Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Setting the self out in array


From Uji or Being-Time by Dogen, a fascicle in the Shobogenzo:

We set the self out in array and make that the whole world.
We must see all the various things of the whole world as so many times.
                                                Waddell and Abe Translation
The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world.
See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time.
                                                Tanahashi Translation

In our study of Buddhist Time, we are contemplating the intersection of Time and Space or Being in the truth happening place of the present moment.  In considering Dogen’s word being-time, we have to go beyond just the study of time and also look into and see how it’s related to our being or our “self”.  There is not one writing from Dogen which allows us to hold onto our idea of “self” as a separate being or our “life” as a solid life span.  He constantly, in his rearranging of syntax and reinterpretation of words, breaks down our conceptual ideas of an individual unit of a “self”.

In the quotes above, he is again suggesting that “being” or “existence” or “self” is not a unit but is a complete expression of all times and all places.  He espouses that the world and the self are born and die in one moment and is interpenetrated with the whole world.

While we were discussing this in class, very predictably the duality arose of:

·      do we make the world through our projections of consciousness? or
·      does the world make us, by dropping the self and becoming wholeheartedly one with the conditions of each moment?

This caused me to pause. Are we stuck in either/or again?  Our discursive mind is always dissecting and slicing.  This mind wants to make everything a portion of the whole.  Our conscious minds not able to recognize the whole working together.

We discussed in class what the phrase “We set the self out in array and make that the whole world” means.  One person thought it meant that we project our consciousness out into the environment and construct a world.  I, in a different way, had interpreted it as, once we can wholeheartedly become the activity of the present moment, losing our sense of self in that process, the whole world becomes us.  Someone brought up this quote from the Genjo-Koan fascicle:
Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. 
All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization.
Then, I have to laugh. We have just studied quite thoroughly the fascicle of Daigo, Great Realization, which demonstrates that both delusion or enlightenment are the complete expression of the moment, and therefore filled with suchness.  Delusion and enlightenment are two sides of the complete whole.

The sentence just previous to “We set the self out in array” is:
“Nevertheless, the doubts themselves are, after all, none other than time.”
And the sentence just following is:
See each thing in the entire world as a moment of time.”
I think we could interpret that as encouraging us to see both delusion and enlightenment as a moment of time and that moment of time is the Whole Dynamic Working.

I found this quote from Uchiyama Roshi in “The Art of Just Sitting” page 59-60 helpful in clarifying how we might understand this unification of self and environment or the “whole world”:

We usually assume that the world existed long before we were born and that our birth is our entrance onto the stage of an already existing world.  At the same time, we often assume that our death means our departure from this world, and that after our death this world continues to exist.  Within this way of thinking a fabrication is taking shape that is not the actualization of reality itself.
This is nothing more than a fabrication of an idea.
My true Self lives in a reality, and the world I experience is one I alone can experience, and not anyone else can experience it along with me. 
To express this as precisely as possible, as I am born, I simultaneously give birth to the world I experience; I live out my life along with that world, and at my death the world I experience also dies.
From the standpoint of reality, my own life experience (which in Buddhist terminology equals mind) and reality (which means the dharma or phenomena I encounter in life) can never be abstractly separated from each other.  They must be identical.
Shin, or mind, in terms of Buddhadharma should be understood as follows: the mind that has been directly transmitted from buddha to buddha is the mind that extends throughout all phenomena, and all phenomena are inseparable from that mind.  Hence, the use of the word “mind” in this case goes far beyond having only a mental or psychological meaning.  In our age, perhaps “pure life” would be a clearer expression than mind.
Let’s take another look at the expression, “The dharma should be grasped so that mind and object become one.”  This expression means that we must learn to see all phenomena (everything in life) from the foundation of a pure-life experience.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Self is Time


I am teaching a class on the Buddhist sense of Time.  It feels like working with Time could be a complete avenue to awakening.  We know that one of our primary admonishments is to “live in the now” but what does that mean exactly?

Keats has coined a term called “negative capability”.  I often use this term even though it has a lot of different meanings in different fields of study.  The way I use the term is that we can cultivate the capability of living in uncertainty, in the mystery without having to grasp on to a certain “right” fact or static truth.  In Buddhism, it is the ability to hold the two sides of life, the absolute and the relative, time and timelessness, as a dynamic foci without needing to hold on to either side.

We have two types of time:  flowing time and stopped or eternal time.  We have Time and timelessness.  Freedom and the burdens of our human stories.  Can we begin to practice with time and no-time as simultaneous occurrences, mutually influencing each other, without getting stuck on one side or the other.

Each moment is the totality of the universe.  All the ten directions and all the ten times are expressed in the creation of a moment. The microcosm and the macrocosm express itself together.  The inside of a so-called “Being” and the outside of the so-called “environment” are interconnected, have a mutual identity, they co-exist in oneness and interfusion, and they mutually penetrate each other.  This teaching and expansive idea creates the term Being-Time in Dogen’s language.  The "now" lives at the intersection of time and space or being.  That crossroads is the truth happening place.  That crossroad includes all time; past, present, and future, and all directions.

Not only that, but the “now” can’t be found, at least by consciousness.  Perhaps, it can be felt or experienced, but not through our discriminative thinking.  Certainly, we can’t put into words what “It” is. 

This time, this being, is completely impermanent.  Katagiri Roshi calls it the pivot of nothingness.  It is both very dynamic; the opposites creating each other or polarizing around each other, and very silent with no activity.  The creation and destruction of the moment is so fast that it is beyond what we can know.  The Abhidharma calls this moment a tanji;  everything is born and annihilated in 1/62nd of a finger snap.  In quantum physics, a moment is 10 to the negative 43 power of a second.  There are 6,400,099,090 setsunas or moments in one 24 hour period and in each of these moments our five skandhas appear and disappear repeatedly.

How can this understanding of impermanence and this gateway to timelessness, help us in our life and practice?  There seems to be an ever repeating mantra in our culture which is “I don’t have enough time” or “I’m too busy”.  This samsaric stance of the “burden of time” can be opened up by our practice and understanding of each moments depth and breadth.  How can you take care of time without going crazy?  We can intervene on the stress of linear, flowing time by understanding timelessness and simultaneity.  Ironically, our very busy life is the invitation for us to stop and be timeless.  We can find quiet and tranquility even though we know silence isn’t a permanent state.  We understand that we can not hold on to it.  To stay with no-time is to die. So naturally, timelessness invites us back into activity refreshed.  As Katagiri roshi says, “Real time is nothing but dynamic function.  So time itself possesses the great power to emancipate you from the limitations of your idea of time as busyness.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bodhisattvas and Buddhas


As I have been attending Ken Ford’s Buddhist history class at Clouds in Water, I was struck by this observation of a myth about Bodhisattvas.

The myth that I have heard and often said in teaching is that bodhisattvas forgo full buddhahood in order to save living beings.  In other words, at the brink of enlightenment, a bodhisattva turns back and vows not to cross over until all beings cross over.  This, Andrew Stilton in the book, A Concise History of Buddhism, says is a distortion.  The bodhisattva is motivated by compassion and for this reason should not turn away from enlightenment because buddhahood is the most effective state in which to help other beings.  Isn’t this a subtle discernment?  What is the difference between a bodhisattva and a buddha?

Stilton writes about three main factors that characterize a bodhisattva:

1.     A profound, non-dual wisdom
2.     An extensive compassion
3.     The presence of the Bodhicitta

The basis for helping others is understanding the true reality.  This is a profound, non-dual wisdom.  We begin to see that there is no inherent, separate, permanent existence to anything.  If things are permanent, there can be no change and this does not align with what we actually know is true.  If we look, we see change.  Even the physicists now agree with this.  Emptiness is empty of inherent existence, which means, all things are dependent upon conditions and are completely influenced by the “other.”  There is no separate “I” and separate “other.  All things originate in interdependence.  So how does this understanding influence how we help others? 

From the diamond sutra:
Why is it that a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a being cannot be called a bodhisattva?

To create a perception of a being we have consolidated in our thinking, an independent, isolated ‘self’ that doesn’t exist.  This statement really revolutionizes the understanding of a bodhisattva, doesn’t it?  This is quite different than our ordinary understanding of  ‘helping others’ or ‘saving all beings’.  It is a deeper expression of non-dual wisdom.  We should not hold back in any way our aspiration to enter this non-dual understanding.  Our enlightened task is to organize our life from ever-present, awakened, boundless, timeless, non-dual, non-individualized awareness.  In this way, we can, all of us together, find freedom.  As Buddha said, “I and the world together realize enlightenment”.

The Buddha recognized in his teaching the equal importance of wisdom and compassion, the two arms of the buddha or the two wings of enlightenment.  This is the second factor – an extensive compassion.  To see with the ominiscient eyes of the Buddha, is to be able to skillfully respond with unconditional love and right action to all aspects of the human predicament of suffering.

 In many of the later Mahayana teachings, the bodhisattva path becomes the means for a bodhisattva to become a Buddha.  There were many ways of cultivation but one of the most basic was is to cultivate the Paramitas or perfections.  (Generosity, Patience, Ethics, Zeal, Concentration, Wisdom) As I’ve already mentioned, even in this schema, all the Paramitas are sealed with the Paramita of wisdom.  In the ten Bhumis or stages of the Bodhisattva Path,  after the 7th ground of being, a bodhisattva is called a mahasattva.  Some bodhisattvas such as Samantabhadra are also said to have already attained buddhahood.

The third factor of a Bodhisattva is the presence of Bodhicitta, the mind of, or will towards, enlightenment.  It is not just an intellectual thought about enlightenment but a force or urge which completely transforms the life of the future bodhisattva.  This “mind” springs forth and encourages us on.  This is likened to Pranidhana, one of the 4 paramitas added on in later formulations of the Paramitas (the four additions:  skilful means, the vow to achieve buddhahood, power, and knowledge).

The urge, the energy, the vow to achieve buddhahood encourages us. We aspire to expound all the dimensions of Buddhahood in our life and practice, which in turns frees all beings simultaneously and helps us intuitively and automatically know what “help” means.