Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on Ken Wilber and Genp Merzel and "Western" Buddhism and Philosophy

I was refraining from posting more on this latest breathless ad on "Integral Life Practice" because it was being exhausted well at Warner's blog, but having seen The Zennist's evident evisceration of Wilber, Merzel et al. (without ever naming them), I figured it might be useful to expand on my comments from Warner's blog. You can read both of those blog entries and the comments therein to find the criticisms of Wilber, Merzel et al. I'll first summarize my position as:

Is it the Dharma that Wilber and Merzel are selling when they try to piggyback on Eckhart Tolle? One could attempt to be a fundamentalist and attempt to correlate what they market with what is written in the Sutras and the Dhammapada (that is, historically what Buddhists have said was Buddhism and I can't but recommend literacy in the Buddhist canon if you're a Buddhist). The Zennist argues well from that standpoint, there's a much simpler way to tell.

Do they teach the 4 Noble Truths for transcending suffering and dukkha? Does what they market increase wisdom, generosity and compassion? Are they committed to following The Noble Eightfold Path? Is what they write and say Right Speech?

I'm concerned as a "Western Buddhist" that Merzel, like Frederick Lenz (from whose estate he and others have been feeding) calls what they do a "Westernization" of Buddhism.

I wrote a book review on Amazon a ways back to the effect that the West (or the US - forgive me Europeans!) has not yet had its Dogen, its Lin Ji, its Yun Men, its Hakuin, or any other great "old teacher" yet. And we may not know if we had one until she died.

There have been some notable Buddhists in the West, to be sure, and I've known a few. But there hasn't been any - and won't be any I'd suspect for at least 100 years - that completely rewrite Zen Buddhism in their country the aforementioned have.

These great teachers don't merely throw out cultural forms from the countries from which they were inherited, but rather build on and extend the previous cultural forms.

So when a someone comes around and peddles something as "Western Buddhism" which is less about transcendence of dukkha than it is about "achieving the now" I shudder, because they're making it more difficult for whoever that great teacher is to propagate the real deal. This I think is kind of what The Zennist was getting at, though somewhat vague.

On a side note, to discard Asian cultural forms merely because you don't like the cultural forms reeks of provincialism, cultural ignorance, or something worse. There are no great reasons to throw out cultural forms merely to "Westernize" them, especially given the dissemination of global community and culture, and the fact that these forms, though alien to folks at first, do indeed have purposes at transcendence of dukkha and in the Mahayana tradition, were developed because they could be skillfully applied at helping others.

Take the Heart Sutra. Please. In "Chinese and Japanese" (they're not really Chinese and Japanese, but let's not go there right now) they really are "mellifluously useful" for the point of concentrating the mind. The translations of the this into English are good enough, but frankly (at least in "Japanese") the phonemic constraints of the Japanese language make it somewhat easier to focus the mind. The fact that grammar of the East Asian languages is "broken" in these sutras helps a great deal, in my opinion to achieve the goal of focusing the mind. The translation into English, naturally, can be used the same way, but, esthetically, to me, it seems a bit awkward.

This "desire for Westernization" relates also to my impression of Ken Wilber: it appears that he wants to "make something better than Buddhism," by claiming he's invented a philosophy which is a superset of it. Moreover, I'd recommend that anybody impressed by Wilber ought to read real philosophy as a comparison, or at least Russell's take on Hegel. Or read Dogen. Or the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. And one should read Dawkins on evolutionary biology to inoculate yourself against the bilge Wilber spouts about it. And while you're reading Russell, note Russell's literacy vis a vis Wilber. But I digress.

Dogen and Nagarjuna anticipated modern Western philosophy, and in my opinion, you're philosophically illiterate if you haven't read them. Wilber hasn't really added much that I see to them, or for that matter to Hegel except for jargon.

Professionally I'm an engineer, and much of the math that I've studied (probability, real analysis, stochastic theory) has at its core bumped up against Kurt Godel, and yes, I've read that book by Douglas R. Hofstadter. And Wang too. So I've been interested professionally as well as for personal reasons to read philosophy, both East and West. It was the intersection of problems in my life and thinking about the various types of infinities, I guess.

This is not to do an intellectual "Mine's bigger than yours," but to say that the difference between Wilber and real philosophers is like the difference between a Big Mac and Kobe beef. Please taste Kobe beef.

Your mileage may vary of course, but at least broaden your horizons!

Completely unrelated tangent except that it's related to knowledge of real professional philosphers: Daniel Pi, him of the "Oops I Did it Again Fugue," has read real philosophy. Damn some folks are so smart. Mr. Pi knows how to write a fugue, and no doubt would slaughter me in a chess game; moreover I have trouble writing two sentences on "My Day at the Zoo." OK, the last part I stole from Woody Allen, and I have read a whole bunch of real philosophers in various schools myself, But you get my drift. Anyhow, I disagree (vehemently) with Mr. Pi regarding deconstructionists (not to mention I'd be reluctant to cyber-label myself with such extreme words these days). However I just wanted to put him out there as somebody who's not famous but would be able to show what's wrong with Wiliberism (see his take on Continental Philosophy). And Daniel Pi, I'd bet would be dead wrong in discussing Zen, I'm sure, because he'd probably confuse Zen literature as a use of language that is expositive when it is performative. (I'm not talking about Zen of course.)

As Mother Jones said: "Educate yourselves!"

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2, Section XV

I'm still using Suzuki's translation...

There are various Buddhas (themselves a bit of an ad hoc construction) which are concerned with the fact that cause and condition bind everything arise from habit-energy which is accumulated by not recognizing an external world as of Mind itself, and so appealing to the relative over the absolute or vice versa is one-sided (or even the construction itself - the idea of it - is one sided).

And this has moral implications, including but not limited to your relation to your self and your relations with others, and how you perceive and act in all of that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Bodhidharma for today...

I think it was Bodhidharma about whom Paul Gorman, a WBAI radio host way back in the 80s once said, "He put the Boo! back in Buddhism."

Or maybe it was Lin-Ji.

Anyhow, for some reason, the Shaolin website's up again, and here's something I found...

To truly understand what it means to become awakened (chin.: jueyu 覺悟) there are many paths, but essentially only two can help someone to achieve it. By gaining a direct understanding of the Ultimate Truth - by Principle (chin.: shi li ru 是理入) and by using various practices that lead up to the final understanding of the Ultimate Truth Practice (chin.: shi xing ru 是行入).

To become awakened by Principle, means to awaken to the Ultimate Truth through the doctrine, with a deep faith that all sentient beings have the same true nature. Obscured by the mind delusions, this nature cannot manifest itself. If one can relinquish the false and turn to the true, let the mind to understand that there are neither self nor others, that mortals and saints are equal and one—abiding this way without wavering, clinging not even to the scriptures, then one is implicitly in accord with the Principle. Being non-discriminative (chin.: wuyou fenbie 無有分別), silent (chin.: jiran 寂然), and non-interference with nature (chin.: wuwei 無為) is to become awakened by Principle. This is the Chen practice known as the “gateless gate”.

To become awakened by Practice means following four practices (chin.: Si Xing 四行). They are: accepting adversity (chin.: baoyuanxing 報冤行), adapting to conditions (chin.: suiyuanxing 隨緣行), seeking nothing (chin.: wu suoqiu xing 無所求行), and acting in accordance with the Dharma (chin.:sichen faxing 四稱法行).

Your loneliness is my loneliness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Peter Singer : Ration Health Care

Peter Singer, Princeton philospher, is infamous for being a rather outspoken animal rights activist. But his piece in today's NY Times Magazine's right on point. It is hard to read if you're completely, absolutely, 1000% pro-human life, but his logic is iron-clad.

If you can afford [Sutent, an expensive drug for advanced kidney cancer], you probably would pay that much, or more, to live longer, even if your quality of life wasn’t going to be good. But suppose it’s not you with the cancer but a stranger covered by your health-insurance fund. If the insurer provides this man — and everyone else like him — with Sutent, your premiums will increase. Do you still think the drug is a good value? Suppose the treatment cost a million dollars. Would it be worth it then? Ten million? Is there any limit to how much you would want your insurer to pay for a drug that adds six months to someone’s life? If there is any point at which you say, “No, an extra six months isn’t worth that much,” then you think that health care should be rationed...

Health care is a scarce resource, and all scarce resources are rationed in one way or another. In the United States, most health care is privately financed, and so most rationing is by price: you get what you, or your employer, can afford to insure you for. But our current system of employer-financed health insurance exists only because the federal government encouraged it by making the premiums tax deductible. That is, in effect, a more than $200 billion government subsidy for health care...

There’s no doubt that it’s tough — politically, emotionally and ethically — to make a decision that means that someone will die sooner than they would have if the decision had gone the other way. But if the stories of Bruce Hardy and Jack Rosser [(patients given decisions to deny treatments)] lead us to think badly of the British system of rationing health care, we should remind ourselves that the U.S. system also results in people going without life-saving treatment — it just does so less visibly. Pharmaceutical manufacturers often charge much more for drugs in the United States than they charge for the same drugs in Britain, where they know that a higher price would put the drug outside the cost-effectiveness limits set by NICE [(the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). American patients, even if they are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, often cannot afford the copayments for drugs. That’s rationing too, by ability to pay.

Singer's 100% right here: An allocation based on economic power is still an allocation, and it can't possibly be an allocation based on maximizing the number of people's well-being.

So when the righties start bleating about "rationing" - which is an allocation after all, mention to them these points.

It's better to allocate based on maximizing people's well-being than on maximizing the money held by a few, which is the system we have now.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2, Section XIV

Again, using Suzuki's translation:

How, O Blessed One, is the outflow purified that takes place from recognising an external world which is of Mind itself? Is the purification instantaneous or gradual?

  • The purification of beings when they recognise an external world as real which is of Mind itself is gradual and not instantaneous.

  • On the other hand: The purification of beings is like a mirror indiscriminately and instantaneously reflecting in it forms and images; (56) in the same way, Mahāmati, the purification by the Tathagata of all beings is instantaneous, who makes them free from discrimination and leads them to the state of imagelessness.

  • The Tathagata, by making all beings discard the habit-energy which issues from the erroneous views they entertain in regard to an external world which is of the Mind, instantaneously reveals to all beings the realm of unthinkable knowledge which belongs to Buddhahood.

In other words, it takes time to get there, but "gradual" and "instantaneous" are yet again a dualism.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Revival of Buddhsim in China

Although the authoritarian religious right "First Things" recently trumpeted a coming "Catholic Moment" in China, evidently the official English language Chinese media sees things differently.

From the First Things article:

Far less often observed—and potentially more important—is the fact that this exponential growth of Christianity in China would not have been possible without the forbearance and tacit encouragement of the regime. In recent years, the Chinese government has shifted from persecution of Christians to subtle—and sometimes even open—encouragement of Christianity. Christianity never will be a state religion in China, to be sure, and the Communist party in China is still officially atheist. But it is not an exaggeration to say we are near a Constantinian moment for the Chinese Empire, as the government looks to Christianity—particularly Catholicism—for an instrument of social cohesion...

...[T]he Chinese leadership also drew from the episode [of the Falun Da FA cult] a decisive lesson. Since the discrediting of Maoism twenty years earlier, China had been living with no cohesive set of values. The Maoist model had offered a form of secular religion—a religion that had supplanted the old imperial ideology founded on Confucian civic morality and Buddhist-Taoist religious belief. The successive assault by modern Western ideas and communist ideology erased the old imperial ideology, and the collapse of the communist model left China with a spiritual vacuum.

Rushing in to fill this vacuum in the early 1980s were a variety of qigong, spiritual breathing exercises with roots in Taoism and Buddhism, of which Falun Gong was the best organized. As one senior government official told me after the crackdown in 2000, “The fact that so many people believed in this mumbo-jumbo changed the debate in the party. It proved that it was not that reforms were going too fast; the problem was that reforms were going too slowly.”

The Chinese Communist party’s belated recognition that a backward-looking traditionalist movement might overthrow its reform campaign and stop the modernization of China led some its leaders to a radical conclusion. In a now famous essay, one of the youngest important party officials, Pan Yue, argued that religion might well be the opiate of the masses but that the Communist party needs just such an opiate to keep power as it changes from a revolutionary to a ruling party. The party, he argued, needs to learn how to use religion to enhance social stability and to avert rebellions and revolutions.

The article goes on to breathlessly tout that Catholicism will "unify" Christianity in China.

However, as I noted, Chinese media sees things a bit differently:

Outside the country, too, some observers tend to define the rise in China's economy and national pride as a result of Confucianism, irrespective of whether they are ready to welcome it or not. This is reflected in the recent correspondence in The Guardian between Martin Jacques and Will Hutton, two authors who hold different views on China's rise.

It is beyond comprehension why so few cultural experts, Chinese and foreign, have not attributed the rise to Buddhism. It seems they think it is quite an archaic thing belonging only to the older generation's memory. The reality can be in stark contrast if only one spends a day (any day) visiting a Chinese temple. Of course, from an elitist point of view, much of the mass activity there, such as praying for one's kids to help them pass the college entrance exam or seeking a quick recovery for a sick relative, can be dismissed as not very serious.

But that is not all. A trip to a Chinese bookstore will show a constant supply of books to meet Buddhist interests. In fact, on, one of the largest online bookstores, a search for guoxue - national (Confucian) classics - can have 3,580 hits in the book section. And on, the Amazon outlet on the Chinese mainland, the same search can fetch 2,438 results.

In contrast, a search for "Fo" - Buddha - can generate 9,979 results in the book section. And on, the same search can score 1,739 hits.

While it would take an expert to find out why there is such wide difference between the two subjects on the sites, on the Chinese-language general search engine,, a search for guoxue can get some 8.8 million results, compared with 41.7 million results for "Fo" and 13.2 million results for "Chan" - an East Asian sect of Buddhism, called Zen in English from a transliteration of the Japanese.

Confucianism is admittedly a very important component of Chinese cultural tradition, but it is far from the only one. It has taken many forms in the past 2,000-odd years, from a set of moral teachings by the nation's first private school master to an official ideology used to unify and regulate people's thinking, and then to a tradition in cultural studies that absorbed, and at times borrowed heavily, from other sources, including Buddhism.

Indeed, it would be absurd to talk about Confucianism, especially its lasting value and chances of its renewal without talking about how it came into being in the first place - the period about 2,500 years ago of "one hundred schools contending". Through its development, Confucianism learned from Buddhism, then a foreign religion and way of life for almost 1,000 years after it was introduced in China.

This is an interesting phenomenon: Buddhism is indeed becoming more developed in China. During my recent visit to China I had the opportunity to visit "臨済 風禅寺,” or "Lin Ji Style Chan Temple," (its main hall is pictured above) which is, as you might suspect a Zen temple in the tradition of Lin Ji (Rinzai in Japanese). I spoke with one of the monks there through an interpreter: they do indeed work as you might expect in a Rinzai temple: they do lots of temple work and they engage in koan practice. They appear to be sincerely and earnestly practicing; the monk with whom I spoke had been practicing 30 years.

It is interesting to me that this temple, in northeastern China, is in a place one would not expect to find a Chan temple at all, given that the tradition more or less died out in north China - indeed when it was mentioned to me that we would go to a temple near Dandong, I immediately thought it would not be a Chan temple I'd be visiting.

What is even more interesting is that this temple, about 10 years old, had been built by the government, evidently because they get that having legit practitioners of the Dharma is less harmful than certain cults (and yes, yes Falun Da Fa, claiming faith healing powers is indeed not the best of things in which to get involved ).

Which brings up some interesting questions:

  • If the Chinese government can sponsor practitioners of the Dharma in Chan, what about the Tibetan traditions? Can they sponsor a genuine Tibetan tradition without the Dalai Lama?

  • The Chinese government does have a hard time admitting error, in my opinion. (So do most governments.) There may be a point in time and circumstance of collision between Dharma practitioners in China and the government because of the problem of the government's desiring the appearance of a monopoly on political power. Can Buddhists in China navigate practicing the Dharma skilfully beyond the government which patronized them ?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Here's something you don't see every day

Sinuiju, North Korea

"I've returned."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Off to China

Eventually to a place called "Dandong" ("丹東"). It's read as "Red East." It used to be 安東 ("Andong" or "Safe East"), which happens to be the name of a Chinese grocery in Portland OR on Powell Blvd.

It's famous for being "just across the river" Sinuiju, which happens to be in North Korea. So I get to get a look at North Korea (at least from a relatively safe distance), one of the Charter Members of the Axis of you-know-what

Just wondering...about Urumqi

Why do Chinese riot police have "POLICE," in English, written on their uniforms?

More on Relaxing of Thoughts

Yet another variation on this from Shinzen Young.

And, mutatis mutandis, it works with other conscious thoughts besides internal voices.

And there's a variation of this that can be applied to external sounds as well...

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section X1(b) - XIII

I'm still using this text.

This quite profound, to me; it is the "Big Mind" as described by Zen teachers before the term was trademarked. One might even say the trademarking of "Big Mind" made "Big MindTM" categorically not Big Mind...

It'd be interesting to watch the lawyers fight over this, if litigating lawyers interests you (I have 'em in my family)...I suspect new exceptions to trademark and copyright law might ensue through costly litigation. I shouldn't even be writing that...

  • No ultimate substance is to be obtained however much one might consider dualistic analysis. Here the engineer in me notes that dualistic analysis is often useful for other reasons, but we, as a professor of mine once pointed out "aren't philosphers."

  • And here we have, again, somewhat of a not only "how" but "why" not to think of that pink elephant mentioned in the Relaxation of Thoughts Sutra.

    At that time Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva said this to the Blessed One: Is it not this way, Blessed One, that, seeing how discrimination takes place, we proceed to refer this to the non-rising of discrimination and infer that the horns exist not?

    The Blessed One said: No, indeed, Mahāmati, the non-existence of the horns [ on a hare] has no reference to the non-rising of discrimination. Why is it not so? Because there is discrimination owing to the idea of the horns. Indeed, depending upon the idea of the horns, Mahāmati, discrimination takes place. And because of this dependence of discrimination upon the idea of the horns, Mahāmati, and because of this relationship of dependence and apart from the anyānanya [different and not-different] relationship, one talks of the non-existence of the hare's horns, surely not because of the reference [to the horns of the bull]. If again, Mahāmati, discrimination is different (anya) from the hare's horns, (53) it will not take place by reason of the horns [and therefore the one is not different from the other]; but if it is not different (anānya), there is a discrimination taking place by reason of the horns [and therefore the one is different from the other]. However minutely the atoms are analysed, no horn [-substance] is obtainable; the notion of the horns itself is not available when thus reasoned. As neither of them [that is, the bull's nor the hare's] are existent, in reference to what should we talk of non-existence? Therefore, Mahāmati, the reasoning by reference as regards the non-existence of the hare's horns is of no avail. The non-existence of the hare's horns is asserted in reference to their existence [on the bull; but really a horn itself has no existence from the beginning]; have therefore no discrimination about it! Mahāmati, the dualism of being and non-being as held by the philosophers does not obtain as we see in the reasoning of horns.

  • Discrminiation (and monism) is a manifestation of Mind itself:

    And also, Mahāmati, let you and other Bodhisattvas reflect on the nature of discrimination which they have of the Mind itself, and let them go into all the Bodhisattva-lands where they should disclose the way of disciplining themselves in the manifestations of Mind itself.

XIII is largely a repetition, in verse, of what went before.

It's why they invented certain parts of Buddhism...

The "imp" in your brain...

“There are all kinds of pitfalls in social life, everywhere we look; not just errors but worst possible errors come to mind, and they come to mind easily,” said the paper’s author, Daniel M. Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard. “And having the worst thing come to mind, in some circumstances, might increase the likelihood that it will happen.”

...At a fundamental level, functioning socially means mastering one’s impulses. The adult brain expends at least as much energy on inhibition as on action, some studies suggest, and mental health relies on abiding strategies to ignore or suppress deeply disturbing thoughts — of one’s own inevitable death, for example. These strategies are general, subconscious or semiconscious psychological programs that usually run on automatic pilot...

The empirical evidence of this influence has been piling up in recent years, as Dr. Wegner documents in the new paper. In the lab, psychologists have people try to banish a thought from their minds — of a white bear, forexample — and find that the thought keeps returning, about once a m inute. Likewise, people trying not to think of a specific word continually blurt it out during rapid-fire word-association tests.

The same “ironic errors,” as Dr. Wegner calls them, are just easy to evoke in the real world. Golfers instructed to avoid a specific mistake, like overshooting, do it more often when under pressure, studies find. Soccer players told to shoot a penalty kick anywhere but at a certain spot of the net, like the lower right corner, look at that spot more often than any other.

In particular, regarding meditation, it's why the "Relaxation of Thoughts" Sutra (Vitakkasanthana Sutta) was written.

Though I have found as well that once you have reminded the monkey a few times that he's just a bit of Mind projection, the monkey modestly retreats.

But that's sort of covered in the Vitakkasanthana...

If evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion or delusion — still arise in the monk while he is paying no mind and paying no attention to those thoughts, he should attend to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts. As he is attending to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts, those evil, unskillful thoughts are abandoned and subside. With their abandoning, he steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it, and concentrates it. Just as the thought would occur to a man walking quickly, 'Why am I walking quickly? Why don't I walk slowly?' So he walks slowly. The thought occurs to him, 'Why am I walking slowly? Why don't I stand?' So he stands. The thought occurs to him, 'Why am I standing? Why don't I sit down?' So he sits down. The thought occurs to him, 'Why am I sitting? Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down. In this way, giving up the grosser posture, he takes up the more refined one. In the same way, if evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion or delusion — still arise in the monk while he is paying no mind and paying no attention to those thoughts, he should attend to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts.

Or, instead of thinking "Don't think of a pink elephant," put a better dialogue into your brain.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2 Sections X & X1(a)

As always, I'm using this text.

Not two; not one...

X: To study objects of discrimination which are to be seen as of Mind itself., study them.

X1(a): This part eludes attempts at compression:

Further, Mahāmati, when the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva establishes himself in the abode where he has gained a thorough understanding of Mind by means of his transcendental knowledge, he should later discipline himself in the cultivation of noble wisdom in its triple aspect. What are the three aspects of noble wisdom, Mahāmati, in which he has to discipline himself later? They are: (1) imagelessness; (2) the power added by all the Buddhas by reason of their original vows; and (3) the self-realisation attained by noble wisdom. Having mastered them, (50) the Yogin should abandon his knowledge of Mind gained by means of transcendental wisdom, which still resembles a lame donkey; and entering upon the eighth stage of Bodhisattvahood, he should further discipline himself in these three aspects of noble wisdom.

Then again, Mahāmati, the aspect of imagelessness comes forth when all things belonging to the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas and philosophers are thoroughly mastered. Again, Mahāmati, as to the power added, it comes from the original vows made by all the Buddhas. Again, Mahāmati, as to the self-realisation aspect of noble wisdom, it rises when a Bodhisattva, detaching himself from viewing all things in their phenomenality, realises the Samādhi-body whereby he surveys the world as like unto a vision, and further goes on to the attainment of the Buddha-stage. Mahāmati, this is the triplicity of the noble life. Furnished with this triplicity, noble ones will attain the state of self-realisation which is the outcome of noble wisdom. For this reason, Mahāmati, you should cultivate noble wisdom in its triple aspect.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section VIII and IX

I could use what's mentioned in Section VIII:

Perceiving that the triple existence is by reason of the habit-energy of erroneous discrimination and false reasoning that has been going on since beginningless time, and also thinking of the state of Buddhahood which is imageless and unborn, [the Bodhisattva] will become thoroughly conversant with the noble truth of self-realisation, will become a perfect master of his own mind, will conduct himself without effort, will be like a gem reflecting a variety of colours, will be able to assume the body of transformation, will be able to enter into the subtle minds of all beings, and, because of his firm belief in the truth of Mind-only, will, by gradually ascending the stages, become established in Buddhahood. Therefore, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva be well disciplined in self-realisation.

Section IX

First, here is a good all-around text to get around some of the Sanskrit (I belive) terminology. Tibetan, I believe, but as long as I'm going through this, I'd prefer to understand it. It's why I started doing this.

Much of IX is about the fact that the various forms of conciousness "grow out of their attachment to the discrimination which is applied to the projections of Mind itself." But, regarding the Bodhisattva...

Only those who, understanding fully all the aspects of the different stages of Bodhisattvahood by the aid of their transcendental knowledge, acquiring a definite cognition as regards the meaning of the separate propositions, planting roots of goodness in the Buddha-lands that know no limits, and keeping themselves away from the discriminations and false reasonings that arise from recognising an external world which is of Mind itself, would retire into a secluded abode in the forest and devote themselves to the practice of the spiritual discipline, either high, or low, or middling, only those are capable of obtaining an insight into the flowing of Mind itself in a world of discrimination, of being baptised by the Buddhas living in the lands without limits, and of realising the self-control, powers, psychic faculties, and Samādhis. Surrounded by good friends and the Buddhas, Mahāmati, they are capable of knowing the Citta, Manas [sense of self], Manovijñāna[i. e., the thinking function of consciousness], which are the discriminating agents of an external world whose self-nature is of Mind itself; they are capable of crossing the ocean of birth and death which arises by reason of deed, desire, and ignorance. For this reason, Mahāmati, the Yogins ought to exercise themselves in the discipline which has been given them by their good friends and the Buddhas.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

And speaking of religious liberties...

More commentary on this to come...

Speaking of Buddhism...

Paul Anka does Nirvana!

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section VII

This should clear up some points at least as far as how Buddhists view the world.

  • Buddhism is not nihilism.

  • Creation ex nihilo is not Buddhist. There is no "First Cause."

  • Reasoning as to cause is the same as reasoning as to that which is not caused.

  • Those who do not view they myriad things and experience, etc. as projects of Mind make dualism.(And let me go on a corollary tangent here: It is one thing to say all beings are inherently enlightened, but it's a whole different ball of wax to act moment to moment within and on and through this knowledge. We're well wired to perceive dualism; and wisdom comes in setting dualism aside, or setting monism aside, as both dualism and monism are projects of Mind, two sides of a coin.)

A Bodhisattva, on the other hand,

The Bodhisattvas-Mahāsattvas, Mahāmati, will before long attain to the understanding that Nirvana and Samsāra are one. Their conduct, Mahāmati, will be in accordance with the effortless exhibition of a great loving heart that ingeniously contrives means [of salvation], knowing that all beings have the nature of being like a vision or a reflection, and that [there is one thing which is] not bound by causation, being beyond the distinction of subject and object; [and further] seeing that there is nothing outside Mind, and in accordance with a position of unconditionality, they will by degrees pass through the various stages of Bodhisattvahood and will experience the various states of Samādhi, and will by virtue of their faith understand that the triple world is of Mind itself, and thus understanding will attain the Samādhi Māyopama. The Bodhisattvas entering into the state of imagelessness where they see into the truth of Mind-only, arriving at the abode of the Pāramitās, and keeping themselves away from the thought of genesis, deed, and discipline, they will attain the Samādhi Vajravimbopama which is in compliance with the Tathāgatakāya and with the transformations of suchness.

I could make a "Big Mind" remark here, but I won't.

But seriously, this text is so redolent of Zen, that it very clearly points to why Zen claims it's a tradition outside of words and letters: it's not because it's in any way in conflict with the sutras, but because it's, in the spirit of the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton's simile, more akin to playing tennis than to studying mathematics (if studying mathematics were about knowing the sutras).

Friday, July 03, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2, Sections V- VI

The whole sutra's at this link. A helpful note explains that the "seven kinds of self-nature" mentioned aren't really explained in the text. It is perhaps that these seven kinds of self-nature are myriad ways of providing a taxonomy or map of existence if you can imagine drawing such a thing, but it (or the concept of it) would not be outside of existence then, would it?

Holders of misguided views "do not recognise an objective world to be of Mind itself which is erroneously discriminated; and, not understanding the nature of the Vijnanas which are also no more than manifestations of Mind, like simple-minded ones that they are, they cherish the dualism of being and non-being where there is but [one] self-nature and [one] first principle."

Again, Mahamati, my teaching consists in the cessation of sufferings arising from the discrimination of the triple world; in the cessation of ignorance, desire, deed, and causality; and in the recognition that an objective world, like a vision, is the manifestation of Mind itself.

Seeing things as they are, and not locked into any one way of seeing, is a manifestation of Mind itself.

Buddhists are sometimes accused by critics as not having any objective view, but the reality is that Buddhism admits the existence of an objective world as a project of Mind itself, one that shows evidence of Mind itself, one that reveals Mind itself.

Now for all you Dogen folks out there, that's why he says to study the self is to forget the self, and be enlightened by the myriad things.

But, according to the Lankavatara's text, so is a vision.

And that's why the Identity of the Relative and the Absolute describes the co-existence and interdependence of the subjective and objective.

Hope that's not too philosophically wonky for my 40 or so readers a day, but if you ever wanted to know where Buddhist writers get their stuff...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The ants are coming...

Via PZ Meyers, we learn that there are Argentine ants who are taking over the world.

And we're evidently enlisted in their scheme according to the BBC...

Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same inter-related colony, and will refuse to fight one another.

The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.

What's more, people are unwittingly helping the mega-colony stick together.

Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) were once native to South America. But people have unintentionally introduced the ants to all continents except Antarctica.

These introduced Argentine ants are renowned for forming large colonies, and for becoming a significant pest, attacking native animals and crops.

In Europe, one vast colony of Argentine ants is thought to stretch for 6,000km (3,700 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, while another in the US, known as the "Californian large", extends over 900km (560 miles) along the coast of California. A third huge colony exists on the west coast of Japan.

While ants are usually highly territorial, those living within each super-colony are tolerant of one another, even if they live tens or hundreds of kilometres apart. Each super-colony, however, was thought to be quite distinct.

But it now appears that billions of Argentine ants around the world all actually belong to one single global mega-colony.

Researchers in Japan and Spain led by Eiriki Sunamura of the University of Tokyo found that Argentine ants living in Europe, Japan and California shared a strikingly similar chemical profile of hydrocarbons on their cuticles.

But further experiments revealed the true extent of the insects' global ambition.

The team selected wild ants from the main European super-colony, from another smaller one called the Catalonian super-colony which lives on the Iberian coast, the Californian super-colony and from the super-colony in west Japan, as well as another in Kobe, Japan.

They then matched up the ants in a series of one-on-one tests to see how aggressive individuals from different colonies would be to one another.

Ants from the smaller super-colonies were always aggressive to one another. So ants from the west coast of Japan fought their rivals from Kobe, while ants from the European super-colony didn't get on with those from the Iberian colony.

But whenever ants from the main European and Californian super-colonies and those from the largest colony in Japan came into contact, they acted as if they were old friends.

These ants rubbed antennae with one another and never became aggressive or tried to avoid one another.

Guess there is life after people.

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2, Section IV

This relates to Vijñānas, the reaction or response of the sense-organs when they come in contact with external objects. The objective behind this philosophical taxonomy is the "how and why" of the transcendance of dukkha, having to do with the "store-conciousness" - memories, resentments, euphoric recalls "getting in the way" and affecting behaviors and perceptions.

At that moment, Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva said again to the Blessed One: In how many ways, Blessed One, does the rise, abiding, and ceasing of the Vijñānas take place?

The Blessed One replied: There are two ways, Mahāmati, in which the rise, abiding, and ceasing of the Vijñānas take place, and this is not understood by the philosophers. That is to say, the ceasing takes place as regards continuation and form. In the rise of the Vijñānas, also, these two are recognisable: the rise as regards continuation and the rise as regards form. In the abiding, also, these two [are discernible]: the one taking place as regards continuation and the other as regards form.

[Further,] three modes are distinguishable in the Vijñānas: (1) the Vijñāna as evolving, (2) the Vijñāna as producing effects, and (3) the Vijñāna as remaining in its original nature.

[Further,] Mahāmati, in the Vijñānas, which are said to be eight, two functions generally are distinguishable, the perceiving and the object-discriminating. As a mirror reflects forms, Mahāmati, the perceiving Vijñā a perceives [objects]. Mahāmati, between the two, the perceiving Vijñāna and the object-discriminating Vijñāna, there is no difference; they are mutually conditioning. Then, Mahāmati, the perciving Vijñāna functions because of transformation's taking place [in the mind] by reason of a mysterious habit-energy, while, Mahāmati, the object-discriminating Vijñāna (38) functions because of the mind's discriminating an objective world and because of the habit-energy accumulated by erroneous reasoning since beginningless time.

Again, Mahāmati, by the cessation of all the sense-Vijñānas is meant the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna's variously accumulating habit-energy which is generated when unrealities are discriminated. This, Mahāmati, is known as the cessation of the form-aspect of the Vijñānas.

Again, Mahāmati, the cessation of the continuation-aspect of the Vijñānas takes place in this wise: that is to say, Mahāmati, when both that which supports [the Vijñānas] and that which is comprehended [by the Vijñānas] cease to function. By that which supports [the Vijñānas] is meant the habit-energy [or memory] which has been accumulated by erroneous reasoning since beginningless time; and by that which is comprehended [by the Vijñānas] is meant the objective world perceived and discriminated by the Vijñānas, which is, however, no more than Mind itself.

Mahāmati, it is like a lump of clay and the particles of dust making up its substance, they are neither different nor not-different; again, it is like gold and various ornaments made of it. If, Mahāmati, the lump of clay is different from its particles of dust, no lump will ever come out of them. But as it comes out of them it is not different from the particles of dust. Again, if there is no difference between the two, the lump will be indistinguishable from its particles.

Even so, Mahāmati, if the evolving Vijñāna are different from the Ālayavijñāna, even in its original form, the Ālaya cannot be their cause. Again, if they are not different the cessation of the evolving Vijñānas will mean the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna, but there is no cessation of its original form. Therefore, Mahāmati, what ceases to function is not the Ālaya in its original self-form, but is the effect-producing form of the Vijñānas. When this original self-form ceases to exist, then there will indeed be the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna. (39) If, however, there is the cessation of the Ālayavijñāna, this doctrine will in no wise differ from the nihilistic doctrine of the philosophers.

This doctrine, Mahāmati, as it is held by the philosophers, is this: When the grasping of an objective world ceases the continuation of the Vijñānas is stopped; and when there is no more of this continuation in the Vijñānas, the continuation that has been going on since beginningless time is also destroyed. Mahāmati, the philosophers maintain that there is a first cause from which continuation takes place; they do not maintain that the eye-Vijñāna arises from the interaction of form and light; they assume another cause. What is this cause, Mahāmati? Their first cause is known as spirit (pradhāna), soul (purusha), lord (iśvara), time, or atom.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter 2, Sections I - III

Sorry, there's no short summary here today; you have to go through the questions to get to the answer. Again, I'm not certified teacher of anything; the purpose of this is for me to try to read the sutras, and consider my thoughts about them.

Nobody authorized me to do anything; so just think of this as some blogger blogging about something which has to do with Mahayana Buddhism.

The Buddha promises to answer questions such as these (and more):

(22) At that time Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva praising the Blessed One with such verses as these, made his own name known to the Blessed One.

9. I am Mahāmati, Blessed One, and am well versed in the Mahāyāna. I wish to ask one hundred and eight questions of thee who art most eloquent.

10. Hearing his words the Buddha, the best knower of the world, looking over the whole assembly, spoke to the son of the Sugata thus:

11. Ask me, sons of the Victorious, and Mahāmati, you ask and I will instruct you in self-realisation.

At that moment Mahāmati the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva who was given by the Blessed One the opportunity to speak, prostrated himself at the feet of the Blessed One and asked:

(24) 12. How can one be cleansed of false intellection? Whence does it arise? How can one perceive errors? Whence do they arise?

13. Whence come lands, transformation, appearance, and philosophers? Wherefore is the state of imagelessness, the gradations, and whence are the sons of the Victorious?

14. Where is the way of emancipation? Who is in bondage? By what is he redeemed? What is the mental state of those who practise the Dhyānas? Whence is the triple vehicle?

15. What is that which is born of causation? What is effect? What is cause [or that which works]? Whence the doctrine of duality? Whence does it arise?

16. Wherefore is the tranquilising exercise of formlessness? And that of complete extinction? Wherefore the extinction of thoughts? And how is one awakened from it?

17. How does action rise? Whence is the behaviour of those who hold the body? Whence [this] visible [world]? Whence the conditions? Whence the entrance upon the stages?

18. Who is it that breaks through this triple existence? What is the abode? What is the body? Where does that which is abiding arise? Whence comes the son of the Buddha?

19. Who attains the psychic faculties, the self-masteries, the Samādhis? How is the mind tranquilised? Pray tell me, O Bull-like Victor?

20. What is the Ālaya? And whence the Manovijñāna? (25) How does the visible [world] rise? How does it cease from being visible?

21. Whence are families and no-families? What is meant by Mind-only? The setting up of marks? And whence [the doctrine of] egolessness?

22. Why is there no being? What kind of teaching is in accordance with popular thinking? How can one cease cherishing eternalism (śāśvata-darshana) and nihilism (uccheda-darshana)?

23. How is it that you do not differ from the philosophers as regards appearance? Tell me, whence is the rise of the Nyāya school? Its future?

24. What is meant by emptiness? What do you understand by momentary destruction? Whence is the Womb? And whence is the stability of the world?

25. Why is the world like a vision and a dream? How does it resemble the city of the Gandharvas? Why it is to be regarded as like a mirage, or like the moon reflected in water? Pray tell me.

26. What are the elements of enlightenment? Whence are the constituents of enlightenment? Wherefore is a revolution, and the disturbance of a kingdom? And how does the realistic view of existence (bhavadṛishṭi) take its rise?

27. What is meant by the world being above birth and death? or being like the flower in the air? How do you understand it? Why do you regard it as being beyond words?

28. How is it not subject to discrimination? How is it like the sky? Of how many sorts is suchness? How manifold is the Mind? How many Pāramitās are there?

29. Whence is the gradation of the stages? What is the state of imagelessness? (26) Wherefore is the twofold egolessness? How is one cleansed of [the hindrance of] knowledge?

30. Of how many kinds is knowledge (jñāna)? O Leader! How many moral precepts are there? and forms of being? Whence are the families born of gold and jewel and pearl?

31. Of whom is speech born? Whence is the differentiation of beings? Whence are the sciences, offices, arts? and by whom are they made manifest?

32. Of how many sorts are gāthās? What is prose? What is metre? Of how many sorts is reasoning and exegesis?

33. How many varieties of food and drink are there? Whence does sexual desire originate? Whence are there kings, sovereigns, and provincial rulers?

34. How does a king protect his dominion? Of how many groups are heavenly beings? Whence are the earth, stars, constellations, the moon, and the sun?

35. How many kinds of emancipation are there? of the Yogins? How many kinds of discipleship? And how about the masters?

36. How many kinds of Buddhahood are there? And how many of the Jātaka Tales? How numerous are the evil ones? How numerous are the heretics?

37. What is meant by [the doctrine] that there is nothing but thought-construction? Pray tell me, thou Most Eloquent One?

(27) 38. Whence are the clouds in the sky? the wind? What is meant by recollection? by wisdom (medhā)? Whence are trees and vines? Pray tell me, Lord of the Triple World?

39. How do horses, elephants, and deer get caught? Wherefore are there fools and despicable people? Pray tell me, thou Charioteer of the Mind?

40. Wherefore are the six seasons mentioned? What is meant by the Icchantika [one who is without Buddha-nature]? Pray tell me whence is the birth of a man? of a woman? of a hermaphrodite?

41. How does one retrograde in the Yoga exercises? How does one make progress in them? How many exercises are there? and how are men kept abiding in them? Pray tell me.

42. Beings are born in the various paths of existence, what are their specific marks and forms? How is abundance of wealth acquired? Pray tell me, thou who art like the sky?

43. Whence is the Śākya family? And the one born of Ikshvāku? Whence is the Rishi Long-Penance? What is taught by him?

44. How is it that thou art thus apparent everywhere in every land, surrounded by such Bodhisattvas of such various names and forms?

45. Why is meat not to be eaten? Why is it forbidden? Whence was the carnivorous race born, who eats meat?

46. Why are the lands shaped like the moon, the sun, the Sumeru, the lotus, the swatika, and the lion? Pray tell me.

Here the translator's first footnote is telling:

This verse is probably to be separated from the foregoing ones as it forms a sort of introduction to what follows. The one hundred and eight questions (praśna) so called are not to be necessarily identified with the one hundred and eight statements (pada) which are uniformely negated in the paragraph that comes after. Some subjects are common to the Questions and the Negations, but others are not. I do not think there is any organic relationship between the two sections. What strikes one in both the Questions and the Negations is that trivial subjects are mixed up with important ones as equally constituting the content of self-realisation. The Sutra proper which is supposed to concern itself with them is also devoid of an intimate connection with them.

I think it's not so mysterious as to why the profound and trivial are mixed in: because in a certain sense they're both "made" of the same "non-stuff" to the extent that these all have no intrinsic essence, and must go through the mind-gate to be experienced as phenomena or questions anyway.

And the answer, well, you see:

The Blessed One said: A statement concerning birth is no statement concerning birth; a statement concerning eternity is no statement concerning eternity. [The topics thus negated are as follows:1] the characteristic marks, abiding and changing, moment, self-nature, emptiness, annihilation, mind, the middle, permanence, causation, cause, the passions, desire, (35) means, contrivance, purity, inference [or conclusion], illustration, a disciple, a master, a family, the triple vehicle, imagelessness, vows, the triple circle, form, duality of being and non-being, bothness, the noble wisdom of self-realisation, the bliss of the present world, lands, atoms, water, a bow, reality, numbers and mathematics, the psychic powers, the sky, clouds, the arts and crafts and sciences, the wind, the earth, thinking, thought-constructions, self-nature, the aggregates, being, insight, Nirvana, that which is known, the philosophers, disorder, a vision, a dream, (36) a mirage, a reflection, a circle made in the dark by a fire-brand, the city of the Gandharvas, the heavens, food and drink, sexuality, philosophical views, the Pāramitās, morality, the moon and the sun and stars, truth, effect, annihilation and origination, medical treatment, the characteristic marks, the limbs, arts and sciences, Dhyāna, error, the seen [world], protection, dynasty, Ṛishi, kingdom, apprehension, treasure, explanation, the Icchantika, man, woman, and hermaphrodite, taste, action, the body, false intellection, motives, sense-organs, the Samskrita,2 cause and effect, the Kanishṭha,3 the seasons, a luxuriant growth of trees, vines and shrubs, (37) multiplicity, entering into the teaching, systems of morality, the Bhikshus, the powers added [by the Buddha], the lutes. These are the one hundred and eight statements recounted by the Buddhas of the past.

With translator's footnotes saying:

1 To avoid repetitions, the subjects alone are mentioned which are systematically negated in the text.

2 Anything that produces an effect.

3 A class of deities.

If I am speaking of the Tao it is not the Tao of which I'm speaking.

A statement concerning phenomena is a product of the mind and its interaction with the phenomenon, not the phenomenon itself.

Just like, you know, science, dealing tentatively with phenomena as observations, and without metaphysics.