Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Value of Meditation as Implosion

We humans are very enamored of explosions.  We flock to displays of fireworks and to films with explosions. We spend billions on building better bombs and then finding ways to test them on or off the battlefield, and sometimes it seems we create a war just to have battlefield to test the next generation of exploding devices.  Most interesting to me personally, is that we have enshrined the explosion at the core--in the inner sanctum sanctorum--of our materialistic post-anthropomorphic creation myth of science and call it “the Big Bang.”

As I see it, our deep connection to explosion comes from the first stirrings of our sensory consciousness when we came into the world with the explosive force of birth and our senses met with the explosions of sound and color, sensations of heat and cold, being moved around in gravity defying positions, etc. Then, to make sense of this explosion of the senses, we sort through the dust storm of sensory data with a slow building explosion of mental distinctions and discriminations that separate, associate, and identify colors, sounds, touches, tastes, smells that becomes a mental explosion of the categorization of things. 

However, because we see the universe as the expression of an elemental explosion, as well as seeing our own consciousness as the most intimate explosion of awareness, we miss something equally as vital: for every explosion there is an implosion.   Because we are enchanted by the explosions of the senses that we perceive, we usually completely overlook that the perceptions are based on the actual fact of implosion: we receive sensory data,  Our usual conception of being a being in a skin bag looking out upon the external universe betrays the actual experience that our senses never “leave” our skin bag, and our “perceptions” never leave the mind.  We naively imagine in our materialistic construction of our worldview, that our senses go out of our body, that we see out into the world, but if we are able to see-through the enchantment of the sensory explosions, then we can note such insight as the fact that “light” is said to “enter” the eye and tickle the nerve cells in the retina that in turn tickle other neurons that they are connected to, which in turn tickle more neurons, until an explosion of neuronal waves of fireworks are swirling around within the grey matter of the brain that explodes in awareness of the outside universe.  But here’s the rub, in this materialistic worldview, this “outside universe” of physical matter is never actually “outside,” because it is completely contained in the grey matter as a mental construction or reflection of what has been imploded into the brain.  If we pay attention, we are forced to confront the idea that the universe is not exploding but is actually the implosion of how it all is received by our specialized sensory patches of skin to be recreated as the world within.

Here’s where Zen comes to the soteriological rescue.  In Zen meditation we “turn the light around” or “take the backward step” of awareness, so that from our usual looking outward at an evolving world, we turn to notice and be aware of this imploding nature of the universe. The technical Sanskrit term for this is asraya-paravrtti, “to turn around at the basis.”   Though it doesn’t roll off the tongue very well, this can be called “involution” in contradistinction to the usual view of “evolution.”  This training in asraya-paravrtti, as the turning around or involution of awareness to its own source, has been derisively called contemplating ones belly button by people who dont know any better and place great value in, and rest their self worth on, the outward show of explosions. 

There are many values of training and practice in sitting meditation (zazen), but the essential value is not in developing explosive force, but in the discovery of the implosive basis of awareness. While we are enamored and enchanted by explosions, we are also entangled by them in our relationships and killed by them in our interactions. The explosions of emotions are destructive to our personal as well as international relationships. We send drones to explode our perceived enemies and yet we refuse to acknowledge to ourselves as a people that we can’t really accomplish that goal without also exploding innocent bystanders. Likewise, this paradigm of international drama is also played our in our personal relationships, in relations of domestic violence where children become traumatized innocent bystanders, in our social and financial relations where people are forced to live in poverty, homeless, and without adequate health care, all because we are basing our social worldview on the perspective of people as beings who have exploded apart into separate entities competing with each other for the finite commodities of the. 

What sitting meditation reveals to us is that this worldview, of an exploding universe expanding into separate units flying apart from each other, is a myth, a false vision of what is actually happening right here and now.  This universe is also an imploding universe, condensing into mutual reflections of itself, revealing the absolute connectedness and unification of the universe, with our own mind and being seamlessly joined to each and every other node of awareness.  

Consciousness is not just the exploding evolution of awareness, it is equally the imploding involution of awareness. The value of meditation as implosion is that it opens us to the realization that awareness is only made possible by both its expansion and contraction, its explosion and implosion, and that this activity of expansion and contraction is the activity of the unified mind. This is why the toroid is the best simple model of conscious awareness as it represents both the exploding and imploding activities of awareness that form the shape of consciousness.*  The sitting meditation of Zen Buddhism, with its elegant simplicity, is the most effective way to come to terms, directly and personally, with this mutually expanding and contracting universe of awareness that we call mind.



[Note *:  For the development of a more complex and comprehensive model for consciousness, elaborating from a simple toroidal model to a multi-faceted Mobius bottle model, see “Zen Theory: An Exploration of Space, Time, and Consciousness via the Cycle of Change Between Binary Opposites.” by Kigen William Ekeson available at his Zen Theory blog.]. 





Sunday, January 03, 2016

Part 1 of The Treatise on Arousing the Faith of the Great Vehicle.


            Created by Bodhisattva Asvaghosa, and translated in the Liang dynasty[1] by Tripitaka Dharma Master Paramartha of Western India.

            Adoration to (namo) the Utmost One In The Ten Directions,
            To the Thoroughly Knowing One Who Conquers Karma.
            To the Sovereign One Unobstructed by Form,
            To the One Who Delivers the World with Great Pity.
            To the One Who Reaches the Essence and Characteristics of the Other Bodies (i.e., the 3 bodies of Nirmanakaya, Sambhoghakaya and Dharmakaya),
            To the Ocean of the True Suchness of Dharma-nature,
            To the Immeasurable Storehouse of Meritorious Virtues, and
            To the One Equal to the Cultivation and Practice that is According to Reality.

            May the multitude of beings be directed to get rid of doubts and renounce the grasp of perverted views, because by arousing the correct faith of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) the Buddha-seed is not cut off.

            The Treatise says there is a Dharma able to arouse the root of faith in the Great Vehicle, and it is for this reason it must be articulated.  To articulate it, there are five parts.  What is said for the five?

            That which is first is the Part of the Causes and Conditions.
            That which is second is the Part of The Meanings Set Forth.
            That which is third is the Part of Explanations.
            That which is fourth is the Part of Faith in Mind and Cultivating Practice.
            That which is fifth is the Part of Exhorting the Benefits of Cultivation.


            A question says, “What are there as the causes and conditions to then create this treatise?”

            The answer says, “Indeed, of the causes and conditions there are eight kinds.  What are said for the eight?

“That which is first, as the general characteristic of the causes and conditions, is because it actually designates what directs the multitude of beings to be free from all suffering and to attain the ultimate ease (i.e., nirvana) that does not seek worldly fame, benefits, or respect.

            “That which is second is because it is for the desire to expound the Tathagata’s meaning of the fundamental and to direct the various multitudes of beings to the correct understanding that does not deceive.

            “That which is third, is because it is for directing the multitude of beings with ripened good roots to the Mahayana Dharma that they do not retreat from their faith.

            “That which is fourth, is because it is for directing the multitude of beings with slight good roots to cultivate faith in the mind.

            ‘That which is fifth, is because it is for revealing the expedient means to alleviate the obstructions of evil karmic-actions[2], to well guard their mind, to keep at a distance foolish pride, and to come forth from the net of errors.

            “That which is sixth, is because it is for revealing the practice pair of quietude and contemplation (samatha and vipasyana) to control the transgressions of mind of the common people and those of the two vehicles.

            “That which is seventh, is because it is for revealing the expedient means of single-pointed recollection (smrti) to be born in front of the Buddha and necessarily be firmly settled and not backsliding from faith in the mind.

            That which is eighth, is because it is for revealing the benefits and encouraging cultivation.

“As such, these are the categories of the causes and conditions actually used to make this treatise.”

A question says, “Possessed within the Sutras there is this Dharma.  Why should this be so seriously articulated?”

            The answer says, “Although within the Sutras there is this Dharma, in use, the roots and practice of the multitude of beings are not equal, and the conditions of their receiving and understanding are different.  It means when the Tathagata was in the world, the multitude of beings were keenly endowed, and the people with the ability to articulate the excellence of form, mind, and karmic-actions were completely of one voice in expounding the different types of understanding (i.e., liberation). Consequently, they did not need these treatises.

Supposing after the extinction of the Tathagata, perhaps there are in the multitude of beings some who are able to use their own power of listening extensively and they receive understanding (i.e., liberation); or there are in the multitude of beings some who likewise use their own power of listening a little and many of them understand (i.e., are liberated); or there are in the multitude of beings some who are without their own strength of mind and from the extensive treatises as a cause they gain understanding (i.e., liberation); and on their own, there are in the multitude of beings some who again and again use the writings of extensive treatises much as an annoyance, whose minds enjoy collecting and holding a few writings and by absorbing much meaning are able to receive understanding (i.e., liberation).

Thus is this treatise. Because it is for wanting to collect the infinite meanings of the Tathagata’s extensive and greatly profound Dharma, it is agreeable to articulate this treatise.

~The end of the part articulating the causes and conditions.

[1]  Dates 502-557.
[2] The Sanskrit term karma, (Ch. ) literally means action or activity but in the context of Buddha Dharma it refers specifically to actions that are volitional, i.e., directly related to the complexes of identity aggregated as the Fourth Skandha.  Therefore depending on the context, it is translated herein as “karmic-activity” or “karmic-action” to distinguish this type of volitional human action and activity from non-volitional actions and activities (e.g., Ch. , ) such as the heart beat or knee reflex, as well as from non-human actions and activities such as a tree falling in a storm or waves eroding a beach. 

Related posts on Arousing Faith of the Great Vehicle: On the title; Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five.
[This post first posted 01/03/2016 Copyright (c) A. Gregory Wonderwheel 2016.]

On the title "Arousing Faith of the Mahayana"

"The Treatise on Arousing Faith of the Great Vehicle" is most commonly known by D.T. Suzuki's rendering of the title as Discourse on The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana .  Yoshito S. Hakeda's translation shortens the title to The Awakening of Faith.  The Sanskrit title is Mahayana-Sraddhotpada-Shastra, and the Chinese title is 大乘起信論 Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn. (WG: Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun).

In his essay “Wonhyo's Reliance on Huiyuan in his Exposition of the Two Hindrances,” A. Charles Muller writes in Note 8:  

In rendering the title of the Dasheng qixin lun as Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, as opposed to Hakeda's "Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna" I am following the position put forth by Sung Bae Park in Chapter Four of his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There he argues that the inner discourse of the text itself, along with the basic understanding of the meaning of mahāyāna in the East Asian Buddhist tradition does not work according to a Western theological "faith in..." subject-object construction, but according to an indigenous East Asian essence-function 體用 model. Thus, mahāyāna should not be interpreted as a noun-object, but as a modifier, which characterizes the type of faith.
Of course, Hakeda took his lead from D.T. Suzuki’s rendering of “The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana,” but Hakeda himself seemed to be uncomfortable with the phrase “in the Mahayana,” and he shortened his English title to just “The Awakening of Faith” dropping off the problem of “faith in what?”   I agree with Park's argument that the frame of "faith in..." becomes problematic in reference to the Buddhist idea of vehicles as the vehicles or means of faith, not the aim or ends of faith. But there is nothing inherently wrong with the rendering "faith in the Mahayana" as long as we realize that it is faith in the vehicle, not faith in the Mahayana as a dogma of faith.  

Also, Park’s argument, via Muller, has some rationale for it based on taking the Chinese title 大乘起信論 as a reordered syntax of the Sanskrit Mahayana-Sraddhot-Pada-Shastra (mahāyānaśraddhotpādaśāstra).  But the Chinese title by Paramartha places “arousing” (I prefer using "arousing" to that of “awakening” which is actually another Sanskrit or Chinese word) between “Mahayana” 大乘 and “faith” , which means, when viewing the term “Mahayana” as a modifier, that the term Mahayana would be directly modifying the type of “arousal” not “faith.” By Park’s and Muller's logic of separating arousal and faith, the title would be “Faith of Mahayana Arousing” and not “Arousing of Mahayana Faith.”  

So the problem with the title comes from the divergence of the Sanskrit or Chinese syntax and ultimately how to read the Sanskrit. That is, the syntax of the Chinese title takes the Sanskrit as “Mahayana Sraddhotpada,” while Park’s view takes the Sanskrit as “Mahayanasraddhot Pada.”  My current preference is to agree with Park only in so far as the title does not refer to faith “in” Mahayana, but then to follow Paramartha’s Chinese rendering of “Mahayana Sraddhopada” to read Mahayana as modifying both the “arousing” as well as the “faith”, thus rendering it as “The Treatise on Mahayana’s Arousing Faith” or “The Treatise on Arousing Faith of the Great Vehicle.”  The treatise is not referring to an “Awakening of Mahayana Faith” (ala Park and Muller) any more than to “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana,” (ala Suzuki and Hakeda); but refers to Mahayana’s method or way of arousing faith in the true suchness of mind. As the Treatise states, "it is the characteristic of the True Suchness of mind that exactly shows the essence of the Great Vehicle." (是心真如相即示摩訶衍體)   So the title could, if somewhat loosely, be translated with a modern ring as “Arousing Faith Mahayana Style.”


Related posts on Arousing Faith of the Great Vehicle: On the title; Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five.

[This post first posted 01/03/2016 Copyright (c) A. Gregory Wonderwheel 2016.]