Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review of TED Talk by Materialist Philosopher Stephen Cave

This is a review of the TED Talk by Stephen Cave titled

Sadly, this is one of the worst TED talks I’ve heard.  Perhaps my expectations are too high.

Mr. Cave focuses on “bias,” yet as a philosopher he shows bias too, but apparently unconsciously.  His bias is that there is no truth to be found in the “four” typical immortality stories that he has identified.  He shows his bias because he is a scientific philosopher, not a psychologist. The psychologist views these kinds of archetypal stories as myths, and takes their commonalities as telling us something true about our own psyches, not just fake fairy tales to be thrown out or left behind. Yes, we grow out of the literal belief in these kinds of stories, but we should be growing into discovering the truth that these stories are pointing us toward if our growth is to be anything remotely identifiable as maturation. 
For example, the sad philosopher Mr. Cave ignores what the essence of the “elixir” story is all about. He should read Carl G. Jung to know that there is an archetype of the “elixir” for the reason that there is an actual elixir in the human psyche (the heart-mind) that can lead us to understanding life and death and thus transcending death. In alchemy, "the One that dieth not" is the homo philosohicus, the One, who is the tincture or elixir of life.  Only the young child, the naive, and the uninitiated would imagine the elixir of life, the elixir vitae,  to be something only literally composed of physical molecules.  Always, the physical properties are merely the anchoring attributes for the transcendent qualities of the elixir.  In one instance it was said that the elixir was to be made from the "prime matter" that is taken from a single tree that "grows on the surface of the ocean as plants grow on the surface of the earth." Only a fool would think that this was speaking of an actual tree.  In our modern alienated view of reality we would call the physical aspects a metaphor.  However, in the premodern view, the metaphor was the actual living psychic property of the physical aspect.  So in the previous example, the alchemist knew that "the single tree" was an image of oneness to be sought growing "on the surface the ocean" of the mind's true reality.  Philosopher Cave seems to have the bias of scientific materialism that “the mind,” the psyche, is merely an epiphenomenon of the physical brain.

Elsewhere on his recent TED Blog titled "The immortality bias: Further reading on the 4 stories we tell ourselves about death," Mr. Cave has written about the “soul” story in this way:  

"Buddhism has a similar belief in reincarnation — the movement of the soul from one body to another — although it confusingly also teaches that there is no permanent soul or self."

That comment shows a woeful lack of knowledge (i.e., ignorance) about the Buddha Dharma. There is nothing confusing about teaching there is no permanent soul or self in rebirth because the Buddha Dharma does NOT teach anything remotely like "the movement of the soul from one body to another."  The Buddha acknowledged that reincarnation occurs as a law of nature, but radically transformed the naive understanding of a "soul" to point to the fact that there is no separate or individual "soul" that transmigrates even when there is the appearance of one. That is, the Buddha does not deny the naive "appearance" of a soul, but the Buddha says when we inquire deeply into the appearance of a soul we will see that it is a construct of our imagination. Still, the Buddha teaches that karma is relentless, regardless of the imaginary character of the soul, and that what is reborn is not consciousness but the mind. The arising and disappearing of consciousness is what appears to the ignorant as birth and death, but it is the activity of the unborn and undying mind of innermost thusness.

What is reborn is only the effects of the karmic waves. Modern physics would call this the noninterference of waves, as when there are countless electromagnetic waves coursing through a room but our cell phone picks up one frequency stream without any interference by all the others. The idea of a "soul" is the illusion of a standing wave formation formed by all the karmic waves from countless previous lives. We take the temporary appearance of a standing wave formation to be the "person" and then we assume that the "person" possesses something that is behind the appearance that is a "soul." That assumption is an unnecessary wish for the eternity of the "person." In fact, the true eternity is the constancy of the appearance of impermanent and transient waves. In other words, what is reborn in the wave formation of a single life is the ocean itself, not some thing called a "soul."

Mr. Cave’s conclusion is that “We believe these stories because we are biased to believe them, and we are biased to believe them because we are so afraid of death.” This is really just a statement about the bias of belief, not about the stories themselves.  When we are afraid, we are confused by what we call "belief." But when we become free from our fear, then we see the stories in a new light having nothing to do with belief.  Mr. Cave would have us ignore the truth of the stories under this new light and simply forget and ignore them altogether. He reasons we can give up our childish belief in them by giving up our fear of death. That is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and not philosophical at all.  Yes, we can find the way to no longer be afraid of death, but that has nothing to do with necessarily giving up these stories, only giving up the idea of a literal belief in them.

Mr. Cave has the personal bias that we are limited to “the one life we have.”  He says, “just as book is bounded by its covers by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded by birth and death.”  He says the characters in a book don't worry about who wrote the book or what the world is outside of the book covers, so neither should we worry about what is outside of birth and death.  Sadly, he does not explore why or how he has this king of biased belief in the face of considering death.  Instead Mr. Cave would have up put aside the very consideration of death and simply adopt the view that since we will never “experience” death that we need not consider it.  He tells us don’t think about death and just enjoy life while we have it.  Certainly, there are some people like Mr. Cave who will find some kind of solace in sticking their head into the sand.
Mr. Cave says that we merely need to see how “the fear of death is not rational,” and then we will see how that irrational fear brings out our biases. In this we can see the confusion that Mr. Cave has about the role of rationality in life based on his own bias in the face of death. With his story, he has constructed an elaborate rational edifice, not to defeat death by a story of immortality but to defeat death by a story of why we should ignore death.  He doesn’t see that by ignoring death we only drive the archetype of death into the unconscious where it will come back to haunt us in so many ways.

If we want to find the truest story, we should tell the story that shows how all the stories are true given their presumptive perspectives. That is, we need a story that includes all of the other stories, without claiming that any particular one or all the others are totally false, because the apparent differences in all the stories are just because they are about other parts of the elephant in the room: death.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Brief Outline of the One Vehicle

The Buddha’s Ekayana is the One Vehicle or Vehicle of Oneness (eka = one; yana = vehicle).  Here “vehicle” means the conveyance and its connotation includes the travel of and the course traveled by the conveyance. One Vehicle is not a term of exclusion meaning only this one vehicle and not any other vehicle.  The One Vehicle is a term of universal inclusion meaning that all vehicles of all religions are within and not separate from the One Vehicle.  
When people perceive different vehicles, it is not because there are different vehicles at the root, but because the different capabilities and capacities of people’s understanding and perceiving create the appearance of different vehicles at the branches and leaves.  All vehicles are One Vehicle in essence because the teachings of all vehicles ultimately return to their root and original source that is the non-dual oneness of true Suchness.
Woven in the history of the Ekayana movement and the development of the One Vehicle teachings are several essential themes which may be outlined as follows:
(1) All beings are fully endowed with the Tathagata’s wisdom-knowledge (tathagatajnana, wise-knowing), also called Buddha knowledge (buddhajnana) or Noble wisdom (aryajnana), and the original enlightenment of the true mind.  [This is a restatement of the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth from the perspective of the One Vehicle.]
(2)  Ignorance: It is the erroneous views of antithetical conceptions (vikalpa) and the resulting attachments that obscure and obstruct beings from seeing and realizing this true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing, and as these views become firm, like water turning to ice or wet cement drying like concrete, they form the fixed foundation of our ignorance of our true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing. [This is the Second Noble Truth.]
(3)  Off-centeredness and Afflictions: All the myriad plethora of vexations, afflictions and troubles (klesa) of living beings are constructed on this foundation of fixated ignorance regarding our true nature of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing, and cumulatively, this condition is called the underlying and permeating feeling of off-centeredness (dukkha) of our own being and is also called our “self.”  [This is the First Noble Truth.]
(4)   The One Vehicle: The primary (and functionally sole) purpose of a Buddha appearing in the world is to reveal the nature of the Buddha’s wise-knowing and to lead all beings to their own realization of the Tathagata’s wise-knowing so that all beings may be free from off-centeredness (dukkha) and its concomitant vexations (klesa). Because carrying out this single purpose of showing humans how to be Buddhas is the essential teaching of the all the Tathagatas, it is called the One Vehicle, the Most Supreme Vehicle, the Buddha Vehicle, and the One Buddha Vehicle.  [This is the Fourth Noble Truth.]
(5) Skillful Means of Upaya: A Buddha-Tathagata uses teaching methods appropriate to the audience for revealing the nature and leading beings to awakening through their own realization of the Buddha’s wise-knowing.  The appropriateness of the teaching to the audience is called upaya or skillful means.
(6)  Many Teachings, One Vehicle: The many apparent differences in the teachings and methods of practice presented by the Buddha that arise from responding to the differences in capacities of the audiences do not create different vehicles or paths to different goals. The Buddha did not teach different vehicles with different purposes and only taught what appeared to be different vehicles with one purpose: describing or pointing to the awakening of beings to become Buddhas. Where it may appear that multiple vehicles were taught was because the audience being taught did not have faith that they could become Buddhas. So, for example, for people who could not believe that they themselves could become Buddhas, the Buddha taught the skillful means that they could become moral people with good behavior resulting in better future births at which time they would then be ready to receive the teaching that reveals the nature to become Buddha.
(7)  Names:  Names are just pointers. The nature of the wise-knowing of the Tathagata (“thus come”) is known by many names such as Sunyata (Emptiness), Suchness (Tathata); Dharmakaya (the body or essence of Dharma), Buddha-nature, Tathagata-garbha (the Inner Tathagata), Alaya-vjnana (the Storehouse of Consciousness), Nirvana; the Bhutakoti (Reality- Limit), the Signless, the Dharmadhatu (Dharma Realm), paramartha (the ultimate truth),  Mind (citta), One Mind (ekacitta), etc.; and people of other teachings use other terms such as the Source, God; Godhead; Allah; Brahma; Vishnu; Jehovah; Yahweh; Lord; the Victor; the Sun; the Moon; Truth; Reality; Ultimate Principle; the Eternal; Non-duality; etc.. Worldly views are vehicles of exclusion that consider these different names to be referring to different things.  In the all inclusive view of the One Vehicle knows these different names are pointing to the one and the same Tathagata.
(8)  Mind: However, because people can hear a label such as Buddha, Emptiness, or the Dharmakaya and believe the label refers to something outside of themselves, the term mind is often preferred, since no one can seriously say they are outside of their own mind. The term mind is the most intimate label and is least susceptible to being objectified or externalized, so it is the preferred term to anchor one’s attention to their Buddha Nature for purposes of actual practice and realization. However, since people may think the term mind means their ego, self-image, or cognitive consciousness, the term is often capitalized in English as Mind to indicate it is the non-individual non-separated Mind being referred to. Since Mind is non-dual it is called the One Mind, since it is unborn it is called Original Mind.  Since there is nothing with which it can be compared and it is inconceivable it is called No-mind. Since it has no fault of its own, it is called True Mind.
(9) Synthesis. Since all the teachings of Buddhism, including both Mahayana and the Early Schools, are essentially and primarily teachings about the One Mind of our own Buddha Nature they must be taken as an organic whole, and the reconciliation of apparent oppositions or contradictions within the Buddhist teachings is the essence of the synthetic approach of the One Vehicle. The view that synthesizes and includes, is the view of the Ekayana, and the context for this synthesis is the recognition that the teachings by skillful means do not create actual differences in the goal of the teaching. The synthetic orientation is extended to include within the One Vehicle all the teachings of humans and gods, i.e., non-Buddhist philosophies and religions, because all philosophies and religions are attempting to understand the knowledge, perceptions, and experiences of the One Mind common to all humans.
(10) Equality and Non-duality: Because all beings share equally the One Mind of Buddha Nature, there is an absolutely inherent basis (i.e., simultaneously transcendental and immanent) for human equality.  Therefore distinctions such as layperson and monastic, male and female, nationality, language, culture, etc. are all immaterial in relation to the ability of a person to cultivate, investigate and realize awakening. The path of the One Vehicle leads back to the oneness of the subtle principle of non-duality. When there are dualities and extremes, the equality wisdom of the One Vehicle is lost and viewpoints and perspectives become biased with people arguing that one is right and one is wrong.
(11) Turning the Light Around: The ultimate purpose for Buddhas being in the world is to relieve suffering by bringing people to awakening to the One Buddha Mind, and this is only accomplished by experiential practice bearing fruit in one’s own realization through what is variously called in Sanskrit paravrtti and variously translated as the “revolution at the basis,” “turning the light around,” “taking the backward step,” or “turning inward.”  Turning the light around culminates in directly seeing the True Suchness (tathata) of one’s Own-Nature (svabhava) of mind which is the Tathagata’s wise-knowing.
(12)  Not Established by Words: The primary meaning or whole truth (paramartha) is not found in words. Words merely point to meaning and are not to be mistaken for the meaning. Because turning the light around is not accomplished as an intellectual pursuit or by the construction of words or ideas resulting in elaborate exegesis, it must be directly realized without dependence on words.  Depending on words therefore prevents this turning about from our habitual externalizing (i.e., prevents cutting off the outflows), and thus obstructs our own realization. So when words are used they are used for the purpose of putting a stop to dependence on words. As the Treatise on the Arousing of Faith in the Mahayana (Mahayana-Sraddhotpada Shastra, 大乘起信論) states, “Designating the limit of verbal expressions causes words to banish words. 
(13) Sutras: Because of the foregoing principles (of upaya, synthesis, names mind non-duality and words) there is no single Sutra that is superior to all others or the “king” of sutras.  For the purposes of conveying the One Vehicle, the One Vehicle Sutras have a place of importance, but because all vehicles are included within and lead to the One Vehicle, all the sutras are included within the One Vehicle. The specific Sutras of the One Vehicle are The Lankavatara (Going Down to Lanka) Sutra; The Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra; The Saddharmapundarika (White Lotus of the True Dharma) Sutra; The Srimaladevi Simhanada (Lion's Roar of Queen Srimala) Sutra; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana (Great Parinirvana) Sutra; Shurangama Sutra; The Vajrasamadhi (Diamond Samadhi) Sutra; The Mahābherīhāraka-parivarta (Great Dharma Drum) Sutra; and The Samdhinirmocana Sutra. Each of these sutras presents the One Vehicle with a different emphasis.  Seeing the common teaching presented in all these sutras is a good way to perceive the One Vehicle.  Saying that one or another of these sutras presents the only real One Vehicle is a mistaken view of the One Vehicle that slanders the One Vehicle. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Response to Broughton's Translation of Zen Master Linji's Record

Jeffrey Broughton last year (12/11/2012) published a new translation of Zen Master Linji's Record - The Record of Linji: A New Translation of the Linjilu in the Light of Ten Japanese Zen Commentaries
This is not a formal "review" but a response to Broughton's translation, because I haven't had an actual copy of the book in my hands and am only going off what I have been able to glean from the internet, including Amazon's inside view.

Someone commented on a blog, "It looks very good and should be compared with the older Ruth Fuller Sasaki headed effort. I am not sure which of these two is better."

I know of at least five English versions: there is a first one by Ruth Fuller Sasaki (with Yoshitaka Iriya) titled The Recorded Sayings of Ch'an Master Lin-Chi of Hui-chao of Chen Prefecture (1975);
a second one based on the same Ruth Fuller Sasaki but updated and edited by Thomas Yuho Kirchner: The Record of Linji (2008); one by Irmgard SchloeglThe Zen Teaching of Rinzai (1975); one by Burton Watson: The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi (1999): and one by  Eido Shimano Roshi: The Book of Rinzai Roku (2005).  So, this new one from Jeffrey Broughton makes at least six English translations of the whole record, not counting partial translations.

Caveat Emptor, Caveat Lector.

What was interesting about the comment that Broughton's translation "looks very good" turned out to be that it was actually not a comment about Broughton's translation but about a heavily edited version of an excerpt from Broughton's translation at the Daily Zen website. Elena at Daily Zen presents a monthly journal with selections of Zen gems that you can subscribe to.  

From the looks of it, Broughton's translation is consistent with his other translations that always have quirks that, to me, make them like eating cooked rice with grit in it.  Broughton is an excellent academic scholar, and his translations reveal both the benefits and detriments of that calling.  To see this clearly, the excerpts that are presented at Daily Zen by Elena that have been heavily edited show what it takes to make Broughton readable. 

The main "sin" that Broughton comits, in my view, is having too many inserted brackets.  There is virtually no paragraph without bracket insertions.  He apparently wants to "help" the reader read through what he considers to be gaps in the writing.  But just as often he is filling the gap with his own personal interpretation when the actual words of Linji are more fluid and evocative that just the one forced view that Broughton has inserted.  Also the brackets make the reading very choppy becaue the reader has to jump over the bracktes to read the text in is own terms without Broughton trying to tell us what it means.  Otherwise, the reader has to read through the bracketed material with the pesonal reminder each time that the insertion is Broughton's own interpretation which may or may not be correct.

To make Broughton's version readable, Elena at Daily Zen has either removed the brackets and left the material that was in the brackets or removed both the brackets with the material inside them.  She has also broken up the format of having each section as a long single paragraph the way Broughoton has them into sensible English style and size of paragraphs.

Compare these two versions of Broughton's sections 13:32 and 13:33. The first is the way that Broughton wrote it and the second is the way that Elena at Daily Zen cleaned it up.  You will note that the cleaned up version is much more readable, but we no longer know which parts Broughton inserted. But with Broughton's version, the heavy usage of brackets is just uncalled for in my view and he has made the translation unnecessarily tedious and virtually unreadable.

Jeffrey Broughton's translation:

[13.32] “Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about [traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization]. There is no ‘buddha’ that ought to be sought, no ‘Way’ that ought to be completed, no ‘dharma’ that ought to be attained [i.e.,  nothing-to-do].  Externally seeking for a ‘buddha’ with characteristics [i.e., a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty-two characteristics/a buddha image made of clay or wood]—he will not resemble you [the true buddha of your own mind/that one person]. If you want to know your original mind [the true person], it's not something [outside of you that you can] join up with; nor is it something [you can ever] be apart from.  Stream-enterers! The true buddha [everyone's dharmakaya buddha] has no form, the true Way has no substance, the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas [the above three] come fused together as the single [seamless]place [the single non-dependent true person].  Those who haven't been able to perceive [the single, seamless place] we call ‘[transmigrating] sentient beings of confused karman-consciousness.’”

[13.33] Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."  The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one [i.e., three words for the same thing], and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of [beholding] reality as it truly is, moment after moment [at all times] the mind never breaks off [from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion]. When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person/[true] person who was not discombobulated by [other] people/persons/’the person.’  Later he met the second patriarch [Huike]. At [Bodhidharma's] single utterance [i.e., 'My quieting mind for you is over'], [for Huike] at once everything was settled, and for the first time [Huike] understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.  As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!”

Here's Elena's Daily Zen edit:

Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization. There is no "buddha" that ought to be sought; no "Way" that ought to be completed; no "dharma" that ought to be attained, nothing-to-do.  
Externally seeking for a "buddha" with characteristics, a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty two characteristics or a buddha made of clay or wood, would not resemble you, the true buddha of your own mind/that one person. If you want to know your original mind, the true person, it's not something outside of you that you can join up with; nor is it something you can ever be apart from.

Stream-enterers! The true buddha, everyone's dharmakaya buddha, has no form; the true Way has no substance; the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas come fused together as the single, seamless place. Those who haven't been able to perceive the single, seamless place we call transmigrating sentient beings of confused karma-consciousness.  
Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."

The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one, and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of beholding reality as it truly is, moment after moment the mind never breaks off from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion.

When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person, a true person who was not discombobulated by other people. Later he met the second patriarch Huike. At Bodhidharma's single utterance, 'My quieting mind for you is over' at once everything was settled, and for the first time Huike understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.

As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to an eight-line poem by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you only catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself.

To me, the over abundance of brackets in the translated text makes Broughton's translations not worth the effort to read. He should have put at least 95% of the bracketed material into footnotes instead.  Elena has made Broughton readable.

Aside from style or readability concerns, let's look at the content of what Broughton does with a particular section. For example, here is one of Linji's signature sayings.


Here's how Broughton translates it:

If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!

First, the term 祖佛 is almost invariably translated as "ancestors and Buddhas," or transposing for the English syntax as "Buddhas and ancestors." The term "ancestors" refers to the historical arhats and bodhisattvas such as Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Nargarjuna, Vasumitra, Bodhidharma, etc.  To be a teacher of the Buddhas and ancestors is a well known phrase.  There is no real justification to translate this phrase as " the buddhas who are our ancestors." I do agree with Broughton that the term 祖 is better translated as "ancestors" than as "patriarchs" because there is no gender reference in 祖.

Second and perhaps more importantly in reference to what Linji is actually teaching, there is no basis that I know of for Broughton to insert into the saying "an eight-line poem" using brackets. Apparently he does this because he translates 句 as "couplet."  However, the word 句 (ju) means a "sentence, clause, phrase, a verse, a written line, a classifier for phrases or lines of verse."  There is no reason to force it into the shape of a "couplet." Also the word 得 (de) means to "get, obtain, gain, attain, win, etc."  "Catch on" is loosely within the field of valid translation, but "catching on" to me seems a little weak in relation to what Linji is pointing at.  Broughton's references to "couplets" and "eight-line poems" makes it sound like Linji is making literary analysis for the Chinese literati, rather than giving Zen teaching for students of the Way.

Here's Schloegl's translation:

One who attains understanding at the first phrase will be a teacher of patriarchs and Buddhas; one who attains understanding at the second phrase will teach men and gods; and one who attains understanding at the third phrase cannot even save himself. (p. 55)

Here's Watson's translation:

If you get it with the first phrase, you can be a teacher of the patriarchs and buddhas. If you get it with the second phrase, you can be a teacher of human and heavenly beings. If you get it with the third phrase, you can’t even save yourself! (p. 67)

Here's Shimano's translation:

If you attain it within the first phrase, you can be a teacher of Buddhas and patriarchs. If you attain it within the second phrase, you can be a teacher of humans and devas. If you attain it within the third phrase, you can't even save yourself. (p. 77)

Here's the Sasaki/Kirchner translation:

He who attains at the First Statement becomes the teacher of patriarch-buddhas; he who attains at the Second Statement becomes the teacher of men and gods; he who attains at the Thrid Statement cannot save even himself. (p. 264)

Here's my translation:

If you attain within the first phrase, you become a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors.  If you attain within the second phrase, you become a teacher of humans and heavenly beings.  If you attain within the third phrase, you do not complete your own deliverance!

I read Linji's admonition about "the three phrases" to be a direct reference to his Dharma Grandfather Baizhang's three phrases about the elementary, the intermediate, and the complete stages of attainment (得). If you don't know that getting it or attaining within the three phrases refers to Baizhang's teaching of the three stages of the elementary, intermediate and complete attainments, you might fall into the trap of thinking that getting it at the first phrase is the best. But, as Baizhang and Linji are teaching us, the first phrase is only the beginner's attainment.

Broughton doesn't seem to understand and adds confusion about this point of the first, second, and third levels of attainment by inserting the bracketed "only" at the third phrase. If bracket insertions are to be made, then it should not be "if you [only] get it at the third phrase" but should be "if you [are fortunate enough to] get it at the third phrase," because if you get it at the third phrase, then you get the highest complete attainment and can't even save yourself.  To not complete even your own deliverance is better than being a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors. (Why? That's the koan, silly.)

Even though Schloegl adds the unnecessary word "understanding," to me, both Schloegl's and Watson's translations of this saying are much better than Broughton's becasue they are succinct and without brackets and don't insert the misdirection about poetry.

Broughton does have a great amount of reference information in the end notes, and to me, this is the value of Broughton's academic skills and research.  I would recommend the book for the notes, but not for the translation itself which seems to muddy the waters for the person who is not already familiar with Linji.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jesus On My Mind: the Man & the Myth

Two recent blog articles got me to turn to Jesus, as I often do, to note the One Vehicle at work in the Jesus story of the Christ as well as the Siddhartha story of the Buddha.


The first was a Salon story by Andrei Codrescu under the headline “Zealot’paints Jesus as a Nazarene Che Guevarareviewing the newly published book by Reza Aslan titled ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

I’m not a fan of Codrescu’s style so I won’t go into what he writes except to say he uses his usual hodge-podge approach for contextualizing and politicizing which makes critique of his content as confusing as the content itself. Suffice it to say Codrescu hides good points within his self promoting use of superfluous points. Codrescu didn’t like Aslan’s Zealot, but he tell us little of the evidence he is relying on to come to this conclusion and he doesn’t reveal his own version of Jesus that provides a better portrait of the man.

 I haven’t read Aslan’s book, but if Codrescu’s one real examination of the book regarding the story of Caesar’s coin is accurate, then Codrescu is correct that Aslan has come to a conclusion that is based on inserting his own interpretations at the beginning of the analysis and not on the facts of the story.   However, neither Aslan nor Codrescu mention the most important point necessary if we are to have a serviceable historical picture of Jesus the man, and that is that Jesus was an Essene.

Here’s the man as I see him. There is nothing in the historical facts or the orthodox narrative to suggest that Jesus was ever a member of the Zealot party.  He could be called a “zealot” in the generic sense that Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi were zealots having great zeal for their mission.  By birth and family upbringing, Jesus ben Joseph was a member of the Essene community of Nazareth in the Mr. Carmel area. His cousin John, later known as “the Baptist”, was in the Southern Essene community associated with Qumran.

Jesus felt that the Essene teachings were the truest teachings of Judaism, but that the Essenes were too closed off and insulated from the mainstream of the two major sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees which had lost the true way. While accepting that the Essene teachings were the most true to the prophets and the Essene communities were the most “right with God” in their formation and activities, Jesus did not accept the isolationist and separatist social structure of those same Essene communities. Jesus’ mission was to bring tear down the divisions within Judaism and its three major sects, to bring it back to the truth centered on God and to show the Pharisees and Sadducees the error of their ways.

Jesus did not say "You must become Essenes" because he knew that was hopeless politically and socially, but he did teach what the Essenes held and believed, for example, as in the Sermon on the Mount and regarding the correct way to pray in private, and he said this is how to worship God. 

Some people hold that to have a picture of Jesus the man we can only use the Gospels, including Acts, of the Bible and we must take them at face value without going beyond the four corners of their pages.  From this position the objection is raised that since the Gospels were written in the format of Greek biography and history we cannot say that Jesus was an Essene because the Gospels do not identify him as Essene.

However, and it is not just sophistry to say it this way, the Gospels did not identify him as an Essene exactly because he was an Essene. There is no way to portray Jesus the man without going beyond the pages of the Gospels to the history of the times and of the Jewish people.  There were three sects at the time: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Gospels identified the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were the two major sects that Jesus was aiming his criticism at for failing God. The Gospels do not mention the Essenes because Jesus did not criticize the very sect that he grew up in and whose teachings were the foundation of his own teachings.

This is most important in perceiving his mission. Jesus was not on a mission against the Roman Empire, he was not on a mission to recover the lands of Judaism for the Jews, and he was not on a mission to teach the Gentiles anything at all.  His mission was to awaken the Jews to their own heritage and their own need to get right with God according to the prophets of their own scriptures.

So how do we know that Jesus was an Essene? Primarily by taking the description of Jesus in the Bible and comparing it to the historical records from outside the Bible. He learned the scriptures as a child as the Essenes taught their children; but the Pharisees and Sadducees did not teach their young children the sacred texts. This explains the story of the amazement of the men at the Sadducee synagogue when the young Jesus knew the scriptures so well, because none of their own children were taught scripture at that age. 

The Essenes lived communally without individual possessions being more than another’s, and this is why Jesus taught the disciples to not worry about where the next meal would come from because all they had to do was identify themselves in any community and they would be fed by the Essenes living there. As the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote, “No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. ... For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all.”  

The Essenes especially studied and revered the Book of Isaiah and Jesus was especially well versed in Isaiah.   The Essene community of Nazareth was among the most successful and important of the Essene communities throughout the land, and Jesus was from Nazareth.  One could go on, but it is clear that Jesus was an Essene.

Objection: Some people say that since we have no objective source regarding the details of Jesus' life and words, all attempts to create a "historical" Jesus are doomed to failure. Evangelical Christians have even said this as a reason to not look for the historical Jesus the man and to therefore only look to Christ the Savior portrayed in the Bible. They see the historical Jesus as a “a figment of your imagination” but somehow see no contradiction or aspect of imagination in the “fact” of Christ the Savior.


Creating a historical Jesus based on the best of the actual historical knowledge we have is not an endeavor "doomed to failure."  It is the essential enterprise of telling the story of history.  On the other hand, we need to bear in mind that the historical Jesus should be distinguished from the myth of the Christ. We can talk about the historical Jesus and we can talk about the myth of Christ. But we should not confuse or conflate the two.



In this regard, the second blog article that caught my attention is from the website Pathos and confronts the question of myth verses history head on.  The blog is called “The White Hindu” from blogger Ambaa, and the post is titled “Krishna is a Myth; Jesus is aMyth

I like this blog. Ambaa is sharing her spiritual journey in a very sweet and generous way. Ambaa notes that people often get upset if the stories of their religious founders and figures might be more mythical than literally and historically true. She says,

I don’t think it matters at all whether Jesus really lived or whether he really said what he said. I don’t care if it was Lau-tzu who said the things attributed to Lau-tzu. Someone said them and they have wisdom. It’s the message itself, the wisdom itself that matters to me, not what name you stick on it.

I don’t know if Krishna was a real person. I don’t know if he was more than one person whose lives got glomed together over the years. I don’t know if the stories are literally true but I do know that they are metaphorically true and that is far more important to me personally.

(Note for the sticklers, I think “Lau-tzu” is how they spell it in Scotland.)

This is a different view of the historical picture issue that takes the position that the picture of the historical man is not important at all and what we know of the myth is what is important.  In this view, the myth of the Christ is not taken as a fact, but man Jesus is taken as a myth. To me, it is still important to distinguish between the man and the myth, and that is why I use the names Jesus for the man and Christ for the myth.

What is a myth anyway? Today, many people think the word "myth" means "false." This is the materialistic bias of people misinformed by junk science, not real science. As the real scientist of psychology, Carl Jung, has taught us, myth is a psychological orienting principal or matrix of the mind, i.e, psyche.  Myth is good because we can't live as humans without myth. Without a myth, there can be no consciousness, because the consciousness would be too chaotic and disorganized for awareness to cohere into a coherent worldview. Jesus the man is now totally cloaked within Christ the myth. To have our own best-estimate opinion about the man does mean we have to take account of the myth.

Jesus the man and his historicity doesn’t directly inform us about Christ the myth. Personally, I follow the myth of Buddha and that works well for me. There are many points of contact and comparison between the myth of Buddha, the Awakened One, and the myth of Christ, the Anointed One. But that is another essay.

And while it can be a lot of fun, as well as educational, comparing our myths and how they orient and organize our psyches, but it can also be dangerous when someone doesn't understand that their myth is just a myth, that is, when they don't understand their very own worldview and sense of self within that worldview is based on myth not on something outside the realm of myth.  

Why is that? Because there is no consciousness outside of the matrix of the mind and therefore there is no worldview outside the matrix of a myth. There is no objective perspective outside of the psyche. The myth of objective science is not wrong because it is a myth; it is just that objectivity is also a myth within the mind's view of the world.
Objection: "Myth" means "story of beginnings" and there is no implication of history or fiction.

That "definition" of myth is itself characterized by its own myth. Myth is not just the story of beginnings, but the story of what is primary in our own living worldview, which must also mean now, and not just in some beginning to be found in the past. When myth comes in the packaging of time and space, then it often does wear the clothing of historicity in the "once upon a time" or "in the beginning" variety. But it is in the present that the myth is alive.  People who believe the myth of objectivity of materialist science view myth as a synonym of "fiction." People who are fundamentalists believe in their own myths as absolute history while saying that other people’s myths are make believe.  

Ambaa wrote: "For those who need their religion to be seen as the best one or the only “real” one in the world, being able to say that their saint or prophet actually lived while others did not must help them bolster their belief that it is real."

Objection: I think you're maybe being a little unfair; at least, I think that you're generalizing more than is accurate. Speaking as a Christian who believes Jesus for-real lived, I don't think that religious supremacy or exclusivity would primarily motivate most Christians who believe Jesus is a historical figure, though it might motivate most to greater or lesser degrees. Based on the conversations I've had, it seems most Christians are concerned that losing the historical Jesus would render the logic of salvation invalid...and most Christians are pretty serious about salvation. I assume the concern with salvation, or some similar mechanism which seems to depend on a particular event actually happening, would hold true for other historical religions (Judaism, Islam, etc.). That being said, historical religions tend to be monotheistic, so your suggested motivation probably is a real motivation, just not the only one. But I do know lots of Christians (or some, anyway) who aren't especially hung up on exclusivity (I hope I can include myself) and simultaneously affirm that Buddhism etc. has mythic wisdom and that Christianity has historical truth. And I also know Christians (a lot this time) who would largely agree with you regarding Genesis and other early Biblical books, that Adam and Eve or Abraham are mythical, not historical. That being said, for those who are triumphalistic in their religions, I think you are right that historical truth helps them feel superior. And I also agree with the general point of your post, that the wisdom winds up being more important, practically, than the history.

The objection seems to have difficulty seeing the distinction between Jesus the man and Christ the myth? Between Siddhartha Gautama the man and Buddha the myth? Between Arthur the man and the Once and Future King as the myth?

To me, the point of contact between the man (or woman) and the myth is exactly our own point of contact between life and death. The historical person (man or woman) had their own life and death, and it is the myth that informs us about our own life and death through the orienting images of the mythic life of the “historical” person.

In one sense, unless there is a person in history or historical legend upon whom the myth can be draped as a mantle, then the myth has no home within the world of life and death. So in this sense, there must be an incarnation of the myth to make it real. So yes, there can be no salvation or enlightenment unless there was a person who embodied that mythic story of salvation or enlightenment. The myth would be just fiction without the embodiment of the incarnation. But given the necessity of the myth to be embodied, it is still the core of misinterpretation to confuse the historicity of the person embodying the ahistorical myth with the myth itself.  

The incarnation makes the myth historical, but on its own ground, the myth itself is ahistorical and outside the strictures of the contextualizing myth of time and space. Otherwise the myth would be trapped in history and we ourselves would not be able to embody it in our own time with our own realization.

Objection: I like the argument that you have put forward, but without sun, there is no light, and if you look at these as a fact, then the sun really doesn't matter day to day, but in reality they go in hand in hand, and I think this is vital when it comes to faith, otherwise you will never take it seriously, and when you don't, it can't become part of you. I like Harry Potter but it's not part of my life.

Myths are myths, and that is why they are not real, or they may have been real, it's because of this word maybe, they are called myths, and when we have the word maybe involved, then there is no faith, and without faith I would be an atheist. It's not bad thing, but I would rather believe in something then nothing. Therefore what ever you believe in, then it matters whether anything is real or not and without that there is no point in the system.

By sitting in a fake aeroplane pretending you are going nowhere. And what is a point in that. Period.

Beyond the somewhat confused statement of the objection, which is the sun and which is the light? Is the historical person that the myth is hanging on the sun or the light? Is the myth the sun or the light?

Myths are most definitely real, because there is no "reality" without a myth of what is "real." Believing in something or believing in nothing are both the expressions of myth. "Faith" is a wide spectrum including hopeful supposition, belief, expectation, trust, confidence, and certainty. If we take something "seriously" then that is the evidence that myth is at work in our mind. It is our personal myth of reality that sorts things out as "this is really important" and “this is not important.” 
If we want to know the context, shape, and texture of the myths that are at work in our own mind, then we simply have to describe what it is that we take to be “true,” “really true,” and “really important.”  And since consciousness works by polarity, we need to be aware of and describe the things we take to be “false” and “unimportant” to see how our myth casts its own shadow.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More on the Conspiracy to Create an Unnatural Buddhism

Here's a spot-on blog in Tricycle from Lama Jampa Thaye described as "a scholar, author, and meditation master from the UK, trained in both the Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions of Tibetan Buddhism." We Are Not Kind Machines: A Radical Rejection of Scientific Buddhism
This is welcomed push back to the widening conspiracy of the so-called "naturalizing Buddhism" movement that sees itself as the White Knight rescuing Buddha Dharma from superstition and supernaturalism.
Lama Jampa opens with the observation:
Science seems omnipresent in the modern world, and its explanatory force and benefits are hard to deny. Indeed, its success has even led some, including a number of well-regarded figures in the contemporary Buddhist world, to argue that the dharma itself must be made more “scientific” if it is to survive.
What this is responding to is the false thinking that (1) the Buddha Dharma needs protection to survive, and (2) that somehow making Buddha Dharma more scientific is the path to its survival. Both points are wrong. The question "on the ground," so to speak, is not about survival but about transplantation and acculturation. It is a given that as the Buddha Dharma comes to "the West" to be transplanted here, there must be some kind of acculturation of conceptualization so that people in the West can have the conceptual bridges to understand what the Buddha Dharma is talking about. Building the conceptual bridges is what is called the "accommodation" phase by Peter D. Hershock in his book Chan Buddhism .
Hershock points out that every culture has its generalized worldview and every worldview is based on polarizations which characterize the contours of the natural tensions in that society. To become transplanted and acculturated, the Buddha Dharma must address the particular and specific features of each cultural configuration with which it comes into contact.  For example, ideas about what is a person and what is death are central themes and axes of polarization in every culture, but the ideas are polarized in specific configurations somewhat differently in each culture.
To Hershock the process of assimilation is a two way street, the Buddha Dharma brings changes to the culture and the culture brings changes to how the Buddha Dharma is conceptualized.  The process of assimilation and acculturation takes place in two phases of accommodation and advocacy. Hershock notes that he is not proposing the two phases are strictly linear, but may be occurring simultaneously or in rhythm.  I would point out that as a precondition phase we can speak of the initial introduction phase before either accommodation or advocacy has occurred.
The accommodation phase requires that the strangeness of the worldview of the Buddha Dharma be made familiar in some basic ways so that the worldview of the new context can relate.  In this way, the Buddha Dharma accommodates itself to the indigenous cultural framework.  A past example of this was when the Buddha Dharma came to China, the word Tao was taken up and used as a bridge to explain certain features of the Buddha Dharma.  Some people mistake this aspect of accommodation, where the Buddha Dharma is accommodating itself to indigenous concepts, as being "influenced by" those concepts. In this way it is often said that Buddhism in China was "influenced by" Taoism. However, this is not actually the case. The use of the indigenous cultural terminology and frameworks does not mean that the Buddha Dharma has changed, because the Buddha Dharma is not dependent or established on words or cultural concepts. 
The second phase is the advocacy phase which begins after some measure of accommodation has occurred.  In the advocacy phase the now somewhat accommodated and familiarized concepts are reviewed with an eye to how they are actually distinguishable from the indigenous conceptual frame.  Using the example of the Tao in China, the goal is to show how the Buddha Dharma view of the Tao is distinguishable from the indigenous view of the Tao.
Here in the West we have two competing frameworks of worldview, religion (primarily Christian) and science.  So it is not at all unusual for the propagation of Buddha Dharma to begin by accommodating itself to these two worldviews.  This is analogous to the Buddha Dharma coming to China and having to accommodate itself to the two competing worldviews of Taoism and Confucianism. This puts us in the middle between the two contending worldviews where if we are perceived as being too close to one framework then the other framework will write off the Buddha Dharma with the same critique that it uses against the other.
For instance, followers of the Buddha Dharma, when speaking to Christians, may use the word God to explain that the Buddha Dharma does recognize a transcendent awareness. But in the advocacy phase, it is made clear that the Buddha Dharma does not look at God with an anthropomorphic eye. Then with a bit more accommodation we can explain that the Buddha Dharma conception of God is more like the Christian mystics' view of God as the infinite Godhead, or source of all reality, etc. Then with another turn at advocacy the conception of God is related to the Buddha Dharma conceptions of emptiness, Dharmakaya, True Suchness, etc. Likewise, in accommodating to the Christian idea of life after death, the Buddha Dharma says, "Yes there is life after death," but then in the advocacy phase, the Buddha Dharma distinguishes what it means by life after death as a cyclic process involving karma and rebirth and not the eternal cul-de-sac of either heaven or hell. This is a lively process, but if the life is removed then the propagation devolves into mere propaganda. 
Similarly, in the West we who are followers of the Buddha Dharma must accommodate to the framework of the worldview of science.  It is when trying to accommodate to the polarized framing of the scientific worldview that we are seeing the "naturalizing of Buddhism" idea come to the forefront.  However, followers of the Buddha Dharma need to be most vigilant at this point in order to remain centered in the Buddha Dharma for the purpose of accommodation and not become co-opted by the scientific worldview and lose touch with the Buddha Dharma. Lama Jampa's blog post is on this concern.
Too many people, even some who have more than a passing introduction to Buddha Dharma, have become confused and conflate the Science Dharma with the Buddha Dharma.  In both Dharmas, there is reason, inquiry, a basic acknowledgement of the value of empirical experience, but how these polarized issues are dealt with is importantly distinguished. The Buddhists who are involved in the so-called naturalization movement are lost in the accommodation phase and have lost sight of the advocacy phase. The naturalization movement has two general proponents, those who are advocates of science and those who are Buddhists. The advocates of science are not interested in the Buddha Dharma per se, and instead they want to incorporate Buddhism into a subservient branch of science. It is from this point of view that the naturalization movement wants to alter Buddha Dharma to meet its own criteria. Followers of the Buddha Dharma need to be most aware of this. It is for this reason that Lama Jampa  writes,
While science itself is not dangerous to the dharma, the appeal for a “scientific Buddhism,” an insistence that Buddhism must accord with the materialist propositions often paired with scientism, most definitely is. Such a Buddhism is not the dharma.
The followers of the Buddha Dharma who think that they are helping the Buddha Dharma be transplanted to the West by being co-opted into the naturalization movement are simply being duped and pulled away from the Buddha Dharma. Many, if not most of them, do not understand what is transpiring in the Science Dharma itself and do not perceive the fight about materialism that is taking place among the followers of the Science Dharma.  Instead of aligning themselves with the materialists wing of the Science Dharma, the followers of the Buddha Dharma who want to engage in the legitimate accommodation with the Science Dharma must do so with full understanding of the polarizations and the framework of those polarizations that are within the Science Dharma itself, and chief of these is the question of materialism. 
Materialism affects (infects?) both science and religion.  Both scientism and creationism are materialist.  Buddha Dharma is not materialist. In the accommodation phase, Buddha Dharma must speak to both religion and science in terms that are not materialistic in order to speak in their own terms to those who are within the religious and scientific worldviews without being materialistic.   In the field of religion this means speaking to the contemplative practitioners of religion and not buying into the materialistic doctrines of religion. In the field of science this means speaking to those who value the scientific method of inquiry and hypothesis and not buying into the materialistic doctrines of the philosophy of science, or those of pseudo-science.   
One example is the subject of Lama Jampa's blog: the neuro-science of meditation.  To study meditation from the perspective of measuring brain activity is a science that is usurped by materialistic view of the psyche that only sees mind as physical brain activity.
Lama Jampa writes,
Now, it may very well be that brain activity changes during meditation. But it's difficult to see how knowing this could contribute anything significant to the process of dissolving the twin obscurations of disturbing emotions and nescience, a dissolution that alone brings about enlightenment. Would, for instance, Jetsun Milarepa have achieved decisive realization more swiftly if he had possessed a knowledge of neurology? The plain unvarnished truth is that while a variety of physical effects—from the modification of pulse rate to altered frequency of brain waves—may accompany meditation, these effects are not the source of the experience of the meditating mind any more than a lessening of indigestion.
This paragraph makes a point that is very important. It is the essential difference between neuro-physiological science and psychological science. Today, we have mostly lost this distinction and mistake neuro-physiological science as if it is psychological science, which it is definitely not. The physical sciences may approach the physical world and study it, but that is not the same thing as approaching and scientifically studying the psychological world. Those who have lost this distinction I would put into the camp of scientism. I have nothing directly against neuro-physiological science in itself, except that it has usurped the field of psychological science by calling neuro-physiology the real psychology and denigrating real psychology by calling it "subjective" or even worse, such as "mysticism."

I take Lama Jampa to be saying that the study of brain activity should not be confused with the study of the psychological activity of mind. To view the world as if the brain is the ground for explaining the world is the physiological leaning view that is all too often stained by materialism.  To view the world as if the mind is the ground for explaining the world is the psychological view. Brain activity is an objectification of mind activity. To the extent that the objectification of mind activity is taken literally and mind is being explained by the activity of brain physiology, then to that extent the view is materialistic. Objectification is to mind what literalization and materialization is to the practice of the Buddha Dharma, i.e. false thinking about mind.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Opiate of Logical Speculation

Response to “Buddhism as the Opiate of the(downwardly-mobile) Middle Class: The Case of Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This is an interesting blog that seems based on nothing but the writer’s fantasy of Buddhism, not even on emptiness. But because the blog is titled “Speculative Non-Buddhism”  that is not surprising.  This is definitely “non-Buddhism.” And as for the “speculation,” in the Buddha Dharma speculation is the sine qua non of false thinking.
To say, “for [Thanissaro Bhikkhu], Buddhism is exactly the same as Vedanta or Jainism at its core,” is next to defamation and has no evidentiary support. Also saying “Unlike most x-buddhist teachers” implies that Ajaan Geoff is an “x-buddhist teacher” when he is not either an “ex-buddhist” nor an “ex-teacher.” Of course in one sense, Buddha Dharma teaches the One Vehicle in which all vehicles, even the Vehicles of Humans and Devas such as Vedanta or Jainism, have the same basis because all things (dharmas) are nothing but manifestations of mind. However, Buddha Dharma does not ever take the position as a positive assertion “that we are moving closer to permanently rejoining the perfect eternal atman, escaping the trap of this world once and for all” except in a very limited way as a very temporary expedient means for “crying and scared children” who are lost in the cul-de-sac of nihilism.

Specifically, this blog is guilty of misrepresentation of Ajaan Geoff’s teachings.  It is just a plain misrepresentation to say, “In his essay ‘No-self or Not-self?’ he makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul, but that nothing that is part of our time-space continuum is part of that soul, and so we must learn not to be attached to anything in this samsaric world.”  That essay says no such thing. I invite all the readers to see for themselves by opening the link to the essay itself and searching for every reference to the word “soul.”
Tom Pepper's blog makes the fundamental mistake that non-Buddhists often make by equating the use of the word “mind” with the use of the word “self” or “soul.”  For example, nowhere in the excerpt of Ajaan’s use of the word “mind” does the word “core” appear, yet it is asserted that Ajaan is talking about a “core mind” as an eternal self or soul sort of thing, when he never said such a thing. There is just the assumption being read into Ajaan’s words that is not there in the meaning of the words. This rhetorical trick is useful for the writer, but is just plainly fallacious. Likewise the author does not understand what the term “unconditioned mind” means and imagines it to mean an “eternal and unchanging” "core mind" kind of thing. This kind of confusion is a symptom of the illness of logical speculation.

I can’t find anything in this blog that credibly represents either the teaching of Ajaan Geoff or the Buddha Dharma.  Believing this kind of logical speculation to be anything but false thining is the real opiate to be avoided.

Post Script: After writing the above I discovered that I was misreading the meaning of "x-buddhist teacher" to mean "ex-buddhist teacher."  After looking more at the blog, I see that the contributors of the "Speculative Non-Buddhist" blog use the term "x-buddhist" in a derogatory manner to mean their judgmental and speculative view of the real Buddha Dharma as a teaching of falsehoods and hallucinations. They believe that their "non-buddhism" which they speculate about is the real Buddha Dharma and that what they call "x-buddhism" is phony Buddha Dharma, even though it is what is taught by the actual certified teachers of Buddha Dharma.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Delusions About God Don't Make God a Delusion

Two blogs this week bring up the question of God which inspired me to respond.  One is from an ex-Pentacostal preacher about his conversion experience and in particular reports his conversion experience as a believer in God who was converted to the belief in atheism. The other is a blog by Lawrence Grecco who writes about three common mistaken beliefs about Buddha Dharma including the belief that Buddhists are atheists.   

Let’s look at Venerable Grecco’s piece first. His blog post is titled, “Three Myths about Buddhism that Drive People away in Droves.”  The three misunderstandings are (1) Buddhists believe that "life is suffering", (2) Karma is a bitch, and (3) Buddhists don’t believe in God or prayer.  For Buddha Dharma to be transplanted and acculturated in the West, it is essential that followers of the Buddha Dharma are able to address these three concerns cogently without dodging the nuances and complexities of these issues.

Rather than taking up space to summarize his points here, I suggest just following the link and reading it there.   Here’s my response, somewhat edited from what I posted there.

Good points to consider. I agree that these are the three misunderstandings or misinterpretations (we could even call them delusions) that usually come up in discussion with those who have no personal experience of Buddha Dharma.  And even some people who have had relatively closer contact with Buddha Dharma than most are still clueless when it comes to karma.

Before I discuss the three points, I would like to pick a nit over the use of the word “myth” which is being used in the pejorative sense meaning “falsehood” that is derived from the overly rationalistic world view of materialist scientism.  As the greatest master of psychology of the 20th century, Carl G. Jung, made clear in his voluminous studies, and also attested to by the preeminent mythologist Joseph Campbell, the word “myth” is a word that connects us to the sacred realm of life and living.  Only a materialist is blind to the psychic reality of myth even though there is no particular physical reality.  To equate the word “myth” with "falsehood" would itself be saying that the myths of Buddha Dharma (as portrayed in the Mahayana Sutras especially and exuberantly but also in a more limited extent in the Pali Suttas) are falsehoods. This is the great mistake of those who claim to support Buddha Dharma but who advocate "naturalizing" Buddha Dharma to take out the mythic qualities. Myths, including the myths of Buddha Dharma, are not falsehoods. They are myths that speak the truth of the mind, not the facts of physical perception.

Life As Suffering:
The false thinking that Buddhism teaches “life is suffering” is definitely the main point that people can get stuck on. Ven. Grecco has hit the target on dukkha meaning an off-center hub that turns with disturbance and it's opposite sukkha meaning the ease with which an in-balance or centered hub turns.  I like to remind people that the root of the word “passion” means suffering, as in the Passion of Christ, so the First Noble Truth that "Life is Passion" is completely in line with the role that suffering as passion plays in Christianity.  The Buddha saying “Life is passion,” is exactly what the Christian myth is saying when it says the Son of God was born into this world of passion and had to personally live this world’s suffering as a person not as a God. The difference between Buddha Dharma and Christianity on this point is that instead of saying that there was only one Son of God who experienced "Life is passionate suffering", Buddha Dharma teaches us that each and every one of us is a Child of God and it is only our own ignorance, craving, and mistaken attachments that prevent us from realizing it on our own.
The extension of this mistake about the First Noble Truth is the belief that the Third Noble Truth of the "Extinction of Dukkha" means taking a nihilistic view.  Buddha Dharma is the middle path between eternalism (i.e., an eternal life in a heaven) and nihilism (nothingness), both of which in their way posit a materialist universe. Buddha Dharma does not posit a materialist universe so there is no basis for a belief in either eternalism or nihilism in the Buddha Dharma.


The misunderstandings about karma are hard to break through because karma is so complex that the Buddha often did not want to discuss it for fear of confusing his audience.  The Buddha acknowledged and affirmed the activity of karma, but he revolutionized the interpretation of karma as it was being discussed in his time. Unfortunately, today people mistake the pre-Buddhist, i.e., the non-Buddhist, view of karma to be the Buddhist view of karma, and they are completely ignorant about how the Buddha saw through those misinterpretations of karma.  The commonly conventional view of karma is like saying that inheritance is a matter of “blood” while ignoring that it is really a matter of genetics. To understand the workings of karma is even more complex than understanding the workings of genes and chromosomes.

As Ven. Grecco says, karma is not about “deserving” or “retribution” in the judicial sense. There is absolutely no judging in the function of karma.  If I step off a cliff, there is no judgment in the result when I hit the ground. There is just the degree of pain or injury, up to death, depending on the height of the fall.

When something happens to us, the Buddha taught that there may be a karmic aspect to the causal influences leading up to the occurrence but that karma is not ever the sole causative force.  If we are astute, then we may be able to perceive the karmic aspect, but it is not always necessary.  To take the example from Ven. Grecco, for instance, someone may think, “If you slip on a banana peel and fall down on your face, it’s because you insulted me last night.”  That is such a speculative over simplification that is amounts to plain stupidity.  However, there may be a seed of truth in it because the inattentive attitude, about how one is relating to others and the world, that one had the night before and which led to insulting someone could actually be an important condition that continued through the next morning as inattention to where the person is walking and not seeing the banana peel.  That is, if we don’t watch where we step in our relationships with people and we insult them, then for sure it is not unlikely that likewise we won’t watch where we step when walking down the street. The karma of "not watching where we step" with the actions of our tongue or our feet can be the connecting karmic principle. But again, that has nothing to do with “divine punishment.”  It just has to do with our own actions and our attention or inattention. 

Similarly, if we speculate “Perhaps that person begging for change on the street was Hitler in a past life, so it serves them right.” that is only our ego's self-serving rationalization that has absolutely nothing to do with an accurate analysis of karma.  If one analyzes the context, then it is infinitely more probable that the karma of the person begging on the street is due to his or her having previously (in the past of this life or another) met a beggar on the street and had just that exact thought that the beggar “deserved” that fate.  That is how karma works; it is a balancing mechanism that corrects the dualistic views in our relationships with others and the world.  If we walk past a beggar and blame the beggar for deserving his or her condition, then we are relating to the beggar dualistically, instead of saying “there but for fortune go I.”  If we walk past a beggar and blame the beggar for deserving his or her condition, then the karma that is most likely to flow from that action of ours is that sooner or later we will switch places to walk in the other’s shoes and see from first hand experience how that feels.


The mistake about how Buddha Dharma relates to ideas of God is also one fraught with nuance that most people want to avoid because judgment of good and bad is so much easier within our mental conditioning.  The most important nuance is found in the question of whether or not it is beneficial to conceive of God as a being or a thing. If someone believes in a God, then Buddha Dharma won’t argue with the person because the person’s belief is exactly what defines their notion of God.  This is how we can say that some people believe in money as belief in a God.  When someone says, “There is no God but God.” then that comes closer to the Buddha Dharma because it points to the truth that God is not able to be grasped by notions that objectify God as a person or thing.
The theism of the Buddha Dharma has been most closely related to the term "panentheism" (not "pantheism").  There is a very interesting chapter called “The God-Conception in Buddhism” in the book Zen For Americans by Soyen Shaku written over 100 years ago    In this essay, Reverend Shaku says,

“At the outset, let me state that Buddhism is not atheistic as the term is ordinarily understood. It has certainly a God, the highest reality and truth, through which and in which this universe exists. However, the followers of Buddhism usually avoid the term God, for it savors so much of Christianity, whose spirit is not always exactly in accord with the Buddhist interpretation of religious experience.” (p 25-26)

The spirit he is referring to is the spirit of objectifying God as a person, supreme being, or creator and attaching anthropomorphic images of God as a separate entity.  In Buddha Dharma there are many words that are the equivalent of the term “God” such as Dharmakaya, Shunyata, Tathagata, True Suchness, the Unborn, etc.  However, the Lankavatara Sutra teaches that the Tahtagata is inconceivable, so the multitude of names such as “God,”  “Lord,” “Creator,” etc. are just names all pointing to the same reality.  To know that the name is just a name doesn’t mean that the name doesn’t really point to reality. If one wants to truly know that which is designated by a name such as “God” then one has to stop grasping at the name and turn one’s awareness toward what the name is pointing at. When we turn our awareness around from our belief in the discrimination of objectified external things toward the unified principle at the root of our own mind, then it no longer matters whether we call the fountainhead of our awareness by the name of Tahtagata, Buddha, or God.

When Carl Jung was asked about whether he believed in God he said, “I don’t believe. I know.”  That is the whole point of Buddha Dharma.  Don’t talk about believing or not, but instead do what it takes to inquire on one’s own to know on one’s own. The central clue we only need to remember is that as long as we objectify God as a separate person or thing, then we are still in the realm of belief and not knowing.


In the Salon article titled “God is a delusion”: I was a Pentacostal preacher — until I lost my faith excerpted from the book, "Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor'sJourney From Belief to Atheism", Jerry Dewitt tells of his conversion from being a God believer to a disbeliever.  Here is my response which takes up where the previous response leaves off discussing the notion of God.

This story by Jerry Dewitt is a classic story of conversion. Sometimes the conversion is from not believing in God to believing in God. Here the conversion is from believing in God to not believing in God.  It is just a story of turning from belief in one delusion to belief in another. It doesn't matter which direction the turning goes. 

The word "conversion" means to convert, "to turn with."  It means turning from one belief to another.  The interesting thing about conversion is the emotional aspect. We bind up a raft load of emotions in our belief systems, some of them conscious but mostly unconscious, and when we let go of a belief system we experience an overflow of free flowing emotional energy in our body and mind. Then when we latch onto the new belief system the flooding emotions become anchored in the new patterns of thought and feeling, and we feel a tremendous relief. Then we take that feeling of relief as the self-fulfilling evidence confirming that the new belief is the real truth.  Sadly, the relief and excitement of conversion is not proof of anything other than that a genuine conversion took place. It is not proof of the new beliefs to which we have been converted. But new converts always take the emotions to be such proof.  

With the belief in God and the belief in atheism, there is truth and delusion on both sides. The belief in an anthropomorphic image of God is no more or less of a delusion than the belief that there is no God.  The truth found in the belief in God is that "God is," but the delusion is that God is an anthropomorphic being or a thing. The truth found in atheism is that there is no possible image that accurately portrays God, and the delusion of atheism is the conclusion that because there is no conceivable image of God that there is no God.

Rather than mistaking conversion as something real, we should know that converting from one belief system to another is not the answer. It doesn't matter which direction the conversion goes: from theism of one kind to theism of another kind, from theism to atheism, or from atheism to theism.  The conversion is nothing bur the switch from one belief system to another.  The actual truth of God can only be found in the space between belief systems, can only be realized in the brief time within conversion when our beliefs are not fixed and polarized in either system and our mind has the freedom of its own awareness unencumbered by belief systems.   

This returning to our true state is called reversion. In the Sanskrit language it is called paravrtti.  It is the remembrance of our true home, our actual birthright as aware human beings, and it has nothing to do with beliefs or with philosophical arguments or assertions about whether a God exists or does not exist.  When we turn the light of awareness around to see the fountainhead of our own mind, then we can experience God on our own and not have to worry about belief any more, because then we know.