Friday, February 17, 2006

The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra

Here's my interpretation:

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva while practicing deep Prajna Paramita
Perceived all five skandhas were empty and was saved from suffering and distress

Avalokiteshvara was practicing perfect wisdom when he realised that the five aggregates that constitute a human being ("matter", "sensation", "cognition", "volition", "consciousness") all exist only dependently and relatively, lacking in intrinsic nature or reality. And he was liberated from suffering.

Shariputra, form is no different from emptiness
Emptiness is no different from form
That which is form is emptiness
That which is emptiness is form
Feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness, the same is true of these

Matter and emptiness are inseparable. There is no emptiness (lack of intrinsic reality) separate from the apparent world and vice versa. The same applies to the rest of the aggregates. (Ultimate reality does not transcend relative/conventional reality - they are one and the same. This is the non-duality of Nirvana and Samsara.)

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness
They do not appear or disappear
are not tainted or pure
do not increase or decrease

Lacking intrinsic reality or essence, there are ultimately no phenomena to appear or disappear. (see Nagarjuna for details)

Therefore in emptiness no form,
no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness
no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind
no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, object of mind
no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness
no ignorance and also no extinction of ignorance
and so forth until no old age and death and no extinction of old age and death
no suffering, origination, stopping, path
no cognition also no attainment

Ultimately phenomena have no existence. Even Samsara and Nirvana have no intrinsic existence.

with nothing to attain
the Bodhisattva depends upon Prajna Paramita
and (his) mind is no hindrance
without any hindrance no fear exists
far apart from every inverted view
(he) dwells in Nirvana

Realising that there is no attainment or lack of attainment, the practitioner uses the perfection of Wisdom to liberate the mind from false views and fears and he finds Nirvana.

All Buddhas in the Three Worlds
depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain complete unsurpassed enlightenment

This is how all Buddha's become enlightened.

Therefore know the Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra
is the great bright mantra
is the utmost mantra
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering and is true, not false
so proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra
proclaim the mantra that says
gone, gone, gone beyond
gone all the way beyond, Bodhi Svaha!

So, the Great Heart of Wisdom mantra is an important and powerful teaching which liberates from suffering - learn it. It goes:
'Gone, gone, Gone beyond
gone all the way beyond, Enlightenment, how wonderful! '

For more information see

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What is the sound of one mouth flapping?

We're right in the middle of moving house now, which is why I've not been very active here lately. We've bought a townhouse in Banbury which we really like. It has loads of potential! I'm planning to build a Japanese garden in the back. Wish me luck! Plus there's loads to do inside. I'm going to be busy!

I've been checking out Brad Warner's blog (author of Hardcore Zen) and the great debates that have been going on there. Brad's bringing the blogging to an end so Jules has organised a group blog Flapping Mouths where we can continue our discussions.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Zen and compassion: uncomfortable questions

There's an interesting debate going on over at Brad's blog on Zen and War. Brian Victoria has documented the involvement of Japanese Zen in militarism and imperialism before WW2. This got me back to thinking about Zen's approach to compassion and ethics generally.

Zen was clearly used as a political/ideological device by the Japanese state. But if Zen cultivates wisdom and compassion why didn't those roshis who dedicated their lives to Zen see through all tht in their wisdom and compassion and detachment? Were they as awakened as they were supposed or were they political puppets? I don't know any stories of such abuses in Zen's native China. Even its incorporation into the warrior arts of the Samurai was a distortion of its original form. Buddhism emphasises compassion and avoidance of killing. So of course this raises some challenging questions for Zen.

To incorporate Buddhism into deadly fighting arts it has to be distorted. Again in Buddhist philosophy we see this apparent duality between relative and absolute with regards to ethics. On one hand we must abide by precepts and on the other hand ultimately there is no inherent right and wrong. The idea here is that precepts are a code of conduct for students to follow, but not absolute moral principles and that as we become 'awakened' such rules can be put down, replaced with a natural and intuitive understanding of what is the right thing to do. 'Right' in this case is not determined in reference to some external moral principle but just means according to wisdom and compassion. But this 'freedom from good and evil' has been exploited militaristically by the Japanese up to WW2 and hedonistically by American Zen masters. We could argue that to cling to this ultimate perspective is not true understanding of Zen - the precepts are still there to be followed. And I think there is validity in this. But we have to think about how actual Zen practice influences actual behaviour in the real world.

Of course its all too easy to separate ourselves from such uncomfortable events by saying 'ah but that's not TRUE Zen'. But whether we can provide arguments as to whether these people are 'true practitioners' or not, at another level this is just another example of the 'No True Scotsman Fallacy' which is used by Christians and Muslims to distance their belief-system from the actions of some of its adherents. Either practicing a religion (or a 'religion' in the case of Zen) makes people on average more 'good', less good or neither. It's that simple. And surely that has to include ideologically distorted versions, since if the original version wasn't there it couldn't be distorted for other ends.

Wisdom in Buddhism is the loss of dualistic delusions. What about compassion? Many forms of Buddhism teach meditations to directly cultivate compassion. In Zen however, there is really only one meditation - Zazen - which aims to reveal our true nondualistic nature. The idea here is that revealing this nature will also remove all barriers for our natural happiness and compassion.

While I can with some degree of confidence accept the idea that we all naturally like to be happy and will be happier if obstacles to it are removed. And I am happier since I began practicing (although strictly I can't know exactly why since a number of other things have changed in my life). However, the idea that we become naturally more compassionate seems more tenuous. What is the basis for believing we are naturally compassionate? Our understanding of evolution would suggest that naturally we come in a range of demeanors. Perhaps someone who is happier is also inclined to be kinder to others? Actually I read some recent research which suggested that depressed people (surprisingly perhaps) were more sympathetic. Perhaps happy people are less inclined to be 'troublesome'? That seems likely, but of course sometimes being 'troublesome' in the short term can serve a greater good (meaning reduce suffering) in the longer term. Perhaps happy people are also less passionate about political and ethical issues? I don't know.

In original Mahayana Buddhism compassion is directly cultivated such as with Metta Bavanah meditation. If our practice is to directly to cultivate compassion then the temptation is strong to engage in repression and self-deception - to act compassionate when we don't feel it. And indeed I've met a number of Buddhists with that sort of dishonest over-nice quality that I usually associate with Christians.

I suspect that Zen abandoned such practices (along with excessive ritualism, chanting, offerings etc) as extraneous to the core and 'pure' practice of observation. But in their search for 'unadorned purity' could they be throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Zen practice does not exist outside of multiplicity and complexity, even zazen is an action. Perhaps it is necessary to develop selflessness of the heart as well as selflessness of the mind?

However, the Zen approach only works if our 'true nature' is compassionate, which I have no reason to believe. According to Buddhism, in fact, nothing has an inherent nature, so humans have no 'original' qualities compassionate or otherwise. Everything is a product of the conditions it is dependent on - and the nature that is expressed is nothing more than that, including whether compassion has been cultivated or not.

It's for this reason that I supplement my zazen with Metta Bavanah, but I also always try to be very honest with myself about how I feel and to be responsible to myself and others for how I behave.

In response to the idea of Metta meditation some Zen practitioners question whether compassion can be cultivated at all. I can assure them that it can - the feeling can be very powerful. Have they tried it?

Sometimes talking to Buddhists about 'social engagement' they say that action at a political or social level is unneccessary and that all you need to do is to gradually change yourself and the positive consequences emate from you like ripples on a pond. While that's a lovely image it begs questions about whether passively being a good Buddhist necessarily makes other people's lives better.

Buddhism is a tool for making positive changes in yourself. Buddhism has never really been about changing society - except in so far as you act compassionately and help others to change themselves. However, in Buddha's day ordinary people did not have as much power as they do now. Since we do, we should use that power compassionately and wisely.

Given the quite profound re-evaluation that Buddhism is undergoing in its adaptations to Western and modern culture, might this be a good time to re-evaluate Zen's approach to compassion, perhaps, if nothing else, to help prevent its exploitation by militaristic powers in the future.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dogen's Genjo Koan (Pt.2)

I'm now going to make a direct comparison between analyses of the Genjo Koan published by Thomas Cleary and Gudo Nishijima. For the purpose of comparison I have used the same system of section numbering (in square brackets) that Nishijima uses in his article.

[83] Text:

As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many of the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

Nishijima comments:

This paragraph is composed of four sentences. The first is: “When all things and phenomena exist as Buddhist teachings, then there are delusion and realization, practice and experience, life and death, buddhas and ordinary people.” What does the sentence mean? This sentence describes the situation when we think about the world on the basis of an idealistic philosophical system—a set of teachings. From this basis we can find differences between many categories; delusion and realization, practice and experience, life and death, buddhas and ordinary people. This contrasts with the second sentence which says that there are no differences if we view the world “when millions of things and phenomena are all separate from ourselves.” This second sentence tells us that if we view the world separate from our own subjective viewpoint, that is objectively, we can find no difference in value between delusion and enlightenment, buddhas and ordinary people, life and death. They are all concrete facts and have equal value as such. This is the scientific or materialistic viewpoint. Master Dogen clearly distinguishes here between the philosophical standpoints of the idealist and the materialist.

At the same time, in the third sentence he separates the Buddhist viewpoint from these first two: he says that Buddhism is originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity, and so in reality there are people and buddhas. Master Dogen is saying that Buddhism is different from relative comparisons in terms of large or small, heavy or light. Of course the meaning of the phrase “originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity” is not exact, but he seems to be saying that Buddhism does not belong to the area where we compare; where we say this is more valuable than that, this is not as important as that, and neither does it belong to the area of physical comparisons...

But in the third sentence of Genjo Koan, we see Master Dogen insisting that Buddhism is originally transcendent over abundance and scarcity, over all kinds of relativistic analyses. The word “Buddhism” in the sentence is butsu-do in Japanese. Butsu means Buddha or Buddhist, and do means way, principle, or moral criterion. So the word translated as “Buddhism” also refers to Buddhist behavior, conduct or action. I think that in this sentence Master Dogen is saying that Buddhism is not in the same area as philosophical analysis, whether idealistic or materialistic. I think that the transcendent area that Master Dogen is referring to is the area of our behavior or conduct; that is our actions themselves...

Paragraph [83] is the first paragraph in which Master Dogen lays out the fundamental principles which govern the whole structure of the Shobogenzo. This first paragraph lays out the theoretical framework and as such belongs to the subjective viewpoint.

Cleary comments:

The very first paragraph contains a complete outline of Zen, in a covert presentation of the so-called "five ranks" (go i) device of the original Chinese Soto Zen school. The scheme of the five ranks-relative within absolute, absolute within relative, coming from within the absolute, arriving in the relative, and simultaneous attainment in both relative and absolute-is not overtly used in Dogen's work, perhaps because of the confusion surrounding it, but its structures are to be found throughout Shobogenzo.

"As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. " According to Nishijima, the first sentence represents the Idealistic viewpoint; according to Cleary it represents 'Relative within Absolute'. Cleary cites a historical precedent for his scheme although Nishijima does not. Both interpretations appear coherent. Perhaps it could be interpreted more simply as the relative viewpoint of an outsider or one who is on the Buddha's Path - the view of multiplicity or the view from samsara.

"As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. "

Notice the difference in the way the second sentence is translated between Nishijima and Aitken & Tanahashi. Is this a reference to the objective viewpoint - a world of 'other' - or a reference to the absolute enlightened viewpoint in which all things lack inherent self or essence? It seems to depend on accuracy of translation.

Aitken & Tanahashi:

As the myriad things are without an abiding self...


When millions of things and phenomena are all separate from ourselves...


When myriad things are all not self...


When all things belong to the not-self...

Nishiyama and Stevens:

When all things are seen not to have any substance...

In isolation both interpretations appear to be valid. It could be an expression of a world-view based on 'no-self' as a belief, an objectification or reification of the principle of anatta, a universe consisting wholly of 'other'. Perhaps more convincingly, it could be seen as an expression of the absolute viewpoint, in which all things lack inherent self-nature - the viewpoint of 'oneness' or the view from nirvana.

"The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many of the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread."

The next two sentences appear to be saying that Buddhism is transcendent over both of these viewpoints and thus difference multiplicity does exist in reality (but dependently) and irrespective of our wishes.

The concept of 'oneness' is not generally regarded as true enlightenment in Buddhism, since such a view differentiates itself from multiplicity and hence is a form of dualism. Rather these are seen as interdependent and non-dual.

[84] Text:

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realization, who are in delusion throughout delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas.

[85] Text:

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined the other side is dark.

[86] Text:

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Nishijima comments:

The first sentence of the second paragraph describes delusion arising from subjective intention. It says “Driving ourselves to practice and experience millions of things and phenomena is delusion.” This is a subjective expression of the difference between realization and delusion and so this sentence belongs to the subjective phase.

Then the next sentence says “When millions of things and phenomena actively practice and experience ourselves, that is realization.” This sentence describes objective circumstances which influence a person who acts, and so belongs to the objective phase.

From the third sentence the paragraph says “Those who totally realize delusion are Buddhas. Those who are totally deluded about realization are ordinary people. There are people who attain further realization on the basis of realization. There are people who increase their delusion in the midst of delusion.” These sentences describe the actual situations of people who attain realization and who are deluded by realization. So these sentences belong to the action phase.

The next sentences say “When buddhas are really buddhas, they do not need to recognize themselves as buddhas. Nevertheless, they experience the state of buddha, and they go on experiencing the state of buddha.” These two sentences express the state of realized buddha, and so belong to the ultimate phase. Thus in the second paragraph [84], the first sentence belongs to (S), the second sentence to (O), the next four sentences to (A), and the last two sentences to (R).

Another example appears in the next paragraph [85]. This paragraph relates to direct perception, and so the whole paragraph belongs to (O). But at the same time the first sentence, “to use our mind to look at forms and to use our mind to listen to sounds” relates to the subject, and so this part of the sentence belongs to (S). Further, “to use our body to look at forms and to use our body to listen to sounds” is related with perception of the external world or objects through the senses, and so this part of the sentence belongs to (O).

The last part of the sentence, “[our human perception] can never be like the reflection of an image in a mirror, or like the water and the moon” describes the actual situation of human sense perception and so belongs to (A).

And the next sentence is “When we affirm one side, we are blind to the other side.” This sentence expresses the reality of our ability to perceive with the senses and so belongs to (R).

Cleary comments:

Dogen says the way to enlightenment is to forget the self. The self in this sense refers to an accumulation of habits, including the habit of attachment to this accumulation as a genuine personality. Dogen calls this forgetting "shedding body and mind," an expression which is said to have galvanized his awareness as a young man and which he repeatedly uses to describe Zen study. Commentators on Dogen's lectures describe it in these terms: "Each moment of time is thoughtless; things do not provoke a second thought," and "This is the time when the whole mind and body attains great freedom."

This, however, is not the whole issue. In one of his lectures Dogen says that "shedding body and mind" is the beginning of the effort, and in Genjokoan he affirms that there is continuing progress in buddhahood, going beyond the attainment of enlightenment: "There is ceasing the traces of enlightenment, which causes one to forever leave the traces of enlightenment which is cessation." In the Hokke scripture Buddha reveals to his liberated disciples that nirvana, cessation of afflictive habits, which had been expediently represented as the goal, is as it were a resting place on an infinite path.

It seems that whether or not there is a SOAR structure to the koan, it is subsidiary to the relation between relative and absolute, delusion and realisation.

[87] Text:

When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs. But dharma is already correctly transmitted; you are immediately your original self. When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.

Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is future and the firewood past. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes past and future and is independent of past and future. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes future and past. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return to birth after death.

This being so, it is an established way in buddha-dharma to deny that birth turns into death. Accordingly, birth is understood as no-birth. It is an unshakable teaching in Buddha's discourse that death does not turn into birth. Accordingly, death is understood as no-death.

Birth is an expression complete this moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.

Nishijima comments:

Paragraph [87] relates to concrete reality because it explains the mutual relationship between subject and object, and the basic Buddhist idea of instantaneous time in the present.

So within the second group containing paragraphs [84], [85], [86], and [87] we find the (S), (O), (A), (R) structure, although the four paragraphs belong to Group (O).

Cleary comments:

Dogen states that delusion is a matter of experiencing things with the burden of the self-the bundle of mental habits, ingrained views, which is identified with the self. This is a basic issue of all Buddhist thought. The condition of the self, with its set of conditioned perceptions and views, is implicitly taken as a kind of absolute or veritable point of reference, if one takes one's experience as conceived to be reality. In order to overcome hidden prejudice in the form of unquestioned views, Dogen says that introspection is necessary, to see that things have no absolute identity, that they are not necessarily or totally as one may view them.

But then Dogen goes on to point out the absoluteness, so to speak, of relative identity. Logically, if particular things exist, or are defined, relative to one another and therefore lack absolute identity, yet that absolute identitylessness still depends on their relative identity. The approach Dogen takes, however, is not that of deduction but of direct witness (genryo), which he refers to, in classic Zen terminology, as the realms of before and after being disconnected. Thus Dogen explains the traditional "characteristics of emptiness" called birthlessness and nonperishing in terms of the noncoexistence of before and after, or the nonconcurrence of a state with its own nonexistence. Dogen's emphasis here seems to be not on discursive understanding of this point of logic, but on presence of mind in the most thoroughgoing sense, direct experience of the present.

[89] Text:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.

Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky.

The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long of short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.

[90] Text:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

For example, when you sail out in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round or square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only look circular as far as you can see at that time. All things are like this.

Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.

[91] Text:

A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm. If the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once.

Know that water is life and air is life. The bird is life and the fish is life. Life must be the bird and life must be the fish.

It is possible to illustrate this with more analogies. Practice, enlightenment, and people are like this.

Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find you way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others'. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past and it is not merely arising now.

Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, meeting one thing is mastering it--doing one practice is practicing completely. Here is the place; here the way unfolds. The boundary of realization is not distinct, for the realization comes forth simultaneously with the mastery of buddha-dharma.

Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your consciousness. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge.

Nishijima comments:

Paragraphs [89], [90], the first part of [91], and the second part of [91], are descriptions of actual Buddhist efforts, Buddhist facts or Buddhist behavior.

Paragraph [89] is an explanation of getting enlightenment, and enlightenment is the mental side of realizing the truth. So this paragraph belongs to the first phase of Buddhist practice: paragraph [89] is an (S) paragraph in Group (A). Paragraph [90] describes the concrete situation of a person who has got enlightenment So it belongs to the objective phase, and paragraph [90] is an (O) paragraph in Group (A).

I think that it is consistent to divide paragraph [91] into two paragraphs, because from the beginning of the paragraph to the sentence on the ninth and tenth lines: "it may be that life is birds and life is fish," Master Dogen represents the idea of oneness between a doer and the action. But from the sentence "there may be other expression that go even further" to the end of the paragraph relates to concrete matter, that is practice, experience, age. So it seems natural for the paragraph to be divided into two.

Cleary comments:

Dogen also speaks of enlightenment in terms of the universal being reflected in the individual; this "merging" of universe and individual does not, however, obliterate the individual or restrict the universal. This leads to the apparent paradox of life being at once finite and infinite. One life, or one sphere of experience, contains everything that is within its scope and nothing that is beyond its range. At every moment we reach, or are at, the full extent of our experience; and yet this never limits the potential of experience in itself. Each moment is complete, hence infinite, in itself, though it be finite as a point of comparison with past or future. In the Kegon philosophy, this interpenetration of the finite and the infinite is represented by the figure of "arriving in one step," each moment of awareness being the focal point of the whole nexus of existence. Again Dogen drives at the full experience of the present without conceptually delineating it.

[94] Text:

Zen master Pao-ch'ih was fanning himself one summer day when a passing priest asked: "The nature of wind is stationary, and it is universally present. Why do you then use your fan, sir?" The Zen master replied: "Though you know the nature of wind is stationary, you do not know why it is universally present." The priest asked, "Why then is the wind universally present?" The master only fanned himself, and the priest saluted him. Enlightenment through true experience and the vital way of right transmission are like this. Those who deny the need for fanning because the nature of wind is stationary and be cause the wind is sensed without the use of a fan understand neither the eternal presence of the wind nor its nature. Because the nature of wind is eternally present, the wind of Buddhism turns the earth to gold and ripens the rivers to ghee.

Nishijima comments:

Paragraph ([94] is the last paragraph in the chapter, and it belongs to Group (R). Master Dogen quotes a Chinese Buddhist story about Master Mayoku Ho-tetsu and his disciple. Fundamentally, the Buddhist truth, that is reality, cannot be described with words. When Master Dogen wants to talk about reality, he sometimes quotes a Buddhist story or Koan. This paragraph is one such example where he uses the Chinese story to symbolize reality.

Cleary comments:

Finally Dogen quotes a classic Zen story alluding to the necessity of practical application even though truth, or enlightenment, is inherent in everyone. A monk asks his teacher why he uses a fan if the nature of wind is eternal and omnipresent; the teacher replies that the student knows the nature of eternity but not the principle of omnipresence, and to illustrate this principle the teacher just fans himself. As one of the Kegon philosophers said, "If not for practice flowing from reality, there is no means to merge with reality."

More to follow...

No beginning or end

No real beginning or end
The causes of my perceptions
Were the effects of other causes
There are no ultimate objects
The results of my perceptions
Are the causes of further effects
There is no ultimate subject
No real beginning or end

photo by Justin

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sick fish

Now, with something of a change of tone comes the news that Sausage the Fish is unwell !

Emily had lost two fish which she had had for a long time and I bought her three new ones to replace her loss. They are all fancy varieties of goldfish. I don't usually approve of 'fancy' breeds of pets because they tend to have more health problems than more robust breeds, but for some reason I took a liking to these and bought them. Alas! The one which goes by the name of 'Sausage' has become ill. It appears to have gas trapped in its fat belly or problems with its swim bladder. In any case it now spends most of its time floating upside down at the top of the tank. It can right itself but it appears to take considerable effort and at some stage it's going to have problems feeding.

I'm considering using some sort of euthanasia, but have no idea how to humanely kill a fish.

And while I didn't make the fish sick myself, I am guilty now of supporting the trade in fancy pets. Not a big deal maybe, but avoidable suffering for a few little creatures.

Bad karma...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought

Nagarjuna is surely one of the most difficult philosophers to interpret in any tradition. His texts are terse and cryptic. He does not shy away from paradox or apparent contradiction. He is coy about identifying his opponents. The commentarial traditions grounded in his texts present a plethora of interpretations of his view. Nonetheless, his influence in the Mahayana Buddhist world is not only unparalleled in that tradition, but exceeds in that tradition the influence of any single Western philosopher in the West. The degree to which he is taken seriously by so many eminent Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese philosophers, and lately by so many Western philosophers, alone justifies attention to his corpus. Even were he not such a titanic figure historically, the depth and beauty of his thought and the austere beauty of his philosophical poetry would justify that attention. While Nagarjuna may perplex and often infuriate, and while his texts may initially defy exegesis, anyone who spends any time with Nagarjuna's thought inevitably develops a deep respect for this master philosopher.

One of the reasons Nagarjuna so perplexes many who come to his texts is his seeming willingness to embrace contradictions, on the one hand, while making use of classic reductio arguments, implicating his endorsement of the law of non-contradiction, on the other. Another is his apparent willingness to saw off the limbs on which he sits. He asserts that there are two truths, and that they are one; that everything both exists and does not exist; that nothing is existent or non-existent; that he rejects all philosophical views including his own; that he asserts nothing. And he appears to mean every word of it. Making sense of all of this is sometimes difficult. Some interpreters of Nagarjuna, indeed, succumb to the easy temptation to read him as a simple mystic or an irrationalist of some kind. But it is significant that none of the important commentarial traditions in Asia, however much they disagree in other respects, regard him in this light.[i] And indeed most recent scholarship is unanimous in this regard as well, again despite a wide range of divergence in interpretations in other respects. Nagarjuna is simply too committed to rigorous analytical argument to be dismissed as a mystic.

Jay L. Garfield and Graham Priest in Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought

There's a fascinating discussion of this topic going on here.