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.

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