Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dead Differences and Living Distinctions

From, Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans by Barry Magid:

Difference and boundary are not words that we normally value in Buddhism; they tend to stand in for everything we imagine we are supposed to overcome in the name of oneness and non separation.  But how we handle difference will be one of the hallmarks of our mature practice.  We can't eliminate difference and we can't blend opposites into a conflict free synthesis--or mush.

(Book review here.)

Fascinating. The valuation of words is a topic in itself. Generally, in the Zen lineage of the Buddha Dharma, words are distinguished between being living words and dead words.  So, are the terms "living" and "dead" themselves words of difference or words of distinction? Is there a difference or a distinction between the words "difference" and "distinction"?

I would say that when we see "distinction as a difference" then that is distinct and different from seeing "difference as a distinction."

This is what the Sixth Ancestor Huineng was teaching in Chapter 10 of the Platform Sutra when talking about the opposites.  We usually look at polarities and bifurcations as opposites that are different and separate.  But Huineng teaches us that seeing the opposites as a unity whose mutual distinctions are not indicative of actual or fundamental separation is the Dharma view.

Speaking about a difference between two things (dharmas) that concludes fundamental or primary separation is giving voice to dead words. Speaking about distinctions without concluding a separation at the root is giving voice to living words. To paraphrase Huineng, if one is turned around by differences, then that is delusion. If one turns around the differences, then that is the Way.

The root is the one that is equal to zero. The twigs and leaves are distinguished.

As Layman Pang said about the snowflakes in Case 42 of the Blue Cliff Record:
Layman Pang bid adieu to Yaoshan.  Shan ordered ten people who were Zen travelers to go together to the main gate to see him off.  The Layman pointed to the snow in the middle of the sky and said, "The excellent snow; flake by flake it does not fall at another spot."              
At that time there was Zen traveler Quan who asked, "At what spot does it fall?"           
The gentleman hit once with a slap.
Quan said, "A Layman too cannot get careless."
The gentleman said, "Like this you call yourself a Zen traveler. Lao-tzu has not liberated your dependence."    
Quan said, "Layman how do you make it alive?"
The gentleman again hit once with a slap and said,  "The eye sees like a blind person; the mouth speaks like a mute." 
Xuedou separately said, "At the first questioning point, yet grab a snowball then hit."

To discourse about it, the old wind-bag Huineng said (from Chapter 10 of The Platform Sutra):

“You who are ranked [as Dharma heirs], if you awaken in accord with this explanation; in accord with this functioning; in accord with this practice; and in accord with these doings; then you do not lose the root of the lineage. 
“If there is a person asking you about a meaning, and asks about existence, go to the paired opposite of nonexistence; if asking about nonexistence, go to the paired opposite of existence.  If one asks about the worldly, use the paired opposite of the saintly (the sage); if asking about the sage, use the paired opposite of the worldly.  The mutual causation of the Way of dualities, gives birth to the meaning of the Middle Way.  So, for a single question, a single pair of opposites, and for other questions the single (pair) that accords with this fashion, then you do not lose the principle.
“Suppose there is a person who asks, ‘What is taken for and called darkness?’ Reply and say, ‘Light is the proximate cause and darkness is the contributory cause. When light is ended, then there is darkness.  By the means of light, darkness manifests; by the means of darkness, light manifests.  (Their) coming and going are mutually proximate causes and become the meaning of the Middle Way.’  Other questions are without exception like this.  You who are ranked among the descendants transmitting the Dharma, by relying on this teaching of turning around the characteristics you do not lose the taste of the lineage.”

For this reason too, Zen Master Dongshan set up the Five Positions as another way to deal with this question of the appearance of differences within unity.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Let the Student Beware: There Are Different Degrees of Awakening.

Often Zen students, and even some Zen teachers, are confused about the Japanese terms kensho, "to see the nature" (Japanese けんしょう ; Chinese 見性 jianxing) and satori, "to awaken" or "awakening" (Japanese さとり; Chinese wu), and assume that the terms describe enlightenment as if there is only one kind of enlightenment.  In this way, some students may project onto the teacher the idea that because the teacher has experienced an awakening that is called kensho or satori therefore the teacher is fully enlightened and in some manner omniscient or infallible. This is a grave error on the part of the student, and if the teacher encourages such projections, then the teacher is putting the student into a straight jacket and chains.
In Buddhism (i.e., the Buddha Dharma), the Sanskrit term for the full enlightenment of the historical Buddha is anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (variously translated into Chinese as 阿耨多羅三藐三菩提;, 無上正等正覺, etc.).  Leading all beings to realize for ourselves this awakening is the goal or aim of every Buddha manifesting in every world. In discussing the Buddha's awakening, confusion arises when people misunderstand primary aspects of awakening: (1) that awakening is essential and indispensable to the path of the Buddha, (2) that awakening is sudden and immediate in that it transcends temporal-spatial perspectives, (3) that from a temporal-spatial perspective cultivation of the path takes place both before and after awakening, and (4) that there are different degrees of awakening. Here I want to mainly address the fourth point, that there are different degrees of awakening, with some comment about how the fourth point relates to the other three points.

The term anuttara-samyak-sambodhi reveals within itself four basic degrees of enlightenment:
(1)   bodhi: enlightenment, awakening, realization, etc.
(2)   sambodhi:  the “equal” or “altogether” enlightenment.
(3)   samyak-sambodhi: “unified” or “aligned” altogether enlightenment.
(4)   anuttara-samyak-sambodhi: “unsurpassed” or “unexcelled” aligned altogether enlightenment, also called the unexcelled completely perfect enlightenment.

Because there are these distinguishable degrees of awakening, Zen Master Hakuin related stories of his own multiple great satoris as well as many minor satoris.   The traditional depictions of training stages such as the Eight Jhanas, the 10 Bodhisattva Bhumis (Stations) or the 10 Ox Herding Pictures depict variations of the steps of cultivation both before and after awakening.
When we talk about step-by-step cultivation before awakening, we are talking about learning of and opening our mind to the possibility of awakening, developing our faith and confidence in awakening as a real experience, and taking the steps necessary to realizing awakening in our actual life. However, no matter how much we may wish it were so, there is no plain and simple formula for this step-by-step cultivation that is like a step-by-step process for learning to crochet or drive a car.  Because awakening is essentially an unraveling of or seeing through our delusions and bifurcated false conceptualizations, and because our delusions and bifurcated conceptualizations have both a social and individual component, the general formulations of the step-by-step cultivation before awakening can only address those socially shared aspects of our ignorance with the final unraveling of our individual delusions and illusions occurring in an unformulated process. That is why Zen teacher Robert Aitken would say enlightenment happens as if by accident, but that our training makes us accident prone.

When we talk about step-by-step cultivation after awakening we are talking about the realization of the different degrees of awakening from initial bodhi to fully matured and complete anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.  In Zen, the system known as Dongshan’s Five Positions (A.K.A., Tozan’s Five Ranks) is one such description of cultivation after initial awakening.

A Zen student should practice with a teacher who has at least an initial awakening kensho, and this is essential. A student may practice with another student who has not “seen the nature” but should not consider that fellow practitioner in the way as their teacher.  Students should only look to someone with a modicum of awakening, whether called kensho or satori, at their teacher.  However, students should not be deceived (by themselves or another) into thinking that all awakenings are equal and fungible or that training after initial enlightenment is unnecessary. This is why Zen Master Torei said:

Look! Why did the Buddha kindly, clearly, and in detail point out for you the stages of the Way? All of them are means to advance and progress in true training after Satori – the skillful means of no means, the grades of no grade. The same holds true for Tozan’s ‘Five Ranks’, for Rinzai’s ‘Four Positions of Person and Circumstance’, and his ‘Four Positions of Guest and Host’. All are stages after Satori. (From Yoko Okuda’s translation of The Discourse on The Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School by Zen Master Torei Enji.)

The words of the Buddhist scriptures and the Zen ancestors are the superbly skillful means of measuring the degree of our awakening.  To read the Sutras is to check our own understanding against the words of the Buddha, and if there is anything that we do not understand or comprehend, then that is the measure of the shallowness or depth of our own degree of awakening. This is why Torei said:

So as to test the Dharma-Gates you have attained to, you have to check them against the Buddha's Sutras and the Treatises (Shastras), and study these again and again in detail and with insight. Always ask yourselves whether what you have attained tallies with what is said in the Sutras and Treatises.