Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Do We Prefer Pictures of Placid Nature As Images of Spirituality?

For images of spiritual inspiration and realization we tend toward scenes of calm and placid nature: blooming plum trees, ocean or mountain vistas, mushrooms sprouting in the moist mulch, birds soaring in the empty sky, etc. Why? Why not scenes of hurricanes, tsunamis, rivers flooding their banks, tornadoes ripping up the landscape, etc. since these must also represent spirituality? Nature has plenty of death and destruction that goes along with the placid. Isn't this preference for the placid a variation of the "God is good" feeling that just doesn't quite know how to deal with the absolute also being the source of the bad, the delusional, and the unreal?

In Buddhism this dilemma has historically come out in the debate over whether emptiness, the alaya-vijnana (eighth consciousness), or Tathagatagarbha are the source or fountainhead of both the "true" and the "false" or whether is it somehow so undefiled in its undiscriminated state that it can only be called the source for the pure and the good while false thinking and afflictions do not have their root in the emptiness of the alaya. Zen has traditionally gone along with the analysis found in the treatise called the Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana in which the true suchness of the one mind-nature is seen as the non-dual source of all dharmas, both real and unreal, both true and false. In other words, if the good and pure have their origin in the unborn nondual reality then so do the bad and the defiled. In the Christian frame of reference this is the recognition that God is the creator of both the good and the evil in the world. Bearing this ambiguity in mind is very difficult for most people and becomes “mind blowing.”

But as I see it, there is an underlying reason why we naturally lean toward placid pictures of nature as the representative images of our own true nature just as Christians are naturally biased toward assigning the "good" to God. It is difficult to put into words, but while the absolute is, in itself, non-dual and is the common ground of both poles of such polarities as peace and rage, creation and destruction, the true and the false, etc. as this non-dual reality appears to our awareness as a memory or intuition within the context of our dualistic discrimination it is the images of calm and unperturbed shining or brightness that most resonate with our memory or intuition of the vital presence of our own true nature. We know intellectually that our own nature encompasses both sides of any opposition, but our feeling is that one side is more representative of the absolute nature of reality while the other side is more representative of the relative nature of reality.

But even the bifurcation of the nature of reality into absolute and relative is already a post-discrimination polarity. And it is because this bifurcation is the underlying fact of our ability even to have post-discrimination consciousness, that we naturally, naively, and comfortably identify the absolute nature of reality as calm, peaceful, silent, pure, undefiled, good, shining, brightness while we associate relative reality as chaotic, noisy, defiled, bad, delusional, dark, etc. However, in order to see our true nature for ourselves as one tastes the ocean for oneself to know its saltiness, we have to let go of our tendency of polarizing and discriminating everything into categories of good and evil, calm and chaotic, silent and noisy, etc., and directly realize our pre-discrimination awareness.

And here’s where the mystery comes up: when we realize our non-discriminating awareness there is absolutely nothing realized and no one realizing anything, but awareness still functions and in that functioning again discriminates and in that discrimination we look back in remembrance upon that undiscriminated awareness as if it were clear, calm, silent, brightness, when in actuality it had in itself neither those characteristics nor their opposites. But in our post-discrimination awareness it just makes sense to characterize our sense of non-discriminating awareness that way.

This inescapability of our polarizing tendency of consciousness is brought to the foreground in the Zen koan called “The Buffalo Passing Through the Window” that is Case 38 of the Gateless Checkpoint (Ch. Wumen Guan, J. Mumonkan) collection of koans. It goes like this:

Wuzu said, "For instance, a water buffalo passes through the latticed window; the head, horns, and four hoofs all pass through completely. What is the reason the tail is not able to pass through?”

No matter how much we think or imagine that we are all the way and completely on one side of a polarity, there is always a bit on the other side. No matter how much we may think we are good, there is always a bit of bad left in us. No matter how much we may think we are bad, there is always a bit of good left in us. No matter how much we think there is light, there is a bit of dark remaining. No matter how much we think there is darkness, there is a bit of light remaining. But even if we intellectually understand this aspect of the mutual connection of the opposites so that the tail can never pass through in the world of the relative, we may still imagine a world of the absolute where our water buffalo can completely pass through the window.

When we realize the pre-discrimination awareness that is the falling away of body and mind, we may imagine that we have gone completely through the window, including the tail, into realizing the unborn, but lo and behold, the tail has still not gone through as demonstrated by our awareness once again flowing in the direction of discrimination and we “return” to the realm of relative discriminations as if the buffalo’s entire body has flowed back into its tail turning itself inside out. Yet no matter how much we may then think we have completely come into the world of relative discrimination, still our tail remains within the non-discriminating awareness that is the unconscious emptiness of our Buddha Nature that makes conscious discrimination possible.

So as we look at this world of things, if our awareness discriminates things as objects, we have gone through the window in one direction, but still our tail of non-discriminating awareness has not entered into discrimination otherwise there would be no cycles of transformation and every object would be eternally fixed in one form and no life could occur. And as we are able to look at things as completely empty of self-nature with our realization of the bright shinning non-dual awareness, we have gone through the window in the opposite direction, but still our tail, now of discriminating awareness, has not gone through and entered into non-discrimination, otherwise there would be no form at all and so no transformation, and no life could occur.

It is the genius of Zen that the presentation of the Buddha Dharma in volumes of words in the Avatamsaka (Huayen) Sutra, and in the many treatises on that sutra, describing the mutual interpenetration of the absolute (emptiness) and the relative (form) and the mutual interpenetration of all phenomenal forms, is presented in a pithy koan of two sentences through the image of the water buffalo passing through the window and asking what is the reason the tail can not pass through?

In Zen, we recognize that no matter how much we may aspire to present the realization of true suchness within a placid image of nature such as the serene Zen garden, we have not completely captured the true suchness of our mind’s nature within the image any more than the water buffalo has completely gone through the latticed window. And even with the recognition that both the serenity of nature and the howling destructiveness of nature equally represent the realization of true suchness, still the water buffalo’s tail has not completely gone through the window. No matter what image we may have, still the water buffalo does not go completely through the window. What enormous horns that water buffalo has, what a big head, what gigantic shoulders, what great hooves, and what a huge body, but that little tail, it makes all the difference swishing with life!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Threes In Front, Three Threes In Back.

This is a response to Dosho Port's "Wild Fox Zen" blog entry Dragons and Snakes Intermingle Dosho is musing on the conundrum of Zen teachers who act like ordinary fools and how we respond to them. Its a topic that calls forth responses from the dragons and snakes of our own nature. Dosho is riffing on the koan Manjusri's Three Threes which is case 35 of the Blue Cliff Record. Here's my translation of the koan:

Raised: Wenshu (Manjusri) asked Wuzhu, "What place have you departed from recently?"
Wuzhu said, "The region of the South."
Shu said, "So how is the Buddha Dharma kept alive in the region of the South?"
Zhu said, "Recently, few of the mendicants of the Dharma respect moral discipline and the rules."
Shu said, "How many assemblies?"
Zhu said, "Perhaps three hundred, perhaps five hundred."
Wuzhu asked Wenshu/Manjusri, "So how is it kept alive in this space?"
Shu said, "The ordinary and sages reside together, dragons and snakes intermingle."
Zhu said, "How many assemblies?"
Shu said, "Three threes in front; three threes in back."

I appreciate the “dragons and snakes intermingling.” It is also a great expression for the feelings stirred up. People thought these fellows were dragons and “lo and behold” they acted like snakes. To paraphrase the Bodhisattva of the Levant, “Let those who have never acted like snakes throw the first stones.” Any adult who believes they have never acted like a snake is truly delusional. It is no excuse to say “I’ve just been a ribbon snake, not a king cobra.”

If nothing else, the venting of venom against these Zen teachers has shown that people are meeting on the common ground of being snakes. Three threes in front! Yet, to see only the dragon and not the snake; three threes in back!

I’ve been reluctant to say much about these controversies because I’m all too aware of past lives where I was a mass murderer or a wife-beater.

We can only make these events into Dharma food by the alchemical transformation of turning the three poisons into the three treasures. .People who criticize Genpo, Eido, and others for not living up to their dragon persona do no service to the Dharma by maintaining the mental apartheid of dragons and snakes. The lineage of awakening now called Zen, as Bodhidharma told us, is entering by the gate of principle in which we bear profound faith that the one true nature of beings is the same, without self and without other, with the ordinary and the sagely one and the same.

It is not someone else’s greed, hatred and ignorance that must be transformed. It is our own. It is not that the three poisons are jettisoned, discarded, or left behind and replaced by the three treasures. It is three by three: three threes in front. The greed itself is and becomes the compassion of the sangha, the hatred itself is and becomes the equanimity of the Dharma, the ignorance itself is and becomes the wisdom of the Buddha.

What is most difficult for the inexperienced to understand and accept is how the transformation works in the opposite direction: with three threes in back; where the wisdom of Buddha manifests as ignorance, the equanimity of the Dharma revealing aversion, and the compassion of the sangha showing our greed. What kind of topsy-turvey world is this?

Our Idealism wants a world where poisons become treasures, and not a world where treasures become poisons. But hey, it’s three threes in front, three threes in back, nothing amiss.
For the Dharma it is essential to be able to distinguish poisons from treasures, but it is just as essential to see their sameness, and to see in what way dragons and snakes intermingle within each of us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ode to the One Vehicle

This is a poetic collage of bits taken from various sources, now juxaposed and combined with my words to string together this ode in praise of the One Vehicle. The primary source material is from Zen Master Guifeng Zongmi's Introduction to the Collection of the Various Expositions of the Fountainhead of Zen, with other cullings from the Sutra of the One Vehicle of Queen Srimila's Lion's Roar, the Huayen Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and the writings of First Zen Ancestor Bodhidharma, Third Zen Ancestor Sengcan, Fifth Zen Ancestor Hongren, and Sixth Zen Ancestor Huineng. Having eaten their words, what you see here as strung together is only my fault.

Ode to the One Vehicle

By Gregory Wonderwheel

Wanderers in the Way,
Hear the One Vehicle (Ekayana) of the Tathagata’s lion’s roar.
Everyone of the multitude of beings in every case has Buddha Nature,
And without exception are led to enter the Way of the One Vehicle.

That One Vehicle
Always abides in the Dharma-realm,
Always silent and always illuminating.

The immeasurable and innumerable expedient methods of the Buddha Dharma,
Indeed in every case, are for the reason of the One Buddha Vehicle.
Directly pointing to one’s own mind immediately reveals true nature,
And opens the knowing and seeing of the Buddha.

Great master Bodhidharma transmitted the lineage of the One Vehicle of Southern India
Without self and without other,
With the worldly and the sacred one and the same,
Only the Bodhidharma lineage transmits the inheritance by means of Mind.
The Mind is the fountainhead of the Dharma.

Great Master Huineng instructed to use establishing no-thought as the lineage.
Those who see the essence of no-thought see the lineage,
Then thought after thought in every case is the One Buddha Vehicle.
If that mind is entirely extinguished,
There is no vehicle, as well as someone in the vehicle.

If you want to choose the One Vehicle,
Do not hate the six dusts.
All things are completely the evidentiary things of the One Mind.
The One Mind is completely the One Mind of all things.
All things completely then are True Mind.
By flowing unobstructed, consequently all things are wonderful medicine.

The true mind of root enlightenment is like the brightness of the mirror.
There are no appearances that can be obtained.
Therefore all things are like appearances in the mirror.
The essence of the one true heart-mind
Is indeed one’s own essence of true suchness.

That which is Dharma knows one’s own nature.
That which is Dharma knows the real truth.
That which is Dharma knows the One Vehicle.
In every case consider the Dharma of the One Vehicle as the real truth

The deep necessarily includes the shallow;
the shallow does not reach the deep.
Likewise, the One Vehicle necessarily includes the various vehicles;
While the various vehicles do not reach the One Vehicle
Because the various vehicles immediately are the One Vehicle,
Those who gain the One Vehicle
Gain the unexcelled unified equality-enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi),
Always abiding in the Dharma-realm,
Able to touch and yet immediately to pass through.

[and in my poor excuse for Chinese]

Gregory Wonderwheel 述





見 無念 體者 見 宗

諸法是全一心之 證法。



卻 諸乘不至一乘