Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Unconscious in Buddha Dharma

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

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

[Edited 3/11/17]

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Linji on Turning the Light Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 [From CBETA T47n1985_p0501c22 to p0502a13]


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Emptiness at the Heart of the Heart Sutra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Zen is the Art of Imagination.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[To be continued.. ]
[slightly edited 2/9/2017]

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Before and After the Full Moon

Before the full moonrise, six sensory dusts.

After the full moonrise, one Dharma rain.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Turning the Light Around

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

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

Friday, September 02, 2016

“Caveats of Zen” by Wumen

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


“Caveats of Zen”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here's the original Chinese:


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Freedom and Liberty, from a "Green Buddhist"

What's the difference between a Green and a Libertarian? They both are advocates for freedom and liberty, but their framework for both is very different. For example, L/libertarians generally think that Ayn Rand "framed issues with refreshing clarity" when she wrote: “What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion…The issue is not slavery for a ‘good’ cause versus slavery for a ‘bad’ cause; the issue is not dictatorship by a ‘good’ gang versus dictatorship by a ‘bad gang. The issue is freedom versus dictatorship…If one upholds freedom, one must uphold man’s individual rights; if one upholds man’s individual rights, one must uphold his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness…Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life…”

This is not "clarity" but is instead merely framing a complex question into black and white. It does not take a genius at logic to see how completely muddied and confused this description of Rand's is. The most obvious problem is that this kind of individualistic definition of freedom completely ignores or glosses over the primary fact that no person exists as an individual and therefore the question of freedom can never be merely a matter of the individual. Rand's formula leads only to the dictatorship by the capitalists in an anarchical economic system of might makes right. A capitalist manipulating markets and creating advantages for the ownership class by government legislation is not exercising "individual" freedom, but is merely using power to infringe on the freedoms of others to their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The primary delusion of this kind of individualist thinking is revealed in the equation of a person's individual rights with the an imagined "right" to own property exclusive of others. This is what the Jungian psychologist calls the return of the shadow. In a worldview of individualism, the shadow returns to enter our consciousness by being unable to distinguish between oneself as an individual and one's projections onto property, and in doing so, one actually becomes a slave to things, products, commodities, and property of all kinds, and thus in servitude to consumption and its capitalist priesthood, all in the name of the individual's rights and freedom.  This nearly irresistible impulse for the consumption of things as commodities is the shadow side of our individualism and floods our conscious thoughts and feelings by creating our identification with the things of an outside world. Without our conscious knowing, we project our individual identity onto things such as our cars, houses, families, etc. to make their acquisitions into trophies of our success as an individual.

Another example of the illogical positions of L/libertarians is found in the attitude toward taxes. While there are different shades and styles of L/libertarians, it is a common denominator that taxes are considered bad, unless they are used specifically for a program that the individual (L/l)ibertaian supports, such as the military.  In the website quiz asking "What Kind of Libertarian Are You" the third question shows narrow range of the attitude toward taxes:

What is your stance on taxes?
All taxes are theft, and no tax is morally legitimate
Taxes should be low, and should only fund the necessary functions of government
Taxes are a necessary evil, but we are in a fight for survival against Islamo-Fascism! We need a big military!
The only legitimate tax is a tax on unimproved land
There should be no taxation -- government should be funded voluntarily
This aversion toward taxes is also based on the one-sided view of an individual, as if the individual can exist outside of the networks of family, clan, tribe, nation, culture, and society.  The L/libertarian  war against taxes is nothing other than a war against the irrefutable recognition that we are all connected.

The goal of freedom and liberty as seen from the Green perspective is inherently social because it uses the context of ecology to recognize that justice is social, that we are all necessarily connected in the great web of life, and that none of us exists as an isolated individual outside of these living networks. Where L/libertarians see economics essentially as interactions between individuals, Greens see economics as community based.  Therefore, from this view, the Randian conception of freedom as merely an individual right is not only preposterous, but factually untrue.  Thus the individualistic idea of unending unregulated economic growth, either as an individual or a nation, as the measure of a healthy economy is delusional from the Green perspective which sees the measure of a healthy economy as it's sustainability and equity.

The goal of Buddha Dharma is freedom too. Not the freedom "to do what you want and the hell with everyone else," but the freedom, liberation, and emancipation of the mind to see the true nature of itself and be free from the fears and delusions created by the mystery of birth and death. While the Greens approach freedom from the primary standpoint of deep ecological interconnectedness, Buddhists approach freedom from the related standpoint of the interconnectedness of the causes and conditions of everything in the cosmos without externalizing either things or the cosmos, and such freedom is "measured" through the awakening of the person (as the word "Buddha" means an "awakened one"). Buddhism is primarily psychological, not ecological, as the Lankavatara Sutra says, “one’s own mind is the measure of manifestation.” (自心現量)  Though the deep psychology of Buddhism is very close to the deep ecology of the Green view. This deeply psychological orientation of Buddhism is why, on his death bed when he was reading the book Chan and Zen Teachings, First Series by Charles Luk, Carl Jung said that when he read what Zen Master Hsu Yun said, "he felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just it!"

This recognition of the central role of the person's awakening is sometimes confused with the nihilistic individualism of the L/llibertarian view, but it is definitely not the same.   In Buddhism, the freedom realized through awakening brings us back to the immediacy of the social context not away from it, just like rain falls to the ground not up to space. In this metaphor it is the gravity of life that brings the awakened person back to the marketplace of social interaction as depicted in the final image of Zen's 10 ox herding pictures. 

In awakening, we see through the illusions of "the individual self" and have our own realization that all things are only the manifestation of Mind (which goes by many names such as Thusness, Emptiness, The Body of the Dharma, True Suchness, etc.), then we can say with Zen Master Linji, "That which is the Dharma is the Dharma of the Mind. The Dharma of the Mind is formless; it moves unobstructed through the ten directions and is seen functioning in front of the eyes." (法者是心法。心法無形通貫十方目前現用。)

If we stopped here, we could easily succumb to a nihilistic or absolutist idealism, however in Buddhism the awakened person gets up from the site of awakening (菩提場) and goes on to become a being of awakening, a bodhisattva (菩提薩埵) whose primary motivation is compassion for helping others with their sense of bondage and lack of freedom.  In this we can reclaim the foundational idea of "economy" from its usurpation by the ideology of individualistic neoliberal capitalism.  As Fred Kofman wrote, in an article referring to the 10 ox herding pictures, titled "Entering the Marketplace with Helping Hands," even Adam Smith noted that an economy is based on the two primary poles of "benevolence towards others and self-interest." The neoliberal idealism of Randian L/libertarianism only sees one side of the polarity, that of self-interest, and they wholly ignore that "benevolence towards others" must have equal footing and impact in an economy for it to be healthy.  The L/libertarian usually rationalizes that self-interest will inevitably lead to an attitude that is benevolent toward others. The Buddhist sees that the selfless-interest of benevolence toward others is actually experienced by people as the more fulfilling kind of self-interest that actually produces the experience of happiness.   

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Value of Meditation as Implosion

We humans are very enamored of explosions.  We flock to displays of fireworks and to films with explosions. We spend billions on building better bombs and then finding ways to test them on or off the battlefield, and sometimes it seems we create a war just to have battlefield to test the next generation of exploding devices.  Most interesting to me personally, is that we have enshrined the explosion at the core--in the inner sanctum sanctorum--of our materialistic post-anthropomorphic creation myth of science and call it “the Big Bang.”

As I see it, our deep connection to explosion comes from the first stirrings of our sensory consciousness when we came into the world with the explosive force of birth and our senses met with the explosions of sound and color, sensations of heat and cold, being moved around in gravity defying positions, etc. Then, to make sense of this explosion of the senses, we sort through the dust storm of sensory data with a slow building explosion of mental distinctions and discriminations that separate, associate, and identify colors, sounds, touches, tastes, smells that becomes a mental explosion of the categorization of things. 

However, because we see the universe as the expression of an elemental explosion, as well as seeing our own consciousness as the most intimate explosion of awareness, we miss something equally as vital: for every explosion there is an implosion.   Because we are enchanted by the explosions of the senses that we perceive, we usually completely overlook that the perceptions are based on the actual fact of implosion: we receive sensory data,  Our usual conception of being a being in a skin bag looking out upon the external universe betrays the actual experience that our senses never “leave” our skin bag, and our “perceptions” never leave the mind.  We naively imagine in our materialistic construction of our worldview, that our senses go out of our body, that we see out into the world, but if we are able to see-through the enchantment of the sensory explosions, then we can note such insight as the fact that “light” is said to “enter” the eye and tickle the nerve cells in the retina that in turn tickle other neurons that they are connected to, which in turn tickle more neurons, until an explosion of neuronal waves of fireworks are swirling around within the grey matter of the brain that explodes in awareness of the outside universe.  But here’s the rub, in this materialistic worldview, this “outside universe” of physical matter is never actually “outside,” because it is completely contained in the grey matter as a mental construction or reflection of what has been imploded into the brain.  If we pay attention, we are forced to confront the idea that the universe is not exploding but is actually the implosion of how it all is received by our specialized sensory patches of skin to be recreated as the world within.

Here’s where Zen comes to the soteriological rescue.  In Zen meditation we “turn the light around” or “take the backward step” of awareness, so that from our usual looking outward at an evolving world, we turn to notice and be aware of this imploding nature of the universe. The technical Sanskrit term for this is asraya-paravrtti, “to turn around at the basis.”   Though it doesn’t roll off the tongue very well, this can be called “involution” in contradistinction to the usual view of “evolution.”  This training in asraya-paravrtti, as the turning around or involution of awareness to its own source, has been derisively called contemplating ones belly button by people who dont know any better and place great value in, and rest their self worth on, the outward show of explosions. 

There are many values of training and practice in sitting meditation (zazen), but the essential value is not in developing explosive force, but in the discovery of the implosive basis of awareness. While we are enamored and enchanted by explosions, we are also entangled by them in our relationships and killed by them in our interactions. The explosions of emotions are destructive to our personal as well as international relationships. We send drones to explode our perceived enemies and yet we refuse to acknowledge to ourselves as a people that we can’t really accomplish that goal without also exploding innocent bystanders. Likewise, this paradigm of international drama is also played our in our personal relationships, in relations of domestic violence where children become traumatized innocent bystanders, in our social and financial relations where people are forced to live in poverty, homeless, and without adequate health care, all because we are basing our social worldview on the perspective of people as beings who have exploded apart into separate entities competing with each other for the finite commodities of the. 

What sitting meditation reveals to us is that this worldview, of an exploding universe expanding into separate units flying apart from each other, is a myth, a false vision of what is actually happening right here and now.  This universe is also an imploding universe, condensing into mutual reflections of itself, revealing the absolute connectedness and unification of the universe, with our own mind and being seamlessly joined to each and every other node of awareness.  

Consciousness is not just the exploding evolution of awareness, it is equally the imploding involution of awareness. The value of meditation as implosion is that it opens us to the realization that awareness is only made possible by both its expansion and contraction, its explosion and implosion, and that this activity of expansion and contraction is the activity of the unified mind. This is why the toroid is the best simple model of conscious awareness as it represents both the exploding and imploding activities of awareness that form the shape of consciousness.*  The sitting meditation of Zen Buddhism, with its elegant simplicity, is the most effective way to come to terms, directly and personally, with this mutually expanding and contracting universe of awareness that we call mind.



[Note *:  For the development of a more complex and comprehensive model for consciousness, elaborating from a simple toroidal model to a multi-faceted Mobius bottle model, see “Zen Theory: An Exploration of Space, Time, and Consciousness via the Cycle of Change Between Binary Opposites.” by Kigen William Ekeson available at his Zen Theory blog.]. 





Sunday, January 03, 2016

Part 1 of The Treatise on Arousing the Faith of the Great Vehicle.


            Created by Bodhisattva Asvaghosa, and translated in the Liang dynasty[1] by Tripitaka Dharma Master Paramartha of Western India.

            Adoration to (namo) the Utmost One In The Ten Directions,
            To the Thoroughly Knowing One Who Conquers Karma.
            To the Sovereign One Unobstructed by Form,
            To the One Who Delivers the World with Great Pity.
            To the One Who Reaches the Essence and Characteristics of the Other Bodies (i.e., the 3 bodies of Nirmanakaya, Sambhoghakaya and Dharmakaya),
            To the Ocean of the True Suchness of Dharma-nature,
            To the Immeasurable Storehouse of Meritorious Virtues, and
            To the One Equal to the Cultivation and Practice that is According to Reality.

            May the multitude of beings be directed to get rid of doubts and renounce the grasp of perverted views, because by arousing the correct faith of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) the Buddha-seed is not cut off.

            The Treatise says there is a Dharma able to arouse the root of faith in the Great Vehicle, and it is for this reason it must be articulated.  To articulate it, there are five parts.  What is said for the five?

            That which is first is the Part of the Causes and Conditions.
            That which is second is the Part of The Meanings Set Forth.
            That which is third is the Part of Explanations.
            That which is fourth is the Part of Faith in Mind and Cultivating Practice.
            That which is fifth is the Part of Exhorting the Benefits of Cultivation.


            A question says, “What are there as the causes and conditions to then create this treatise?”

            The answer says, “Indeed, of the causes and conditions there are eight kinds.  What are said for the eight?

“That which is first, as the general characteristic of the causes and conditions, is because it actually designates what directs the multitude of beings to be free from all suffering and to attain the ultimate ease (i.e., nirvana) that does not seek worldly fame, benefits, or respect.

            “That which is second is because it is for the desire to expound the Tathagata’s meaning of the fundamental and to direct the various multitudes of beings to the correct understanding that does not deceive.

            “That which is third, is because it is for directing the multitude of beings with ripened good roots to the Mahayana Dharma that they do not retreat from their faith.

            “That which is fourth, is because it is for directing the multitude of beings with slight good roots to cultivate faith in the mind.

            ‘That which is fifth, is because it is for revealing the expedient means to alleviate the obstructions of evil karmic-actions[2], to well guard their mind, to keep at a distance foolish pride, and to come forth from the net of errors.

            “That which is sixth, is because it is for revealing the practice pair of quietude and contemplation (samatha and vipasyana) to control the transgressions of mind of the common people and those of the two vehicles.

            “That which is seventh, is because it is for revealing the expedient means of single-pointed recollection (smrti) to be born in front of the Buddha and necessarily be firmly settled and not backsliding from faith in the mind.

            That which is eighth, is because it is for revealing the benefits and encouraging cultivation.

“As such, these are the categories of the causes and conditions actually used to make this treatise.”

A question says, “Possessed within the Sutras there is this Dharma.  Why should this be so seriously articulated?”

            The answer says, “Although within the Sutras there is this Dharma, in use, the roots and practice of the multitude of beings are not equal, and the conditions of their receiving and understanding are different.  It means when the Tathagata was in the world, the multitude of beings were keenly endowed, and the people with the ability to articulate the excellence of form, mind, and karmic-actions were completely of one voice in expounding the different types of understanding (i.e., liberation). Consequently, they did not need these treatises.

Supposing after the extinction of the Tathagata, perhaps there are in the multitude of beings some who are able to use their own power of listening extensively and they receive understanding (i.e., liberation); or there are in the multitude of beings some who likewise use their own power of listening a little and many of them understand (i.e., are liberated); or there are in the multitude of beings some who are without their own strength of mind and from the extensive treatises as a cause they gain understanding (i.e., liberation); and on their own, there are in the multitude of beings some who again and again use the writings of extensive treatises much as an annoyance, whose minds enjoy collecting and holding a few writings and by absorbing much meaning are able to receive understanding (i.e., liberation).

Thus is this treatise. Because it is for wanting to collect the infinite meanings of the Tathagata’s extensive and greatly profound Dharma, it is agreeable to articulate this treatise.

~The end of the part articulating the causes and conditions.

[1]  Dates 502-557.
[2] The Sanskrit term karma, (Ch. ) literally means action or activity but in the context of Buddha Dharma it refers specifically to actions that are volitional, i.e., directly related to the complexes of identity aggregated as the Fourth Skandha.  Therefore depending on the context, it is translated herein as “karmic-activity” or “karmic-action” to distinguish this type of volitional human action and activity from non-volitional actions and activities (e.g., Ch. , ) such as the heart beat or knee reflex, as well as from non-human actions and activities such as a tree falling in a storm or waves eroding a beach. 

Related posts on Arousing Faith of the Great Vehicle: On the title; Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five.
[This post first posted 01/03/2016 Copyright (c) A. Gregory Wonderwheel 2016.]