Sunday, January 16, 2022

SONG OF THE STRAW THATCHED HUT

From my translations at "Buddha Verse". 
 
SONG OF THE STRAW THATCHED HUT
-- 艸庵歌 Caoan Ge (J. Soanka)
By Shitou Xiqian (J. Sekito Kisen)
(b.700 - d.790)
 
I tied up the straw thatched hut without precious objects.
With the cooked rice finished, I followed the aim of appearances and soon slept.
As the first season was accomplished, I saw the thatch was new.
Later when it is worn out, I will repay my debt and reconstruct the thatch.
 
The resident hermit -- subdues permanent residency,
And does not categorize the middle space with inside or outside.
A worldly person resides in a place; I do not reside.
A worldly person has affection for a place; I do not have affection.
 
Although the thatched hut is small -- it contains the Dharma-realm (Dharmadhatu).
In a square ten feet, an old man studies liberation of the essential body.
A bodhisattva of the Supreme Vehicle trusts without doubt.
The middle and inferior hear it and surely give rise to (a sense of) strangeness.
 
Asking about this thatched hut -- poor or not poor?
Poor and not poor: the original master is present.
Not dwelling south or north and east or west
A foundation on top of "the firm and stable" therefore becomes superlative.
 
Green pines below -- light inside of the window.
The Jade Palace (of Heaven) and the Vermilion Tower (of Hell) do not compare.
With a patched cape covering the head, the 10,000 affairs come to rest.
Here and now, this mountain monk already does not meet (anyone).
 
Residing in this thatched hut -- ceasing to work on liberation.
Who boastfully spreads out a mat aiming for customers?
Revolve the light and turn back your illumination, then you come back to the origin point,
Breaking through to the boundless root of the spirit, you do not face backwards.
 
Meet the ancestral masters -- be intimate with the teachings.
Tie straw for a thatched hut; do not create backsliding.
Abandon your 100 years (of lifespan), yet be alive vertically and sideways.
Wave a hand, then do, just without doing wrong.
 
One thousand kinds of words -- ten thousand categories of liberation,
Are only necessary not to obscure the teaching for long.
If you desire to know the undying person inside the thatched hut,
How is it free from, and yet right now covered by, the skin bag?

COMMENTARY:
The structure is four lines per stanza with 7 characters for each line, except after the first stanza, the first line of each stanza is 6 characters. In my translation, I used the punctuation "--" to show the break in the first line of each stanza between the two sets of 3 characters. For those who don't know, the ancient Chinese did not have punctuation. All modern versions have punctuation added to aide the reader. In the online canon, the modern Chinese has "。" as a universal punctuation (which can be a period, comma, colon, semicolon, hyphen, etc.,) that is inserted in the text to show the reader how the phrases and sentences are taken to be intended. Since hundreds, if not a thousand, of years passed between the time of writing and the addition of the punctuation, the punctuation is a conventional consensus by translators and should not be considered infallible.
1. The straw thatched hut is a metaphor for the body. No need for precious objects to adorn something so simply miraculous. Eating and doing daily activities then sleeping are the main things done in the hut. In this life the thatch is new. When it is worn out, I will pay the debt by fixing the thatch for the next inhabitant.
2. The one inside doesn't really have permanent residency even if that one thinks so. The wise one doesn't get fooled by concepts of inside and outside the hut. Non-abiding is the basis of Zen. Affections for a place blind us from seeing the place, as it really is, yathabhutam.
3. Size is irrelevant when it comes to the cosmos of the Dharma which is everywhere, lacking nowhere. The the space of a ten square foot body, we study the liberation of the essential body, the Dharma-body. "A bodhisattva of the Supreme Vehicle" refers to a practitioner of the Zen gate. "The Supreme Vehicle" is another name for the "One Vehicle," (Ekayana) as was used in the Fifth Ancestor Hongren's earlier work "Discourse on the Most Supreme Vehicle" in which he writes, "This discourse shows the One Vehicle to be the lineage." The middle (Bodhisattva) and inferior (Sravaka) vehicles see nothing but strangeness in the direct path of the Supreme One Vehicle.
4. Dualistic oppositions of the mind like poor and rich are immaterial when it comes to knowing the master of the hut. All such dualisms are superlative.
5. A forest of green pines and sunlight is all the color and splendor anyone needs. The Jade Castle of Heaven and the Vermilion Tower of Hell can't compare to the wonders of the natural world before our eyes. Throwing a patched cape over one's head is all that is needed to realize samadhi. Nowhere are externals needed.
6. Abiding in non-abiding is to cease striving for liberation from outside. It's just embarrassing to claim to be a teacher. To"Revolve the light and turn back your illumination, then you come back to the origin point" is the meaning of the Sanskrit term "asraya-paravrtti" This is easily recognized as the tried an true admonition of all Zen lineages for practicing zazen, going way back to the Lankavatara Sutra and other sutras and used centuries later by Dogen in the "Fukanzazengi" and Hakuin in the "Zazen Wasan." Revolving the light means to turn our awareness to the seat or source of awareness. It seems like looking backward to a beginner, but when breaking through to the seat, one breaks through entirely and there is only facing forward without a backward slide.
7. Having penetrated to the seat of awareness, one can meet the ancestral masters face to face, and now be intimate with the teachings when before they seemed confusing. But still, there is a kind of effort needed to keep from backsliding, it is taking care of the body. Letting go our our thoughts about longevity, we can live in the present dimension. Just go on with the Three Pure Precepts: Don't do wrongdoing, do all good, keep a clear mind to awaken all beings with the wave of a hand.
8. Words create the categories of liberation because it is words that bind us. We use words to lead us out of the snare of words. The unborn and undying person in your own body, who is it? Shitou leaves us with a parting koan: How are you both free from yet obscured by your skin bag?

 

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Announcing: Arousing Faith In Mind Study Group

 

Arousing Faith in Mind: A new translation of the “Treatise on the Great Vehicle’s Arousing of Faith” (Mahayana Sraddhotpada Shastra)

 

A study group led by Gregory Wonderwheel using his new translation and meeting remotely by Zoom over eight Thursday evenings:

1/27/22 to 3/17/22; 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm (PST),

 

Contact Gregory Wonderwheel at wonderwheel@pon.net for more information and how to sign up for the Study Group.

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Outline of the Study Group sessions:

#1. 1/27 – Introduction and overview of the scope and outline, with reference to the provenance controversies and translation issues regarding title and faith. (7-11)

#2. 2/03 – The First Part “Articulating the Causes and Conditions,” and the Second Part “Articulating the Meanings Set Forth.  (12-17)

#3. 2/10 – The Third Part “Articulating the Explanations,” Section One to One.I.B.1.a. (18-24)

#4. 2/17 – The Third Part “Articulating the Explanations,” Section One.I.B.1.b. to 2.b. (24-32)

#5. 2/24 – The Third Part “Articulating the Explanations,” Section One, I,B.3. (33 – 39)

#6. 3/03 – The Third Part “Articulating the Explanations,” Section One, II. (40-43) and Section Two (44 – 47)

#7. 3/10 – The Third Part “Articulating the Explanations,” Section Three, (48 – 56)

#8. 3/17 – The Fourth Part “Articulating Faith in Mind and Cultivating Practice.” (57-66) and the Fifth Part “Articulating and Exhorting the Benefits of Cultivation.” (67)

 

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The logo for the study group is known as the Vitarka mudra, the hand gesture of teaching and discussion. This mudra symbolizes the oral transmission of Buddha’s Dharma and is one of the most important of the Buddhist mudras.  Vitarka mudra is usually performed by lifting the right hand at chest level and making a circle with the tip of thumb and index finger, with the other three fingers pointing up and palm outward. This circle made is called “wheel of teaching” indicating the uninterrupted and unbroken flow of wisdom.

 

Benefits of sitting with the Vitarka mudra:

  • Promotes the energy of teaching and of discussion.
  • Helps to prevent argumentative states of mind.
  • Helps to absorb the teachings of Buddha.
  • Cultivates calming energy that is useful for reducing internal conflict.
  • Opens the mind to intelligent conversation.
  • Evokes a feeling of silent wisdom.