Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ancestor's Zen and Tathagata Zen

Discussions of Zen's relationship to Mahayana Buddhism often raise the dichotomy of how words are taken and used in Zen. One of the famous mottos of Zen is that it is "not established on written words." This motto is intended to direct our attention away from searching written words for the truth to be found in our own mind or own nature. However, this motto itself becomes a sort of icon that is then mistakenly used by some to say that the Buddha's Sutras can be ignored.

In the Zen context, this dichotomy comes under the labels of "Ancestor's Zen" and "Tathagata Zen."

On the one hand, Ancestor's Zen acknowledges that words don't cut it and that we have to let go of discursive thnking models in order to focus on the direct pointing to our own nature of true suchness. This of course is where the so called "anti-intellectual" tendency arises in Zen. This movement of Zen began in full force with Nagarjuna's radical analysis of emptiness that took away all reliance on words in order to shove our noses into emptiness so we could experience the "revolution at the basis" of our awareness. Ancestor’s Zen removes the props of our conventional truths to show us where we stand on zero at any moment.

On the other hand, Tathagata Zen acknowledges that Zen comes through the Mahayana branch of the Tathagata's teaching of true suchness and so there is a fundamental need in the Bodhisattva's vow to remain in Samsara and give aid to beings of all capacities which includes talking about the structure and function of consciousness in order to help beings have the faith to practice and experience the “revolution at the basis.” Tathagata Zen shows us the functioning of Dharma in the plus and minus, expansion and contraction, of all activity that arises from zero.

The functioning of Ancestor’s Zen comes out most fully in the living interactions retold in the koans where we see the direct manifestation of true suchness that does not get caught up in the discriminatory meanings of words. The functioning of Tathagata Zen comes out most fully in the teishos and teachings of the Zen teachers from their “platforms” or “high seats.”

When we read works such as the The Sixth Ancestor’s Platform Sutra, John Blofeld’s great book The Zen Teaching of Huang Po or the various translations of The Record of Linji we see both Tathagata Zen and the Ancestor’s Zen represented in the sections on the teachings in the hall and the events in the field.

For example, a thorough reading of the Platform Sutra shows Huineng’s Ancestor’s Zen and Tathagata Zen. His Ancestor’s Zen is revealed in his famous poem

菩提本無樹 The root of Bodhi is treeless
明鏡亦非臺 The bright mirror also is not a platform
本來無一物 The root comes without a single thing
何處惹塵埃 What place can attract dust?

as well as in the famous interaction under the flag when he said “It is neither the flag nor the wind that is flapping; it is your mind flapping.”

Most of the Platform Sutra, however, is his exposition of Tathagata Zen from the high seat of the Platform. Here he is expounding on the great many themes of Mahayana including samadhi and prajna, confession and repentance, how to read and interpret the Sutras, the 5 aggregates (skandhas), the 12 entrances (ayatanas), the 18 realms (dhatus), and the transformation of the 8 consciousnesses (vijnanas) into the 4 wisdoms (jnana-prajna). Any view that Zen is anti-intellectual (in the generic sense) or anti-written word is destroyed by the Platform Sutra.

Tathagata Zen is all about reorienting the intellect from being lost in discursive thinking to turning the intellect toward true Suchness (Tathata). Experiencing and being aware of the coming and going (gata and agata) of suchness (tathata) is the meaning of the word contraction tathagata as it is used both for an epithet of the Buddha as the Tathagata and in the label Tathagata Zen.

The problem with misunderstandings of Tathagata Zen and the mistaken notion that Zen is non-intellectual comes from the belief that Zen is not involved with discrimination. However, this is a deep misunderstanding of the nature of Zen as a realization of the essential Mahayana tenet that the way of the Tathagatas and Bodhisattvas is to not abandon samsara but to realize the Path by remaining in the discriminations of samsara to show the way of liberation from samsaric suffering. In the Mahayana system of the “two truths”, the Tathagata Zen stance is that the ultimate truth exists only in relation to the One Suchness. What can be “called” ultimate truth is the constructed and relative conventional truth that points to the non-dual true nature of emptiness. However, if emptiness is itself taken literally to say that the Sutras are not part of Zen it is a grave error.

Huineng himself, though he was called “illiterate” was well versed in the Sutras. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 10 the Platform Sutra, “Handing Down Instructions,” in which he warns against taking the Zen admonition about not establishing written words too literally.

In the active functioning of your own nature and in conversations with people, while outwardly in appearances separate from appearances; while inwardly in emptiness separate from emptiness. If you wholly attach to appearances (i.e., hold materialist views), then your perverted views broaden. If you wholly grasp emptiness (i.e., hold a nihilist view), then your non-illumination (ignorance) broadens.

People who grasp emptiness have slandered the Sutras (by saying) “straight words do not use written words.” Since they say “Do not use written words” these people too are not united with (their own) speech, simply as this speech then is the appearance of written words. Again, to say, “The straight Way is not established by written words,” then this “not established” are both words and are written words. On seeing a person who explains, then immediately they slander the other’s words as being attached to written words. You who are ranked (as Dharma heirs) must know self-delusion like this is able repeatedly to slander the Buddha’s Sutras. Do not desire to slander the Sutras; the hindrances of the sin are countless.

In my view, those who say that Zen can be separated from the Mahayana are focusing on the One Suchness of the root of Zen. That is, the one mind of true suchness transcends the colors and designs of the robes of any single religion. Admittedly, there are Bodhisattvas who walk among us in every religious or non-religious cultural context pointing to the root of mind, but to explain the structure and functioning of consciousness without reference to the Mahayana Buddhist Sutras or to Mahayana Tathagata Zen seems to me to be a difficult proposition at best and a self-crippling impossible nightmare at worst.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hitler's Birthday

I was reminded that today is Adolph Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1889.

Hitler is, of course, the guy everybody loves to hate. However, from a Buddhist perspective hate itself must be penetrated with insight and wisdom. To merely hate Hitler is to objectify what Hitler represents, and that objectification itself becomes a reinforcing and self-fulfilling prophecy that continues the cycle of hate. In other words, we can't really understand Hitler until we are fully aware of the Hitler within ourselves, and when we are aware of the Hitler within ourselves then the very character of hate toward Hitler, or anyone else for that matter, as an object is transformed.

That is not to say that one then comes to loves Hitler in the conventional sense either. The social power of a Hitler, is collected in the "person" of a Hitler by the ability of people to deny the Hitler in themselves. A Hitler doesn't worry about people not liking him as long as people are afraidd of him. People fear a Hitler for so many different reasons, but a common denominator of that fear is that people disassociate from what it is that makes them fearful in the image of a person like Hitler. At the same time we recognize the guy may be saying something a little kooky, we admire that he says it with conviction more than we are willing to disagree with the content of what he says.

I suggest that everyone read Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, to learn about the world view of the fascist mentality.

If you want to see if you have discovered your inner Hitler then test yourself by asking if you believe in advertising? Do you think that advertising is a simple communication to consumers. or is advertising the essential propaganda tool of our American Brand of Fascism? If you don't see how advertising creates the Brave New World of the American Brand of Advertising, then you have definitely not seen into your own inner Hitler.

For example:
"The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. In this way the result is weakened and in the end entirely cancelled out....The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly."
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, chapter six.

A person who doesn't hear the drum beat of sloganeering in today's advertising, and especially in the political advertising of Republicans and the so-called "Tea Party" movement is just blind their inner Hitler. The people who are doing the propagandizing with such slogans as "tax and spend liberal elites" and "Big government is bad; small government is good" and other such single pointed slogans are taking their propaganda methods directly from Hitler's play-book.

Here's another fun Hitler quote:
"We stand for the maintenance of private property... We shall protect free enterprise as the most expedient, or rather the sole possible economic order."
Now any such feelings that one has for "private property" as the sine qua non of the so-called "free" enterprise economic system must be seen in the context of one's inner Hitler to be appreciated for how this sentiment becomes a bedrock of the American Brand of Fascism.