Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Intimate Idea of the One Vehicle


In the transplantation of Buddhism to the West, the One Vehicle of the Buddha Dharma is often misunderstood.  The terms “the West” and “westernization” are admittedly problematic generalizations in themselves, but are handy labels for the cultural world view into which Buddha Dharma is now being transplanted from the Eastern countries of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, China, Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc.  This accommodation, acclimation, and acculturation process is sometimes called the modernization or naturalization of Buddhism, and when focused on Buddha Dharma in the USA is often called the Americanization of Buddhism. 
Western/American Buddhists need to address justifications of their existence as a distinct group within Western/American culture. The cultural conditions of India were not the same as the cultural conditions of China, Korea, and Japan, and none of them are the same as the cultural conditions of the West. It is necessary for Western Buddhists to reach some form of accommodation with Western values and sociopolitical structures and functions in order for Buddha Dharma to take root and thrive in the Western cultural ground. In China, the two main streams of cultural conditions and values that Buddhism had to address were Confucianism and Daoism.  In the West, the two main streams of cultural conditions and values that Buddhists must address are the Judeo-Christian God-based theologies and scientific materialism. 
On the one hand, we in the West need to engage in the two-pronged hermeneutical process of first identifying the teaching of the Buddha Dharma and then correctly interpreting it. On the other hand, we need to make accommodations to Western languages and perspectives that allow for the transplantation of Buddhist ideas without corrupting their meaning. Already in the last 50 years, we have seen examples of both successful and corrupted accommodation strategies. In my view, one of the most promising bridges for transplanting Buddha Dharma to the West and making sense of the apparently confusing variety of Buddhist schools and practices is the One Vehicle.

To understand, appreciate, and support this process of transplantation, we should look at the history and prior experience of how Buddhism came to the East (i.e., to China) from what was considered their West in India. And to understand how the Chinese made sense of the confusing diversity of Buddhism we must have an appreciation of how the Chinese "analyzed the teachings" (panjiao) as they received them in unorganized and disorganized piecemeal translations from missionaries of different lineages and sects. However, none of the Chinese analyses of the teachings (panjiao) can be understood without appreciating the role of the One Vehicle.  Likewise, on the other hand, all of the limitations and shortcomings of the traditional Chinese taxonomical systems for the teachings may be understood by their mistakes related to the One Vehicle.

The Chinese correctly understood that the One Vehicle teaching was the orienting principle that make sense out of the diversity of the Buddhist teachings, however, they still fell prey to the human weakness of sectarianism. This is especially ironic because the One Vehicle movement itself was formed as the response to Buddhist sectarianism in India as exemplified by what was called "the 18 Schools."  However, when the One Vehicle came to China, the Chinese commentarial masters all too often failed to fully appreciate the One Vehicle and lost sight of the forest for seeing the trees. 

So while they often, and correctly, saw the One Vehicle as the "complete" or "perfect" (as in the perfection of a circle) teaching, they failed to see and understand the One Vehicle's universal inclusiveness, and instead they either took the One Vehicle as a separate teaching, distinguished from the other vehicles or took the One Vehicle as primarily attached to one Sutra and then claimed that that their favorite one Sutra was the superior sutra to all others.  Both these ideas are deeply mistaken. Thus, analyses of the teachings were created that gave "pride of place" to the Lotus Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra, the Flower Garland Sutra (Avatamsaka, Huayan), etc. But by putting a single One Vehicle Sutra above the other One Vehicle Sutras, these systems revealed that they really did not understand the purport of the One Vehicle. 

Also, some of the commentators argued that the One Vehicle was a "fourth vehicle" that was separate from and in addition to the Three Vehicles. This, too, was a grave mistake.  To understand the One Vehicle is to see that all the One Vehicle Sutras are equal without any of them being above the others, and to realize that the One Vehicle is not a separate vehicle but is the perspective that includes and embraces the Three Vehicles harmoniously.

Of the Chinese developers of the panjiao analyses of the teachings, only Guifeng Zongmi (780-841)developed a classification system that understood the One Vehicle as a nonsectarian movement that was the essence of the Zen, and the Zen motto of not being established on writings. Thus, his analysis of the teachings was not established on one sutra or another, but on the teachings as they were organized across and throughout the sutras.  Zongmi was both a master in the Huayan school and the Zen school, so he was uniquely situated to see that the One Vehicle was not solely appropriated to the Huayan Sutra (the Flower Garland Sutra) but was the essential teaching presented in all the One Vehicle Sutras such as the Flower Garland, Lotus, Nirvana, Lankavatara, Samdhinirmocana, etc.  Bodhidharma, the ancestral anchor of all of the Zen teaching lineages was said to have brought the "One Vehicle lineage of Southern India" to China for the correct understanding of the Lankavatara Sutra.

Especially troubling within some of the systems for analyzing the teachings was the creation of a spurious category called the "separate" teaching of the One Vehicle. This idea proclaimed that the One Vehicle was a fourth vehicle wholly separate from the Three Vehicles of disciples, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. Most, but not all, of the Huayan commentators adopted this erroneous view, however, due to his Zen training Zongmi did not.

I recently translated a small section of the  Samdhinirmocana Sutra on this point. The  Samdhinirmocana Sutra is a One Vehicle Sutra that is often mistakenly called a "Yogacara Text" because it was adopted by the Chinese Yogacara proponents who appropriated certain sections of the Sutra to their Yogacara doctrines.  In this Sutra, the Buddha engages in questions and answers with ten bodhisattvas including Subhuti, Maitreya, Avalokitesvara, and Manjusri.  In the section of exchange with Avalokitesvara, Avalokitesvara asks about the One Vehicle teaching because it seems that the Buddha is saying all the prior teachings are within the One Vehicle and not separate from it.  The Buddha makes it clear that the vehicle of the disciples and the vehicle of the bodhisattvas are themselves not really separate, but only appear separate because of the way they are taught. Here's my translation:


Avalokitesvara bodhisattva again addressed the Buddha and declared, “World Honored One. it is such that the World Honored One articulates as if the Listener-disciple Vehicle and again as if the Great Vehicle are only the One Vehicle. What is the intimate idea of this?”

Buddha told Avalokitesvara bodhisattva saying, “Good Son, it is as if from within the Listener-disciple Vehicle, that I proclaim and articulate the own-nature of every kind of the various things (dharmas), and actually designate the five clusters (skandhas), or the internal six loci, or the external six loci, and such are the classifications. Then accordingly, from within the Great Vehicle, I articulate that Dharma that is identical with the One Dharma-realm and identical with the One Universal Principle.

"For that reason, I do not articulate that the nature of the vehicles is different, or from within them that there are such words by which the false meanings may give rise to discriminating one classification [of vehicle] as aggrandized and one classification as diminished. Or again, that from various vehicles, different principles of the Way are designated that oppose each other and thus are unfolded to convey and generate disputations. So within this is what is called the intimate idea.” (T16n0676_p0708a13 to a21)


[Note: The internal six loci are the six "places" of sensory reception, and the external six loci are the six "places" of sensory data, and together the six inner loci and six outer loci are the twelve loci, the twelve ayatanas (十二處) or locations within the field of the mind.]
Thus, all the commentators who argued that the One Vehicle was a separate teaching of the principles of the Way were in direct opposition to the actual One Vehicle and specifically to this sutra's presentation of the One Vehicle. The One Vehicle does not pump up the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) and deflate the teachings of the Two Vehicles of Arhats (fully accomplished disciples) and pratyekabuddhas. If anyone claims that the Great Vehicle is enlarged by the One Vehicle, while the vehicle of the disciples and Arhats is lessened by the One Vehicle, then that person does not perceive or receive the intimate idea of the One Vehicle.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's a One Vehicle Day

I have finished the first draft of my English translation of Guṇabhadra's Chinese translation of


Wherein Is Articulated The Severance Of All Doubts, The Certainty Of The Complete Meaning, And
The Entrance To The Way Of The One Vehicle

I've written the following dedication for the translation.

Dedication Of The Lion’s Roar

 The Lion’s Roar of the Tathagata pervades the whole universe,
resounding right here – now.
We give thanks to The World Honored One,
To Queen Srimala,
to all the generations and ancestors
of the lineage of the One Vehicle, and
to all the True Children of the Tathagata
for protecting and handing down this Lion’s Roar.
We sincerely and humbly dedicate the meritorious-virtue
arising from receiving, maintaining, reading, and reciting
this Lion’s Roar
to all beings everywhere,
so that they may Accept the Real Dharma
and directly and personally be able to hear and proclaim this Lion’s Roar.
All Buddhas throughout space and time,
All Awakened Beings, Great Beings,
The Perfect and Complete One Vehicle.

Separately, I composed the following verse in praise of the One Vehicle. 

Ode to the One Vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

To see in black and white is to be colorblind

In an important essay on our Summer of White Supremacy , author  surveys the United States of Fear that many of our citizens must live within.  However, by its own terminology and frame of reference, the article contains the seed of its own failure because it adopts the falsehood at the core of white supremacy, that is, it assumes the very core of the model of reality, i.e., the premise of "race," that white supremacy created to foster its ideological goals. As long as we continue to assume the framework that race exists, then we have adopted and clothed ourselves in the framework of the white supremacy movement, and we are subtly promoting the very perspective that we are against. 

Put another way, a black and white television is a colorblind television; so if we don't want to be colorblind, then we need to get out of the framework of seeing the world of human diversity in the colorblind terminology of "black" and "white."  The very slogan "the denial of black humanity" actually does deny the humanity of everyone in the category of "black" by its own framework.  Humanity can not be divided into "black humanity" and "white humanity," and to divide humanity so only falls into the scheme created by white supremacy.  Thus, even as one would argue for the equal humanity of black humanity, one has already given into and adopted the falsehood of the ideological model of the white supremacists, i.e., that there is a "white humanity" and a "black humanity" instead of only one humanity that comes in many different colors, none of which are "white" or "black." 

Here's a simple test. If you think you are "white," then just place your hand on a sheet of plain white paper and tell me that your hand is the same color. Obviously, it is not.  When you can state the color of your hand as it really is, without using the word "white," then you will have liberated yourself from the colorblind state of mind that the white supremacists have brainwashed people with for centuries.

Similarly, for those who of you who think you are "black." When you can state your own skin color without using the word "black" and refer to people of European ancestry without the fake name "white", then you will have liberated yourselves from the colorblind state of mind that the white supremacists have brainwashed us with for centuries. 

Until we throw off the imaginative and linguistic shackles of the mind that force us to view people and speak of them as "white" or "black," we will never be able to free ourselves from the worldview created by white supremacists and prevent white supremacy from continuing to reign supreme in our land.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

They should be called "Islamic Dynasty" or DIIS not "Islamic State" or ISIS or ISIL

They should be called "Islamic Dynasty" not "Islamic State," but what's in a name?  You might be confused, as many people are, by the various names used for the most recent bogey-man group known in various English translations as ISIS or ISIL. The organization's name is al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, which would make it's acronym DIIS. However, English news organizations did not want to explain the use of the Arabic initials (even though they did not have a problem with the Russian KGB or Spanish FARC), so they attempted to translate the name into English. It could have been translated as State of Islam in Iraq and Sham or SIIS, but the English translators did not know what to do with the Arabic term "sham." It includes more than Syria but doesn't include quite all of what is called the Levant in English. So some translators used "Syria" and others use "Levant" even though both were technically incorrect. And instead of saying State of Islam, they use Islamic State. Thus we have been given both ISIS for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and ISIL for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, even though both are actually erroneous. 

Somewhere along the way, the English speaking media thought that "Islamic State" sounded like a better enemy than either "ISIS" or "ISIL," so that name began to be bandied about as well.   Apparently the leadership of  al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham also thought that "Islamic State" sounded much cooler and tougher and now we hear that they have shortened their name to just al-Dawla al-Islamiya and they want to be called Islamic State in English. 

But is "Islamic State" a correct translation for "al-Dawla al-Islamiya"? Originally the word "al-dawla" meant "reign" or "dynasty," referring to the reign or dynasty of the current caliph.  But in the modern times of secular states with no caliphs or caliphate to reign in dynasties, the term has been used to indicate the sovereignty of the secular state.   However, since the specific goal of al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham is to create a caliphate and not a secular state, the term "al-Dawla al-Islamiya" should be translated into English according to the earlier meaning as "Islamic Dynasty" not the secular meaning of "Islamic State."  It would make a very different impression if we were hearing about a group accurately named "Islamic Dynasty" rather than "Islamic State."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Israel is a Serial Killer That Must Be Stopped


We have to stop lying to ourselves.  The whole notion of Peace Talks to solve the Israel and Palestine question is a complete and utter sham. Israel has no intention of solving the Palestinian issue by any other means than genocide and ethnic cleansing. The whole world must ask itself, how do you negotiate with a serial killer to stop the killing?  

In a fundamental way, how is the Likud Party any different than Hamas?  Or to be even more blunt and to the point, how is the Likud Party today any different from what the NAZI Party of Germany was in the 1930s?  

The Israelis demand that the Hamas Party “recognize Israel as a Jewish State” before everything else, but why does no one on the world stage demand that the Likud Party “recognize a Palestinian State”? The Likud Party has in its charter the claim of divine right that the Jordan River is the permanent eastern border of Israel and that the Palestinians have no right to a state.  The Likud Party has no intention of allowing Palestinian control of any of the land of “Greater Israel.” As the Likud Party Charter states:

The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting." 

Thus, the Likud Party has no intention of ever conceding the settlements and only intends the ultimate expansion of the settlements to include all of the West Bank and Gaza and their current leadership of Israel demonstrates by their attacks on Gaza and their apartheid administration of the West Bank their primary intent of gaining the whole territory that they claim is Israel by either genocide or ethnic cleansing of the land. For the Likud Party and their supporters, the end game is the conversion of the entire Palestine Mandate into the Jewish nation of Israel. Yet, where are the current world leaders who dare to criticize this for what it is?  

We in the USA can’t avoid any responsibility for what is happening in Israel and Palestine.  Now, U.S. supporters of Israel are supporting the holocaust in Gaza, are supporting the war crimes of Israel, are supporting genocide and apartheid committed by the Israelis. The government of Israel has ceased to be legitimate by its own acts.

This is not a question of politics, nor is it a question of religion; it is a question of humanity.  As the article “Central to the Achievement of the ‘Zionist Dream’ is theNotion That Jewish Lives Matter More Than Arab Lives  by Donna Nevel makes clear, at every crossroads of the so-called roadmap to peace, the Israelis have chosen the road that values Israeli lives while dehumanizing Palestinian lives, just as the Nazis dehumanized Jewish lives. 

If anyone thinks this is over stated, and my comparison to the Nazis is just a crass example of “Godwin’s Law” the issue is settled by simply taking any official statement of the Likud Party or the current Israeli government and substituting  the roles with words like “Jewish” changed to “Aryan” and “Isreal” changed to “Germany.”  The language and the intent will be just as clear today as it was in 1930s Germany.

For instance, the Likud Party Charter also states:

"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs."

How is this any different from Nazi German propaganda which would have likewise stated:

"The Government of Germany flatly rejects the establishment of a Jewish state north of the Mediterranean Sea. The Jews can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Germany’s existence, security and national needs."

Doesn’t that make the very idea of a “framework of self-rule” a complete farce? Of course it does, but this is the official position of the leaders of Israel and the leading party of Israel and the people of Israel who continue to elect Likud and the other right-wing Zionist parties into government.

Israel has become a serial killer.  Out of the depths of despair and the atrocities committed against it, the nation of Israel was born. This is how most serial killers began: abused and tortured as children and then they grow up.  If we look into the lives of serial killers we can feel compassion for their early childhood, for the complete deprivation of empathy and love in their development, for the cruel punishments that twisted parents inflicted upon them, and so too, can we feel compassion for the Jews who suffered and survived the Holocaust that birthed the nation of Israel.  But when the tormented childhood gives birth to the adult personality of the serial killer, no amount of compassion for the child can excuse the acts of the serial killer.  Likewise for Israel, no amount of compassion for the suffering experienced in the Holocaust that has no given birth to the serial killer nation of Israel can condone or excuse the holocaust, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid that Israel is now inflicting on another people while mentally and emotionally protecting itself under the iron dome of propaganda that the people and nation of Israel are more valuable and scared as human beings than the people whose land the Israelis have taken over for their Jewish homeland.

The serial killer nation of Israel must be stopped. Even if it ever was, the government of Israel is no longer legitimate because its actions against the Palestinians are no more legitimate than the Hutu treatment of Tutsis in Rwanda, than the Afrikaner treatment of the native South Africans in South Africa, or than the treatment of the Nazis against the Jews in Germany.

The USA is the only nation with enough power over Israel to stop it.  We are the primary and chief nation enabling Israel’s serial killing spree.  Without the aiding and abetting of US support Israel could not maintain its blockade of Gaza and the West Bank, could not maintain the settlements, and could not maintain the apartheid occupation. At any time, the US has the power to stop vetoing United Nations Security Council review of the conduct of Israel.  The USA is completely hypocritical at the UN Security Council when it demands intervention for nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, yet prevents discussion of intervention to protect the Palestinian people. 

Since the USA won’t act, the only other avenue is for another Nation to take the reins and lead a movement to break the blockade of Gaza and the West Bank in the manner of breaking the 1948 Berlin Blockade.  Some nation of compassion must unilaterally step forward and begin an airlift and sealift to Gaza and airlift to the West Bank to remind the world that the serial killing by Israel must be stopped.  Only by calling Israel’s bluff aimed at other nations, only by directly challenging the legitimacy of Israel’s apartheid occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and of Israel’s serial killing of Palestinians, will the world wake up from its delusional dream that Israel is and remains a humanitarian nation no matter what is does.

A movement to Break the Blockade must be based on humanitarian principles and avoid any politicization of the issue.  In fact the Break the Blockade movement has already begun with several organizations such as the Free Gaza Movement, and people’s flotillas, such as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla  of May 2010 that attempted to provide aide to Gaza that was stopped and illegally seized by Israel. But no nation came to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s protection in international waters and so Israel was allowed to commit piracy on the open seas.  

The second flotilla named “Freedom Flotilla II” was publicly opposed by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Canada, the “Middle East Quartet” (consisting of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States), and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Thus, these are the nations with direct complicity in Israel’s continuing serial killings.  And this is why there must be a nation that comes forward to conduct either a flotilla or an airlift to show that Israel’s attack on attempts to break the blockade are acts of war against humanity that are not condoned and abetted by the so-called “important” nations.  

What nation of stature and compassion could dare to confront the imperial nations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia?  The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Spain, are possibilities. Could the people of Canada, France, the UK, or even the USA change their governments positions?  Could the General Assembly of the UN formally adopt a call to Break the Blockade and invite nations to conduct sea or airlifts under the authority of the General Assembly?

While the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is aiming in the right direction, it is only a prelude to the real action necessary to Break the Blockade and reestablish the protection of the human rights of the Palestinians and to stop the serial killing spree by Israel.

Israel is a serial killer that must be stopped, and before any violence is used to stop it, any and all nonviolent means must used. A movement to Break the Blockade is a nonviolent method. If Israel chooses to violently attack a nonviolent sea or airlift, then it will be clear to the whole world who is the real perpetrator of the serial violence.    



Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Joy of Awakening

Someone asked:

I see the trees bend. I feel the sun. I hear the birds sing. I see my daughter skip before me. I feel joy in the moment. But is that joy illusory; transient and born of the cravings of the self, or is it zen itself, the illusion stripped away and the universe revealed?
I struggle with this simple question.

My reply: 

Great simple question, that because of its very simplicity, will evoke very different and contradictory responses!

The word "joy" can refer to selfish illusions or the true nature of the universe revealed.

The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar says joy is one of the paramitas of the Dharmakaya. So there is nothing wrong with joy. By a paramita of the Dharmakaya is meant that joy can carry us over to the other shore of the true suchness of the Dharmakaya.

But of course we can have illusions of and about joy just like we can have illusions about everything based on our antithetical polarized conceptions.

To struggle with this question is an example of the natural arising of a koan of life (genjo koan).  Keep the "don't know" of inquiring doubt alongside the faith in joy as a manifestation of suchness and resolve the apparent dilemma on your own with the struggle of determined practice.

Someone else responded to the first question with:

Joy and happiness and suffering are all things that change.
The saying goes, "This too shall pass." Transient.
Born of greed, hatred, ignorance.

To which I replied:

This presumes the definition of "joy" as something belonging on the list of all things that change. Joy is definitely not something born of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance, so it doesn't belong on the list.

Actually, joy never changes, it is only our thoughts about joy that change.  The never beginning and never ending continual radiation of the joy of the Dharmakaya is like the light of the sun always shining but being obscured by clouds or by the rotation of the earth.

When we see the trees bending in the wind, the beauty of the flowers, or the zest of the children and these bring us joy, that joy is the joy of the Dharmakaya manifesting.  If we mistake that joy as being dependent on the trees, the flowers, and the children, then we are mistaking joy for something that is impermanent and changing because we are confusing true and genuine joy with the object that is associated with arousing our recollection of the joy of awakening!  That confusion is what is born by the three poisons, not the joy.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Read a Sutra

[This is a section from the introduction to my work in progress of a new translation of The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar.]
How to Read a Sutra
          A Sutra should be read with reverence and faith, not preconceived beliefs.  Reverence means to read with an open mind.  Faith means to read with the trust that the Sutra has a purpose and reading with an open mind will make that purpose real in our lives.  There are two kinds of preconceived beliefs that will hinder our receiving the Sutra: the preconceived beliefs of true believers and the preconceived beliefs of doubters. Academic scholars come to the sutra with the preconceived belief that reverence and faith are to be put aside in order to be able to read the Sutra objectively.  However, this academic view is itself a subjective preconceived belief that also prevents reading the Sutra objectively.  The academic scholar misses the forest for the trees.

On the other hand, it is just as wrong to read the Sutra with the uncritical views of a fundamentalist true believer. Faith does not mean to be uncritical of what is heard, but to listen critically knowing that the meaning is not contained in the words but in the import that the words are pointing at.  Faith in Buddhist Sutras means the trust that the Sutra is speaking of our own mind, not something foreign to us or outside of our own mind.  A fundamentalist reading is not a faithful reading because it posits a literal meaning outside our mind and calls this the literal objective truth. Reading like that misses the trees for the forest. That is not objectivity any more than the academic.

The reverential open mind means to read the sutra in a manner to receive it and hear it on its own terms and the faithful mind means to read it critically with an ear to hear and to become aware of the nature of mind that the speaker is actually pointing toward.  Thus to read a Sutra requires reading form perspective the Middle Way between the academic and the fundamentalist. 

            A Sutra is always spoken to an audience that always has preconceived ideas and views that characterize and distinguish them.  That is, a Sutra is always responsive, and if there were no preconceive ideas, there would be no need to speak the Sutra.  The Sutra is addressed with the purpose of articulating the corrective medicine for the audience’s specific imbalance or one-sidedness of antithetical conceptions (vikalpa).  The Buddha is the Great Doctor.

            For example, the first “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma,” that is, the initial articulation of the Dharma after the Buddha’s enlightenment, was given to the Five Companions, who were his immediately preceding practice partners before he left them to meditate alone.  The practice they shared was the practice of austerities, which the Buddha had turned to after succeeding with two previous teachers but finding their ways and teachings lacking.  Upon finding the practice of austerities lacking as a lopsided approach, the Buddha realized the meaning of the Middle Way and sat resolutely in meditation to directly investigate with this new method. 

            Upon his enlightenment, the Buddha sought out the Five Companions and addressed their preconceived idea that human suffering of the imbalance or off-centeredness (duhkha) of life could be remedied and relieved by the practice of the one-sided embrace of extreme suffering through austerities.  The teaching of the Four Noble Truths was the medicine that the Buddha taught the Five Companions for their disease of practicing austerities. It is in that context that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths culminates in the articulation of the Eightfold Path as the alternative path to their prior path of attachment and grasping at austerities.

            Similarly, Bill Porter, known as the translator Red Pine, points out in talks about his translation of the Heart Sutra[1] that the Heart Sutra is spoken by Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva to the Bodhisattva Shariputra who is the representative stand-in for the Early Schools’ abhidharma practitioners, specifically in Shariputra’s case, the Sarvastavadin school of abhidharmists.  In the Heart Sutra, Avalokiteshvara presents the emptiness (sunyata) teachings as the medicine to practitioners who have the preconceived notions of the abhidharma obstructing their views by applying the view of emptiness to the abhidharma’s analytical categories, in the Sarvastavadin order, of the Five Skandhas, the Twelve Ayatanas, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Twelve Linked Chain of Causation, the Four Noble Truths, and the attainment of innate-knowledge (jnana). 

            To view the Heart Sutra as an exegesis or exposition asserting the doctrine of emptiness is the kind of mistake made by academic scholars who are blind to the purpose of the Sutra as medicine for a preconceived idea and perverts the Sutra into the assertion of a doctrine to be made into a subsequent preconceived idea. This is turning the medicine into a disease, like becoming addicted to morphine after using it as a pain medication.

               Any aspect of universality in the Buddha’s Dharma is not discovered by turning the medicine into a “doctrine” as the academic scholars do, but by seeing the application presented in the sutra to other similar disorders. Thus, while the Heart Sutra applies the medicine of emptiness to the disorder of taking the abhidharma as doctrine, the Heart Sutra’s medicine of emptiness may be applied to other similar disorders of mistaking Dharma as doctrine. Likewise, the medicine of the Four Noble Truths as applied to the  disorder of attachment to austerities, may be applied to other similar disorders of one-sided attachment to mistaken methods of treating the suffering arising from the imbalance and off-centeredness of living, such as treating suffering by addiction to pleasures, rather than by clinging to austerities. 

               The medicine that is applied by The Sutra of the Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimiala is the One Vehicle, not the Tathagatagarbha.  The One Vehicle is applied to the views of the Tathagatagarbha, as well as to the Four Noble Truths, Emptiness, etc., to treat the underlying bias of separate vehicles that were leading to sectarian views of these most important topics of Buddha Dharma.

[1] Heard personally by the translator in a talk given at Zen Center of Los Angeles on July 22, 2012, and also heard in a recorded talk sponsored by the Bodhi Mind Center given at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, on February 2, 2013, .

Friday, February 21, 2014

To Liberate the Beings of Our Own Mind

Looking at the events in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, and the USA’s meddling in them, I have these observations:  When we are free from literalizing “good and evil” by “taking sides” based on who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy,” then we are free to see human conflicts with the same equanimity as the weather events like hurricanes and “super storms.”  Hurricanes are formed when the opposing characteristics of warm and cold air, moist and dry air, and high and low pressure become extreme and polarized leading to the cascading events of a rotating system we call a tropical cyclone.  Lightening storms are caused when the upper atmosphere and the ground become supercharged and polarized with “opposite poles” of positive and negative energy.  A hurricane doesn’t make the high pressure “good” and the low pressure “bad,” and lightening doesn’t make the positive (+) energy “good” and the negative (-) energy “bad.”
Likewise, when the warm and cold air or plus and minus energy of the collective consciousness becomes extremely supercharged and polarized it necessitates an emotional storm that manifests in what we call  “violent conflicts” or the super storm called “war.”  If we want to have any influence on the outbreak of conflict and war across the planet, then we must individually do our best to depolarize our collective consciousness, so that the polarities of “us and them” do not become so supercharged that we see ourselves as the “good guys” who must obliterate those “evil bad guys.” 
As a Buddhist, we proclaim the Four Broad Vows, and beginning with the vow that no matter how innumerable the many beings are, we will carry them across to liberation.  As Zen master Huineng reminds us in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor, these Four Broad Vows are called broad because they are all inclusive in the wisdom that there is nothing that is not the manifestation of our own mind.  So Huineng presented his version of the Four Broad Vows that emphasized this truth of mind:
We vow to carry across the unlimited multitude of beings of our own mind,

We vow to cut off the inexhaustible afflictions of our own mind,

We vow to investigate the uncountable Dharma gates of our own mind,

We vow to consummate the unsurpassed Buddha Way of our own mind.

This means that we have to free the beings of our own mind trapped in the Auschwitz' and Guantanamo's of our own mind and who are polarized in the roles of guards and prisoners in our own mind, before we can liberate the beings in the world from the storms of war.