Monday, May 27, 2013

The Three Holes of a Crafty Rabbit

A good Zen student is like a crafty rabbit with three holes. If the fox chases the rabbit into one hole, it still has another from which to escape.  
The first hole is being plain and ordinary, blending in with the circumstances to be invisible in plain sight.
The second hole is to be majestically straightforward and marvelously profound, appearing sometimes like a ten foot golden Buddha immobilizing the awe struck or like a demon frightening away the attacker.
The third hole is the minutely subtle manifestation of function taking its rest, removing all semblance of opposition and leaving no trace.

This function of the crafty rabbit can be seen in the koan of “Yangshan Sticking in a Shovel” that is Case 15 of the Record of the Temple of Equanimity (A.K.A. Book of Equanimity, Book of Serenity).

15th Standard:   Yangshan Sticking in a Shovel


            Raised:  Guishan asked Yangshan, “Where are you coming from?”

            Yang[shan] said, “From in the fields.”

            [Gui]Shan said, “How many people are in the fields?”

            Yang[shan] stuck down his shovel, folded his hands, and stood there.

            [Gui]shan said, “On South Mountain there are a great many people mowing thatch.”

            Yang picked up the shovel then walked away.



Monday, May 20, 2013

"Into Darkness" Goes Into the Dark Hole

I saw "Star Trek: Into Darkness" yesterday and I have to say "THUMBS DOWN" overall. This is because I saw the original Star Trek on television when it was first broadcast and this "reboot" series just seems like a perversion of the whole premise that Gene Rodenberry used to create Star Trek: that the formula for good Science Fiction must have more food for thought than thrills of action.  Kids who have never seen the previous Star Treks may like it for the exciting action and find the story "new" when it isn't for those of us who have seen the series. 
To me, JJ Abrams is a criminal who has robbed Star Trek of its uniqueness and turned it into a Star Wars clone. That's a Sci Fi plot right there. The script for "Into Darkness" was witty, but the plot was a tired retread (pun intended). I really don't like it that the "reboot" series has taken Star Trek into an "alternative time line" where they seem to think that they can just retell the same stories with an alternative timeline twist. Very uncreative. I cannot think of anything really good to say about the reboot as far as Star Trek goes. It is a roller coaster ride film from beginning to end, in a very Disney sort of way, and nothing about the original Star Trek (or STNG or DS9) remains as far as the ambiance of storytelling over flash-and-bang action or Gene Rodenberry's original vision of Science Fiction for the thinking person.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Another Example of Denatured Naturalized Buddhism

I suppose a person could fill up all their time trying to chase around all the philosophers and spiritual speculators who are working on the project of "naturalizing" the Buddha Dharma into Western frames of reference.  This project of Buddhist Naturalization is basically a project engaged by people who know Buddha Dharma only from Buddhist books read from within the framework of Western philosophy. I put Jay Garfield and Owen Flanagan in this category, along with Stephen Batchelor who appears to be a failed practitioner who is overcompensating his personal failure by joining the Naturalization movement in an attempt to denature the Buddha Dharma and turn it into a Western form of philosophy. 

Western philosopher and darling of the liberal Marxist community, Slavoj Žižek is among the Buddhist "Naturalizers" and not so long ago gave a talk at the University of Vermont on “Buddhism Naturalized.”   Adrian J. Ivakhiv has blogged his response at Zizek v. Buddhism: who’s the subject?   Ivakhiv's critique of Žižek is well intentioned but lacks determination and seems more supportive than clarifying about the fundamental problems with Žižek specifically and the naturalization movement generally.  Though Ivakhiv's blog "Immanance" is focused on a non-dualist understanding, he seems to have lost focus on the non-dual in his response to Žižek, and Ivakhiv seems to me more than a little bit enchanted with the "Naturalization" project.

First, Ivakhiv is mistaken to say “Buddhism and Žižek’s Lacanianism are, in crucial respects, philosophical kindred spirits.”  It is just not so.  From the outset, Žižek’s critique of Buddhism can be dismissed because it is based on Lacan’s Freudianism.  Ivakhiv erroneously states that both Buddhism and Žižek “posit an emptiness or gap at the center of us humans” but Buddhism posits no such thing.  The “emptiness” that is a gap at the center of something else, like the hole in a donut or the empty bowl of the tea cup, is not in any way, shape, or form the emptiness that Buddhism speaks of. Or to put it another way, the Lankavatara Sutra defines seven kinds of emptiness and the emptiness that is a “gap at the center” of something is the most mundane definition of emptiness that is equated with ignorance, not with the Buddha Dharma.  

Ivakhiv says, “But if reality — not just human but all reality — is the ongoing production of subjectless subjectivity, or what, in process-relational terms I have called subjectivation-objectivation, then subjectless subjectivity is always already active, not merely passive.” But it is not necessary to use such cumbersome terms as “subjectless subjectivity” or “subjectivation-objectivation,” when we say as Buddhists that reality is the activity of Dharma or the activity of Mind or the activity of Buddha-Nature or the activity of emptiness (sunyata) and mean the same thing. Whether that “Other” or that “It” is called Dharma, Mind, Emptiness, Buddha-Nature, Tahtagata, True Suchness, or any of the hundreds of other more colorful terms including such creative attempts as “subjectivation-objectivation,” it is the activity of that which is already active before we have a thought about it.

Therefore, Ivakhiv is right on target to “acknowledge that the world is always already in (affective-semiotic) motion, and that we, moving beings, are affected on a preconscious level by the in-motionness that is always at work around us.”  There is a Zen koan on this very point.   It is Case 75 from the collection called “The Record of the Temple of Equanimity” (A.K.A. “The Book of Seerenity”).
75. Ruiyan’s Constant Principle 瑞巖常理
Ruiyan asked Yantou, “So what is the root’s constant principle?”
Tou said, “Activity!”
Yan said, “At the time of activity what’s it like?”
Tou said, “One does not see the root’s constant principle.”
Yan stood still thinking.
Tou said, “If you agree, then you have not yet escaped the sense organs and dusts. If you don’t agree, you immediately sink into endless birth and death.”

This problem of a perceived necessity to either agree or disagree is the trap of logical thinking from which philosophers and Freudians like Lacan and Žižek are unable to extricate themselves.

This inability to extricate oneself from the polarized force-field of logically determined philosophical thinking leads Žižek to posit an “irreducible gap between ethics (understood as the care of the self, as striving towards authentic being) and morality (understood as the care for others, responding to their call).”  From the view of the Buddha Dharma, the polarization of opposites into irreducible gaps is the hall mark of delusion.  If there is an “irreducible gap between subjective authenticity and moral goodness (in the sense of social responsibility)” then it is one that the logical philosopher has created, not one imposed by the authenticity that transcends the subjective-objective polarity.  

Žižek also asserts that “the authenticity of the Self is taken to the extreme in Buddhist meditation, whose goal is precisely to enable the subject to overcome (or, rather, suspend) its Self and enter the vacuum of nirvana.”  Incredulously, Ivakhiv agrees, “yes, this is part of Buddhism.”  Actually this is not a part of Buddha Dharma. The goal of Buddhist meditation is not “to enable the subject to overcome (or, rather, suspend) its Self and enter the vacuum of nirvana.”  There are so many things wrong with that one line characterization of the goal of meditation, not least of which is that it posits a “subject” overcoming a “Self.” Then there is the pitifully inane description of nirvana as a vacuum. Sadly, Ivakhiv lets this slide with a tepid agreement.

Fortunately, Ivakhiv rebounds off the ropes when he states, “Žižek’s critique sounds to me not so much as a critique of Buddhism’s philosophical core, which I think he hasn’t adequately grasped.” Though, there is no need for Ivakhiv to be so tentative about it.  Žižek plainly doesn’t grasp or realize the core of the Buddha Dharma, and he can only perceive those aspects of Buddha Dharma that he can see through his polarized eyeglasses of philosophical Marxist Freudianism. Thus, Žižek sees only a perverted and twisted view of the Buddha Dharma that is his own attempt at naturalization which he has created.

However, Ivakhiv falls back onto the mat with a knock out punch to himself when he then asserts that there is virtue to Žižek’s critique of Buddhism.  Ivakhiv says, “Subjectivity is only possible because of our condition of separation, the very gap that underlies our suffering,” but is that so?  I don’t think so.  Subjectivity is not “because of” the delusion of separation: subjectivity is the condition of the delusion of separation.  Subjectivity is exactly the delusion of a “gap.”   Apparently because Ivakhiv can’t see this identity of separation, subjectivity, and gap, he posits a false dichotomy between “eliminating that gap” and “recognizing that the gap is one we share will all manner of other gapped, broken, suffering (because groundless yet ground-seeking) others.” Thus Ivakhiv and Žižek seem to share the notion that subjectivity is irreducible and that we are forever bound to stay within our delusion of subjectivity and the only distinction is whether we acknowledge that we share it with everyone else or not.

This error toward subjectivity leads Ivakhiv to say, “A Buddhist who works only to eradicate suffering in him or herself is, I agree, a Buddhist that does little for a world full of suffering. (But is such a person really practicing Buddhism?)”  The answer to the latter question is, yes, such a person is a Buddhist of the Two Vehicles, yet still is very much a Buddhist. But the premise is mistaken.  A Buddhist who works only to eradicate suffering in him or herself IS INDEED a Buddhist who does a great deal for a world full of suffering.  Only a person who believes in the literalization or reification of “the gap” would imagine that such a person were not contributing toward eradicating a world full of suffering.  If Ivakhiv can’t see this, then he has not seen the full vision of Buddha-Knowing (buddhajnana), the realization of which is the purpose of Buddhas coming to manifestation in the Buddha worlds.