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.