Saturday, February 18, 2017

Linji on Turning the Light Around

Here's a passage from the Record of Linji that I have finished translating today.  This comes from near the end of the untitled Part One.   Various translators insert their own titles like "Discourses" or "Ascending the High Seat," but since the text itself does not have a title for the beginning section which is the largest section, I have not added one. Part Two is titled "Examining Differentiation" and Part Three is titled "Record of Travels."

The Record of the Words of Zen Master Linji Huizhao of Zhenzhou.
Collected by Huiran, a minor teacher of the inherited Dharma, dwelling at Sansheng. 

Greatly Virtuous Ones, what object are you searching for that you go splashing about on the land toward the various directions, treading on until your feet are [flat like] planks? 

Broadly, there is no Buddha that can be sought; there is no Way that can be accomplished; there is no Dharma that can be attained.  To seek outwardly for a Buddha with characteristics gives you unassociated appearances.  Desire to be conscious of your original mind.  It is not to be united with, likewise it is not to be separated from.

Drifters in the Way, the true Buddha has no shape; the true Way has no essence; the true Dharma has no characteristics.  The three things are blended harmoniously and united in one locus.  Since this discernment is not attained, you are called out as the multitude of beings who create bustling karma consciousness.

Question: “So what is the true Buddha, the true Dharma, and the true Way? We beg you to come down to open and reveal it.”

The master said, “That which is Buddha is the mind’s purity. That which is Dharma is the mind’s radiance.  That which is the Way is the clear light that is everywhere unhindered.  The three are exactly one, and in every case are empty names and have no solid existence.  Thus for the person who correctly studies the Way, from moment to moment mind is not interrupted.

When on his own, Great Master [Bodhi]Dharma came from the Western Land, he only searched for a fundamental person who did not receive people’s delusions. Afterwards he encountered the second ancestor who then understood at a single word and for the first time knew that previously he was a fellow who vainly used effort.

This mountain monk nowadays sees the locus as ‘not separate from the ancestors and Buddhas.’ If you attain within the first phrase, you become a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors.  If you attain within the second phrase, you become a teacher of humans and heavenly beings.  If you attain within the third phrase, your own deliverance is not completed!"

Question: “So what was the intention of [Bodhidharma] ‘coming from the West’?”

The master said, “If there was an intention, then his own deliverance was not completed!"

[The questioner] said, “Since there was no intention, say how did the second ancestor attain the Dharma?”

The master said, “That which is which is attainment is no-attainment.”

[The questioner] said, “Since it’s supposed to be no-attainment, say what is the basic meaning of no-attainment?”

The master said, “As you chase around everywhere seeking, mind is not able to rest. Wherefore the ancestral masters declared, ‘Bah! You disciples with a head going searching for a head.’  Put down your words, then turn the light around and shine it on yourselves.  Transformed by not separately seeking, you know that mind and body and the ancestors and Buddhas are not separate.  You will get down to having no affairs.  This method is called 'attaining the Dharma'.”

 [From CBETA T47n1985_p0501c22 to p0502a13]


"Drifters in the Way" is my translation of 道流 daoliu.  The salutation 道流 daoliu is difficult to translate and has a double entendre. The character dao is “the Way,” and liu has the primary meaning of “flow, stream, current” (as either a noun or verb) and includes the connotations of “spread, float, drift, wander, meander,” as streams do or as things in streams do.  Related Buddhist terms are “the stream of wisdom”  and “the stream of the passions.”  So 道流 daoliu  is literally “Way–stream,” “Way-flow,” “the steam of the Way,” or “the drift of the Way,” which, when used as a salutation to address the audience members, means "You Who Are in the Stream of the Way" and can be translated as "Way Streaming Ones," “Way Streamers” or “Way Flow-ers” or “Streamers or Floaters in the Way,” etc. 

As this water image is perceived as somewhat clumsy in English, most translators use “Followers of the Way.” I don't like “Followers of the Way” for several reasons. First, because it has the connotation of "following behind" and not being personally immersed in the stream of the Way. Second, the term "follower" loses its root connection to the early water image used for the term designating beginning disciples, srota-apanna, 入流, i.e., Stream Entrants. I take it that Linji's use of the term 道流 daoliu for the Mahayana disciples in his assembly is harkening directly back to this earlier water based term for the sravaka disciples of the Early Schools.   

As a stream meanders in its way, it could be translated as “Meanderers of the Way.”  As a stream “seeks” lower ground as the gravitational direction to flow toward, the term liu also has the connotation of “to seek, to search for,” so 道流 can be more loosely translated as “Seekers of the Way.”  But because liu also means to drift in the flowing stream or current, and because the word drift captures the meaning of another favorite term of Linji's, 無事 wúshì, in Japanese buji, "to have no affairs" which also appears in this section, my current preference for translating 道流 daoliu is "Drifters in the Way." 

Also, it sounds cool to me and evokes personally pleasant nostalgia imagery from my childhood. For example, Paul Butterfield's "Drifting Blues."  And the popular phrase "drifting and dreaming," as used in poetry, song titles, and lyrics, combines the word "drifting" with another important word in Buddhism "dreaming," as when in the Diamond Cutter Sutra the Buddha says that the bodhisattva views this world as a dream. 

Lastly, of interest to Buddha nerds, there is a double entendre that occurs because the term liu is sometimes used as a synonym for lou (flowing, running, discharge) to translate the Sanskrit technical term asrava, derived from the image of the foaming liquid that overflows a pot of cooking rice, and means “outflow” or “leakage” and is sometimes translated as “defilement” because the activity of the mind that objectifies an external environment is called “outflowing” and imagined like the outflowing, leakage, or discharge of fluids like pus, snot, or sweat from the body, and this leaking mental excretion is the source of the mind’s defilement as its mistaken perceptions about the world. So Linji’s double entendre lies in his slyly calling his audience “defilers or leakers of the Way” as he is teaching them about the Way.


"Turn the light around and shine it on yourselves" is a colloquial way of describing the technical term asraya-paravrtti which means to "turn around or turn back to the seat, basis, or resting place" of what we call the light of knowing, consciousness, or awareness.  

Variations of the phrase "turn the light around and shine it on yourselves" are now well known in Western Zen communities. Whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, this is the essential method of practice in Zen and the common denominator of all Zen lineage schools.  This central teaching is found in the works of most of the Zen masters, such as in works after Linji of Dogen's 13th c. "Fukanzazengi or Rules for the Universal Recommendation of Sitting Meditation," and Hakuin's 18th c. "Zazen Wasan or Song of Zazen," as well as in works before Linji such as the 8th c. Chinese Zen foundational text The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and Sengcan's famous 6th c. Zen verse "Inscription on Faith in Mind." Asraya-paravrtti or "return to the basis" is found as the phrase "return to True Suchness" and "return to the root" in the important 6th c. work <大乘起信論> "Treatise on the Mahayana Arousing of Faith" translated into Chinese by the Indian scholar-monk Paramartha.  

Before the Zen Masters of China asraya-paravrtti was a staple of Indian Masters such as the 4th c. half brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu, as found in the later's "Trimsika-Karika or Thirty Verses."   At its earliest appearance it was given canonical authority in the Mahayana Sutras espousing the One Vehicle or Ekayana such as the Lankavatara Sutra or The Sutra of Going Down to Lanka, and The Sutra of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar.

Without the actual experience of turning the light around to shine it upon ourseves, our understanding remains at the intellectual level only.  To Mahayanists, asraya-paravrtti is the true meaning of the purification (visuddhi) espoused by the Early Schools, because in returning the light of awareness to its source or fountainhead, the contrived dualistic delusions are cast off and the purity of not-two is realized.  Thus Linji said "Buddha is the mind's purity."  As Zen Master Hui Hai said, this is "the ultimate purity" because "it is a state of beyond purity and impurity."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Emptiness at the Heart of the Heart Sutra

Here's something inspired by James Ford's recent Facebook reference to his earlier blog post "How to Live Forever: a Meditation on the Heart Sutra" from December 4, 2014.

Thanks James. Good words.  Loving the Heart Sutra is inconceivably deep.

The word “skandha” is often translated as aggregate or heap, but I think the more accurate translation is “shoulder,” where the arm branches off, or “crotch,” as in the crotch of the tree where branches part.  The skandha is that part of the stem or trunk where the branches begin, or a large branch or bough that stems therefrom.  The five skandhas are the five shoulders or crotches of the five main branches of the tree of a person. The terms heaps or aggregates creates the image of separate entities piled into heaps, as if counting all the pieces and bits that make up a person and putting them down into one of the five categories.  However, this image is too artificial and contrived for the organic interconnectedness of what the  psychological paradigm of the skandas is pointing toward, which is the holistic living limbs of the psyche of the person. The five are not heaps of bits, they are the five living branches of the tree of life. The appearance of many bits and pieces are actually the living manifold twigs and leaves on these five branches, not disconnected items piled up like lifeless gravel.

I’m confused about what is meant by “The traditional list is form or matter, sensations or feeling, mental formations or impulses, and consciousness, discernment.”  Is that four or five?  It looks like four to me:  (1) form or matter [1st rupa], (2) sensations or feeling [2nd vedana], (3) mental formations or impulses [4th samskara], and (4) consciousness, discernment [5th vijnana]. It seems the 3rd skandha of perception or samjna is missing from the list.

By using the common Latin root "capere"--to seize, take, grasp, lay hold of, etc.-- in its combining forms such as -cipere and -cep, to show their mutual interrelationships, I like to list the five skandhas as (1) inception/to incept, (2) reception/to receive, (3) perception/to perceive, (4) conception/to conceive, and (5) deception/to decieve.  This formulation of the five skandhas as the five forms of "ception" and pointing out that consciousness is inherently deceptive is worth an essay in itself.  Suffice to say, the "vi" in "vijnana" refers to the division, bifurcation, or polarizing of knowing, "jnana." It is this inherent split that is both the benefit and the bane of consciousness.  This split or division of our knowing makes self-consciousness possible, but it is also the basis for all the false dualities and oppositions arising out of the conceived  "self" that are the root of our suffering and vexations.  This "vi," or duality within the 5th skanda's consciousness "vijnana," is the deception at the heart of the myth of eating form the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This is why self-consciousness is inherently deceptive and why we feel banished from the primordial Garden upon eating from the tree of knowledge.  Until we encounter the flaming sword that "cuts us into one" held by the Bodhisattva Manjusri, i.e., the Archangel Michael standing at the Gates of Eden in the Christian context, we can not reenter the Garden.     

"Manjusri's most dynamic attribute is his sword, the vajra sword of discriminating wisdom or insight. The sword cuts through ignorance and the entanglements of conceptual views. It cuts away ego and self-created obstacles. Sometimes the sword is in flames, which can represent light or transformation. It can cut things in two, but it can also cut into one, by cutting the self-other dichotomy. It is said the sword can both give and take life."
I mostly like Red Pine's translation, but I feel compelled to pick two nits. First, the use of the word "memory" for the 4th skandha is very problematic, not so much because of the technical application of the terminology, if the word memory is used in its widest possible connotation, but because of the common usage of the English word memory, which is very much more limited and narrow than the 4th skandha's "samskara," which literally means “putting together,” “making complete,” “correctly together” etc.  Memory is commonly conceived of as information that is encoded, stored, and retrieved, thus nominalizing it as data rather than seeing it as the active living function of mind’s organic patterning in fields that make self-consciousness possible.  Memory is commonly used with the file cabinet or computer analogy of encoding, storage, and retrieval, and to the extent this limited view is what the word is conjuring up, then it is wrong to use “memory” for samskara  

The 4th skandha is the most psychologically challenging of the 5 skandhas to understand. Carl Jung coined the term “complex” in his attempt to describe this very function of the psyche, while in other contexts he simply called it the function of "thinking."  In the context of Jungian archetypal psychology, the 4th skandha includes all the complex mental formations that at one end of the spectrum are the individual complexes upon which we base our idea of impulses and our self-image of personal volition, and at the other end are all the mental formations we call the archetypes of the collective unconscious that act upon us a the deepest levels and upon which our worldviews are established.  If we remember (pun intended) that “memory” is the mental activity and function, not just the data, that includes entirely all the mental formations and complexes, both individual and collective, that make up our self-identity and worldview then the word memory is not an invalid translation.
Second of less concern, but still concerning, is Red Pine’s use of the designation “mantra of great magic,” also because the term magic conjures up the paranormal or illusory.  As Ford suggests when he points out the problems with seeing a mantra as a tool of magical efficacy, most people will read “magic” and hear “mantra of great illusion” or “mantra of great superstition” or ‘manta of great hocus-pocus.”  This reading is funny but does a disservice to the Heart Sutra.  If seen as the “great magic” that is a child’s smile, or at the sea shore with the waves revealing marvelous shells, or the supernatural magic of drawing water and carrying firewood, then no harm , no foul.
I greatly appreciate Ford's discussion of emptiness and the warning against being too reductive.  Becoming worm food is most definitely not what emptiness is about, and he has hit the bull’s eye with the phrase “a vastly more wonderful truth.”  
I lament that there has been so much focus on the first example of “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” while the other four skandas are overlooked and neglected.  Yes, there are four more parts of that formula that are rarely examined and only contained in the phrase “also like this” or “the same holds for…”  To be whole, and to avoid one-sidedness, we should always include in the discussion of emptiness in relation to the Heart Sutra the remaining four variables in the formula: “sensation is emptiness, emptiness is sensation; perception is emptiness, emptiness is perception; “complex-formation is emptiness, emptiness is complex-formation; and consciousness is emptiness, emptiness is consciousness.”  For more on this, see my blog on the Heart Sutra without the shortcuts.

While the statement, “there is no part of us that is outside the phenomenal world,” is not incorrect, it is problematic as it may be easily misunderstood.   The problem, as I see it, is that most people begin from the stand point that there is a “phenomenal world” that is outside us, and conceive of the “inside of us” as outside the outside of us.  So to point out that there is no “part” of us that is separate from the phenomenal world is correct if we mean that everything that is identifiable as a “part” of anything is exactly a thing of the phenomenal world, even all the parts that we think of as "inside us."  But this does not address the deception of a "phenomenal world," as it is the emptiness of those parts themselves that is the second fold of the two-fold emptiness of self (atman) and things (dharmas), and I fear that, while many people will acknowledge that the “parts” of us are not outside the phenomenal world, they will still conceive of those parts as existing inside a “phenomenal world,” rather than becoming free of the whole conceptual apparatus of “outside and inside” and of “phenomenal world.” 

The "phenomenal world" is not outside or separate from mind.  The phenomenal world is mind. Mind is the phenomenal world.  That is, while "it" is not a “part" and "it" is not "outside,” there is "that one who is shining brilliantly," who is neither outside nor inside the phenomenal world, and who is listening right now to the Heart Sutra.  That one is the emptiness of the Heart Sutra.  

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Zen is the Art of Imagination.


I was thinking of calling this "Zen and the Art of Imagination" but then it became clear to me why I don't like that formulation. They are not two. Zen "and" the "Art of this or that" creates an artificial duality of Zen and whatever "Art" is mentioned.  However, Zen is the Art of Imagination because the Art of Imagination is life and Zen is life.

Imagination is the function of the mind that we call mental activity. Fantasy and scientific conceptualization are both activities of imagining. Memory and hallucinations are both activities of imagining. In modern terms, the central nervous system’s biological activity of recognizing and identifying any aspect of our peripheral nervous system is the psychological activity of imagination. There is no "red rose" except that by our imagination we have designated "red" and "rose." Analyzing the central psychological activity of imagination has been one of the main features of Buddha Dharma for over two millennia.

I have recently heard talks by two American Zen teachers emphasizing the importance of having a clear understanding of imagination when approaching Zen and Buddhism.  One is by Zoketsu Norman Fischer of Everyday Zen Foundation in the S.F. Bay Area, California, who has given talks on the theme of Zen and Imagination before, but in a Zen retreat on 12/07/2016, he gave a particularly important talk on imagination and its central role in consciousness from religion to art and science.  In this talk Fischer refers to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Coleridge’s use of the distinguishable terms imagination and fancy, which is a differentiation that is central to this discussion. 

The other notable talk is by Ejo McMullen of Buddha Eye Temple in Eugene Oregon, given on 11/10/2016 for the first in a series of classes on the Lotus Sutra. In this talk, McMullen emphasizes the importance of understanding imagination when reading Mahayana Sutras such as the Lotus Sutra. As one anchor to the discussion, he refers to a chapter in the book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” by James W. Fowler, to present the view of imagination as the deep activity underlying religious faith.   

Both of these talks circled around the Jungian view of imagination as imaginal psychology and brought to the fore in my mind how images form and shape our entire worldview and self-identity. “Imaginal psychology stands alongside other major orientations to psychology- cognitive behavioral, depth, humanistic and transpersonal. What is distinctive to imaginal psychology is its care of the soul. The soul expresses itself primarily in images, from whence this orientation derives its name.” 

The connection of the central importance of imagination with Buddhism is found in the teaching known in Sanskrit as "trisvabhava," which can be translated as the "three own-beings" or "three own-natures."  This teaching was promoted and popularized by Vasubandhu and his half-brother Asanga during the 4th century C.E.  Zen incorporates this teaching, as it also incorporates Vasubandhu in its teaching lineage legend. On the one hand, Zen does not emphasize or make a big deal about the formal teaching of the three own-natures as a doctrine, but on the other hand, we find it frequently acting as an unannounced framework for the direct style of Zen teachings.  For example we can see the three own-natures in the framing of the three levels of the teaching, elementary, intermediate, and complete as taught by 8th century Zen Master Baizhang and in the three statements of Baizhang's grandson in the Dharma, Zen Master Linji.

The technical terms for the three own-natures are parikalpita-svabhāva (the fully-contrived own-nature), paratantra-svabhāva (the relatively-dependent own-nature), and pariniṣpanna-svabhāva (the fully-complete own-nature), and these Sanskrit terms naturally result in different English translations of each. In our naïve view as humans, every thing (dharma), as a quantum of identifiable pattern, has these there aspects of its own-being.  So when we perceive any particular thing, our imaging of its own-nature can always be categorized in one or more of these three ways. 

The practice (yoga) of Buddhism as therapy for what ails (dukkha) us can be understood as comprised of learning the distinctions between these three own-natures and how we confuse ourselves and generate our own mental vexations and emotional afflictions out of this confusion by mistaking our imagination of one own-nature for another.  This is a most intimate process as no one else can do it for us.  When we can’t tell what is contrived fantasy from practical relative truths, then on the personal level we become anxious about things we can have no control over and do not change the things we do have control over, and on the social level we go to war over political fantasies.
While no one can cure our delusions for us, we have to practice in relationship with a teacher or other friends in the Dharma to develop our awareness of how we confuse ourselves.   

[slightly edited 2/9/2017]