Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar Doesn't Escape Hollywood.

I saw Avatar in 3D and was very impressed but not satisfied. It is a gorgeous and splendid Hollywood roller coaster of a film, but in the end, it is just Hollywood. It is a combination of "Dancing With Wolves" meets "Shaka Zulu" meets "Star Wars."

Under the necessity of finding a resolution of the conflict, James Cameron totally fails to rise to the occasion of the story's own premise of the interconnectedness of life, and falls back on the tried and trite Hollywood cliche of a bloody and violent climax of "good" triumphing over "evil", thereby completely missing the point that interconnectedness means a different way of looking at life than just as good and evil.

Unless he comes up with a sequel to deal with the problem that will happen when the Marines and the Mining Corporation return to the planet with nuclear weapons and demand that everyone relocate or be vaporized by attack from orbital platforms where the planet's biosphere can't reach, Cameron has lost all the real potential of the story.

I was talking about this with a woman behind the counter at the video store, and she said maybe Cameron's failure to find the ending that doesn't rely on violence to resolve the conflict is just a reflection of our society's failure to do so. I agree. Cameron couldn't dream beyond our social inadequacy. Cameron is not a leading visionary, and appears to be merely a follower who has got a little bit of interesting ideas without any real vision of his own.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A New Translation of Chapter 5 of the Platform Sutra.

I've recently completed a new translation of Chapter 5 of the Platform Sutra of the Great Master Sixth Ancestor's Dharma Treasure which gives the teaching of Dajian Huineng (638-713) who was known as the Sixth Ancestor because he was the sixth generation Dharma heir of Bodhidharma who is considered the First Ancestor in China and the 28th Ancestor in the Indian generations of Dharma heirs from the Founder Siddhartha Gotama Buddha.

Chapter 5 Sitting Meditation

The master taught the assembly and said, “In this door of sitting meditation (C. zuochan, J. zazen) it is primary to not manifest the heart-mind, primary to not manifest purity, and primary to not be nonmoving. If one says, ‘manifest the heart-mind,’ the heart-mind is primarily a fantasy; be aware the heart-mind is like an illusion because it is without a place to manifest.

“If one says, ‘manifest purity’, the root of a person’s nature is pure and the cause (of talking about purity) is from the fantasy thoughts that cover up True Suchness (Skt. Bhutatathata). However, without fantasy thoughts the nature itself is pristine. To instigate the heart-mind to manifest purity, is still to create a fantasy of purity; a fantasy without a dwelling place; and that which is manifested is a fantasy. Purity is without form and characteristics, but to establish the characteristics of purity by words is labor, and those who see this as what to do obstruct one’s root nature and still are shrouded and purity bound.

“Learned and virtuous ones, if there are those who cultivate nonmoving, yet at the time of seeing every person they do not see the person’s rights and wrongs, virtues and evils, and perfections and troubles, then their own nature is nonmoving. Learned and virtuous ones, even if a deluded person’s body is nonmoving, they open the mouth and then talk about another person’s rights and wrongs, strengths and shortcomings, and goodness and evil, and the Way is opposed and violated. If one manifests the heart-mind and manifests purity, then one obstructs the Way!”

The master taught the assembly and said, “Learned and virtuous ones. What is called sitting meditation? Within this Dharma door, it is being without barriers and without hindrances. Outwardly, when, out of every good or evil state, thoughts do not arise in the mind, this is called doing ‘sitting.’ Inwardly, to see one’s own nature and not be stirred up is called doing ‘meditation.’

"Learned and virtuous ones, what is called the samadhi of meditation? Outwardly, to be free from characteristics is doing meditation. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is doing samadhi. Outwardly, if one attaches to characteristics, inwardly, the heart-mind is immediately perturbed. Outwardly, if one is free from characteristics, the heart-mind is immediately not perturbed. The root nature by itself is pure, by itself is samadhi. Only by seeing conditions and thinking about conditions is one immediately perturbed. If someone sees various conditions and the heart-mind is not perturbed, this is real samadhi. Learned and virtuous ones, outwardly, to be free from characteristics is immediately meditation. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is immediately samadhi. Outwardly, meditation, inwardly, samadhi, this is doing the samadhi of meditation.

“The Bodhisattva Precepts Sutra says, ‘Our original own nature is pristine.’ Learned and virtuous ones, in the midst of thought after thought, by oneself see that the root nature is pristine, cultivate by oneself, practice by oneself, and by oneself accomplish the Buddha Way.”

FYI, the double negative in the first sentence, "to not be nonmoving," is in the original. This shows that even in the time of Huineng there was an ongoing debate about whether sitting meditation was about physically sitting still or something else such as the nonmoving of the dualistic propensities as Huineng points to here.

The idea transmitted here as getting "purity bound" reminds me of the Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby story where every attempt to get the Tar Baby to respond only got Brer Rabbit further bound up in the tar. Huineng is saying that trying to be pure in terms of material forms and characteristics only leads to being more and more tied up is concepts about purity instead of real purity.

Judge Sotomayor's Mistake of Law

Judge Sotomayor said many times during the hearing in various ways that judges "do not make law, congress makes the law." This is exactly what infuriates me.

If I were on the Senate Judiciary Committee here's what I imagine I would ask:

Judge Sotomayor, I have one question. If you answer it correctly I will vote for your confirmation and if you answer it incorrectly I will vote against confirming you. Here's my question: True or false? All judges in the normal conduct of their authority do make law.

The correct answer, of course, is "True." But from the statements of the Republicans on the committee and from Judge Sotomayor one would think the answer is "False" and that Judges do not make law. Contrary to what Judge Sotomayor and the Republicans would have you believe, it is basic black letter law that Courts and judges do make law.

Black's Law Dictionary tells us, "Law, in its generic sense, is a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having binding legal force. That which must be obeyed and followed by citizens subject to sanctions or legal consequences is a law." This means that congress makes laws by enacting statutes, and the judiciary makes laws by issuing decisions and rulings. In their processes of making laws, all lawmakers do interpret existing law. But it is a false dichotomy to say that judges interpret law and they do not make law and that only Congress makes law. The very purpose for which judges interpret law is so that they can make law. The interpretation of law is what judges do as part of their decision-making process that results in the law that they make. Sometimes the law that they make is only the law of the individual case. But sometimes, in an area where there is not specific statute covering the factual circumstances, the judges do make laws that all citizens must obey until Congress later passes a specific statutory law to deal with the issue.

Actually both Congress and the judiciary interpret the law as part of their law-making function. Congress interprets the Constitution and prior law when making new statutory law. For example, Congress must ask, does the Constitution allow us to make this law, and does this law conflict with other laws? And the judicial branch interprets the law when it is making new case law.

As Black's Law Dictionary informs us, "The 'law' of a state is to be found in its statutory and constitutional enactments, as interpreted by its courts, and in the absence of statute law, in rulings of its courts. The word law generally contemplates both statutory and case law."

So when Republican Senators like Graham, Sessions, and Kyl would have the American people believe that judges should not be making law, they are misleading the people. Congress makes statutory law and judges make case law. Republicans are in fact trying to usurp and overreach their law making authority by convincing the American people that there is something wrong when judges make the law. Nothing could be more inaccurate.

The problem is that ever since Marbury v. Madison, Congress has been jealous of the Court's authority to overrule Congress on constitutional grounds. Republicans are trying to undermine our system of checks and balances and the Court's authority to unmake the laws that Congress makes.

Asking which came first, statutory law or case law, is a little like asking about the proverbial chicken and egg. Statutes are created but they don't cover all areas of life and when a controversy comes to the court and there is no specific statute covering the conflict, the court makes a case law that settles the matter. That case law, depending on the level of the court, must be followed. The case law of a trial court must be followed by the parties in the case. The case law of the appellate court must be followed by all people within the jurisdiction of the appellate court, and the case law of the Supreme Court must be followed by all people in the nation.

As part of the normal checks and balances of our legal system, if the legislative branch doesn't like the case law that has been established in those situations where statutes are lacking or vague, then Congress may enact a new statute that overrules the case law with statutory law. But short of amending the Constitution, the courts have the last say when it comes to the Constitution law. So, when Congress enacts a statute based on a wrong interpretation of the Constitution, then the courts can overturn the law as unconstitutional and Congress can do nothing to change that case law except to pass an amendment to the Constitution and seek ratification by the states.

Some people may argue that when the Supreme Court issues a decision on Constitutional law that it is just interpreting the Constitution not making law. But in that case it is a distinction without a difference. For example, when the Supreme Court at one time said that "separate but equal" was constitutional, it was making that law based on its then interpretation of the Constitution. And when the Supreme Court threw out "separate but equal" is was making new law based on its then current interpretation of the Constitution. So, while the actual words of the Constitution remained exactly the same, the different interpretations actually made different judicial laws that each had to be followed during the time of their judicial enactment. Thus, a decision of the Supreme Court is seldom, if ever, just an interpretation of law but is an actual making of the case law of the land.

At her confirmation hearing, Judge Sotomayor misinformed the public by equating generic "law" with the statutes that Congress makes. The Judicial branch makes law through the decisions of the courts. Every decision of the court is lawmaking.

Many observers beside myself have noted that confirmation hearings have become a farce because the nominees avoid questions by hiding behind the two shields of "I won't answer hypothetical questions" and "I won't discuss issues that may come before the court." Nominated judges in these confirmation hearings just say whatever boring and vanilla thing will get them approved with as little controversy as possible. Phrases such as "judges interpret the law, they don't make the law" must be repeated because the Congresspeople are so jealous and childish about their role as the makers of statutory law that they can't allow it even to be said that of course judges make laws, they make the case laws.

We know that Judge Sotomayor, like Roberts and Alito before her, in order to be confirmed said as little as possible about her real feelings about the law, and like Roberts and Alito, misrepresented, obfuscated, and essentially lied to Congress about her views of the law. Defenders of the nominees say the nominee must play this role in the farce in order to be confirmed. Still, it galls me that the history and practice of jurisprudence is being so twisted and perverted by the way the word "law" is being narrowed to be a synonym of "legislative statute" and leaves out judicial decision-making as making laws.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor Aiding Republican Misinformation

It is very disturbing to me to watch and hear the Judge Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court confirmation hearings as I hear how the judicial process is being mischaracterized and the pubic is being misinformed in line with the Republican propaganda about judicial activism.

Why do Republicans want to remove empathy and personal experience from the judicial bench? Because when judges make decisions using empathy and personal experience to inform their application of the law it results in decisions like those of the Warren Court. The whole propaganca campaign of Republicans to frame the question of judicial prejudice in terms of empathy and personal experience is to disguise the Repubican prejudices in favor of those who would use the law to oppress and exploit the weaker people in our society. Unfortunately, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is aiding this Republican propaganda.

Whether it is from an abundance of caution or her own beliefs, Judge Sotomayor has joined in with Republicans to misinform the public about both how judges make law and how judges use their life experiences in deciding cases.

Judge Sotomayor has stated that she believes judges do not make law and that it is inappropriate for judges to use their experiences in deciding cases. Both these statements are wrong. Under questioning by Senator Kyl, Judge Sotomayor said,

It is very clear that I don't base my judgments on my personal experiences or my feelings or my biases.

The problematic falsehood is that she and the Republicans are equating personal experience and empathy with bias.

to be fair to Judge Sotomayer, she does give some small acknowledgement of the role of personal experience and feelings, but she does so in an overly cautious manner that gives too much credence to the Republican framing.

When asked by Senator J. Sessions (R-AL) about whether judges should allow their “prejudices” to “impact their decision-making,” Judge Sotomayor stated:

SOTOMAYOR: Never their prejudices. I was talking about the very important goal of the justice system is to ensure that the personal biases and prejudices of a judge do not influence the outcome of a case. What I was talking about was the obligation of judges to examine what they’re feeling as they’re adjudicating a case and to ensure that it’s not influencing the outcome. Life experiences have to influence you. We’re not robots to listen to evidence and not have feelings. We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside. … But there are situations in which some experiences are important in the process of judging because the law asks us to use those experiences.

SESSIONS: Well, I understand that. [...]

SOTOMAYOR: I think the system is strengthened when judges don’t presume they’re impartial, but when judges test themselves to identify when their emotions are driving a result, or their experiences are driving a result, and the law is not.

But then to the extent that she endorsed empathy and personal experience with one hand she took it away with the other hand when she said later,

“at no point or time, have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence the outcome of a case. In every case where I have identified a sympathy, I have articulated it and explained to the litigant why the law requires a different result. I do not permit my sympathies, personal views, or prejudices, to influence the outcome of my cases.”

This is just a fantasy description of judicial decision making, and reiterates her belief that sympathies and personal experiences are somehow to be equated with prejudices. They are not.

Since the days of Eal Warren, the greatest Chief Justice this nation has seen, the Republicans and conservative fringe have fought against American justice by accusing the Warren court and any subsequent liberal judge or justice of making law rather than applying law. The charge is bogus on its face. First, when deciding every case, each and every judge or justice on all sides of political persuasion is making the law of the case by applying the law of the land to the facts of the case.

Second, laws are written in abstract generalities and can only be applied to actual facts. In many cases there is no clear fact pattern that determines the resolution of the dispute according to one law or another. In those cases the judge or justice is making the law that applies and then applies it. For example, one law may say "It is illegal to do X", another law may say "It is illegal to do Y" and it may be legal to do Z. When a case comes up where someone has done W and there is no law that says whether W is legal or illegal, in this case the question of law may become "Is W more like X, Y, or Z?" In this case the judge decides whether W is illegal because like X or Y or legal because like Z. In this case, the judge is making a new law: either "W is illegal" or "W is legal.". If the case is appealed then the reviewing courts are making new law vis a vis W also, whether or not they affirm or overrule the lower court.

Third, when a new right is established by the Supreme Court it is making a law. In the Second Amendment case District of Columbia vs. Heller, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court made new law by exercising their judicial activism by establishing a new individual right to keep and bear arms for personal home defense. That law had never before been made by the Constitution or by Congress, yet the conservative justices established it. The majority did so only by erasing all meaning from a complete clause of the Constitution and improperly turning a substantive and purposive clause of the Constitution into a mere historical preface. The majority could only make their new law by turning the purposive clause into mere surplusage in a manner contrary to the long established and settled tradition of interpretation that prohibits such a construction.

Fourth, there is an entire area of law known as the Law of Equity in which the judge makes the law simply by deciding what is fair between the disputing parties. On appeal the reviewing courts affirm the law that was made on the basis of whether or not it was fair and just. In these cases, similar to the second example above, the law is made by the court by exercising its discretion in judgement even though it may be said that the court is applying established rules or guidelines for fairness. The law lets the court do one thing or another and the judge decides whether it is more fair to do this or to do that. That decision makes the law that becomes enforced in that situation.

So, the courts and judges and justices are commonly and frequently making laws and it is a disservice to the American people for Judge Sotomayor to endorse the Republican conservative propaganda that frames American jurisprudence as only applying the law and not making the law in those cases where the law is grey or silent.

The second major area in which Judge Sotomayor is doing a disservice to the American people is by retreating from her "wise Latina" observations. The Republicans have browbeat most people and have effectively taken over control of the frame work of the discussion. One notable exception is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island whose opening statement in the confirmation hearings should be required reading for all Americans interested in our system of justice. However, Judge Sotomayor has not followed the lead of Senator Whitehouse and instead has followed the lead of the Republicans and said that personal experience should not influence a judges decisions. This is a patent charade being put over on the American public. Of course every judge brings their personal experiences to the bench in their decisions and to even suggest otherwise as the Republicans do is to perpetuate a massive educational fraud.

As Senator Whitehouse observed in his opening statement, there is a definite role in the law for empathy, especially for the minority and the down trodden. We have a democracy that has the core value of majority rule, but that majority rule is only democratic if, and to the degree that, it is balanced by the respect for and upholding of minority rights. Here are some excerpts from Senator Whitehouse's opening statement:

Let me emphasize that broad discretion. As Justice Stevens has said, "the work of federal judges from the days of John Marshall to the present, like the work of the English common-law judges, sometimes requires the exercise of judgment - a faculty that inevitably calls into play notions of justice, fairness, and concern about the future impact of a decision."

It has been a truism since Marbury v. Madison that courts have the authority to "say what the law is," even to invalidate statutes enacted by the elected branches of government when they conflict with the Constitution. So the issue is not whether you have a wide field of discretion: you will. As Justice Cardozo reminds us, you are not free to act as "a knight-errant, roaming at will in pursuit of [your] own ideal of beauty or of goodness," yet, he concluded, "[w]ide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains."

The question for this hearing is: will you bring good judgment to that wide field? Will you understand, and care, how your decisions affect the lives of Americans? Will you use your broad discretion to advance the promises of liberty and justice made by the Constitution?

This last point is the one crucial to understanding why the Republicans want to erase empathy from our nation's courtrooms. When judges have no empathy they are not concerned about the affect their decisions will have on the actual lives of people. In this way Republicans would have us believe that the courts do not and should not care how their decisions affect people. This is of course obviously wrong headed and detrimental to the American way of life, yet Republicans would have people believe that empathy should not play a role because where empathy plays a role in justice, the oppressors and exploiters could not use the law to continue their oppression and exploitation.

What Republicans do not want Americans to know is that American law has built into it the common law principle that oppression and exploitation is wrong. In this regard Senator Whitehouse stated:

The Founding Fathers set up the American judiciary as a check on the excesses of the elected branches, and as a refuge when those branches are corrupted, or consumed by passing passions. Courts were designed to be our guardians against what Hamilton in the Federalist Papers called "those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people . . . and which . . . have a tendency . . . to occasion ... serious oppressions of the minor party in the community." In present circumstances, those oppressions tend to fall on the poor and voiceless. But as Hamilton noted, "[c]onsiderate men, of every description, ought to prize whatever will tend to beget or fortify that temper in the courts: as no man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of injustice, by which he may be a gainer to-day."

The courtroom can be the only sanctuary for the little guy when the forces of society are arrayed against him, when proper opinion and elected officialdom will lend him no ear. This is a correct, fitting, and intended function of the judiciary in our constitutional structure, and the empathy President Obama saw in you has a constitutionally proper place in that structure. If everyone on the Court always voted for the prosecution against the defendant, for the corporation against the plaintiffs, and for the government against the condemned, a vital spark of American democracy would be extinguished. A courtroom is supposed to be a place where the status quo can be disrupted, even upended, when the Constitution or laws may require; where the comfortable can sometimes be afflicted and the afflicted find some comfort, all under the stern shelter of the law. It is worth remembering that judges of the United States have shown great courage over the years, courage verging on heroism, in providing that sanctuary of careful attention, what James Bryce called "the cool dry atmosphere of judicial determination," amidst the inflamed passions or invested powers of the day.

Chief Justice Earl Warren said something similar in his memoirs when discussing why some decisions of the Supreme Court are controversial:

"I venture to express the hope that the Court's decisions always will be controversial, because it is human nature for the dominant group in a nation to keep pressing for further domination, and unless the Court has the fiber to accord justice to the weakest member of society, regardless of the pressure brought upon it, we never can achieve our goal of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' for everyone."
From: The Memoirs of Earl Warren (1977) page 335

Justice Warren also said in his Memoirs,
"I am certain that my lifetime experiences, even some of the earliest ones, have had an effect on the decisions I have rendered...."

One must ask why is this so frightening to Republicans? This basic question is not asked and Judge Sotomayor is not asking it, much less answering it. Isn't it abundantly clear that the kind of decision making by the Warren Court that opened up a new era to make "justice for all" a more nearly actual reality goes hand in hand with empathy and experience being used in judicial decision making? By removing empathy and experience from judicial decision making the Republicans hope to return the courts to the side of the oppressors and exploiters, and by all measurements they are succeeding.

In the same manner that Republicans in Congress are turning back the clock on the New Deal, Senator Whitehouse reminded us in his opening statement how the Republicans on the Supreme Court have used their judicial activism to turn back the clock on the Warren Court:

The "umpire" analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an "umpire" during his confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Toobin, a well-respected legal commentator, has recently reported that "[i]n every major case since he became the nation's seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." Some umpire. And is it a coincidence that this pattern, to continue Toobin's quote, "has served the interests, and reflected the values of the contemporary Republican party"? Some coincidence.

Please do not be fooled by this educational fraud being perpetrated on the American people by Republicans. A court without empathy is not a fair and unprejudiced court, rather it is a court extremely prejudiced in favor of "the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." That most certainly is not unbiased law based on keeping empathy and personal experience out of decision making.

The very sad fact of the current state of affairs in our nation is that the best nominee the Democrats can come up with for the Supreme Court is a centrist judge without a liberal or progressive track record who seems to buy into the Republican fraud that empathy and personal experience do not belong on the judicial bench.

One can only hope and dream that when she is placed on the Supreme Court that the freedom of her position will open her eyes in the manner of an Earl Warren to see that empathy and experience do definitely have a place in her decisions making.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Samadhi and Prajna

Here's my translation of the opening section of Chapter 4 of the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor Huineng.

Platform Sutra

Chapter 4 Samadhi and Prajna

The master instructed the assembly and said, "Learned and virtuous ones, In this Dharma door of ours samadhi and prajna are considered to be the root. Great assembly, do not be confused. The words “samadhi” and “prajna” are different, but samadhi and prajna are one substance and are not two. Samadhi is the substance of prajna; prajna is the function of samadhi. Immediately at the time of prajna, samadhi is in prajna. Immediately at the time of samadhi, prajna is in samadhi. If one knows this meaning, then samadhi and prajna are equally learned. You various people who study the Way, do not say, 'First samadhi, then comes prajna,' or 'First prajna, then comes samadhi,' to separate them. Those with this view make the Dharma have the characteristic of duality.

"When the mouth speaks virtuous words but the heart-mind is not virtuous, in vain does one have samadhi and prajna, and samadhi and prajna are not equal. If the heart-mind and mouth are virtuous together, then the inner and outer are one thusness, and samadhi and prajna then are equal. When awakening for oneself and cultivating practice, do not be involved in disputes. If one disputes before or after, then one is the same as a deluded person who does not cut off winning and losing, still enlarging the Dharma of “I” and not separating from the four characteristics."


I translated this section in response to a discussion about samatha and vipassana in which I was pointing out that in the Zen view as expressed by Huineng, samatha and vipassana, like samadhi and prajna, cannot be separated. Several people challenged this view of the identity of samatha with samadhi and vipassana with prajna so I presented the following to show that I'm not a nutcase just making these things up.

Here's my post on this issue.


So what is the connection between samatha-vipassana and samadhi-prajna? Are they two different things or the same thing from two orientations or perspectives?

Samatha and samadhi refer to the same thing in the way that cattle and beef refer to the same thing. Though they are two different words, cattle is beef on the hoof, and beef is cattle on the plate. In the same way, though they are two different words, samatha is the method or process of samadhi, and samadhi is the realization, actualization or state of mind (or state of being) of samatha. Samatha-vipassana are the methodological terms and samadhi-prajna are the ontological terms of the same Dharma thing.

Samatha means “stopping” or “calming” and is used in the sense that the waves of the ocean are stopped or calmed when the sea becomes placid. What is stopped and calmed in the method or process of samatha are the delusions of the waves of dualistic thinking and differentiation in the ocean of the Alayavijnana, i.e. one’s own nature or mind. Samadhi may be appropriately translated as “absorption” or “concentration” in the sense that waves are absorbed or concentrated and is a total or complete occupation of mind without the disturbance of oppositions or dualistic thinking. The state of mind called samadhi is the absorption or concentration of mind that ocures when the waves of dualistic thinking have been stopped or calmed, i.e., in samatha.

In "A Honed and Heavy Ax, Samatha and Vpassana in Harmony" Ajahn Chandako says, "Before proceeding further it may be helpful to clarify some terms. Samatha is virtually synonymous with samadhi: peaceful, focused attention or concentration."

The same holds for the two words vipassana and prajna, which though they are two different words refer to the same "thing" from different perspectives, i.e., vipassana from the methodological and prajna from the ontological perspectives.

In the history of Buddhism, when the focus was on the methodology the discussion tended to discuss samatha and vipassana and when the focus was on the state of being or mind, then the discussion focused on samadhi and prajna. The Pali Suttas preferred the terms samatha and vipassana to discuss meditation practice because they focused on method. In the Mahayana Sutras, compared to the frequent use of the terms samadhi and prajna, it is rare to find the terms samatha and vipassana used. This is because of the perspective of the Mahayana focusing on the realization or state of being rather than on the meditation techniques of samatha and vipassana. This distinction in the orientation of discussion is something that distinguishes the Mahayana from the Theravada and leads to some difficulty in discussions when people from one of the two traditions don’t acknowledge the different perspective or orientation of the other.

In China, both Buddhist traditions of the Early Schools and the Mahayana were imported and it is very interesting to see how the great synthesizer Zhiyi (W-G, Chih-i) brought them together in the Tiantai school analysis. Though he was a committed Mahayanist and placed supreme importance on the Lotus Sutra, Zhiyi was also entirely committed to the samatha-vipassana (zhi-guan) meditation as taught in the Agamas (the Sanskrit version of the Pali Suttas). One of Zhiyi’s most famous works, mostly known in the West by the Wade-Giles romanization of the title “Mo-ho Chih-kuan” (Mo-ho is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskit Maha meaning great), is dedicated to teaching zhiguan (chih-kuan) mediation. Zhiyi emphasized that meditation was essential to the practice of Buddhism and that sutra study alone makes a dead-letter Buddhism, but also vice versa, meditation without Buddhist study was also one sided. Zhiyi’s great vision recognized samatha-vipassana as the core of Buddhist meditation and he presented his comprehensive view in this opus on meditation.

For those who may imagine that I make up such things as the correlation of samatha-vipassana and samadhi-prajna, here’s an excerpt from a paper by Professor Daniel B. Stevenson, a scholar and translator of Zhiyi, from the University of Kansas that was presented as part of the education program of the Ch'an Meditation Center, Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture.

Selections from Chi-i's Great Calming and Contemplation

The selections that follow are taken from the Mo-ho chih-kuan or "Great Calming and Contemplation," a massive treatise on meditation edited by Kuan-ting from lectures of the T'ien-t'ai patriarch Chih-i (538-597). The Mo-ho chih-kuan is revered along with the Fa-hua wen-chu ("Words and Phrases of the Lotus Satra") and Fa-hua hsuan-i ("The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra") as one of the "three great treatises of T'ien-t'ai." However, where the latter two treatises are mainly explanatory or analytic works concerned with articulating the doctrinal implications of the Lotus Sutra, the Great Calming and Contemplation is a work of meditation. This affiliation is indicated by the use of the terms "calming" (chih) and "contemplation" (kuan) in its title. Chih and kuan are the Chinese equivalent of the Sanskrit samatha and vipasyana -- the two key terms around which Indian Buddhists traditionally organized the diverse techniques for cultivating meditative concentration (samadhi) and liberative wisdom (prajna).

Here’s the table from a Tiantai website showing the relation between samatha-vipassana and samadhi-prajna in a table desciption of the title of the “Mo-ho Chih-Kuan”

The Meaning of the Title:
Chinese---Japanese---Sanskrit----Meaning---Resulting in:
Mo-Ho---Maka------Maha-------Great-----The Great Vehicle
Chih------Shi--------Samatha-----Calm,---- Samadhi; Meditation,
.....................................................................Serenity, ............Singleness of Mind,
.....................................................................Inner Silence.......Mental Concentration
Kuan-----Kan-------Vipasyana--Observation-- Prajna;
......................................................................of the Mind,........Spiritual Insight,
......................................................................Contemplation.....Illumination of
............................................................................................the Spiritual Realm

Again, in a synthesis of the Early Schools and Mahayana, Zhiyi taught that there were three kinds of zhiguan (samatha-vipassana) (1) the gradual and sequential, (2) the variable, and (3) the perfect and sudden. The “perfect and sudden zhiguan” is in fact chan (zen) meditation. or chan/zen samadhi-prajna as taught by Huineng. Here’s the description of the perfect and sudden zhiguan from Kuan-ting's introduction to the Mo-ho Chih-kuan :

The perfect and sudden calming and contemplation from the very beginning takes ultimate reality (shih-hsiang) as its object. No matter what the object of contemplation might be, it is seen to be identical to the middle. There is here nothing that is not true reality (chen-shih). When one fixes [the mind] on the dharmadhatu [as object] and unifies one's mindfulness with the dharmadhatu [as it is], then there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the middle way. The same goes for the realm of self, the realm of Buddha, and the realm of living beings. Since all aggregates (skandha) and sense-acceses (ayatana) [of body and mind] are thusness, there is no suffering to be cast away. Since nescience and the afflictions are themselves identical with enlightenment (bodhi), there is no origin of suffering to be eradicated. Since the two extreme views are the middle way and false views are the right view, there is no path to be cultivated. Since samsara is identical with nirvana, there is no cessation to be achieved. Because of the [intrinsic] inexistence of suffering and its origin, the mundane does not exist; because of the inexistence of the path and cessation, the supramundane does not exist. A single, unalloyed reality (shih-hsiang) is all there is--no entities whatever exist outside of it. That all entities are by nature quiescent (chi) is called "calming" (chih); that, though quiescent, this nature is ever luminous (chao), is called "contemplation" (kuan). Though a verbal distinction is made between earlier and later stages of practice, there is ultimately no duality, no distinction between them. This is what is called the "perfect and sudden calming and contemplation." [Footnote references removed.]

At some point in Buddhist history samatha and vipassana began to be taught as separate paths or vehicles (yanas). Even today for example, one can find practitioners of Vipassana in the USA who have no idea what samatha is about and who would say that they leaned vipassana without ever being taught samatha. Huineng’s teaching on the identity of samadhi and prajna is given in this context of a mistaken Dharma that would separate samatha from vipassana or samadhi from prajna and create a dualistic view of Dharma.

Here’s an example from a modern day Dharma talk titled Benefits of Meditation by the Zen teacher Ven. Jian-Hu, given on January 5, 2002 during the Zen-Seven Day Retreat at Buddha Gate Monastery discussing the relationship of samatha and samadhi and vipassana and wisdom (prajna).

What is the purpose of meditation? How do you practice meditation? What are the different types of meditation? There are many different types of meditation but they all fall into two categories. One is to concentrate the mind, to make your mind still, calm, and focused. The other is to make the mind observant and able to contemplate clearly. Sometimes the terms samatha and vipassana are used. Samatha means to calm, to still, to focus, or to stop the mind. Vipassana means to perceive, to reflect, or to contemplate. Vipassana has also been translated as “insight”. These are the two general types of meditation. Both are important.

While you are practicing the breath counting method, you are focusing on the breath and nothing else. That is samatha or concentration. Your mind never leaves the breath. Every number that you count, you are counting it single-mindedly. When you are counting the numbers your mind should be very clear; for every number that you bring forth from your mind (1, 2, 3, etc), you should put your full attention on it. When you are counting the numbers clearly without getting mixed up, that is vipassana. What is the benefit of samatha practice? Practicing samatha results in samadhi, a state of deep concentration. What is the benefit of practicing vipassana—perception, reflection, or contemplation? It is wisdom. Wisdom is a result of practicing vipassana.

We should understand that depending on what we are contemplating, we might obtain either secular wisdom or prajña wisdom. So everything we do in life, the skills we’ve learned and the knowledge we’ve acquired, those come from keen observation or insight. Being able to observe the principle, to understand the principles, to see phenomena clearly, that is vipassana. To observe or perceive clearly or correctly brings us wisdom. However, if we reflect on our mind, we turn our attention inward. That kind of observation, reflection and contemplation can bring us prajña. Prajña is the kind of wisdom that can cut through all the delusions we have, that can even help us to understand and transcend life and death. So it is important to know what you do during sitting meditation.

Ven. Jian-Hu clearly and exactly echos Huineng when he says,

Finally, we should realize that samatha and vipassana are one and not two. While being mindful of the breathing, the fact that your mind or attention doesn’t stray, that is called samatha. The fact that you can observe clearly and carefully very minute details of the breathing, that is vipassana. As a result, you will achieve samadhi, wisdom [i.e., prajna], and the four benefits of meditation. You need to have faith in the teaching, in the Dharma, and in yourself. Even in these seven days, you can do it. [Italics and brackets are inserted]

I hope that it will be clear from these various references to Theravada, Tiantai, and Zen traditions that samatha-vipassana and samadhi-prajna are indeed referring to the same thing, i.e., the processes of mind and meditation, and that the only significant difference is in the two points of view that may be characterized as the two perspectives of methodology and ontology.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Baked Alaska for Brains

Sarah Palin has done it again and given us a totally bizarre and incoherent surprise announcement that she is resigning the office of Governor of Alaska two and a half years into a four-year first term.

Ms. Palin stated she is resigning because she is a lame duck, saying, "That's what's wrong. Many just accept that lame duck status and they hit the road, they draw a pay check, they kinda milk it, and I'm not gonna put Alaskans through that." Let' look at this closely.

First of all, Ms. Palin is not a lame duck, so her entire justification for her resignation is false. A lame duck is an elected official who is nearing the end of a term in an office in which they can not be reelected, that is in her case, she would not be a lame duck until the last year of her second term because of term limits or in the end of her first term after she lost reelection. She is apparently so ignorant that she has given a justification for her departure that is patently false and doesn't even know it.

Second, even if she were a lame duck, it is painfully obvious that when a person is elected to an office that the person is making a promise to the people who elected her that she will serve the entire term of office. Basically, she has lied to the people of Alaska, either by promising to serve a full term as Governor or by giving this phony excuse for quitting.

Third, following her rationalization and example, President George W. Bush should have resigned in July of 2007 because he was just a lame duck and was only hanging around milking the taxpayers for his pay check. The woman makes absolutely no sense and it is a marvel that the news medial still seem to take her seriously.

Fourth, she says she doesn't want to put Alaskans through the turmoil of having a lame duck Governor. Doesn't she know that every single elected office in the nation, including every Alaskan governor before her, ends with some length of lame duck service? Who does she think she is that she sees herself as not having to complete her full term through the final lame duck period like every other elected official. (And remember she wasn't actually a lame duck even though she delusionally believed she was) What she is now putting Alaskans through is the turmoil of having the Governor resign, and the Lieutenant Governor becoming the new Governor with a year and a half before the term is expired. Certainly some Alaskans are celebrating this turn of events and see her resignation as a welcome relief of the day to day turmoil that her Governorship brought, however, that is not what she is saying. She would have people believe that she is sparing them the issues that surround a lame duck governor when she is not in fact a lame duck, and even if she were, she would only be doing the exact same thing that every other elected official does: complete their term with honor and doing the job until the last day.

Fifth, if in fact she were a lame duck as she claims, and of course she is not, it would be up to her, and only her, whether or not she was "milking" the job or doing the work. There is no state law that says a lame duck elected official should not work. In fact, when an elected official, especially an executive like a president or governor, has lame duck status they are then free to act without the usual restraints of worrying about reelection and can act more independently and freely. Ms. Palin would have the people of Alaska believe that if she were a lame duck there would be nothing for he to do for the next year and a half to govern Alaska and that her only option is to leave or milk the office for her pay check. Her justification for leaving attempts to shift the blame from her shoulders onto the structure of government and attempts to make the Alaskan people into patsies who would believe that she is some how doing them a favor by relieving them from an inescapable position. None of it makes the least bit of sense.

With this announcement Sarah Palin has completely revealed that she is incapable of logical thinking or knowing the most basic of political facts such as the definition of lame duck. The lameness that she is now thankfully protecting the people of Alaska from is not that of a lame duck but that of a lame brain.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A gatha on mind.

At Zen Forum International, someone posted the following verse:

Practise is observing your mind again and again,
not interpreting phenomenal appearances,
for whatever appears is mind itself.

I responded:
I see it a little differently. Here's my gatha:

In my practice, again and again I fail to find a mind to observe,
and I am frequently interpreting phenomenal appearances;
for whatever appears is the discrimination of mind,
not mind itself.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran, the Mirror of America.

My conclusion of the recent Iranian election is that it shows that the health and progress of Iranian democracy is on a par with USA democracy.

Beyond the foolishness of the fantasy of CIA involvement or the wishful thinking that the Iranian people are in the streets supporting some kind of "Islamic green revolution," the truth is that the Iranian people are demonstrating on their own behalf, not for revolution but for something much more basic to human society, and that is, the people primarily want honesty from their government leaders.

The Iranian Constitution is a document with democratic checks and balances that does allow for somewhat reasonably free elections. The demonstrators are not asking for a revolution or any other kind of fundamental change to the Constitution; they are asking that their Constitution be upheld and enforced. However, to the extent (1) that the Supreme Leader doesn't honestly exercise his role as a check and balance to the system, (2) that the Guardian Council doesn't exercise its role as a check and balance over the election process, and (3) that the Council of Experts doesn't exercise its role as a check and balance on the Supreme Leader, then these three bodies may by their failure to function effectively in the support of Iranian democracy then steer the people exactly in the direction of Constitutional change.

The election was patently fraudulent. The case itemizing the fraud doesn't need to be restated in depth. From the beginning when the results were announced within without any attempt to even pretend to give enough time to count the votes, from the way the counting process was changed to prevent the routine and legal observations, from the stuffing of ballot boxes up to 140% of the registered voters, etc. it is clear that the election result was a sham. By supporting the result with illogical argument and violent repression of the demonstrations, the Supreme Leader has shown that he is no better, and fundamentally no different than, the Shah when it comes to upholding the democratic principles of the Iranian Constitution. There are two bodies, the Guardian Council and the Council of Experts, that could provide checks and balances to the Supreme Leader's bias for the fraud, but they have so fa refused to act.

Now, let's be clear. The current situation is no better or worse than the situation in the USA in the elections of 2000 and 2004 which were both fraudulently stolen (albeit with more finesse) by George Bush. It does us no good to be on a high horse and look down on the people of Iran for having to live with a failure of their democracy. At least the people of Iran were demonstrating in the streets in large numbers. The people of the USA live with the failure of our democracy far more meekly by comparison. Our system of checks and balances failed and no one called for constitutional reform.

We have a system of Congressional legislation, Judicial review, and Presidential executive execution of the laws in which the Congress, the Justice system, and the Presidency are controlled by corporate elites every bit as much as the Iranian system is controlled by Islamic elites. We have a majority of the population that supports universal health care whether by a "public option" or by a Medicare-for-all (single payer) plan, yet neither the Congress nor the President has fought for what the public wants in the health care debate.

The people of the USA want the Clean Air act to be strengthened yet the Congress has just passed a phony clean energy bill that sells out to coal and nuclear energy and reduces the power of the Clean Air act. This is no fluke, it is the systemic failure of USA democracy that is accepted meekly by the majority of the public whose very preferences are ignored.

President Obama received his highest levels of campaign support from Wall Street interests, so is it any wonder that in the first six months of office that Obama has rewarded those same Wall Street interests with payoffs greater than any previous such looting of the US treasury in our history, all the while virtually ignoring the plight of the individual homeowners?

What we in the USA have in solidarity with out fellow humans in Iran is that we want honesty from our system of democracy. What we share in our systems is a fundamental lack of honesty by those people elected and appointed to run the system. I wish that we in the USA had the motivation to march in the streets in the numbers that they did in Iran to protest that lack of honesty. And if we did, I have no doubts that we would see the violence of the USA elites come out against the protesters every bit as much as it has in Iran, just has it has come out against the USA protesters at the Democratic and Republican Party conventions every year.

The bottom line is that we in the USA are in no position to brag that our democracy is any more vibrant or successful than the Iranian democracy, and when we look at the protests in Iran we can share in the dream of an honest upholding of the Constitution both in Iran and here as well.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's more complicated than that.

This is a response to the essay "Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World" (reproduced below) which I received as a Portside selected story.

The materialist fantacizing by Michael Shermer would merely be humurous if it weren't so sad. The dehumanizing aspects of the materialist frame of cognitive neuroscience are overlooked to our detriment. When looked at closely, both are true: the emperor has no clothes and Mr. Shermer has not explained "why" people believe in visible agents that control the world.

Patternicity is not as Shermer says just "the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise." First, that statement assumes a one-sided position that the "noise" of the universe--that is, the entire soup of energy, both the seen and unseen energy emitted from the sun and bouncing off the energy fields we call matter, the atmospheric waves washing into our ear canals, and the energy collisions of our own material field with other fields, i.e., all of that in which we swim-- is "meaningless." The materialist view is based on the posited assumption, the presumption, that "out there" the noise is meaningless and "in here" the patterns imagine meaning.

But that division of reality into "meaninful patterns" on the one hand and "meaningless noise" on the other is already far far down the trail of pattern recognition. When that conjunction is conceived as unbridgable across a materialist divide it is an example of what I call "schizopolarity": the division of reality into unreconcilible opposites. Here the opposites of "meaningful and meaningless" on the one hand and "pattern and noise" on the other hand become associated in a fixed pattern and that fixation of those two patterns in a relationship that associates the two poles, i.e., meaningfulness and patternicity on the one hand and meaninglessness and noise on the other, become materialized into a belief system of neuroscience every bit as "invisible" as any supernatural agent.

Second, patternicity is not just a "human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise" it is the tendency of the universe to form itself into patterns. Patternicity is absolutely fundamental to human conscoiusness. There is no feeling, sensation, perception, thought, memory, or consciousness without the patternicity of the universe: whether it is expressed in the patterns of the solar systtem, in the patterns of a watermelon sliced in half, or the patterns in our own imaginings of agenticity. The assertion that noise is meaningless and patterns are only "found" in human imagination is an assertion of faith. It is equally valid to assert that patterns emerge with the essence of noise and are not dependent on "human tendencies" at all.

It is actually the illusions of "agenticity" applied to patternicity that creates the hubris of the cognitive neuroscientist to assume that patternicity is only a human tendency and not a fundamental tendency of the universe. The very pattern inherent in the conception voiced by Shermer that "we make two types of errors:" a type I error and a type II error, is itself a type III error, that is, schizopolarity, the division of the world of our experience into irreconcilable dualities. It is this type III error that is the supporting framework upholding the litealization of "agenticity"--whether the "agent" is perceived in the projective transference of agenticity envisioned as an intelligent designer or negatively perceived in the crypto-agenticity in the cognitive neuroscientist's denial of intelligent design. Between the two extremes of imagining that there must be a God as an intelligent designer or, if not that, then, only a random meaningless universe, there is the reconciliation of the universe as an inteligent design without any need for a "designer" to exist behind the scenes.

When we can see the inherent intelligent design of the universe, without either the childish reliance on the parental imagination of the agenticity of a designer or the faux-mature nihilistic trappings of the denial of the inherent design itself, then we are closest to the patternicity of our own humanity.

Gregory Wonderwheel, M.A.

Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

A Skeptic's take on souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens and other invisible powers that be

By Michael Shermer
From the June 2009 Scientific American Magazine

Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspirators, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Why?

The answer has two parts, starting with the concept of "patternicity," which I defined in my December 2008 column as the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey animals and hungry predators was central to the survival of Paleolithic hominids.

The problem is that we did not evolve a baloney-detection device in our brains to discriminate between true and false patterns. So we make two types of errors: a type I error, or false positive, is believing a pattern is real when it is not; a type II error, or false negative, is not believing a pattern is real when it is. If you believe that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is just the wind (a type I error), you are more likely to survive than if you believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind when it is a dangerous predator (a type II error). Because the cost of making a type I error is less than the cost of making a type II error and because there is no time for careful deliberation between patternicities in the split-second world of predator-prey interactions, natural selection would have favored those animals most likely to assume that all patterns are real.

But we do something other animals do not do. As large-brained hominids with a developed cortex and a theory of mind--the capacity to be aware of such mental states as desires and intentions in both ourselves and others--we infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a practice I call "agenticity": the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.

Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent who created life from the top down. Aliens are often portrayed as powerful beings coming down from on high to warn us of our impending self-destruction. Conspiracy theories predictably include hidden agents at work behind the scenes, puppet masters pulling political and economic strings as we dance to the tune of the Bilderbergers, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers or the Illuminati. Even the belief that government can impose top-down measures to rescue the economy is a form of agenticity, with President Barack Obama being touted as "the one" with almost messianic powers who will save us.

There is now substantial evidence from cognitive neuroscience that humans readily find patterns and impart agency to them, well documented in the new book SuperSense (HarperOne, 2009) by University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood. Examples: children believe that the sun can think and follows them around; because of such beliefs, they often add smiley faces on sketched suns. Adults typically refuse to wear a mass murderer's sweater, believing that "evil" is a supernatural force that imparts its negative agency to the wearer (and, alternatively, that donning Mr. Rogers's cardigan will make you a better person). A third of transplant patients believe that the donor's personality is transplanted with the organ. Genital-shaped foods (bananas, oysters) are often believed to enhance sexual potency. Subjects watching geometric shapes with eye spots interacting on a computer screen conclude that they represent agents with moral intentions.

"Many highly educated and intelligent individuals experience a powerful sense that there are patterns, forces, energies and entities operating in the world," Hood explains. "More important, such experiences are not substantiated by a body of reliable evidence, which is why they are supernatural and unscientific. The inclination or sense that they may be real is our supersense."

We are natural-born supernaturalists.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy International Conscientious Objectors Day!

May 15 is International Conscientious Objectors Day, so happy CO Day to one and all.

On this day, may we all remember the pain and suffering caused by war, and especially for us in the United States of American Brand of facism, may we remember those who are hurt, injured, and dying caused by American-made weapons.

May all beings be happy and well.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Great Pattern of the Dharma

Seeing patterns is what the word Dharma means. I have always thought that
it was a bit of a mistake to interpret Dharma as "the Law" rather than "the
Pattern" because people in the West will think Buddha's Law is like God's
Law, something decreed rather than something recognized. Dharma means the
Law in the sense of the Laws of Nature or the Laws of Physics, not the laws
of society or laws handed down by a parental god figure. And the laws of
nature and physics are the determination of patterns of regularity, or lack

The Buddha Dharma is the pattern recognition regarding human awakening. The
Dharma is the body of the Laws of Consciousness and of how the
discrimination of mind creates the variegated patterns of illusion and
delusion and how the suffering created by the illusions and delusions may be
overcome by the freedom of seeing how the patterns of daily life are
manifesting the Great Pattern of the Laws of Consciousness.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Case of Mistaken (Fish) Identity

Sansheng's Golden Fish Scales

Raised: Sansheng asked Xuefeng, "[If] the golden fish scales that pass through the net are not investigated. [then] what is used for food?"
Feng said, "Wait until you come out of the net, then [I'll] speak to you."
Sheng said, "A learned and virtuous one of fifteen hundred people and [you] still don't know the 'head of the word' (huatou)."
Feng said, "[I'm] an old monk in residence managing numerous affairs."


The Zen koan "Sansheng's Golden Fish Scales" is included as Case 49 of the Blue Cliff Record (碧巖錄, Biyan Lu, J. Hekiganroku) and Case 33 of The Record of the Serene (從容錄, Congrong Lu, J. Shoyoroku). Unfortunately, the translations that I have come across by the Cleary brothers, Thomas and James C., (in their The Blue Cliff Record), Thomas Cleary alone (in his The Book of Serenity) and the Sanbo Kyodan lineage (on the internet at and ) leave out the important set up to the koan's gambit: that Sansheng is asking about huatou practice. All three translations state erroneously that Sansheng is asserting that the fish has come through the net, and all three leave out the reference by Sansheng in his response to the huatou.

The word huatou (話頭, J. wato) literally means "the head (頭) of the word (話).". The word "head" is used in the sense of the headwaters of a river and so it means "the source of language" itself. Zen Master Yuanwu is the commentator of The Blue Cliff Record and the huatou, method was widely popularized by his dharma heir Dahui Zonggao. In fact because of the great success of his popularizing efforts some people have mistakenly believed that Dahui actually created the huatou method. This koan is a demonstration that huatou comes directly through Linji as Sansheng is one of Linji's great dharma heirs.

What is a huatou? The koan presents a story in words. The story embodies some kind of dilemma of duality. The zen of meditation is to turn around (Skt. pravritti, as found in the Lankavatara Sutra) the flow or light of the ideation that results in duality to be aware of the source of the ideas themselves. The huatou is the kernel or pivot point of the koan upon which the focused attention can effect this "turn around" to see the source of the words.

The most famous huatou of all is in the koan Zhaozhou's "No." (Ch. "Wu", J. "Mu"). Other well known huatou center around the word "Who" such as "Who is repeating the Buddha's name?", "Who hears?" and "Who is dragging this corpse around?" Every genuine koan has its huatou that turns the attention around to point directly to the source of mind.

In Zhaoahou's famous koan, a monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does the puppy dog have Buddha Nature?" Zhou said, "No.". The mind naturally tries to reason this out by thinking about the concepts of Buddha Nature, which living beings have or do not have Buddha Nature, etc. Zhaozhou's reply is contrary to the usually held concept that all beings have Buddha Nature so another duality arises in the mind about why does he say "No"? The huatou method is to focus attention directly on the word "No" within the frame of the inquiry of what is the "head of this word"? "What is 'No'?" means what is the source of the very idea of "No"?

The Sixth Ancestor of Zen, Huineng, stated this question in the following way. "True Suchness, as it is, is the essence of thought. Thought, as it is, is the function of True Suchness." The huatou method is to focus directly on the essence or source of thought itself without being attached to the thought. As the Great Chinese Zen master Xuyun, whose life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, said, "Hua is actually a wandering thought. You're actually talking to yourself. Before the wandering thoughts arise, one must illuminate on them. Look to see just what is the original face? This is called looking at Huatou." ( )

Discussing the huatou in the sentence "Who is repeating the Buddha's name?", Xuyun also said, "Before this sentence is uttered, it is called a hua t'ou (lit. sentence's head). As soon as it is uttered, it becomes the sentence's tail (hua wei).." ( ) The usual practice is to begin investigating a huatou by mentally uttering simple rote repetition of the huatou word or phrase. This is looking at the tail of the word not the head, but it is quite natural to begin this way. The investigation of the huatou can be said to begin with the attention going "behind" or "before" the repeated word and seeing that thoughts arise in the context of thoughtlessness as sound arises in the context of silence. The attention turns away from the word by jumping off the rote repetition to look at the question of how does the word or thought itself arise from within the context of thoughtlessness? This becomes looking directly at True Suchness or Original Face. Xuyun says, "Our minute examination should be turned inward and this is also called 'the turning inward of the hearing to hear the self-nature.'"

The fish in Sansheng's koan is none other than one's own True Suchness, Original Face, Self-nature, etc.. Sansheng's opening line says, "I don't study the golden fish scales that pass through the net." (透網金鱗未審, lit.: pass through-net-golden-fish scales-don't-study) Sansheng is saying that in his huatou practice he is not studying the words or thoughts that have already arisen in the mind, i.e., the golden fish scales that have passed through the net of the differentiating thought processes. The translations that state this sentence as "The golden fish that's passed through the net" (Cleary) or "When a fish with golden scales has passed through the net" (Sanbo Kyodan) miss this point entirely. The phrase that they translate as "golden fish" is 金鱗 and 鱗 means "fish scales" not fish. Cleary ignores this altogether and translates "fish scales" as "fish". The Sanbo Kyodan translation includes the reference to the "scales" but it inserts "fish" to make "fish with golden scales" as if it is necessarily implied.

But Sansheng is neither asserting nor implying the fish has passed through the net, he is saying the fish's golden scales, i.e., thoughts, pass through the net and he knows that these are not the subject or object of huatou practice. Sansheng's next question is the serve to Xuefeng asking how then does one do huatou practice if thought is not studied? It must be assumed that Sansheng as a Zen master in his own right has his own answer to this question and that he is putting himself in the position or role of a senior student to ask his question for the Zen drama. When teaching the huatou method Zen teachers commonly say things like, "Chew on the huatou like a dog who won't give up a bone." Sansheng's question, "[If] one doesn't study the golden fish scales that pass through the net, [then] what is used for food?" has the double entendre of asking "what is there for the meditator to chew on if one is not examining thoughts or ideas (i.e., the golden fish scales)?" and also "what does the fish (True Suchness, Original Face, etc.) itself have for food if there is no source beyond it?" (which in the theistic context is like asking "if God is the creator, who creates God?").

Xuefeng's response "Wait until you come out of the net, then I'll speak to you." has several levels of nuance. First, on the surface, it simply takes the question at its face value, and Xuefeng takes the role of the teacher saying he won't give an answer to the student because the student must find it on his own. But also Xuefeng is saying to Sansheng, "I'll wait until you stop playing games trying to catch me in your net before I talk with you." And thirdly, Xuefeng is acknowledging that Sansheng himself is the fish and when he shows himself in a straightforward manner then they can talk as equals.

Xuefeng's response is a returning challenge to Sansheng pointing out the duality of the "net" and asking, "Which side of the net are you on?" The "net" in question is known in Buddhist psychology as the Seventh Consciousness. When the undifferentiated awareness of True Suchness of the eighth consciousness passes through the seventh consciousness it is differentiated into self and environment, subject and objects. Here is how Xuyun described this process in reference to the use of the huatou:

Each of us has a mind which is the eighth consciousness (vijnana), as well as the seventh, sixth and the first five consciousnesses. The first five are the five thieves of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. The sixth consciousness is the thief of mind (manas). The seventh is the deceptive consciousness (klista-mano-vijnana) which from morning to evening grasps the eighth consciousness' "subject" and mistakes it for an "ego". It incites the sixth to lead the first five consciousnesses to seek external objects (such as) form, sound, smell, taste and touch. Being constantly deceived and tied the eighth consciousness-mind is held in bondage without being able to free itself. For this reason we are obliged to have recourse to this hua t'ou and use its "Vajra King's Precious Sword" to kill all these thieves so that the eighth consciousness can be transmuted into the Great Mirror Wisdom, the seventh into the Wisdom of Equality, the sixth into the Profound Observing Wisdom and the first five consciousnesses into the Perfecting Wisdom. It is of paramount importance first to transmute the sixth and seventh consciousnesses, for they play the leading role and because of their power in discriminating and discerning. While you were seeing the voidness and the brightness and composing poems and gathas, these two consciousnesses performed their (evil) functions. Today, we should use this hua t'ou to transmute the discriminating consciousness into the Profound Observing Wisdom and the mind which differentiates between ego and personality into the Wisdom of Equality. (Ibid.)

Xuefeng's response is asking Sansheng whether he has actually transmuted the seventh consciousness or is he still holding onto and held by the net's function of discrimination?

Sansheng in order to meet Xuefeng face to face, needs to push the discussion beyond this question of the duality of which side of the net one is on. Sansheng says, "Fifteen hundred learned and virtuous people [in the assembly] and you still don't know the 'head of the word' (huatou)." Sanshang thus turns the question directly back onto Xuefeng implying "I am out the net, are you?" Sansheng's response stands as if saying that if he wasn't already out of the net then he couldn't have asked the first question as he did. On the surface he is challenging Xuefeng to the very last drop of duality saying, in effect, "You are in the teacher role here, so I asked you to say something about the huatou with my first question, and yet you, the teacher of 1,500 worthy people, refuse to reveal the huatou plainly. So does that mean you do not know the huatou, that is, the source of the mind?" Here the two Zen masters are meeting face to face and their eyebrows become entangled since already within the deeper meaning of Sansheng's response is his acknowledgment that neither he nor Xuefeng can actually say anything about the huatou as an object without becoming entangled in the net. Sansheng's saying "You still don't know the huatou" is a two-edged sword: on one edge is the upside down Zen praise of Sansheng for Xuefeng who did not fall into Sansheng's net and on the other edge is the last challenge to Xuefeng: "What can you say that shows how the huatou passes through the net to transform the net itself?"

Xuefeng's response is "[I'm] an old monk in residence managing numerous affairs." (老僧住持事繁) This response is the pure taste of Zen. It is completely plain spoken with no pretence to or perfume of any transcendent meaning. Yet, because the transcendent and the mundane are a complete unity and this unity is completely realized by Xuefeng, it is a completely transcendent statement by the huatou itself in its own words. Xuefeng's "[I'm] an old monk" (老僧) directly demonstrates the Great Mirror Wisdom of the transformed eighth consciousness. Since the statement is the statement of the huatou without any intermediation by the seventh consciousness acting as a differentiating agent mistaking things as objects, the huatou says it is "dwelling in residence" (住), thus the seventh consciousness is shown in its transformed state as the Wisdom of Equality. Xuefeng's "managing" (持) is the description of the sixth consciousness transformed into the Profound Observing Wisdom and the "numerous affairs" (事繁) being managed are the five sense consciousnesses transformed into the Perfecting Wisdom.

Now all this is just the used mouthwash of this poor student and should be immediately rinsed down the drain. If these fish scales have any value at all it could only be to encourage you to follow your meditation method diligently and not be confused by such glittering golden fish scales, so that you may personally grab the fish with your own bare hands.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Excerpt from the Platform Sutra

Learned and virtuous friends,

Here's my translation of the last two paragraphs of Chapter Four of the Great Master Sixth Ancestor's Dharma Treasure Platform Sutra.

I recently attended a 7-day Zen retreat (sesshin) with the Pacific Zen Institute. The PZI "Old Teacher" (Roshi) John Tarrant is working with koans in a way that harkens back to the ancient Chinese open assembly presentations of koans. In the opening talk of retreat, he presented the koan "There is one treasure hidden in the body" as a theme for the retreat.

This section of Huineng's Platform Sutra arose in mind as an appropriate context for the inquiry of this koan:

"Learned and virtuous ones. A person who is without is without what? A thoughtful person thinks of what thing? A person who is without is without the characteristics of duality and without the various dusts and troubles of the heart-mind. A thoughtful person thinks of the original nature of True Suchness. True Suchness, as it is, is the essence of thought; thought, as it is, is the function of True Suchness. One's nature of True Suchness gives rise to thinking; neither the eye, ear, nose, or tongue is able to think. True Suchness is present as nature, therefore it can give rise to thinking. If one is without True Suchness, what is regarded as seeing and hearing, color and sound, as they are at that time are destroyed.

"Learned and virtuous ones. When one's nature of True Suchness gives rise to thinking, even if the six organs are present to see and hear, perceive and know, they are not contaminated by the 10,000 objective phenomena, and the true nature is always autonomous. For this reason the [Vimalakirti Nirdesa] Sutra says, 'Being able to properly differentiate the various characteristics of things is being at the primary meaning and immovable.'"

善知識! 無者無何事?念者念何物?無者無二相,無諸塵勞之心。念者念真如本性。真如即是念之體,念即是真如之用。真如自性起念,非眼耳鼻舌能念。真如有性,所以起念;真如若無,眼耳色聲當時即壞。


[T48n2008_p0353a28(03) to T48n2008_p0353b06(02)]

The English term "True Suchness" is the translation of the Chinese term 真如 which is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit Bhūtatathatā. Other possible translations could be "Actual Thusness", "Real Suchness", "Genuine Thusness," etc.

The English term "characeristics of things" is the translation of the Chinese term 法相 which is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit dharmalaksana.

I remembered this section of the Platform Sutra from several translations including Wong Moulam, Charles Luk, and Fung and Fung, and each of course has different nuances and interpretations of the text, so I've now done my own translation to zero in on this most important section. As I see it, this section is one of the core expressions of the variations on the central theme of Huineng's teaching.

This aspect of the teaching is pointing directly to how the Eight consciousnesses function. The Eighth Constiousness (Alayavijnana) is the essence of thought spoken of here by the name True Suchness. Awareness flows as the function of True Suchness and beoomes thinking. As thinking awareness flows into the senses the objectivity and appearance of a world is formed. In meditation, the function of the koan is to direct attention and awareness to "turn around" to the essence of thinking as it arises directly from True Suchness. This turning around is the paravritti referred to in the Lankavatara Sutra.

It should be understood that the term for "thinking," as a technical term, is inclusive of all mental formations including remembrance and thus memory. In this context D.T. Suzuki wrote in his Studies In the Lankavatara Sutra:
In short, the world starts from memory, memory in itself as retained in the Alaya universal is no evil, and when we are removed from the influence of false discrimination the whold Vijnana system woven around the Alaya as sentre experiences a revulsion toward true perception (paravritti). This is the gist of the teaching of the Lankavatara.(p. 184)

From this we should understand that Huineng's teaching about directing awareness to that which gives rise to thinking is exactly the teaching of Bodhidharma and the Lankavatara Sutra and not be under any delusions that Huineng did not accept the teachings of the Lankavatara and in some way preferred the Diamond Cutter Sutra.

Enjoy the Dharma.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Three-state Solution is the Way to Get Out.

Again, it’s time to recognize that a new path, a new road map, is needed for the resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian situation. I propose once again that the way is neither the One-state Solution” nor the “Two-state Solution” but the “Three-state Solution.” I say “again,” because this is an update on my previous blog of one year ago on January 25, 2008 at
Letter To Hamas and the Valiant Ppeople of Gaza Unfortunately, there has been no change in the political outlook of solutions in the last year, and not surprisingly, apparently the people of Gaza haven’t taken note of my blog. ;-)

I cannot agree with the pessimism of such renown Middle East observers like Juan Cole who say that the time has passed for any reasonable Two-state Solution and that the only three paths ahead are variations on a One-state solution with (1) continued Israeli apartheid by a minority of Israelis managing the majority of Palestinians, (2) actual democracy which would of course mean the end of the Jewish state, or (3) ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza so that a greater Israel may be created by annexation of Gaza and the West Bank. (January 6, 2009, Juan Cole interview on The Young Turks ) Of course, none of these variations of the “One-state option” is realistic, thus leaving anyone who believes these are the only remaining options in a cul de sac of pessimism. First, Israelis will not accept actual democracy with a majority of Palestinians. Second, neither the Palestinians nor the rest of the world will accept the apartheid or ethnic cleansing options. Thus if both the One-state and Two-state solutions are untenable what solution is there. I say the Three-state Solution.

I agree with Mr. Cole that the Two-state solution is dead on arrival because the Palestinians themselves can not act in a unified manner across the territorial and emotional divides between Gaza and the West Bank. The idea that Gaza and West Bank can become a unified Palestinian state is as wrong headed as the notion was that East and West Pakistan could survive as a unified nation. Just speaking practically, there is no realistic way for a sovereign corridor through Israel to be established which would be a necessary condition for a single Palestinian state. The Two-state solution is also not going to happen because as long as it is on the table as an option it allows Israel to continue to play the Palestinians against each other. For example, from the “Israeli viewpoint,” the question of settlements in the West Bank can’t be resolved because of the Gaza situation and the Gaza situation can’t be resolved because of the West Bank settlement problems. Also, there is not way that the people of Gaza and the West Bank can agree on the questions of unified governance and structure. As long as Israel can continue to be allowed to play the Palestinian interests against each other, then Israel is satisfied with the situation and can continue both to encroach on the West Bank and occupy and blockade Gaza as it wishes.

The Palestinians themselves share in the responsibility of playing along with Israel’s strategy of keeping them in a stasis of inaction as long as they grasp onto the dream of a single Palestinian state geographically separated by Israel. Also, as long as the Palestinians refuse to act like people who are ready for independence and sovereignty than the rest of the world won’t view them as being ready for sovereignty.

The problem today with the analysis that says the Two-state solution is dead and the only the unsavory options of the One-state solution are the remaining choices is that it ignores the way out provided by the Three-state Solution. The Three-state Solution allows the questions of Gaza and the West Bank to be delinked and takes out from under Israel its chief excuse for not dealing honestly with the situation.

The Way Forward

The way forward begins with the Gazans. The Gazans must assert their sovereignty as a contiguous territory of sovereign people and announce their independence as a sovereign nation. They can announce that they can keep the door open for a federation or Palestinian Union with the West Bank in the future but in order to establish their independence they must now establish a constitution for themselves and seek international recognition, support, and protection for themselves as a sovereign people.

By asserting their independence the phony issue of the recognition of Israel can be put on the table in an honest way. Israel’s continued complaints about not being recognized as an independent state will now be placed along side the necessity of recognizing Gaza as an independent state as a direct quid pro quo. Today Israel makes its argument against Hamas, not against the Gazans. Israel says it doesn’t have to recognize Hamas as the governing party because Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel and Hamas is a terrorist organization so Israel doesn’t have to recognize Hamas. Though I don’t agree with this logic, it is the logic that Israel hides behind. It is up to the Hamas and the people of Gaza to make this position of Israel untenable by changing the dynamic on the ground. Hamas needs to assert the independence of Gaza and say that if Israel accepts the existence of Gaza then Gaza will accept the existence of Israel. If Hamas won’t take this lead then the Gazans need to tell Hamas it no longer has their confidence and support.

The greatest emotional barrier to the Three-state Solution is that the people of Gaza may feel they are abandoning or betraying Palestinian unity and their family and friends in the West Bank. Not so. By asserting their independence Gaza will take the Gaza situation off the table as a linked obstacle for moving forward in finding a solution to the West Bank settlements. Also the question of a land corridor through Israel can be taken off the table. By asserting its independence, Gaza will help the West Bank be able to assert its own independence. Instead of being a weakened smaller part of the Palestinian “problem” that never gets the attention it deserves at the bargaining table, an independent Gaza would be in a stronger position to help the West Bank Palestinians in their bargaining for the return to the 1967 borders. By having Gaza taken out of the West Bank issues then the West Bank will be in a stronger position to assert its goals including the return of the 1967 borders, the return of settlements and a resolution to the Jerusalem question.

An independent Gaza will be able to establish its own security agreements with neighboring states such as Egypt. An independent Gaza will be able to protect itself and any attack by Israel will be an attack against an independent nation and an act of war instead of an act of occupation. Israel won’t be able to blockade an independent Gaza with the kind of immunity it now has when Gaza is just a disorganized territory.

What can Gaza do to assert its sovereignty? It is not that difficult. First and foremost the Gazans need to simply stand up and assert it vocally. Hamas can issue a Declaration of Independence. This would frame the question of Gazan independence in a way that the people of the United States could not ignore. In its Declaration of Independence, Hamas should promise several steps including a Constitutional Convention of Gazans. Of course Hamas is a political party and can not be expected to be any less partisan then the Republican Party in the USA, however, they can be urged to act in the best interests of the Gazans to let Gazans create a nation of plurality interests rather than a one-party nation. Certainly the USA with a two-party dictatorship can’t complain about any form of democracy that a convention of Gazans may develop. In fact, if Gazans move toward a parliamentary system of proportional representation then their democracy may be potentially more democratic than the USA democracy. In my blog of last year I went into some detail about the three axes of the three dimensions of democracy and the potential for Gazans to develop a democracy based on their own values system without merely adopting an American style of democracy. In fact I wouldn’t wish an American style of democracy on the Gazans.

I suggest that a Gazan Declaration of Independence do the following:

1. - State the necessity for the action to protect the people from the current condition of occupation that violates international law and to seek the aid of free nations for the support of the people of Gaza;
2. - Affirm the right of the people of Gaza to self-rule;
3. - Promise to initiate a process for the creation of a constitution by which the people of Gaza will express their aspirations for democratic self-rule;
4. - Affirm that Hamas accepts and abides by UN Resolution 242 and that as soon as Israel withdraws its armed forces from the occupied territories as referenced in Resolution 242 (i.e., the 1967 boundaries) that the provisional government established by Hamas will recognize the territorial inviolability and political independence of Israel;
5. - Affirm that when the people of the West Bank achieve independence that talks for a Palestinian Union or some form of political federation or reunification between Gaza and the West Bank will be held;
6. - Affirm that Hamas and any provisional government will abide by International Humanitarian Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the rulings of accepted international tribunals on that law and that Hamas expects that the nations of the UN will also abide by such rulings and specifically come to the aid of Gaza and the people of the West Bank in upholding the ruling of the International Court of Justice that Israel's construction of a wall on Palestinian land violates international law;
7. - Ratify the importance of human rights with a statement of commitment to the principles spelled out in the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights;
8. - Ask for the assistance of the UN and individual nations toward establishing an independent nation of Gaza;
9. - And ask that the nations of the world immediately send diplomatic delegations to Gaza in order to begin the process of mutual recognition and to provide political support and assistance to Gaza for the ending of the blockade.

Following their Declaration of Independence, Hamas should take the lead in the following steps:

1. Organize and convene a provisional independent government of Gaza. In order to show the world that self-rule is not a one-party dictatorship Hamas must include people of other parties and independents in the provisional government.

2. The provisional government should immediately send out diplomatic envoys with the express purpose of requesting help to end the Israeli blockade and guaranteeing the freedom of navigation through international waters under UN Resolution 242. The provisional government needs to start a worldwide campaign for a Gaza Sea and Airlift similar to the Berlin Airlift that ended the Soviet Union’s similar blockade of Berlin.

3. The provisional government should set a date for a constitutional convention and allow for direct election of delegates to the convention on a proportional basis.

4. After the convention put the proposed Constitution to the people for ratification.

5. Ask for UN assistance to prevent incursions by Israel and to prevent rocket attacks on Israel. The provisional government should appeal to the UN to resolve any claims of international aggression by either side. Ask for UN protection of Yasar Arafat International Airport so that it may be reopened to end the air blockade of Gaza..

6. The provisional government should promote municipal autonomy by community elections and governance.

There is no viable One-state Solution and the Two-state Solution is dead. It is time for the Palestinians to take the Three-state Solution. Most importantly, this route to independence doesn’t require approval by Israel or the USA. If the people of Gaza want to convince the world they are ready for independence then they have to take the risk of acting independently and show the world they don’t need approval for their own sovereignty. As soon as some nations recognize the national sovereignty of Gaza then that will make it inevitable for the European Union and eventually the USA to recognize Gaza as an independent nation.