Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buddha doesn't teach materialism.

Someone wrote: Science is not intrinsically materialistic. It's intrinsically skeptical. ... Opinion polls show that a substantial number of American scientists, perhaps a majority, have religious beliefs.  I have objected to the term "scientific materialism," which suggests some theory of materialism.

I think that science is intrinsically and inherently materialistic by definition.

Science is based on the assumption and theory of matter and materialism.
Materialism, the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material agencies.

Matter, as distinct from mind and spirit, is a broad word that applies to anything perceived, or known to be occupying space.

In Buddha Dharma, as articulated in the Lankavatara Sutra, the Sanskrit for "materialist" and "materialism" is lokayata which literally means "limited to the world."
Red Pine wrote: The Sanskrit for ‘materialist’ is lokayata. This term included all those whose approach to knowledge was based on knowledge gained from the five senses. (Note 128, p. 202.)

Because science deliberately limits itself to the five senses perceiving an external world, it is by definition materialism, and by definition is not what Buddha articulated.

That is not to say that Buddha Dharma is incompatible with science, only that the materialist basis of science should never be confused Buddha Dharma as it all too frequently is confused. Buddha Dharma is based on the personal realization that all manifested phenomena are only mind, and this is called the personal realization of noble knowing/knowledge (aryajnana) or Buddha knowing/knowledge (buddhajnana)

For example, in Zen especially, we see the confusion of materialism and Buddha Dharma in the raw examples of every day life such as “a cup of tea” or “hitting the floor” or “raising the stick” or “the plum blossom” used as examples of suchness. But without the personal realization of suchness, the person who has not the realization has only the sensory experience of “a cup of tea” or “hitting the floor” or “raising the stick” or “the plum blossom” and thinks of these as “things” (i.e., dharmas) and mistakes the experience of the thing-as-a-sensory-object for the realization of the thing as the manifestation of suchness.

To view things as external to our mind is called the “externalist ways” (外道).

Externalism. of or pertaining to the world of things, considered as independent of the perceiving mind: external world.

To mistake a thing in the sense being a thing-as-a-sensory-object, i.e., an external thing, is the practical meaning of materialism. Materialism comes in very many varieties and some of them are very subtle and sound like “immaterialsm,” but they are still materialism. In section LXXIII of the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha tells Mahamati unequivocally, “I do not articulate materialism.” The Buddha goes on to tell Mahamati about a previous encounter with a materialist Brahman (世論婆羅門). It is an amusing story. The internally quoted matter is quoted directly from the Lankavatara.

The materialist Brahman approaches the Buddha and rudely without seeking permission to question and without waiting he rudely calls the Buddha by his family name “Gautama” and asks, “Is everything actually created?”

The Buddha replied declaring, “Brahman, that everything is actually created is the initial materialism.”

The other then asked, “Is everything not actually created?”

The Buddha said, “That everything is not actually created is the second materialism.”

The Brahman starts a rapid fire succession of questions about permanency, impermanency, birth, and no birth and the Buddha replies, “That’s six materialisms.” A few more such questions and the Buddha says, “That’s eleven materialisms.” the Brahman keeps asking philosophical questions, and the Buddha keeps saying “that’s also materialism,” and then the Buddha says, “As long as there are mental outflows erroneously reckoning on the external dusts (i.e., sensory data), in all cases it is materialism.”

The Brahman in exasperation then asked, “Rather, there is that which is not materialism isn’t there? For the propositions of every one of the externalist ways, I correctly articulate every kind of flavor of phrasing, causes and conditions, parables, and rhetorical embellishments.”

The Buddha declared, “Brahman, there is that which is neither your possession, nor doing, nor propositions, nor articulations. nor is it not articulating every kind of flavor of phrasing, nor is it not causes, metaphors, and rhetorical embellishments.”

The Brahman declared, “What is the position that is not materialism and neither not a proposition, nor not articulating?”

And the Buddha declared, “Brahman, there is the non-materialism that your various externalist ways are not able to know, because they use the means of external natures, untruths, antithetical conceptions, deceptive reckonings, and attachments. I designate not giving birth to antithetical conceptions and the complete realization that existence and nonexistence are nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind. By not giving birth to antithetical conceptualizations and not receiving external dusts, the antithetical conceptualizations are forever stopped. This is called non-materialism. This is my Dharma, and not what you have!
“Brahman, to articulate in outline: their consciousness supposes coming, supposes going, supposes death, supposes birth, supposes ease, supposes suffering, supposes the submerged, supposes the visible, supposes contacts, supposes attachments to every kind of characteristics, supposes harmonious continuity, supposes reception, or supposes attachments to causes and reckonings. So, Brahman, that which compares to this position is your position of materialism and is not what I have.”

To clarify how materialism is used, Red Pine includes a note from old Chinese commentary:

Red Pine wrote: In his commentary, T’ung-jun notes, “The stance of those who understand the way of truth of self-existence is firm. They teach materialism all day, yet it is not materialism. Meanwhile, the stance of those who don’t understand is unstable. They teach what is not materialism all day, yet it turns out to be materialism. (Note 135, p. 204.)

The truth of “self-existence” means the truth of one’s own nature, the ultimate truth of svabhava, the third of the three own-natures (trisvabhava). This important note shows us that when the Buddha and Zen teachers point to a flower, hit the floor, comment on the sound of the rain, etc., it may seem like they are teaching materialism, but in fact this is not a teaching of materialism and is actually the teaching there is nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind. But, when the non-Buddhists speak of non-materialism such as energy, space, gods, heavens, spiritual matters, etc., they still believe in an external reality and external things so they are in fact teaching materialism.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama's bankrupt words make the inaugral address meaningless.

Here's my response to this article in Salon from a Democratic Party apologist,.

What Obama should say in his second inaugural

  • Wonderwheel
  • Monday, Jan 21, 2013 11:37 AM PST

  • My laughing started with this subtitle:

    "Now is the time to articulate a vision of capitalism that explicitly rejects the notion of 'job creators'."

    The very idea of such a species of "capitalism" is a fairytale for children. Capital-ism means making money from capital. What is capital? It is money and tangible assets. Making money from capital means having other people do work with “your” capital and then giving you the lion’s share of the profits and they get the leftovers. There is no variety of so-called compassionate capitalism in which the owners of capital don’t assert their possession of the capital as god-given or hard-earned, even though it is only by sleight of hand and the force of arms that they are able acquire and maintain that capital.

    For example, the raw materials of the land should belong to everyone and not to someone who has a paper title drawn on a map. Individual title to a home is one thing, and its not capitalism because the home is not used by laborers to get a profit for the home owner. But title to oil deep in the earth being held by an individual is ridiculous and only reasonable under the chicanery of capitalism’s style of three card monte. As for Wall Street’s stock “exchanges,” they are nothing more or less than the exchanges occurring every day in gambling casinos.

    When private property is properly restricted to the amount that a person can physically pick up and hold and manage on their own, without additional servants or hired hands to care for it, then we will have an economic system that has to look at the remaining capital as the capital of the commons to be used in a system of economic democracy for the good of the nation, and not for the good of the corporate lords of the American Brand of Fascism.


    I would just add that Mr. Rollert's notion of a ideal "common capitalism" is just as much an oxymoron as Schumpeter’s "Creative Destruction." 

    Rollert ends with the hopeful fairy story of "a vision of economic development that doesn’t see us waiting on the deliverance of an enlightened few, but one in which there is dignity and place for everyone to lend a hand."  But what does that really mean? He hasn't described a single instance of practical difference to the current system of economic injustice.  Stripped of the finery, Rollert's vision of "everyone lending a hand" means exactly what we have now under capitalism, everyone lending a hand and the capitalists determining how much trickles down to the hands.

    It really is silly to imagine "what Obama should say" in his inaugral, because whatever he says will have absolutely no currency in the market place of real politics, anymore than the many campaign promises of his first term that have been broken.

    Sunday, January 20, 2013

    The Wheel of Ease of the One Vehicle

    "Those who cultivate practice by their own realization of the noble path abide in the ease of manifested things and do not abandon skillful means."

    This quote comes from the Lankavatara Sutra, or as I like to translate the title, the Sutra of Going Down to Lanka.  The line is from Gunabhadra’s Chinese translation 修行者自覺聖趣現法樂住不捨方便 (T16n0670_p0510b29), and it is found in section LXXXII as the sections have been labeled by convention in the English translations by D.T. Suzuki and Red Pine.

    D. T. Suzuki's translation:
    [Therefore], the Yogins, while walking in the noble path of self-realisation and abiding in the enjoyment of things as they are, do not abandon working hard and are never frustrated [in their undertakings].
    Red Pine's translation:
    Therefore the practitioners who cultivate their own realization of Buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of things as they are and do not abandon their practice.

    In the Lankavatara Sutra, this line is a declaration, from the perspective of the One Vehicle, of what spiritual practice is about for the bodhisattva follower of Buddha Dharma. Here, the word "ease" is the Sanskrit term "sukha," the opposite of "duhkha."  Sukha is the ease of riding in a wheeled vehicle such as a wagon, cart, or chariot with a balanced and centered axle-hole, while duhkha is the disturbance, difficulty, sorrow, and suffering of riding in the vehicle with an off-centered and unbalanced axle-hole.

    “Living is Duhkha” is the First Noble Truth.  When we initially hear of the Four Noble Truths, with the Third Truth of the Extinction of Duhkha, many of us think that Buddhism is about leaving the world of manifested things altogether behind in order to fall into the bliss of extinction where there is no phenomena appearing at all. Because the First truth is the formula that Life is Duhkha, people believe that the Truth of the Extinction of Duhkha means that life is extinguished.  However, this is a mistaken notion.  This misunderstanding is how Buddhism gets the bad rap of being nihilistic. The extinction spoken of in the Third Truth is the extinction of duhkha, not the extinction of life itself in the ultimate sense of the extinction of all manifestation.  
    The truth is that both before and after awakening, we, the living, always abide in manifested things. But before awakening we conceive of life as abiding in the suffering (duhkha) of manifested phenomena, while after awakening we perceive life as abiding in the ease-and-comfort (sukha) of appearing phenomena. What is the difference? When we perceive manifested things with the dualistic filters of cognitive consciousness, such as "good and bad", "right and wrong", etc., then our axle-hole is off kilter and we are in for a bumpy ride. When the axle-hole is centered without the distortions of bifurcated and polarized conceptualizations, then we abide in ease and comfort as we ride through the very same landscape.

    To carry the metaphor further, when our axle-hole is unbalanced and off center, then the ride is always bumpy and we can’t tell the difference between the bumpiness of the wheel and the bumpiness of the ground, regardless of whether we are travelling on the road or off-road.  This is the meaning of the truth that Life is Duhkha because our ride is always bumpy and this constant bumpiness becomes a constant stressor because the bumpy duhkha is always present whether the road is smooth or not and we never get to really experience the smooth ride between the bumpy parts of the road.  Because we never experience the smooth road, we believe in the delusion that life is always bumpy since for us it is always bumpy because our axle-hole is off center. This is the meaning of “Life is Suffering” because we are confused about the unnatural distress of our off-centered wheel with the natural bumps in the road of life.

    When duhkha is extinguished it means that the axle-hole is centered and balanced and the wheel is turing with the ease of sukha.  When we are “abiding in ease” (sukha-vihara, 樂住) rather than in duhkha, we are able to distinguish when the bumpy is from the ground and not the wheel, then even the bumpy ride experienced differently.  When we have extinguished duhkha and are “abiding in the ease of manifested things” (drsta-dharma-sukha-vihara, 現法樂住) we are able to realize the meaning of Zen Master Yunmen’s saying, “Every day is a good day.”   Every day is good because now we can truly experience the meaning of both smooth and bumpy without the overlay of the constant bumpiness of our off-centered wheel. 

    The meaning of “not abandoning skillful means” (不捨方便) refers to the bodhisattva’s vow to not abandon life after the extinction of duhkha but to practice skillful means to assist others to extinguish duhkha.  The first is called nirvana with remainder, while the second is nirvana without remainder.  From the perspective of the bodhisattva’s vow, it is the last remaining part of selfishness to believe that one can extinguish duhkha for oneself alone and not for everyone.  In the Buddha’s awakening, he does not declare that he has realized awakening for himself while others remain unawakened, but that he and all beings are awakened together.  If  “one who cultivates practice” (acarya, 修行者) abandoned skillful means, it would mean that they were abandoning the awakening of others as well, under the deluded view that one person could be awakened without all beings being simultaneously awakened.   The nonabandonment of skillful means is a hallmark of the One Vehicle as also taught in the Lotus Sutra.

    The phrase their “own realization of the noble path” (自覺聖趣) occurs eight times in the Lankavatara. The noble path (aryagati, 聖趣) is the path of those who have their own realization of noble knowledge (aryajnana, 自覺聖智). To understand the term noble path we must know the meaning of the worldly six paths (six gati, 六趣) that are the six courses of transmigration on the Wheel of Karma (karmacakra, 業輪). The six paths are how we go through the six worlds in which rebirth takes place: hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, titans, and heavenly beings.  The six are sometimes called five paths (五趣) when the titans (asuras) are counted among the ranks of the heavenly beings (devas) as one path.   These paths (gati, alternatively: way, course, going, deportment, arriving at, destination, etc.) are the primary fruit of karma (acts, ).

    It is a great and unfortunate misunderstanding about karma to say that everything that happens to us is caused by our own acts, i.e, our karma. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Buddha taught, karma is only one of the handful of factors related to what happens to us. However, the primary result of our karma is the path (gati, destination) that we arrive at on the following turns of the karma wheel of birth and death. If we act like a devil then we will eventually be reborn in hell, if we act like an animal we will be reborn as an animal, and if we act like an angel we will be reborn as a being in heaven (deva). Once we are born in one of the six paths, then the several other factors, of which our karma is only one, act as particular causative forces for what happens to us.  This teaching of how to avoid a rebirth in the realms of hell, hungary ghosts, and animals and how to attain rebirth in the realms of the humans, asuras and heavenly biengs is called the teaching of humans and heavenly beings (sometimes "the teaching of Gods and humans").  What Buddhism adds to this teaching of "reaping what we sow" shared by all religions, is the teaching called the turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

    Our turning on the Wheel of Karma is the meaning of duhkha as turning around an off-centered axle-hole, and so another name for the Wheel of Karma is the wheel of suffering (duhkhacakra, 苦輪).  The teaching of the Buddha Dharma is to save us from the predicament we find ourselves in when we realize that we are endlessly turning in the wheel of suffering and this is what we equate with living.  The realization of the Buddha Dharma is called the turning of the Wheel of Dharma and means that we are liberated from the Wheel of Karma, which is liberation from both hell and heaven as well as the other four paths of rebirth.  Whereas the Wheel of Karma is the Wheel of Suffering (duhkha), the Wheel of Dharma is the Wheel of Ease (sukhacakra, 樂輪).  In Zen, this turning of the Wheel of Ease is called "having no no affairs" (無事, Ch. wushi, J. buji).

    However, the two Wheels of Karma and Dharma are actually the same wheel.  When the wheel’s axle hole is off center then the turning is called the suffering of karma. When the wheel’s axle hole is centered and balanced then the turning is called the ease of Dharma. This ease of the turning of the Wheel of Dharma is an ease that transcends the dichotomy of ease and unease, because it is the dichotomy view (vikalpa, 妄想) of things that is the false conception at the heart of our suffering and which knocks our turning wheel off center.  This dichotomous view of life stems from the factor of consciousness that the Lankavatara Sutra calls the seventh consciousness or manas.

    The manas or 7th consciousness is the aspect of consciousness that bifurcates or polarizes our undifferentiated awareness so that self-consciousness can evolve (pravritti, ).  This process of evolution by dichotomous polarization is how consciousness constructs the reflected image called self in its worldview built from all the bricks and mortar of dualisms like inside-outside, high-low, existence-nonexistence, life-death, good-bad, right-wrong, etc. The process of turning around (paravrtti) our awareness to penetrate this veil of polarization to directly realize the undifferentiated awareness of the storehouse of consciousness (alayavjnana) is the centerpiece of the Lankavatara Sutra and is called one’s own realization of noble knowledge.

    By the incalculably long habit of our evolution of consciousness, the Wheel of Karma turns upon the bifurcation of its off center axis.  It is by the turning around of this evolving process (the paravrtti of this pravrtti) that our awareness is able to see through its grasping at its own dichotomously false conceptions to realize that all such dichotomous conceptions are nothing but the discriminations of mind. 

    The Lankavatara Sutra teaches that when this turning around is personally realized then consciousness is transformed at its root and is called noble knowledge (aryajnana) or Buddha knowledge (buddhajnana),  because it is no longer confused or deluded by the bifurcation process of consciousness.  When our habitually dichotomous consciousness prevails, then we are turned on and by the Wheel of Karma leading us to rebirth in the six paths, but when we are liberated from the polarization process of our own consciousness and perceive that all discriminations are only mind, then the six paths (gati) are transformed into the noble path (aryagati) and we are not separate from the turning the Wheel of Dharma. 

    The Buddha’s One Vehicle can be recognized by the elements in this single sentence.  The One Vehicle teaches that Buddha Dharma is all about our personal realization, not about what we can conceive by reading or hearing teachings, because no matter how refined our conceptions are, they are still based on the bifurcation of false thinking if there is no personal realization. What is realized in our own realization is the noble path of the noble knowledge that everything perceived is only mind and thus we are able to abide in the ease of manifested things as we no longer abide in the wheel of suffering. And because we are abiding in the ease of manifested things instead of retreating from the world of manifested things, we can exercise the Bodhisattva vow of not abandoning the skillful means of relating to others.