Saturday, January 22, 2011

Moon Light Escapade

A poem by me for you.

In the dark

The dew collects on the hundred grasses.

Then the rising full moon

Lights the garden,

Reflecting on the glistening blades

Cutting through the moon shadows.

The tips of my shoes

Are shining too.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quotes for Linji's Memorial Day

Zen master Línjì Yìxuán (臨濟義玄; W–G: Lin-chi I-hsüan, J: Rinzai Gigen) died in 866 CE and January 10th is the traditional memorial day for this great teacher.

Here are some excerpts from the Record of Linji. One of the central images that Linji uses is "solitary brightness" (孤明); it is used to describe our Buddha nature in a personal and intimate way to prevent the externalization or objectification of our true suchness, that is to avoid dividing our true suchness into internal and external or subject and object. Another such technique the master used to turn students from objectification is the well known Linji admonition to "kill the Buddha."

The translation is mine.

Said on ascending the hall, "Upon the ball of red flesh there is a singular true person without rank. It perpetually goes in and goes out of the gates of the faces of you people of various classes. To those who have not yet borne witness, observe, observe.”
At the time there was a monk who came forward and asked, "So what is the true person without rank?”
The master descended from the meditation dais, grabbed and stopped him, and said, “Speak! Speak!”
As that monk was deciding what to discuss, the master opened his hold and said, “What a dry shit-stick is the true person without rank.” Then he returned to the Ten-foot Square (i.e., the abbot’s room).

"Greatly Virtuous Ones, your ancestors knew that the fundamental person who receives and plays with light and shadow is the root source of all the Buddhas and every place is a lodging place for Wanderers in the Way to return to. Indeed your physical body (rupakaya) of the Four Great Elements cannot listen to the Dharma and understand and explain the Dharma. The spleen, stomach, liver, or gall bladder cannot listen to the Dharma and understand and explain the Dharma. Empty space cannot listen to the Dharma and understand and explain the Dharma. Indeed, what listens to the Dharma and understands and explains the Dharma? Indeed before your eyes, all the way through to the bottom, is the solitary brightness that never has one particular piece of form. Indeed, this is the one who listens to the Dharma and understands and explains the Dharma."

"Wanderers in the Way, as it is now, the solitary brightness before the eyes goes all the way through the earth to the one who is listening. This person in every place is not hindered and moves unobstructed through the ten directions and three realms by oneself. When one enters every situation the differences are not able to turn around or change one. The one realm that consists of the inner space thoroughly enters the Dharma Realm. Running into Buddhas, one talks to Buddhas; running into ancestors, one talks to ancestors; running into hungry ghosts, one talks to hungry ghosts. Turning towards every place, hiking the lands of the nation teaching and converting the many beings, yet one is not once separate for a single thought moment (ksana). In accord with the place, the clear and clean light penetrates the ten directions, and the 10,000 things (dharmas) are One Suchness."

"Wanderers in the Way, true love is a great difficulty; the Buddha Dharma is a deep mystery. If you are able to understand, you are capable in every situation. This mountain monk, in the past, for today, and in the future speaks to lay it bare. Those who study, after all, are not at the meaning. 1,000 times, 10,000 times, the bottom of the feet step to ford across the blackness that darkens situations. Without one particular piece of form, all the way through is solitary brightness. When the faith of students is inadequate, then they turn to the names and phrases of superior beings to understand. The years mount up to half a hundred, and they only manage to draw near to home carrying a dead corpse from shelter to shelter traveling under heaven. Depend on it; there is a day that demands the money for their straw sandals."

"Wanderers in the Way, as you long to obtain the Dharma of Suchness, only do not give birth to doubts. By the standard of expansion, it pervades the entire Dharma Realm (Dharmadhatu). By the standard of contraction, a strand of hair cannot stand. All the way through the solitary brightness has never in the past lacked a little. The eye does not see it; the ear does not hear it. What object can be aroused? A man of old said, “The standard of saying it resembles a singular object is not on the mark.” You should only look into your own home (family, lineage). What more is there? Speech also is without end. Each touches power by oneself. Cherish it."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Dharma Currents #1: Introduction to the Middle Way

With the new year, I want to start blogging, hopefully more consistently at regular intervals, on a recurring theme that may be broadly characterized as "Buddhism in the Current Age of Scientism" or "Dharma Currents" for short to play on the stream imagery. The idea is to explore how Buddha Dharma is relevant to today's world, including the political landscape, that is, a world that seems too fixated and caught between the horns of the polarity of religious theism and scientist athesim.

I see Buddhism as the third way in its traditional sense of the Middle Way as the path of synthetic resolution of the polarized mindset that forces our thinking about life into an either-or frame work. The human mind every where is subject to the mind's inherently polarizing influence in the very structure and function of consciousness, but the Western World's frame of reference, of Greco-Roman-European derivation, for religion and philosophy is bound up in the historically relevant context of the structures of opposition that have grown out of the theism-monotheism-atheism streams of thought. Today the West is still under the spell of theism so that people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are viewed as "the three horsemen of atheism" traveling widely to preach the virtues of atheism and the vices of theism.

There are many people, and I am one, who feel dissatisfied with the dialogue as it is framed and see the debate as caught between a rock and a hard place. Buddhism, however, naturally flows between the rock of theism and the hard place of atheism, and for those in Western culture who see the barrenness and inadequacy of both theism and atheism, Buddhism is the natural solution to rescue spirituality from the theism of modern religions and to rescue rationality from the atheism of scientism. It is this recognition of the position that Buddhism takes in this debate that led Albert Einstein, the preemeninant physical scientist of the 20th century, to declare that Buddhism is the historically closest religion to his conception of the cosmic relition that humankind is yearning for.

There is a frequently cited quote attributed to Einstein that says,
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense of arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. . . Buddhism answers this description. . . If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.

This quote is found in several slight variations and is sometimes challenged as legitimate because its source has not been identified. However, if it is not a direct quote, then I take it as an accurate paraphrase at least, based on the following excerpt taken from Einstein's article printed in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930 pp 1-4 which contains all the important particulars of the condensed quote:
"Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
"The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.
“The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another."

The essential points of Einstein's view of a science that has not left spiritual values or appreciation behind include (1) no dogma, (2) no anthropomorphic God, (3) a cosmic religious feeling, (4) experiencing the universe as a single significant whole or meaningful unity, (5) leading to freedom from the prison of individualism.

It should be clear to the honest observer that neither modern theistic religions nor modern atheistic scientism fit this bill of particulars. However, Zen Buddhism does fit Einstein's bill in every particular.

Similarly, Carl G. Jung, the Einstein of Psychology in the 20th century, also found kindred spirit with Zen in his scientific inquiry of the mind in which he discovered again and again that any attempt to remove the spiritual values from science were bound to fail and create only a dead dogma. When Jung was near death he was reading Charles Luk's Ch'an and Zen Teachings: First Series in which the first section presents discourses of Zen Master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud). Jung directed his personal assistant and friend Dr. Marie-Louse von Aranz to write to the author. In the letter (dated September 12, 1961) von Aranz wrote
"He was enthusiastic.... When he read what Hsu Yun said, he sometimes felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just it!."

Buddhism, and most essentially Zen Buddhism, is "just it!" when it comes to expressing the comprehension of the reality of life and death in a manner that is not inconsistent with the most insightful scientists of the physical and psychological sciences of the 20th century. However, in the later half of the 20th century, science itslef has become entraped in a form of dogma that has become scientism as expressed through the anti-theist preaching of the above name three horsemen of atheism, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. This view of scientism is scientific materialism in which the literalized objectification of the material world is taken to a limit of phyical appearances but no further. There are, to be sure, still scientists today who, like Einstein and Jung, do not subscribe to this atheistic scientism, however, they are hard pressed to get recognition beyond the walls of their academic towers, while the mainstream media and popular culture claim for their own a scientism of physical things sanitized of all spiritual or psychological dimension.

For people of the West who see the superstious silliness of anthropomorphic gods and their dogmas, yet who also sense the irrationality of an anti-spiritual scientism with its dogma of atheistic materialism, Zen Buddhism provides a context and method for discovering the real and profound dimension of a religion of meaningful unity liberating us from the prison of our individual and separate existence.