the General Assembly of the UN formally adopt a call to Break the Blockade and invite nations to conduct sea or airlifts under the authority of the General Assembly?

While the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is aiming in the right direction, it is only a prelude to the real action necessary to Break the Blockade and reestablish the protection of the human rights of the Palestinians and to stop the serial killing spree by Israel.

Israel is a serial killer that must be stopped, and before any violence is used to stop it, any and all nonviolent means must used. A movement to Break the Blockade is a nonviolent method. If Israel chooses to violently attack a nonviolent sea or airlift, then it will be clear to the whole world who is the real perpetrator of the serial violence.    



Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Joy of Awakening

Someone asked:

I see the trees bend. I feel the sun. I hear the birds sing. I see my daughter skip before me. I feel joy in the moment. But is that joy illusory; transient and born of the cravings of the self, or is it zen itself, the illusion stripped away and the universe revealed?
I struggle with this simple question.

My reply: 

Great simple question, that because of its very simplicity, will evoke very different and contradictory responses!

The word "joy" can refer to selfish illusions or the true nature of the universe revealed.

The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar says joy is one of the paramitas of the Dharmakaya. So there is nothing wrong with joy. By a paramita of the Dharmakaya is meant that joy can carry us over to the other shore of the true suchness of the Dharmakaya.

But of course we can have illusions of and about joy just like we can have illusions about everything based on our antithetical polarized conceptions.

To struggle with this question is an example of the natural arising of a koan of life (genjo koan).  Keep the "don't know" of inquiring doubt alongside the faith in joy as a manifestation of suchness and resolve the apparent dilemma on your own with the struggle of determined practice.

Someone else responded to the first question with:

Joy and happiness and suffering are all things that change.
The saying goes, "This too shall pass." Transient.
Born of greed, hatred, ignorance.

To which I replied:

This presumes the definition of "joy" as something belonging on the list of all things that change. Joy is definitely not something born of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance, so it doesn't belong on the list.

Actually, joy never changes, it is only our thoughts about joy that change.  The never beginning and never ending continual radiation of the joy of the Dharmakaya is like the light of the sun always shining but being obscured by clouds or by the rotation of the earth.

When we see the trees bending in the wind, the beauty of the flowers, or the zest of the children and these bring us joy, that joy is the joy of the Dharmakaya manifesting.  If we mistake that joy as being dependent on the trees, the flowers, and the children, then we are mistaking joy for something that is impermanent and changing because we are confusing true and genuine joy with the object that is associated with arousing our recollection of the joy of awakening!  That confusion is what is born by the three poisons, not the joy.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Read a Sutra

[This is a section from the introduction to my work in progress of a new translation of The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar.]
How to Read a Sutra
          A Sutra should be read with reverence and faith, not preconceived beliefs.  Reverence means to read with an open mind.  Faith means to read with the trust that the Sutra has a purpose and reading with an open mind will make that purpose real in our lives.  There are two kinds of preconceived beliefs that will hinder our receiving the Sutra: the preconceived beliefs of true believers and the preconceived beliefs of doubters. Academic scholars come to the sutra with the preconceived belief that reverence and faith are to be put aside in order to be able to read the Sutra objectively.  However, this academic view is itself a subjective preconceived belief that also prevents reading the Sutra objectively.  The academic scholar misses the forest for the trees.

On the other hand, it is just as wrong to read the Sutra with the uncritical views of a fundamentalist true believer. Faith does not mean to be uncritical of what is heard, but to listen critically knowing that the meaning is not contained in the words but in the import that the words are pointing at.  Faith in Buddhist Sutras means the trust that the Sutra is speaking of our own mind, not something foreign to us or outside of our own mind.  A fundamentalist reading is not a faithful reading because it posits a literal meaning outside our mind and calls this the literal objective truth. Reading like that misses the trees for the forest. That is not objectivity any more than the academic.

The reverential open mind means to read the sutra in a manner to receive it and hear it on its own terms and the faithful mind means to read it critically with an ear to hear and to become aware of the nature of mind that the speaker is actually pointing toward.  Thus to read a Sutra requires reading form perspective the Middle Way between the academic and the fundamentalist. 

            A Sutra is always spoken to an audience that always has preconceived ideas and views that characterize and distinguish them.  That is, a Sutra is always responsive, and if there were no preconceive ideas, there would be no need to speak the Sutra.  The Sutra is addressed with the purpose of articulating the corrective medicine for the audience’s specific imbalance or one-sidedness of antithetical conceptions (vikalpa).  The Buddha is the Great Doctor.

            For example, the first “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma,” that is, the initial articulation of the Dharma after the Buddha’s enlightenment, was given to the Five Companions, who were his immediately preceding practice partners before he left them to meditate alone.  The practice they shared was the practice of austerities, which the Buddha had turned to after succeeding with two previous teachers but finding their ways and teachings lacking.  Upon finding the practice of austerities lacking as a lopsided approach, the Buddha realized the meaning of the Middle Way and sat resolutely in meditation to directly investigate with this new method. 

            Upon his enlightenment, the Buddha sought out the Five Companions and addressed their preconceived idea that human suffering of the imbalance or off-centeredness (duhkha) of life could be remedied and relieved by the practice of the one-sided embrace of extreme suffering through austerities.  The teaching of the Four Noble Truths was the medicine that the Buddha taught the Five Companions for their disease of practicing austerities. It is in that context that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths culminates in the articulation of the Eightfold Path as the alternative path to their prior path of attachment and grasping at austerities.

            Similarly, Bill Porter, known as the translator Red Pine, points out in talks about his translation of the Heart Sutra[1] that the Heart Sutra is spoken by Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva to the Bodhisattva Shariputra who is the representative stand-in for the Early Schools’ abhidharma practitioners, specifically in Shariputra’s case, the Sarvastavadin school of abhidharmists.  In the Heart Sutra, Avalokiteshvara presents the emptiness (sunyata) teachings as the medicine to practitioners who have the preconceived notions of the abhidharma obstructing their views by applying the view of emptiness to the abhidharma’s analytical categories, in the Sarvastavadin order, of the Five Skandhas, the Twelve Ayatanas, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Twelve Linked Chain of Causation, the Four Noble Truths, and the attainment of innate-knowledge (jnana). 

            To view the Heart Sutra as an exegesis or exposition asserting the doctrine of emptiness is the kind of mistake made by academic scholars who are blind to the purpose of the Sutra as medicine for a preconceived idea and perverts the Sutra into the assertion of a doctrine to be made into a subsequent preconceived idea. This is turning the medicine into a disease, like becoming addicted to morphine after using it as a pain medication.

               Any aspect of universality in the Buddha’s Dharma is not discovered by turning the medicine into a “doctrine” as the academic scholars do, but by seeing the application presented in the sutra to other similar disorders. Thus, while the Heart Sutra applies the medicine of emptiness to the disorder of taking the abhidharma as doctrine, the Heart Sutra’s medicine of emptiness may be applied to other similar disorders of mistaking Dharma as doctrine. Likewise, the medicine of the Four Noble Truths as applied to the  disorder of attachment to austerities, may be applied to other similar disorders of one-sided attachment to mistaken methods of treating the suffering arising from the imbalance and off-centeredness of living, such as treating suffering by addiction to pleasures, rather than by clinging to austerities. 

               The medicine that is applied by The Sutra of the Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimiala is the One Vehicle, not the Tathagatagarbha.  The One Vehicle is applied to the views of the Tathagatagarbha, as well as to the Four Noble Truths, Emptiness, etc., to treat the underlying bias of separate vehicles that were leading to sectarian views of these most important topics of Buddha Dharma.

[1] Heard personally by the translator in a talk given at Zen Center of Los Angeles on July 22, 2012, and also heard in a recorded talk sponsored by the Bodhi Mind Center given at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, on February 2, 2013, .

Friday, February 21, 2014

To Liberate the Beings of Our Own Mind

Looking at the events in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, and the USA’s meddling in them, I have these observations:  When we are free from literalizing “good and evil” by “taking sides” based on who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy,” then we are free to see human conflicts with the same equanimity as the weather events like hurricanes and “super storms.”  Hurricanes are formed when the opposing characteristics of warm and cold air, moist and dry air, and high and low pressure become extreme and polarized leading to the cascading events of a rotating system we call a tropical cyclone.  Lightening storms are caused when the upper atmosphere and the ground become supercharged and polarized with “opposite poles” of positive and negative energy.  A hurricane doesn’t make the high pressure “good” and the low pressure “bad,” and lightening doesn’t make the positive (+) energy “good” and the negative (-) energy “bad.”
Likewise, when the warm and cold air or plus and minus energy of the collective consciousness becomes extremely supercharged and polarized it necessitates an emotional storm that manifests in what we call  “violent conflicts” or the super storm called “war.”  If we want to have any influence on the outbreak of conflict and war across the planet, then we must individually do our best to depolarize our collective consciousness, so that the polarities of “us and them” do not become so supercharged that we see ourselves as the “good guys” who must obliterate those “evil bad guys.” 
As a Buddhist, we proclaim the Four Broad Vows, and beginning with the vow that no matter how innumerable the many beings are, we will carry them across to liberation.  As Zen master Huineng reminds us in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor, these Four Broad Vows are called broad because they are all inclusive in the wisdom that there is nothing that is not the manifestation of our own mind.  So Huineng presented his version of the Four Broad Vows that emphasized this truth of mind:
We vow to carry across the unlimited multitude of beings of our own mind,

We vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions of our own mind,

We vow to investigate the uncountable Dharma gates of our own mind,

We vow to consummate the unsurpassed Buddha Way of our own mind.

This means that we have to free the beings of our own mind trapped in the Auschwitz' and Guantanamo's of our own mind and who are polarized in the roles of guards and prisoners in our own mind, before we can liberate the beings in the world from the storms of war.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review of TED Talk by Materialist Philosopher Stephen Cave

This is a review of the TED Talk by Stephen Cave titled

Sadly, this is one of the worst TED talks I’ve heard.  Perhaps my expectations are too high.

Mr. Cave focuses on “bias,” yet as a philosopher he shows bias too, but apparently unconsciously.  His bias is that there is no truth to be found in the “four” typical immortality stories that he has identified.  He shows his bias because he is a scientific philosopher, not a psychologist. The psychologist views these kinds of archetypal stories as myths, and takes their commonalities as telling us something true about our own psyches, not just fake fairy tales to be thrown out or left behind. Yes, we grow out of the literal belief in these kinds of stories, but we should be growing into discovering the truth that these stories are pointing us toward if our growth is to be anything remotely identifiable as maturation. 
For example, the sad philosopher Mr. Cave ignores what the essence of the “elixir” story is all about. He should read Carl G. Jung to know that there is an archetype of the “elixir” for the reason that there is an actual elixir in the human psyche (the heart-mind) that can lead us to understanding life and death and thus transcending death. In alchemy, "the One that dieth not" is the homo philosohicus, the One, who is the tincture or elixir of life.  Only the young child, the naive, and the uninitiated would imagine the elixir of life, the elixir vitae,  to be something only literally composed of physical molecules.  Always, the physical properties are merely the anchoring attributes for the transcendent qualities of the elixir.  In one instance it was said that the elixir was to be made from the "prime matter" that is taken from a single tree that "grows on the surface of the ocean as plants grow on the surface of the earth." Only a fool would think that this was speaking of an actual tree.  In our modern alienated view of reality we would call the physical aspects a metaphor.  However, in the premodern view, the metaphor was the actual living psychic property of the physical aspect.  So in the previous example, the alchemist knew that "the single tree" was an image of oneness to be sought growing "on the surface the ocean" of the mind's true reality.  Philosopher Cave seems to have the bias of scientific materialism that “the mind,” the psyche, is merely an epiphenomenon of the physical brain.

Elsewhere on his recent TED Blog titled "The immortality bias: Further reading on the 4 stories we tell ourselves about death," Mr. Cave has written about the “soul” story in this way:  

"Buddhism has a similar belief in reincarnation — the movement of the soul from one body to another — although it confusingly also teaches that there is no permanent soul or self."

That comment shows a woeful lack of knowledge (i.e., ignorance) about the Buddha Dharma. There is nothing confusing about teaching there is no permanent soul or self in rebirth because the Buddha Dharma does NOT teach anything remotely like "the movement of the soul from one body to another."  The Buddha acknowledged that reincarnation occurs as a law of nature, but radically transformed the naive understanding of a "soul" to point to the fact that there is no separate or individual "soul" that transmigrates even when there is the appearance of one. That is, the Buddha does not deny the naive "appearance" of a soul, but the Buddha says when we inquire deeply into the appearance of a soul we will see that it is a construct of our imagination. Still, the Buddha teaches that karma is relentless, regardless of the imaginary character of the soul, and that what is reborn is not consciousness but the mind. The arising and disappearing of consciousness is what appears to the ignorant as birth and death, but it is the activity of the unborn and undying mind of innermost thusness.

What is reborn is only the effects of the karmic waves. Modern physics would call this the noninterference of waves, as when there are countless electromagnetic waves coursing through a room but our cell phone picks up one frequency stream without any interference by all the others. The idea of a "soul" is the illusion of a standing wave formation formed by all the karmic waves from countless previous lives. We take the temporary appearance of a standing wave formation to be the "person" and then we assume that the "person" possesses something that is behind the appearance that is a "soul." That assumption is an unnecessary wish for the eternity of the "person." In fact, the true eternity is the constancy of the appearance of impermanent and transient waves. In other words, what is reborn in the wave formation of a single life is the ocean itself, not some thing called a "soul."

Mr. Cave’s conclusion is that “We believe these stories because we are biased to believe them, and we are biased to believe them because we are so afraid of death.” This is really just a statement about the bias of belief, not about the stories themselves.  When we are afraid, we are confused by what we call "belief." But when we become free from our fear, then we see the stories in a new light having nothing to do with belief.  Mr. Cave would have us ignore the truth of the stories under this new light and simply forget and ignore them altogether. He reasons we can give up our childish belief in them by giving up our fear of death. That is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and not philosophical at all.  Yes, we can find the way to no longer be afraid of death, but that has nothing to do with necessarily giving up these stories, only giving up the idea of a literal belief in them.

Mr. Cave has the personal bias that we are limited to “the one life we have.”  He says, “just as book is bounded by its covers by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded by birth and death.”  He says the characters in a book don't worry about who wrote the book or what the world is outside of the book covers, so neither should we worry about what is outside of birth and death.  Sadly, he does not explore why or how he has this king of biased belief in the face of considering death.  Instead Mr. Cave would have up put aside the very consideration of death and simply adopt the view that since we will never “experience” death that we need not consider it.  He tells us don’t think about death and just enjoy life while we have it.  Certainly, there are some people like Mr. Cave who will find some kind of solace in sticking their head into the sand.
Mr. Cave says that we merely need to see how “the fear of death is not rational,” and then we will see how that irrational fear brings out our biases. In this we can see the confusion that Mr. Cave has about the role of rationality in life based on his own bias in the face of death. With his story, he has constructed an elaborate rational edifice, not to defeat death by a story of immortality but to defeat death by a story of why we should ignore death.  He doesn’t see that by ignoring death we only drive the archetype of death into the unconscious where it will come back to haunt us in so many ways.

If we want to find the truest story, we should tell the story that shows how all the stories are true given their presumptive perspectives. That is, we need a story that includes all of the other stories, without claiming that any particular one or all the others are totally false, because the apparent differences in all the stories are just because they are about other parts of the elephant in the room: death.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Brief Outline of the One Vehicle

The Buddha’s Ekayana is the One Vehicle or Vehicle of Oneness (eka = one; yana = vehicle).  Here “vehicle” means the conveyance and its connotation includes the travel of and the course traveled by the conveyance. One Vehicle is not a term of exclusion meaning only this one vehicle and not any other vehicle.  The One Vehicle is a term of universal inclusion meaning that all vehicles of all religions are within and not separate from the One Vehicle.  
When people perceive different vehicles, it is not because there are different vehicles at the root, but because the different capabilities and capacities of people’s understanding and perceiving create the appearance of different vehicles at the branches and leaves.  All vehicles are One Vehicle in essence because the teachings of all vehicles ultimately return to their root and original source that is the non-dual oneness of true Suchness.
Woven in the history of the Ekayana movement and the development of the One Vehicle teachings are several essential themes which may be outlined as follows:
(1) All beings are fully endowed with the Tathagata’s wisdom-knowledge (tathagatajnana, wise-knowing), also called Buddha knowledge (buddhajnana) or Noble wisdom (aryajnana), and the original enlightenment of the true mind.  [This is a restatement of the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth from the perspective of the One Vehicle.]
(2)  Ignorance: It is the erroneous views of antithetical conceptions (vikalpa) and the resulting attachments that obscure and obstruct beings from seeing and realizing this true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing, and as these views become firm, like water turning to ice or wet cement drying like concrete, they form the fixed foundation of our ignorance of our true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing. [This is the Second Noble Truth.]
(3)  Off-centeredness and Afflictions: All the myriad plethora of vexations, afflictions and troubles (klesa) of living beings are constructed on this foundation of fixated ignorance regarding our true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing, and cumulatively, this condition is called the underlying and permeating feeling of off-centeredness (dukkha) of our own being and is also called our “self.”  [This is the First Noble Truth.]
(4)   The One Vehicle: The primary (and functionally sole) purpose of a Buddha appearing in the world is to reveal the nature of the Buddha’s wise-knowing and to lead all beings to their own realization of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing so that all beings may be free from off-centeredness (dukkha) and its concomitant vexations (klesa). Because carrying out this single purpose of showing humans how to be Buddhas is the essential teaching of the all the Tathagatas, it is called the One Vehicle, the Most Supreme Vehicle, the Buddha Vehicle, and the One Buddha Vehicle.  [This is the Fourth Noble Truth.]
(5) Skillful Means of Upaya: A Buddha-Tathagata uses teaching methods appropriate to the audience for revealing the nature and leading beings to awakening through their own realization of the Buddha’s wise-knowing.  The appropriateness of the teaching to the audience is called upaya or skillful means.
(6)  Many Teachings, One Vehicle: The many apparent differences in the teachings and methods of practice presented by the Buddha that arise from responding to the differences in capacities of the audiences do not create different vehicles or paths to different goals. The Buddha did not teach different vehicles with different purposes and only taught what appeared to be different vehicles with one purpose: describing or pointing to the awakening of beings to become Buddhas. Where it may appear that multiple vehicles were taught was because the audience being taught did not have faith that they could become Buddhas. So, for example, for people who could not believe that they themselves could become Buddhas, the Buddha taught the skillful means that they could become moral people with good behavior resulting in better future births at which time they would then be ready to receive the teaching that reveals the nature to become Buddha.
(7)  Names:  Names are just pointers. The nature of the wise-knowing of the Tathagata (“thus come”) is known by many names such as Sunyata (Emptiness), Suchness (Tathata); Dharmakaya (the body or essence of Dharma), Buddha-nature, Tathagata-garbha (the Inner Tathagata), Alaya-vjnana (the Storehouse of Consciousness), Nirvana; the Bhutakoti (Reality- Limit), the Signless, the Dharmadhatu (Dharma Realm), paramartha (the ultimate truth),  Mind (citta), One Mind (ekacitta), etc.; and people of other teachings use other terms such as the Source, God; Godhead; Allah; Brahma; Vishnu; Jehovah; Yahweh; Lord; the Victor; the Sun; the Moon; Truth; Reality; Ultimate Principle; the Eternal; Non-duality; etc.. Worldly views are vehicles of exclusion that consider these different names to be referring to different things.  In the all inclusive view of the One Vehicle knows these different names are pointing to the one and the same Tathagata.
(8)  Mind: However, because people can hear a label such as Buddha, Emptiness, or the Dharmakaya and believe the label refers to something outside of themselves, the term mind is often preferred, since no one can seriously say they are outside of their own mind. The term mind is the most intimate label and is least susceptible to being objectified or externalized, so it is the preferred term to anchor one’s attention to their Buddha Nature for purposes of actual practice and realization. However, since people may think the term mind means their ego, self-image, or cognitive consciousness, the term is often capitalized in English as Mind to indicate it is the non-individual non-separated Mind being referred to. Since Mind is non-dual it is called the One Mind, since it is unborn it is called Original Mind.  Since there is nothing with which it can be compared and it is inconceivable it is called No-mind. Since it has no fault of its own, it is called True Mind.
(9) Synthesis. Since all the teachings of Buddhism, including both Mahayana and the Early Schools, are essentially and primarily teachings about the One Mind of our own Buddha Nature they must be taken as an organic whole, and the reconciliation of apparent oppositions or contradictions within the Buddhist teachings is the essence of the synthetic approach of the One Vehicle. The view that synthesizes and includes, is the view of the Ekayana, and the context for this synthesis is the recognition that the teachings by skillful means do not create actual differences in the goal of the teaching. The synthetic orientation is extended to include within the One Vehicle all the teachings of humans and gods, i.e., non-Buddhist philosophies and religions, because all philosophies and religions are attempting to understand the knowledge, perceptions, and experiences of the One Mind common to all humans.
(10) Equality and Non-duality: Because all beings share equally the One Mind of Buddha Nature, there is an absolutely inherent basis (i.e., simultaneously transcendental and immanent) for human equality.  Therefore distinctions such as layperson and monastic, male and female, nationality, language, culture, etc. are all immaterial in relation to the ability of a person to cultivate, investigate and realize awakening. The path of the One Vehicle leads back to the oneness of the subtle principle of non-duality. When there are dualities and extremes, the equality wisdom of the One Vehicle is lost and viewpoints and perspectives become biased with people arguing that one is right and one is wrong.
(11) Turning the Light Around: The ultimate purpose for Buddhas being in the world is to relieve suffering by bringing people to awakening to the One Buddha Mind, and this is only accomplished by experiential practice bearing fruit in one’s own realization through what is variously called in Sanskrit paravrtti and variously translated as the “revolution at the basis,” “turning the light around,” “taking the backward step,” or “turning inward.”  Turning the light around culminates in directly seeing the True Suchness (tathata) of one’s Own-Nature (svabhava) of mind which is the Tathagata’s wise-knowing.
(12)  Not Established by Words: The primary meaning or whole truth (paramartha) is not found in words. Words merely point to meaning and are not to be mistaken for the meaning. Because turning the light around is not accomplished as an intellectual pursuit or by the construction of words or ideas resulting in elaborate exegesis, it must be directly realized without dependence on words.  Depending on words therefore prevents this turning about from our habitual externalizing (i.e., prevents cutting off the outflows), and thus obstructs our own realization. So when words are used they are used for the purpose of putting a stop to dependence on words. As the Treatise on the Arousing of Faith in the Mahayana (Mahayana-Sraddhotpada Shastra, 大乘起信論) states, “Designating the limit of verbal expressions causes words to banish words. 
(13) Sutras: Because of the foregoing principles (of upaya, synthesis, names mind non-duality and words) there is no single Sutra that is superior to all others or the “king” of sutras.  For the purposes of conveying the One Vehicle, the One Vehicle Sutras have a place of importance, but because all vehicles are included within and lead to the One Vehicle, all the sutras are included within the One Vehicle. The specific Sutras of the One Vehicle are The Lankavatara (Going Down to Lanka) Sutra; The Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra; The Saddharmapundarika (White Lotus of the True Dharma) Sutra; The Srimaladevi Simhanada (Lion's Roar of Queen Srimala) Sutra; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana (Great Parinirvana) Sutra; Shurangama Sutra; The Vajrasamadhi (Diamond Samadhi) Sutra; The Mahābherīhāraka-parivarta (Great Dharma Drum) Sutra; and The Samdhinirmocana Sutra. Each of these sutras presents the One Vehicle with a different emphasis.  Seeing the common teaching presented in all these sutras is a good way to perceive the One Vehicle.  Saying that one or another of these sutras presents the only real One Vehicle is a mistaken view of the One Vehicle that slanders the One Vehicle. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Response to Broughton's Translation of Zen Master Linji's Record

Jeffrey Broughton last year (12/11/2012) published a new translation of Zen Master Linji's Record - The Record of Linji: A New Translation of the Linjilu in the Light of Ten Japanese Zen Commentaries
This is not a formal "review" but a response to Broughton's translation, because I haven't had an actual copy of the book in my hands and am only going off what I have been able to glean from the internet, including Amazon's inside view.

Someone commented on a blog, "It looks very good and should be compared with the older Ruth Fuller Sasaki headed effort. I am not sure which of these two is better."

I know of at least five English versions: there is a first one by Ruth Fuller Sasaki (with Yoshitaka Iriya) titled The Recorded Sayings of Ch'an Master Lin-Chi of Hui-chao of Chen Prefecture (1975);
a second one based on the same Ruth Fuller Sasaki but updated and edited by Thomas Yuho Kirchner: The Record of Linji (2008); one by Irmgard SchloeglThe Zen Teaching of Rinzai (1975); one by Burton Watson: The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi (1999): and one by  Eido Shimano Roshi: The Book of Rinzai Roku (2005).  So, this new one from Jeffrey Broughton makes at least six English translations of the whole record, not counting partial translations.

Caveat Emptor, Caveat Lector.

What was interesting about the comment that Broughton's translation "looks very good" turned out to be that it was actually not a comment about Broughton's translation but about a heavily edited version of an excerpt from Broughton's translation at the Daily Zen website. Elena at Daily Zen presents a monthly journal with selections of Zen gems that you can subscribe to.  

From the looks of it, Broughton's translation is consistent with his other translations that always have quirks that, to me, make them like eating cooked rice with grit in it.  Broughton is an excellent academic scholar, and his translations reveal both the benefits and detriments of that calling.  To see this clearly, the excerpts that are presented at Daily Zen by Elena that have been heavily edited show what it takes to make Broughton readable. 

The main "sin" that Broughton comits, in my view, is having too many inserted brackets.  There is virtually no paragraph without bracket insertions.  He apparently wants to "help" the reader read through what he considers to be gaps in the writing.  But just as often he is filling the gap with his own personal interpretation when the actual words of Linji are more fluid and evocative that just the one forced view that Broughton has inserted.  Also the brackets make the reading very choppy becaue the reader has to jump over the bracktes to read the text in is own terms without Broughton trying to tell us what it means.  Otherwise, the reader has to read through the bracketed material with the pesonal reminder each time that the insertion is Broughton's own interpretation which may or may not be correct.

To make Broughton's version readable, Elena at Daily Zen has either removed the brackets and left the material that was in the brackets or removed both the brackets with the material inside them.  She has also broken up the format of having each section as a long single paragraph the way Broughoton has them into sensible English style and size of paragraphs.

Compare these two versions of Broughton's sections 13:32 and 13:33. The first is the way that Broughton wrote it and the second is the way that Elena at Daily Zen cleaned it up.  You will note that the cleaned up version is much more readable, but we no longer know which parts Broughton inserted. But with Broughton's version, the heavy usage of brackets is just uncalled for in my view and he has made the translation unnecessarily tedious and virtually unreadable.

Jeffrey Broughton's translation:

[13.32] “Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about [traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization]. There is no ‘buddha’ that ought to be sought, no ‘Way’ that ought to be completed, no ‘dharma’ that ought to be attained [i.e.,  nothing-to-do].  Externally seeking for a ‘buddha’ with characteristics [i.e., a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty-two characteristics/a buddha image made of clay or wood]—he will not resemble you [the true buddha of your own mind/that one person]. If you want to know your original mind [the true person], it's not something [outside of you that you can] join up with; nor is it something [you can ever] be apart from.  Stream-enterers! The true buddha [everyone's dharmakaya buddha] has no form, the true Way has no substance, the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas [the above three] come fused together as the single [seamless]place [the single non-dependent true person].  Those who haven't been able to perceive [the single, seamless place] we call ‘[transmigrating] sentient beings of confused karman-consciousness.’”

[13.33] Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."  The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one [i.e., three words for the same thing], and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of [beholding] reality as it truly is, moment after moment [at all times] the mind never breaks off [from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion]. When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person/[true] person who was not discombobulated by [other] people/persons/’the person.’  Later he met the second patriarch [Huike]. At [Bodhidharma's] single utterance [i.e., 'My quieting mind for you is over'], [for Huike] at once everything was settled, and for the first time [Huike] understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.  As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!”

Here's Elena's Daily Zen edit:

Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization. There is no "buddha" that ought to be sought; no "Way" that ought to be completed; no "dharma" that ought to be attained, nothing-to-do.  
Externally seeking for a "buddha" with characteristics, a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty two characteristics or a buddha made of clay or wood, would not resemble you, the true buddha of your own mind/that one person. If you want to know your original mind, the true person, it's not something outside of you that you can join up with; nor is it something you can ever be apart from.

Stream-enterers! The true buddha, everyone's dharmakaya buddha, has no form; the true Way has no substance; the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas come fused together as the single, seamless place. Those who haven't been able to perceive the single, seamless place we call transmigrating sentient beings of confused karma-consciousness.  
Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."

The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one, and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of beholding reality as it truly is, moment after moment the mind never breaks off from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion.

When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person, a true person who was not discombobulated by other people. Later he met the second patriarch Huike. At Bodhidharma's single utterance, 'My quieting mind for you is over' at once everything was settled, and for the first time Huike understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.

As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to an eight-line poem by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you only catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself.

To me, the over abundance of brackets in the translated text makes Broughton's translations not worth the effort to read. He should have put at least 95% of the bracketed material into footnotes instead.  Elena has made Broughton readable.

Aside from style or readability concerns, let's look at the content of what Broughton does with a particular section. For example, here is one of Linji's signature sayings.


Here's how Broughton translates it:

If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!

First, the term 祖佛 is almost invariably translated as "ancestors and Buddhas," or transposing for the English syntax as "Buddhas and ancestors." The term "ancestors" refers to the historical arhats and bodhisattvas such as Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Nargarjuna, Vasumitra, Bodhidharma, etc.  To be a teacher of the Buddhas and ancestors is a well known phrase.  There is no real justification to translate this phrase as " the buddhas who are our ancestors." I do agree with Broughton that the term 祖 is better translated as "ancestors" than as "patriarchs" because there is no gender reference in 祖.

Second and perhaps more importantly in reference to what Linji is actually teaching, there is no basis that I know of for Broughton to insert into the saying "an eight-line poem" using brackets. Apparently he does this because he translates 句 as "couplet."  However, the word 句 (ju) means a "sentence, clause, phrase, a verse, a written line, a classifier for phrases or lines of verse."  There is no reason to force it into the shape of a "couplet." Also the word 得 (de) means to "get, obtain, gain, attain, win, etc."  "Catch on" is loosely within the field of valid translation, but "catching on" to me seems a little weak in relation to what Linji is pointing at.  Broughton's references to "couplets" and "eight-line poems" makes it sound like Linji is making literary analysis for the Chinese literati, rather than giving Zen teaching for students of the Way.

Here's Schloegl's translation:

One who attains understanding at the first phrase will be a teacher of patriarchs and Buddhas; one who attains understanding at the second phrase will teach men and gods; and one who attains understanding at the third phrase cannot even save himself. (p. 55)

Here's Watson's translation:

If you get it with the first phrase, you can be a teacher of the patriarchs and buddhas. If you get it with the second phrase, you can be a teacher of human and heavenly beings. If you get it with the third phrase, you can’t even save yourself! (p. 67)

Here's Shimano's translation:

If you attain it within the first phrase, you can be a teacher of Buddhas and patriarchs. If you attain it within the second phrase, you can be a teacher of humans and devas. If you attain it within the third phrase, you can't even save yourself. (p. 77)

Here's the Sasaki/Kirchner translation:

He who attains at the First Statement becomes the teacher of patriarch-buddhas; he who attains at the Second Statement becomes the teacher of men and gods; he who attains at the Thrid Statement cannot save even himself. (p. 264)

Here's my translation:

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, you do not complete your own deliverance!

I read Linji's admonition about "the three phrases" to be a direct reference to his Dharma Grandfather Baizhang's three phrases about the elementary, the intermediate, and the complete stages of attainment (得). If you don't know that getting it or attaining within the three phrases refers to Baizhang's teaching of the three stages of the elementary, intermediate and complete attainments, you might fall into the trap of thinking that getting it at the first phrase is the best. But, as Baizhang and Linji are teaching us, the first phrase is only the beginner's attainment.

Broughton doesn't seem to understand and adds confusion about this point of the first, second, and third levels of attainment by inserting the bracketed "only" at the third phrase. If bracket insertions are to be made, then it should not be "if you [only] get it at the third phrase" but should be "if you [are fortunate enough to] get it at the third phrase," because if you get it at the third phrase, then you get the highest complete attainment and can't even save yourself.  To not complete even your own deliverance is better than being a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors. (Why? That's the koan, silly.)

Even though Schloegl adds the unnecessary word "understanding," to me, both Schloegl's and Watson's translations of this saying are much better than Broughton's becasue they are succinct and without brackets and don't insert the misdirection about poetry.

Broughton does have a great amount of reference information in the end notes, and to me, this is the value of Broughton's academic skills and research.  I would recommend the book for the notes, but not for the translation itself which seems to muddy the waters for the person who is not already familiar with Linji.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jesus On My Mind: the Man & the Myth

Two recent blog articles got me to turn to Jesus, as I often do, to note the One Vehicle at work in the Jesus story of the Christ as well as the Siddhartha story of the Buddha.


The first was a Salon story by Andrei Codrescu under the headline “Zealot’paints Jesus as a Nazarene Che Guevarareviewing the newly published book by Reza Aslan titled ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

I’m not a fan of Codrescu’s style so I won’t go into what he writes except to say he uses his usual hodge-podge approach for contextualizing and politicizing which makes critique of his content as confusing as the content itself. Suffice it to say Codrescu hides good points within his self promoting use of superfluous points. Codrescu didn’t like Aslan’s Zealot, but he tell us little of the evidence he is relying on to come to this conclusion and he doesn’t reveal his own version of Jesus that provides a better portrait of the man.

 I haven’t read Aslan’s book, but if Codrescu’s one real examination of the book regarding the story of Caesar’s coin is accurate, then Codrescu is correct that Aslan has come to a conclusion that is based on inserting his own interpretations at the beginning of the analysis and not on the facts of the story.   However, neither Aslan nor Codrescu mention the most important point necessary if we are to have a serviceable historical picture of Jesus the man, and that is that Jesus was an Essene.

Here’s the man as I see him. There is nothing in the historical facts or the orthodox narrative to suggest that Jesus was ever a member of the Zealot party.  He could be called a “zealot” in the generic sense that Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi were zealots having great zeal for their mission.  By birth and family upbringing, Jesus ben Joseph was a member of the Essene community of Nazareth in the Mr. Carmel area. His cousin John, later known as “the Baptist”, was in the Southern Essene community associated with Qumran.

Jesus felt that the Essene teachings were the truest teachings of Judaism, but that the Essenes were too closed off and insulated from the mainstream of the two major sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees which had lost the true way. While accepting that the Essene teachings were the most true to the prophets and the Essene communities were the most “right with God” in their formation and activities, Jesus did not accept the isolationist and separatist social structure of those same Essene communities. Jesus’ mission was to bring tear down the divisions within Judaism and its three major sects, to bring it back to the truth centered on God and to show the Pharisees and Sadducees the error of their ways.

Jesus did not say "You must become Essenes" because he knew that was hopeless politically and socially, but he did teach what the Essenes held and believed, for example, as in the Sermon on the Mount and regarding the correct way to pray in private, and he said this is how to worship God. 

Some people hold that to have a picture of Jesus the man we can only use the Gospels, including Acts, of the Bible and we must take them at face value without going beyond the four corners of their pages.  From this position the objection is raised that since the Gospels were written in the format of Greek biography and history we cannot say that Jesus was an Essene because the Gospels do not identify him as Essene.

However, and it is not just sophistry to say it this way, the Gospels did not identify him as an Essene exactly because he was an Essene. There is no way to portray Jesus the man without going beyond the pages of the Gospels to the history of the times and of the Jewish people.  There were three sects at the time: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Gospels identified the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were the two major sects that Jesus was aiming his criticism at for failing God. The Gospels do not mention the Essenes because Jesus did not criticize the very sect that he grew up in and whose teachings were the foundation of his own teachings.

This is most important in perceiving his mission. Jesus was not on a mission against the Roman Empire, he was not on a mission to recover the lands of Judaism for the Jews, and he was not on a mission to teach the Gentiles anything at all.  His mission was to awaken the Jews to their own heritage and their own need to get right with God according to the prophets of their own scriptures.

So how do we know that Jesus was an Essene? Primarily by taking the description of Jesus in the Bible and comparing it to the historical records from outside the Bible. He learned the scriptures as a child as the Essenes taught their children; but the Pharisees and Sadducees did not teach their young children the sacred texts. This explains the story of the amazement of the men at the Sadducee synagogue when the young Jesus knew the scriptures so well, because none of their own children were taught scripture at that age. 

The Essenes lived communally without individual possessions being more than another’s, and this is why Jesus taught the disciples to not worry about where the next meal would come from because all they had to do was identify themselves in any community and they would be fed by the Essenes living there. As the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote, “No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. ... For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all.”  

The Essenes especially studied and revered the Book of Isaiah and Jesus was especially well versed in Isaiah.   The Essene community of Nazareth was among the most successful and important of the Essene communities throughout the land, and Jesus was from Nazareth.  One could go on, but it is clear that Jesus was an Essene.

Objection: Some people say that since we have no objective source regarding the details of Jesus' life and words, all attempts to create a "historical" Jesus are doomed to failure. Evangelical Christians have even said this as a reason to not look for the historical Jesus the man and to therefore only look to Christ the Savior portrayed in the Bible. They see the historical Jesus as a “a figment of your imagination” but somehow see no contradiction or aspect of imagination in the “fact” of Christ the Savior.


Creating a historical Jesus based on the best of the actual historical knowledge we have is not an endeavor "doomed to failure."  It is the essential enterprise of telling the story of history.  On the other hand, we need to bear in mind that the historical Jesus should be distinguished from the myth of the Christ. We can talk about the historical Jesus and we can talk about the myth of Christ. But we should not confuse or conflate the two.



In this regard, the second blog article that caught my attention is from the website Pathos and confronts the question of myth verses history head on.  The blog is called “The White Hindu” from blogger Ambaa, and the post is titled “Krishna is a Myth; Jesus is aMyth

I like this blog. Ambaa is sharing her spiritual journey in a very sweet and generous way. Ambaa notes that people often get upset if the stories of their religious founders and figures might be more mythical than literally and historically true. She says,

I don’t think it matters at all whether Jesus really lived or whether he really said what he said. I don’t care if it was Lau-tzu who said the things attributed to Lau-tzu. Someone said them and they have wisdom. It’s the message itself, the wisdom itself that matters to me, not what name you stick on it.

I don’t know if Krishna was a real person. I don’t know if he was more than one person whose lives got glomed together over the years. I don’t know if the stories are literally true but I do know that they are metaphorically true and that is far more important to me personally.

(Note for the sticklers, I think “Lau-tzu” is how they spell it in Scotland.)

This is a different view of the historical picture issue that takes the position that the picture of the historical man is not important at all and what we know of the myth is what is important.  In this view, the myth of the Christ is not taken as a fact, but man Jesus is taken as a myth. To me, it is still important to distinguish between the man and the myth, and that is why I use the names Jesus for the man and Christ for the myth.

What is a myth anyway? Today, many people think the word "myth" means "false." This is the materialistic bias of people misinformed by junk science, not real science. As the real scientist of psychology, Carl Jung, has taught us, myth is a psychological orienting principal or matrix of the mind, i.e, psyche.  Myth is good because we can't live as humans without myth. Without a myth, there can be no consciousness, because the consciousness would be too chaotic and disorganized for awareness to cohere into a coherent worldview. Jesus the man is now totally cloaked within Christ the myth. To have our own best-estimate opinion about the man does mean we have to take account of the myth.

Jesus the man and his historicity doesn’t directly inform us about Christ the myth. Personally, I follow the myth of Buddha and that works well for me. There are many points of contact and comparison between the myth of Buddha, the Awakened One, and the myth of Christ, the Anointed One. But that is another essay.

And while it can be a lot of fun, as well as educational, comparing our myths and how they orient and organize our psyches, but it can also be dangerous when someone doesn't understand that their myth is just a myth, that is, when they don't understand their very own worldview and sense of self within that worldview is based on myth not on something outside the realm of myth.  

Why is that? Because there is no consciousness outside of the matrix of the mind and therefore there is no worldview outside the matrix of a myth. There is no objective perspective outside of the psyche. The myth of objective science is not wrong because it is a myth; it is just that objectivity is also a myth within the mind's view of the world.
Objection: "Myth" means "story of beginnings" and there is no implication of history or fiction.

That "definition" of myth is itself characterized by its own myth. Myth is not just the story of beginnings, but the story of what is primary in our own living worldview, which must also mean now, and not just in some beginning to be found in the past. When myth comes in the packaging of time and space, then it often does wear the clothing of historicity in the "once upon a time" or "in the beginning" variety. But it is in the present that the myth is alive.  People who believe the myth of objectivity of materialist science view myth as a synonym of "fiction." People who are fundamentalists believe in their own myths as absolute history while saying that other people’s myths are make believe.  

Ambaa wrote: "For those who need their religion to be seen as the best one or the only “real” one in the world, being able to say that their saint or prophet actually lived while others did not must help them bolster their belief that it is real."

Objection: I think you're maybe being a little unfair; at least, I think that you're generalizing more than is accurate. Speaking as a Christian who believes Jesus for-real lived, I don't think that religious supremacy or exclusivity would primarily motivate most Christians who believe Jesus is a historical figure, though it might motivate most to greater or lesser degrees. Based on the conversations I've had, it seems most Christians are concerned that losing the historical Jesus would render the logic of salvation invalid...and most Christians are pretty serious about salvation. I assume the concern with salvation, or some similar mechanism which seems to depend on a particular event actually happening, would hold true for other historical religions (Judaism, Islam, etc.). That being said, historical religions tend to be monotheistic, so your suggested motivation probably is a real motivation, just not the only one. But I do know lots of Christians (or some, anyway) who aren't especially hung up on exclusivity (I hope I can include myself) and simultaneously affirm that Buddhism etc. has mythic wisdom and that Christianity has historical truth. And I also know Christians (a lot this time) who would largely agree with you regarding Genesis and other early Biblical books, that Adam and Eve or Abraham are mythical, not historical. That being said, for those who are triumphalistic in their religions, I think you are right that historical truth helps them feel superior. And I also agree with the general point of your post, that the wisdom winds up being more important, practically, than the history.

The objection seems to have difficulty seeing the distinction between Jesus the man and Christ the myth? Between Siddhartha Gautama the man and Buddha the myth? Between Arthur the man and the Once and Future King as the myth?

To me, the point of contact between the man (or woman) and the myth is exactly our own point of contact between life and death. The historical person (man or woman) had their own life and death, and it is the myth that informs us about our own life and death through the orienting images of the mythic life of the “historical” person.

In one sense, unless there is a person in history or historical legend upon whom the myth can be draped as a mantle, then the myth has no home within the world of life and death. So in this sense, there must be an incarnation of the myth to make it real. So yes, there can be no salvation or enlightenment unless there was a person who embodied that mythic story of salvation or enlightenment. The myth would be just fiction without the embodiment of the incarnation. But given the necessity of the myth to be embodied, it is still the core of misinterpretation to confuse the historicity of the person embodying the ahistorical myth with the myth itself.  

The incarnation makes the myth historical, but on its own ground, the myth itself is ahistorical and outside the strictures of the contextualizing myth of time and space. Otherwise the myth would be trapped in history and we ourselves would not be able to embody it in our own time with our own realization.

Objection: I like the argument that you have put forward, but without sun, there is no light, and if you look at these as a fact, then the sun really doesn't matter day to day, but in reality they go in hand in hand, and I think this is vital when it comes to faith, otherwise you will never take it seriously, and when you don't, it can't become part of you. I like Harry Potter but it's not part of my life.

Myths are myths, and that is why they are not real, or they may have been real, it's because of this word maybe, they are called myths, and when we have the word maybe involved, then there is no faith, and without faith I would be an atheist. It's not bad thing, but I would rather believe in something then nothing. Therefore what ever you believe in, then it matters whether anything is real or not and without that there is no point in the system.

By sitting in a fake aeroplane pretending you are going nowhere. And what is a point in that. Period.

Beyond the somewhat confused statement of the objection, which is the sun and which is the light? Is the historical person that the myth is hanging on the sun or the light? Is the myth the sun or the light?

Myths are most definitely real, because there is no "reality" without a myth of what is "real." Believing in something or believing in nothing are both the expressions of myth. "Faith" is a wide spectrum including hopeful supposition, belief, expectation, trust, confidence, and certainty. If we take something "seriously" then that is the evidence that myth is at work in our mind. It is our personal myth of reality that sorts things out as "this is really important" and “this is not important.” 
If we want to know the context, shape, and texture of the myths that are at work in our own mind, then we simply have to describe what it is that we take to be “true,” “really true,” and “really important.”  And since consciousness works by polarity, we need to be aware of and describe the things we take to be “false” and “unimportant” to see how our myth casts its own shadow.