Sunday, September 20, 2015

An excerpt from the "Discourse on Arousing Confidence in the Great Vehicle"

Presented below is a translation that I completed this weekend from a section of the Discourse on Arousing Confidence in the Great Vehicle (a.k.a. The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana; Skt. Mahayana-Sraddhotpada Shastra; Ch. 大乘起信論 Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun).  I'm using the Chinese translation by Paramartha (C.E. 498-569) from the Sanskrit found in Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 32, No. 1666.  It was also translated by Siskananda in Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 32, No. 1667. The Sanskrit text is no longer extant.
Without going into the details, I will say that I do not accept the tendency of modern academic views to claim that Paramartha actually wrote it in Sanskrit, attributed it to Asvagosha (As'vagos.a), and then passed it off as something he was translating. This is just a defamation of Paramartha. D.T. Suzuki says, "While [Asvaghosa] may not have been the author of this most important treatise of Mahayana philosophy, there was surely a great Buddhist mind, who, inspired by the same spirit which pervades the Lanka, the Avatamsaka, the Parinirvana, etc., poured out his thoughts in The Awakening." (From the Introduction to The Lankavatara Sutra, by D.T. Suzuki, p. xxxix.) While it is quite possible that the attribution to Ashvagosha was legendary as it came down in the version that Paramartha was translating, I do not accept that Paramartha would have invented it on his own and foisted it off as another's.  Indeed, Paramartha, along with Kumarajiva and Bodhidharma, has been named one of the three monk-scholars from India who "stand indisputably highest in Chinese estimation."  (Buddhist Monks and Monastaries of India, by Sukumar Dutt, p. 303.) Whether or not Asvaghosa authored the Discourse, since Paramartha did publish other works that he had written under his own name, there is no good reason to believe he would not also publish this work under his own name if he had written it. 

I also agree with D.T. Suzuki's view that the Discourse should not be confused as a Yogacara text and instead is essentially an outline or systematic presentation of the teaching of the Lankavatara Sutra. (Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, D.T. Suzuki, p. 182.) As Suzuki notes, the teachings of the Lankavatara and the "Awakening of Faith" are in line with the perspective of the One Vehicle (Ekayana) school that Bodhidharma brought from Southern India and are also associated with the Avtamsaka (Flower Garland, Huayen) and Mahayana Parinirvana Sutras.

This translated section highlights the foundational teaching of "no-thought" which has been a crucial teaching of Zen since the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and thus shows the Zen manner of discourse to be well rooted in the sutras and treatises. 

This section addresses the difficult, yet critical, issue of how our original-enlightenment (本覺. a.k.a. root-enlightenment) shared by all beings must be activated by an originating-enlightenment (始覺) of our own realization.  Zen students will immediately recognize this as the fundamental koan question at the root of Zen master Dogen's personal quest that took him to China.  

The analysis begins with the first distinction between enlightenment and non-enlightenment.  Each of us has the original-enlightenment of the Tathagata (Buddha) in our own mind, but because of our non-enlightened ways of thinking using polarized and dualistic conceptualizations (such as "self and other", "me and not me") our original-enlightenment is obscured by our own mind. The Discourse outlines the return of our non-enlightened thinking to its enlightened root by the next distinction between our latent original-enlightenment and its actualization called originating-enlightenment (始覺). Though we all have original enlightenment, we still must initiate or originate that enlightenment to make if actively manifest in our actual life.  The next distinction is made by identifying three stages in the activation of originating-enlightenment:  (1) resemblance-enlightenment (相似覺), (2) approximate-enlightenment (隨分覺), and (3) ultimate-enlightenment (究竟覺).  This is useful, because it helps explain a continuing point of confusion to Western students of Zen and Buddha Dharma, this is, how there are different degrees of enlightenment and that the first openings of enlightenment, while genuine, should not be confused with the final or ultimate enlightenment.
The section concludes by showing that no-thought is the essence of ultimate-enlightenment, and with no-thought we can know for ourselves how the characteristics perceived as the world’s birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction are not other than enlightenment.
Following the practice of other translators, headings are inserted to assist the reader in identifying the sections. The wording of the bracketed headings is taken from the text with as little editing as needed.
            [The Gate of the Mind’s Birth and Extinction]
            That which is the mind’s birth and extinction depends on the Inner Tathagata (tathagatagarbha), and for that reason there is the mind of birth and extinction that is designated as the unborn and the unextinguished, together with the unified harmony of birth and extinction, neither one nor different, and is called the activity of the Storehouse Consciousness (alayavijnana).  
            [Birth and Extinction as the Activity of the Storehouse Consciousness]
            This consciousness has two kinds of meaning: the capability of containing all things (i.e., the aspect of alaya) and giving birth to all things (i.e., the aspect of garbha).  What are said for the two?
            That which is first is the meaning of enlightenment.
            That which is second is the meaning of non-enlightenment.
            [A. Wherein is Declared the Meaning of Enlightenment]
            [1. The Original-Enlightenment of the Dharmakaya]
That which is actually declared the meaning of enlightenment designates the essence of mind free from thought.  That which is the characteristic of “free from thought” is equal to the realm of space, and there is nowhere that it is not everywhere. The oneness of the Dharma-realm is exactly the Tathagata’s universal Dharma-body. On this basis, the Dharma-body is articulated and called “original-enlightenment.”
            Because why?
            [2. Original-enlightenment in activation]
            [(a) The Meaning of Original-Enlightenment Depends on Originating-Enlightenment]
That which is the meaning of original-enlightenment is paired with the articulation of the meaning of originating-enlightenment, and by this means, that which is originating-enlightenment is exactly the same as original-enlightenment.
            [(b) The Meaning of Originating-Enlightenment Depends on Original Enlightenment]
That which is the meaning of originating-enlightenment is because it depends on original-enlightenment, and then (yet/nevertheless) there is non-enlightenment.  Because it depends on non-enlightenment to be articulated, there is originating-enlightenment.

Again, by means of enlightenment, the fountainhead of mind is therefore called ultimate-enlightenment, and by non-enlightenment, the fountainhead of mind therefore isn’t ultimate enlightenment.
Why is this meaning stated? Because by such enlightenment, the common people know their prior thinking aroused evil and they are able to stop subsequent thinking by directing that these [evil thoughts] do not arise. Because even though it is repeatedly called enlightenment, actually it is non-enlightenment.
Like the two vehicles’ wisdom from contemplation (i.e., vipassanya) and the idea that first blossoms into the ranks of the bodhisattvas (i.e., bodhicitta), the enlightenment with the characteristics of the difference of thoughts and the non-difference of thoughts, because it uses renouncing the crude parts of attachment to the discrimination of characteristics, is called the resemblance-enlightenment.

Like the ranks of the Dharmakaya bodhisattvas, the enlightenment with the characteristics of the abiding of thought and the non-abiding of thought, because it uses being free from the discriminations of the characteristics of coarse thinking, is called the approximate-enlightenment.

Like the Bodhisattva stage corresponding to the fulfillment of expedient means in a single thought, the enlightenment with the characteristics of the beginning mind arousing the beginningless mind, because it uses being far removed from the subtlest of thoughts and is able to perceive the nature of mind, the mind that is exactly always abiding, is called ultimate-enlightenment.  
For this reason, the sutra articulates, “Because, in the multitude of beings, if there are those who are able to contemplate no-thought, accordingly they become turned toward Buddha-wisdom.”
    Furthermore, as to that which arises in mind, there does not exist a beginning characteristic that can be known, and yet that which is declared ‘knowing the beginning characteristic’ exactly designates no-thought.  For this reason, all the multitude of beings are not called being enlightened, because by following the continuity of thought after thought coming from the root, they have never been free from thought and articulate beginningless ignorance.

(Added 9/23/15:)

    If those who gain no-thought consequently know the mind’s characteristics of birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction, because they use the rank of no-thought, then truly there is no existence of difference from originating-enlightenment. Since the four characteristics [of birth, abiding, transforming, and extinction] are simultaneous, then there is in each and every case no standing on their own, and because they equally and universally come from the root, they are one and the same with enlightenment.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Karma and Rebirth Revisited – Part One

This is a response to James Ford's recent blog on the marvelous question of karma and rebirth as Westerners attempt to make sense of this Buddhist teaching.  The Karma and Rebirth Debate Within Contemporary Western Buddhism: Some Links to Follow

Ford's blog begins by saying,

Way back when he reviewed the Buddhist monk Stephen Batchelor’s lovely book “Alone With Others,” The Western Buddhist John Blofeld wrote an introduction praising the young monk scholar and his writing. Blofeld went on to say it was unfortunate that Batchelor did not touch upon the critical doctrines of karma and rebirth, but understood there is only so much one can do in one book. He added how he hoped Batchelor would turn to the subject some day. Some years later, after Blofeld’s death, Batchelor did.
I can only imagine that John Blofeld must have been “turning over in his grave” when Stephen Batchelor finally got around to writing about karma and rebirth taking the position of a "Buddhist Atheist.".  At this point, one wonders if Batchelor can still even be called a Buddhist.

To me, the most socially interesting aspect of this "debate" on karma and rebirth is in determining the ground upon which the debate occurs. How can people with completely different orientations find a common ground upon which to debate? Or will the "two sides" be forever upon opposite shores of the river?   The "Western" Buddhists who are fully attached to their materialistic and dualistic views of corporal reality will not even admit the ground upon which the non-materialist mind-only Buddhist stands.

That ground of the mind-only Buddhist is most closely related to psychology in the West, but not the pseudo-psychology of current academia.  Today, Western Scientistic Buddhist thinks psychology is the measurement of neuro-physiological brain activity. They have no appreciation for what psychology even means, especially from the perspective of the greatest psychologist of the 20th Century, Carl G. Jung, who even wrote a psychological essay titled "Concerning Rebirth" (found in Volume 9.A “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” of “The Collected Works.”). More on this essay in Part Two. 

What usually happens in these so-called “debates” is that the people are using the same words, such as “rebirth,” with vastly different meanings all without fully revealing the premises and assumptions upon which they stand and base their argument. I found this especially true of the Robert Thurman-Stephen Batchelor exchange in Tricycle, titled "Reincarnation: A Debate" where the two were arguing past each other like “ships passing in the night” or going around and round like "ring around the rosy."
So it’s essential in any dialogue about karma and rebirth to know what views the participants hold. Based on their views, there are several discussions that could be going on. Just as not all Christians have the same views about the nature of works or grace, not all Buddhists have the same views about karma and rebirth.

We may consider first the discourse between Buddhists and non-Buddhists.  Here, the Buddhist needs to know what preconceptions the non-Buddhist holds.  There are non-Buddhists who believe in rebirth from a Christian or Hindu perspective that holds the personality (pugala) or soul (atman)transmigrates.  There are, of course, the non-Buddhists who scoff at the whole idea of rebirth as primitive superstition, in which case, there must first be a recognition that there is no common ground as yet developed for the discussion of whether rebirth is a viable concept. Here, until there is a bridge built that would satisfy the disbelievers with definitions of rebirth that clarify the materialistic biases present in their skepticism or denial, there can be no hope for removing the confusion of bifurcated conceptualizations and the conversation will be unproductive if not outright unbeneficial.  Another way of saying this is that karma and rebirth are not grounded upon or based within a materialistic worldview or frame of reference, and attempts to "debate" karma and rebirth from such a materialistic worldview, either the materialistic view of the soul or the materialistic view of matter, will be fruitless.

Likewise, the non-Buddhist needs to know which kind of Buddhist is on the other end of the table, because some self-purported Buddhists also still hold onto unorthodox notions of a personality or soul transmigrating on the wheel of life  Similarly, Buddhists in mutual discussion need to be aware of each other’s presumptions with talking about rebirth.  The modernist scientistic Buddhist may have an "ordinary person" perspective that is called “bompu (凡夫)" Buddhism. This is a Buddhist whose views are generally considered to be within "the teaching of humans and divines" characterized by correct belief in cause and effect, nonetheless still longing for enhanced spiritual states and seeking to escape lesser states, that is, Buddhists whose practice is oriented to good behavior and right views for the purpose of being reborn in the better conditions of human life or heavenly realms.  The ordinary person Buddhism includes those who are merely agnostic about rebirth, maintaining a “don’t know” position, but with an open mind, or they may actually be pseudo Buddhists who atheistically deny rebirth with a closed mind based on a preconceived non-Buddhist materialist stance.  Also, traditional Buddhists may be engaged in the discourse using either Pali-canon or Sanskrit-canon terminology and perspectives that can be confusing when not distinguished from each other.  

We also need to clarify the dimensions if the discussion, i.e.,  are we talking about whether or not rebirth occurs or about whether rebirth is even a viable notion, and not confuse that discussion with the technical discussion of how rebirth occurs.  In the Buddhist context, there is great importance given to the basic understandings of no-soul or no-self (anatman) and impermanency (anicca), and in the context of the fundamental question of birth and death, these two characteristics of all appearances distinguish the Buddhist orientation to karma and rebirth from non-Buddhist perspectives on karma and rebirth.

It is primarily the question of the two marks of no-self and impermanence within the analysis of karma and rebirth that creates the foundation for confusion with Western Buddhists.  The question of the two marks (i.e., no-self as the emptiness of separate independence and the impermanency of codependent origination) also provide the Western Buddhist with a fundamental dilemma when it comes to understanding Buddhist ethics.  In "Korean Buddhist Philosophy," Chapter 27 of the book The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, Jin Y. Park writes, "If things are by nature void of independent essence and polar opposites are to be understood according to their mutual penetration, how does one construct an ethical system from such a nondual philosophy?"  Though this question is asked in regard to ethics, it is equally relevant in regard the grappling with the systems of karma and rebirth. 
In The Way to Buddhahood, Venerable Yin-shun presents the question rebirth in the context of no-self and impermanence in this way.
For theists and those non-Buddhists who are connected to the Buddha Dharma, however, such a concept is extremely difficult to believe and understand. How can there be transmigration without an entity of the self?  If birth and extinction are momentary, how can the previous life and the future life be connected?  In the Buddha Dharma these questions have been asked since ancient times.  For example: "If the self is really nonexistent, who is it that goes from one state of existence to another in the cycles of birth and death?" (pp. 315-16.)

If the terms and positions of the participants of the rebirth discourse-cum-debate, are not clearly set out in the beginning then only further confusion is sure to follow as the discussion proceeds at crossed purposes and definitions. 

Continued in Part Two.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Who Has Ears to Hear?: the Psychology of Political Dehumanization

Conflict and adversity are inherent in living a life.  This is one of the general applications of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.  Not only does this truth act as the entry to understanding our personal life, it is also a key to understanding our national political life.  In fact, modern Republicanism uses this truth as its currency in trade by encouraging a certain reaction to this truth via the means of both concealing its source by projecting its contents onto objects and objectifying, i.e., dehumanizing, people, and by capitalizing its hidden value by keeping its source in the psyche unconscious. 

Regardless of whether it is called theocracy, plutocracy, or democracy, all political power derives from “the people.”  But this power arises directly from, and as, configurations of the individual and group psyche, not as external structures of physical reality.  The people, as a tribe or nation, will coalesce around those unconscious patterns of political relationships that bring them the most conscious sense of security and hope, without having an inkling that the true source of their political behavior arises from their own psyche.
As Carl G. Jung wrote, "The psychology of the individual is reflected in the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual continues to do it, the nation will do likewise. Only a change in the attitude of the individual can initiate a change in the psychology of the nation. The great problems of humanity were never yet solved by general laws, but only through regeneration of the attitudes of individuals. If ever there was a time when self-reflection was the absolutely necessary and only right thing, it is now, in our present catastrophic epoch. Yet whoever reflects upon himself is bound to strike upon the frontiers of the unconscious, which contains what above all else he needs to know."  (From the preface to the first edition of "The Psychology of the Unconscious" in Volume 7 of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung.)  These comments stated in 1916 in the midst of what we now call World War I, are as germane today as they were one hundred years ago as our public failure of self-reflection seems to once again be on the upsurge.

Humanity in general, nations and individuals in particular, are still largely psychically immature and psychologically ignorant.  We ignore what goes on within us by our fascination with what goes on around us, but it is this very immaturity in regards to our own mind, demonstrated by that very ignorance in failing to see the causal connections of our political life based on our inner life, that leads to the exacerbation of life’s normal adversities into outright social and political catastrophes.

Who has ears to hear? We so get caught up in the propagandistic sloganeering and the simplifications of projections that we childishly just listen in fascination or revulsion to the stories being told, instead of actually listening to the telling of the story.  To understand the level of childish regression in our current political environment we just need to listen to the rhetoric.  The easiest entry to evaluating the immaturity of political discourse is to listen to how the politician’s opponents are described.  Does the politician dehumanize those people who are categorized and labeled as the adversary?   (By the term “politicians,” I include both the politician on the stage and the class of “owners” behind them for whom they are mere spokespeople.)

A first step in the process of political manipulation of the people’s general psychic ignorance is the personification of our normal adversity into an adversary.  All life entails suffering, stress, conflict, and adversity.  This fundamental truth can lead us to mature inquiry into its foundational conditions, thereby ultimately leading us to awakening, or we can be led into dependence on our childish fears and desires to be saved from such adversity. The first step in manipulating the people for political purposes is to shape and steer our normal concern with this “truth of adversity” into psychic channels that externalize and objectify our unease and offers the hope of overcoming it by the projection of adversity onto “an adversary.”  Once an adversary is identified and the blame for our adversity is personified thereby, the consciousness of adversity in the social psyche can have a sense of hope in its desire to vanquish “the adversary,” however described. 

In order to allow the unconscious contents to be unconsciously projected (rather than consciously integrated) to capitalize on their political potential, the next step is to dehumanize “the adversary.”  Here is where the question, “Who has ears to hear?” becomes centrally relevant. It is reasonable and normal, even though immature, to personify our adversities onto adversaries. This is not a function that is immediately strange or odd to the conscious psyche.  However, the process of dehumanization is literally strange and odd, and its very existence is what tells us that unconscious archetypal forces are at work in the political life of the people.  That the people "allow" their public imagination to be so manipulated as to conceive of other people as essentially non-human flies in the face of rational behavior, yet it occurs so frequently that it is seldom publically questioned. The lack of public awareness and discourse on political dehumanization is evidence of the unconscious influences coming to the fore in the collective psyche. 

Dehumanization appears in several ways, most frequently as the imagination of demonization, animalization, or medicalization.  Examples of demonization include calling the political opponent a “a devil,” "a demon," “evil” or “immoral”; of animalization include such name-calling as “cockroaches,”, “apes,” “dogs,” “snakes,” etc.; and for medicalization there are terms for people as “a cancer,” “germs,” or “tumors” on society.  It is here that we must have the courage to insist on the integrity of our public consciousness and ask ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens, “Who has ears to hear?” when we hear these terms of dehumanization used in public political discourse, whether on the political stage or the pulpit.  Without the individual’s courage to confront this form of political projection, no society will ever mature to a level of psychological health in dealing with adversity.   

This is not the end of the question, but it is certainly the first step in questioning. When we in the USA listen to the usual Republican (and occasional Democratic) discourse that first blames an adversary for social adversity and then dehumanizes that adversary, we can know for ourselves that an unconscious psychic phenomenon is taking place within the public psyche and is being capitalized upon for the political purpose at hand.  That is, there can be a mature political discussion about the sources of social adversity, as well as an attempt to explain certain causal conditions for that adversity, by pointing out the people who may bear responsibility for that adversity without any dehumanization entering the discussion.  But when we hear metaphors, images, or symbols of dehumanization enter into the rhetoric of “the adversary,” then we can certainly hear that unconscious psychic contents are being stirred up to overpower a mature discussion by the use of childish imagination based on fear and longing for safety.  Who has ears to hear?