(Not) Two Ways of Oneness

Oneness and Buddhism are sometimes mixed together. As with most claims, it is unclear what this means. And this lack of clarity results in delusion and mistaken views.

Oneness is usually made out to be homogenizing. An experience of oneness, on this view, would be a dropping away of difference and an arising of sameness. Rhetorically, this view of oneness is used to erase difference, as in your different experience of this predominantly white sangha is superficial because really we are all one. Metaphysically, this view raises questions about monism: are we all just one thing or are we all made up of the same kind of thing?

More to the point, this is a particular view of oneness and it isn’t the only view and, from the standpoint of Buddhism as a practice of liberation, it is unhelpful.

Another view of oneness that I believe is helpful on the path toward liberation is oneness as utter particularity, as the absolute uniqueness and non-sameness of each and every particular thing.

Experientially, oneness as utter particularity would be an experience that fully embodies, embraces, and realizes the unique, heterogenous, and not-similar-to-anything-else moment of experiential arising. Rhetorically, this view of oneness would embrace difference, as in your different experience of this sangha is something we must pay attention to because our experience of it as homogenous is rooted in ignorance. Metaphysically, this view points in the direction of deep particularity and causality, in other words, in the direction of karma and responsibility.

Furthermore, oneness as utter particularity embraces and radicalizes oneness as homogeneity, whereas oneness as homogeneity erases particularity. Each of us, each moment of arising of experiential awareness, is utterly particular. In that sense, there is a sameness in each moment of arising, in each thing. It is the sameness that can only be found in complete difference.

Realizing this sameness in complete and utter difference is the path of liberation.

This Isn’t Like Retreat Unless You’re On Retreat

Recently I’ve read posts, tweets, and even short articles likening the current situation of mostly widespread isolation to retreat.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, unless you happen to be on retreat right now. For the rest of us not on retreat, the likening is confused.

I get it, in a sense. It sounds nice. It sounds hopeful. But it creates the delusion that this is like a retreat. And that’s harmful.

For the teacher I just read about who is covering her colleague’s classes because that colleague is now on a ventilator, is her situation like a retreat?

For the Sangha member who conveyed how difficult it is to work, cook, watch and teach two kids, while she and her partner face losing their jobs, is their situation like a retreat?

For the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic voters waiting hours to vote at 5 of what used to be 180 polling sites in Milwaukee, is their situation like a retreat?

No, not at all, not even one bit.

Each situation is what it is. I won’t attempt to describe those situations beyond the surface details I know. But those surface details tell me they aren’t retreats. They are something else entirely.

As a Buddhist, I have faith that each situation has within it the potential for liberation, like a retreat has the potential within it for liberation. But that doesn’t make those situations retreats. And unless the people in those situations are Buddhists or care about Buddhist pathways for liberation, it’s more harmful than helpful to bring this up.

What is helpful for us all is to understand our situations and the situations of those around us for what they are, in all their differences and particulars, and to respond accordingly. If you happen to be on retreat, then respond to the retreat. If you are that teacher covering classes for your ventilated colleague or one of many black or Hispanic people waiting in dehumanizing lines to vote in the midst of a pandemic, then respond accordingly as you see fit.

From what I have been reading, hearing, and seeing, this is not like a retreat (unless you’re on retreat). And there is power in seeing things for what they are. Only then is transformation possible.

Bodhisattvas Say Bad Things Too

My teacher always encourages us to memorize Buddhist scriptures – long, short, medium, whatever we can do. One that I have worked on is the Bodhisattva’s prayer (a section of the much longer Way of the Bodhisattva). And the other day this prayer worked on me by calling these lines out:

Whether those who encounter me
Conceive a faithful or angry thought
May that always be the source
For fulfilling all their wishes.

May all who say bad things to me
Or cause me any other harm
And those who mock and insult me
Have the fortune to awaken fully.

My initial and habitual response is to consider offering compassion and loving kindness to those who may wish me ill. The verse seems to be asking us to see in them their potential to awaken, to see them as potential Buddhas, and so to check ourselves when we are treated badly. This is definitely part of the point, but this interpretation also has a lot of self oriented perspective in it.

What if we are the ones doing the mocking and insulting? What if the one we are mocking and insulting is the Bodhisattva or aspirant reciting this prayer? Then we are the ones who should have the fortunate to awaken fully and we are the ones who should have our wishes fulfilled from that mocking and insulting rot of ours.

One of the beautiful things about this prayer is what it is asking of us. It is asking us to be compassionate towards those who hurt us. But it is asking us, “Why do you think you are the Bodhisattva? Why do you think this is all about you? Aren’t you the one mocking and insulting someone right now? May that be the source for fulfilling all your wishes and may you awaken fully out of your delusions of self.”

The prayer is asking us to be both the Bodhisattva and the deluded being. Because we are both. Because Bodhisattvas say bad things too. Because we have the potential to awaken moment after moment, whether we are playing the Bodhisattva or playing the deluded fool.

Rituals of Impermanence and Impermanent Rituals (2)

There are rituals of impermanence – the Sand Mandala, the practice of burning resolutions made during a New Year’s service, and more – and there are impermanent rituals – rituals that do not last forever, rituals that come to an end. Both help us to let go of attachment…but not let go of the act! And by letting go of attachment (and not the act), we experience the act, the ritual, without residue.

Seeing the impermanence of our rituals is essential to spiritual liberation. The ceremonies we come to love and cherish, the temples and spaces we call home, the people we practice with, all impermanent rituals, all coming and going. And when they go, what is it…that frees, that sings awakening? The feelings of loss, the tears at things coming apart, the sadness, the attachment even, all are part of the practice of impermanent rituals. It’s not about not feeling. But feeling deeply and without attachment. So the process unfolds, and we unfold as part of the process, and there is no getting stuck.

Zen Master So Sahn wrote in section 74 of the Mirror of Zen:

If in the hour of your death you make even the slightest distinction between the enlightened and unenlightened, holy or unholy people, you will be inexorably pulled into your next rebirth through the womb of a donkey or a horse, or stuffed into an iron furnace raging in hell, or become an ant or a mosquito.1

When we get attached to ritual – whether spiritual or mundane – we make distinctions. We carve the world into rituals and non-rituals, into spiritual and non-spiritual. And with attachment to ritual follows movements of mind and feeling that pull us through the “womb of a donkey or a horse.” If we don’t practice the impermanence of rituals now, in this very moment, then in the moment of our passing we will see the end as final and as a loss…and we may just find ourselves reborn as an “ant or a mosquito.”

But if we practice the impermanence of rituals now, if we learn to let go and be completely free by, paradoxically, being completely with each and every thing as it unfolds, then there is no distinction between holy and unholy, no distinction between spiritual and mundane.

The red mountain sings awakening.

The broken cup shouts wake up.

From the crack in a wall

Runs icy water.

1. Excerpt From: Boep Joeng. “The Mirror of Zen.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-mirror-of-zen/id1161759809?mt=11

Rituals of Impermanence and Impermanent Rituals (1)

Where does the Sand Mandala live? Its creation, its compassion, its vibrant energy, its dissolution, its impermanence: where is it and what is it?

The Sand Mandala from the previous post, it is there and it is not there. What is created and destroyed, that is the vehicle. But the practice and the teachings of the Sand Mandala, where do they live? Where does their power to cut away at our delusions, greed, and anger live? Not separate from the vehicle, but not identical with it.

It is easy to miss the teaching. I did. Yesterday I was working with a Vietnamese Buddhist monk here in the Springs. I was helping him take down a temple bell. He is slowly taking down a structure that he created 8 years ago. As I was leaving, he said, “Here, just like the Mandala, the dissolution of things. We created it; now, we destroy it. And maybe we will create it again.”

Although it is not a colorful and intricately designed Mandala of Compassion, the structure is the Mandala. How? It is a ritual of impermanence, the embodiment of compounded things coming apart.

The Sand Mandala that the Tibetan monks created and their weeklong process of creation were amazingly beautiful and powerful as a teaching, spiritual practice, cultural practice, and work of art. But if we leave that teaching at the creek where the last remnants of sand washed away, then we missed it.

If we see the Mandala in the falling leaves, the dying plants, the coming and going of all things, then we catch a glimpse of that vast realm of compassion.

May we all catch that glimpse! May we all enter that gate of compassion! May we see the Mandala in the coming and going of the ten thousand things!

 

 

Question your Teachers

My previous post (Humility and Belief Revision) ended with some questions I ask myself as a teacher. It posed further questions for students, but stopped short. The teacher-student relationship in any form is complicated, but that doesn’t mean it must be disempowering for students.

As the previous post made clear, teachers are bounded by history, context, and ideology (not to mention memory, age, and other physically embodied constraints). There is very little a teacher can say without some qualification as to their certainty about what they say. Of course the context may not warrant so many qualifiers. But if you get to know a teacher well enough, and the humility is not present, then let that be a sign to move on.

I find this most pressing in Buddhist teacher-student relationships. The dynamic requires a humbling on both sides, and so requires the student to bend toward the teacher – but in the service of developing one’s practice. That must always be kept in mind!

So ask yourself: what am I being asked to do? And is this teacher full of themselves? Or are they bending while I am bending? Are we both turning in to the Dharma together? If not, well – someone might be selling you something, or trying to control the situation. Not a healthy place to be.

Readings V – Korean Buddhism

1599px-eca69dec8bacec82ac_eb8c80ec9b85eca084_2I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

This is the last in a series of posts on this topic. The list below is incomplete on many fronts. So if you happen to have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

General History

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, “Buddhism in Korea,” from Buddhism and Asian History, eds. John Kitagawa and Mark Cummings, MacMillan, New York, 1987. (PDF; from Sunim)
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, “Buddhism in Korea,” from Encyclopedia of Asian History, Vol. 1, Scribners, New York, 1998. (PDF; from Sunim)
  • The Korean Buddhist Research Institute, eds. The History and Culture of Buddhism in Korea. Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1993.
  • Lee, Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Translated by Edward W. Wagner with Edward J. Shultz. Seoul: Ilchokak Publishers, 1984.

Unified Silla Period

  • McBride, Richard D. Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist cults and the Hwaŏm synthesis in Silla Korea. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

Wonhyo

  • Muller, A Charles, ed. Wonhyo: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 1. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127536
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. “The Hagiographies of the Korean Scholiast Wonhyo: The Dating and Provenance of the Vajrasamadhi.” In The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamadhi-Sutra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton University Press, 1989, Chapter 2.
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. Cultivating Original Enlightenment:Wonhyo’s Exposition of the Vajrasamadhi-Sutra. Collected Works of Wonhyo vol. 1. University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu. 2007.
  • Muller, A Charles, and Cuong Tu Nguyen, eds. Wonhyo’s Philosophy of Mind. The University of Hawaii Press, 2012.

Uisang

Chinul / Jinul

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul’s Korean Way of Zen. University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu. 1991.
  • Buswell Jr, Robert E, ed. Chinul: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 2. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127546

T’aego

  • Cleary, J C, tr.. A Buddha from Korea: The Zen Teachings of T’aego. Shambhala, 2001.

Hyujeong or So Sahn

  • Boep Joeng, tr. The Mirror of Zen: The Classic Guide to Buddhist Practice by Zen Master So Sahn. Shambhala Publications, 2006.
  • Jorgensen, John, tr. A Handbook of Korean Zen Practice: A Mirror on the Son School of Buddhism (Songa kwigam). University of Hawaii Press, 2015.
  • Jorgensen, John, ed. Hyujeong: Selected Works in The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism, Volume 3. The Compilation Committee of Korean Buddhist Thought and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, 2012. Web Address: http://www.international.ucla.edu/buddhist/article/127549

Kusan Sunim

  • Kusan Sunim. The Way of Korean Zen. Tr. Martine Batchelor. Ed. Stephen Batchelor. Boston: Weatherhill, 2009.

Song-chol Sunim

  • Song-chol. Echoes from Mt. Kaya: Selections on Korean Buddhism. Lotus Lantern International Buddhist Center, 1988.

Modern Korean Buddhism

  • Park, Jin Y. Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism. SUNY Press, 2012.

The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism

Readings IV – Mahayana/Zen Studies

Sinheungsa Bronze Buddha
(Intro from Previous Post…)

I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

I will break the list down into various units and post separately. This list is incomplete on many fronts – more on that in a later post. If you have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

Diamond Sutra

  • Conze, Edward.  Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.  New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Mu Soeng.  The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way we Perceive the World.  Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.
  • Red Pine.  The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom, Texts and Commentaries Translated From Sanskrit and Chinese.  Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2001.

Platform Sutra

  • Bielefeldt, Carl and Lewis Lancaster. “T’an Ching (Platform Scripture).” Philosophy East and West Vol. 25, No. 2 (1975). Pages 197 – 212.
  • Red Pine. The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2006.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind: The Significance of the Sūtra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang). York Beach, Main: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1972.
  • Yampolsky, Philip. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-huang Manuscript. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

The Awakening of Faith

  • Hakeda, Yoshito, tr. The Awakening of Faith. Columbia University Press, 1974.
  • Park, Sung-bae. Wonhyo’s Commentaries on The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1979.
  • Suzuki, D T, tr. The Awakening of Faith: The Classic Exposition of Mahayana Buddhism. Dover Publications, 2003.

Zen / Ch’an / Seon Studies – Various Readings

  • Buswell Jr, Robert E. The Formation of Ch’an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamadhi-Sutra, A Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • Hu Shih. “Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method.” Philosophy East and West Vol. 3, No. 1 (1953). Pages 3 – 24.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. “Zen: A Reply to Hu Shih.” Philosophy East and West Vol. 3, No. 1 (1953). Pages 25 – 46.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. “History of Zen Buddhism from Bodhidharma to Hui-neng (Yeno) (A.D. 520 – A.D. 713).” In Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1961. Pages 163 – 228.
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1961.

Readings III – Disciples of the Buddha

07 Kisagotami with her Dead Child, at the Nava Jetavana, Shravasti(Intro from Previous Post…)

I recently put together a bibliography of readings that I studied during my seminary years and beyond. Since study is an important part of Buddhist practice – yes, even for Zen practitioners, and definitely for those of us that did not grow up in Buddhist cultures – I thought I would put that list up here.

I will break the list down into various units and post separately. This list is incomplete on many fronts – more on that in a later post. If you have extra reading suggestions, please add them in the comments!

NOTE 1: This list is short because it is the only reference I have for reading about the Disciples of the Buddha. However, the collection of readings here is a must read for any serious student/practitioner of Buddhism.

Note 2: The collection does cover Bhikkhunis of the Buddha’s period, albeit not as thoroughly as the Bhikkhus. Some of this is a product of relevant source material; some of it is not. If you have references to Bhikkhunis living during the Buddha’s period, please post in the comments.

Note 3: The image above is of Kisagotami and her dead child as she approaches the Buddha for help. If you don’t know her story, please find it and read it deeply and mindfully.

Disciples of the Buddha

  • Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed., Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy, Wisdom Publications, 2003

 

Eating for Self and Other

Student: Teacher, I hear you when you say treating thoughts and feelings as if they were not mine is practicing not-self. And as not-self, I can let them go as they arise as I let go the thoughts and feelings in others that have no pull on me. But I’m hungry! I have been watching this hunger for a day now, not eating, not holding on to the thought of food in the face of this persistent gnawing in my belly, and still the thoughts of food come up and my belly is loud and obnoxious now! Is this the practice of not-self? Do I just starve myself to death?

Teacher: Not death, no. If you die without waking up, what good is any of this? Then even I have failed you, complicit as I am in your delusion and liberation.

Student: OK, OK. Not death. I think I’d eat by then. But how is this not-self if all I see is the continual arising of self? All I feel is my belly chewing away at itself – is that awakening?

Teacher: Not this and not that. Both this and that together. Obstruction and Path – not two, not one either. Hunger and release from hunger are not separate and not the same.

Student: I’m not following you – partly because I’m hungry but also because you are not making any sense.

Teacher: What if your child is hungry, what do you do?

Student: I make her food.

Teacher: Simple. No thinking. Obstruction and path work together in harmony. And so when you are hungry, what do you do?

Student: I used to eat. Today I am starving. I am not sure what I am supposed to do anymore.

Teacher: Obstruction and path in disharmony. What is your vow? Your aspiration?

Student: To practice, to wake up, and serve all beings as if they were Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Teacher: OK, but sometimes to help others, you have to help yourself. And when you help yourself to help others, when you practice eating as eating for the body that is not just your body, you are practicing not-self. The hunger becomes freedom from hunger and you more freely embrace the hunger.

Student: But if I eat I take food away from others and that is selfish.

Teacher: Look around you! Is there anyone here asking for your food? You only deprive your idea of someone wanting food, which is no deprivation at all. What if you starve and get caught up in your hunger? How can you be present to the world in front of you?

Student: What is that world?

Teacher: Eat and find out. Just enough to see clearly….