The Ringing of Subtle Wisdom

I was rereading the introduction to Tao : a new way of thinking by the late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii, Chung-yuan Chang.  He was discussing the meaning of Tao when he noted that “In Chinese art, the soundless is more primordial than sound.”  I suppose that is correct, in the beginning there would be silence before sound…

In any case, he goes on to quote Heidegger (On The Way to Language):

The soundless gathering call by which Saying moves the world-relation on its way, we call the ringing of stillness.

Chung-yuan Chang comments, “It is this ringing of stillness that opens the mind of man to Eastern aesthetics… Thus, the question remains: How does one attain Tao?”  The Buddhist might ask, How does one attain enlightenment?

Chung-yuan Chang goes on to quote Chapter 38 of the Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

The highest attainment is free from attainment.
Therefore, there is attainment.
The lowest attainment is never free from attainment.
Therefore, there is no attainment.

Following this, he shares these words from the 4th century Buddhist philosopher, Shen Chao:

You may conceive of attainment as that which is able to be attained.  Therefore, there is attainment.  However, I consider attainment as nothing to be attained.  Therefore, attainment is achieved though non-attainment…  Subtle wisdom lies beyond things…”

Lao Tzu suggested that we understand Tao (and Buddhahood) by not understanding it, one of those paradoxical statements that Taoism and Zen (heavily influenced by Taoism) are well-known for.  Thing is, we shouldn’t be looking for attainment in the first place but rather “subtle wisdom.”  Attainment is an established ideal, while acquiring subtle wisdom is a practical process we call The Way.

The English word “subtle” corresponds with the Chinese character miao, which means “wonderful, mystic, clever, and subtle.”  Of these meanings, T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i preferred “subtle.”  Paul Swanson, in Foundations of T’ien-T’ai Philosophy, states, “For Chih-i the word ‘subtle’ symbolized and summarized that which is beyond conceptual understanding and thus it is the word most appropriate to describe reality, which is ultimately indescribable.”

[Image: Chinese character “miao”]

Reality is that which is genuine, original or natural, as opposed to that which is artificial and illusory.  We are not trying to achieve something so much as we are trying to see through something.  We’re trying to see through the real and into the Real.

That’s why the Tao Te Ching says, “The Tao that can be told is not the infinite Tao,” and why the Heart Sutra says, “Within emptiness… there is no attainment with nothing to attain.”  And yet, the Heart Sutra also says that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas practice in the way of Transcendental Wisdom and “awake to complete and perfect enlightenment.”  Huh?

Lama Govinda explains that is means “Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not enlightened by fixed teaching but by an intuitive process that is spontaneous and natural.”

Introspection or meditation is the observation of subjective mental qualities.  It is not thought.  However, it is probably as far from thought as we can get.  Wayfarers should want to cultivate a mind that that does not seize and cling to things,  an open mind, a mind not fixed or locked, unreceptive to new ideas, lacking flexibility.  This may seem to be a very simple thing but actually it is quite difficult to realize on a ongoing basis.

Finally Chung-yuan Chang quotes Heidegger quoting Nietzsche:

Our thinking should have a vigorous fragrance, like a wheat field on a summer’s night.

If fragrance had a sound, it would be the ringing of subtle wisdom.

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The Angry Asian Buddhist who Isn’t Anymore

Aaron Lee blogged under the name “Arunlikhati”  at his blog, Angry Asian Buddhist.  From what I’ve heard from those who met him, he wasn’t really angry.  He was frustrated, mainly about the way Asian American Buddhists are represented in Buddhist organizations and media.

He’d been battling cancer for over a year.  He died last Saturday.  He was 34.

I didn’t agree with everything Aaron wrote.  At the same time, he changed my mind about some things.  Definitely made me re-think some of my preconceived notions.  I never met him.  I have the feeling he had a good heart.  He wrote this in the section of his blog called “Why I’m Angry”:

“[Asian American Buddhists] are angry when they hear people write about the history of Buddhism in America without reference to the hundreds of thousands of Buddhist Asian Americans who have been and who continue to be the greatest part of American Buddhism.  Who will speak out for them when they’re ignored?  Who will stand up to let them know they’re not alone?  That’s why I’m the Angry Asian Buddhist.”

Bodhisattva words.

You might be interested to read this article about Aaron Lee published in Lion’s Roar earlier this year.

I thank you, Aaron, for blogging about the underrepresentation of Asian American Buddhists and all the other issues you focused on.  Everyone benefits from truth, and in that sense you were speaking out for all of us, standing up for all of us, to help liberate all of us.

My delight in death is far, far greater than
The delight of traders at making vast fortunes at sea,
Or the lords of the gods who vaunt their victory in battle;
Or of those sages who have entered the rapture of perfect absorption.
So just as a traveler who sets out on the road when the time has come to go,
I will not remain in this world any longer,
But will go to dwell in the stronghold of the great bliss of deathlessness.
– The Last Testament of Longchenpa

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“When the mind is free…”

I’ve had the opportunity to attend quite a few teachings by the Dalai Lama over the years.  If you have too, then you know they are usually 3 or 4 day affairs, 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon, and the Dalai Lama gives deep teachings.  It is unfortunate that he is more renown as a sort of Buddhist celebrity.  In my opinion, his real contribution to all of us is being the foremost teacher and interpreter of Madhyamaka philosophy in the world today.  I can’t think of any other teacher who comes close.

Here are some notes I took at a 2001 teaching on Shantideva’s “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life.”  I thought I would share them with you:

If you wish to overcome hatred you must cultivate loving-kindness just as you turn on heat to dispel cold or turn on a light to illuminate darkness.

In itself, the mind is neutral and can take either the form of mental affliction or insight into true reality.

Samsara has a powerful antidote and the power of this antidote can be increased infinitely.

When the mind is free from mental afflictions, the mind can then permeate and perceive both conventional and ultimate truth simultaneously.  

We who recite the Heart Sutra should accept the Buddha as the embodiment of the object of ultimate realization.  Bodhicitta [‘thought of awakening’] is the aspiration to attain Buddhahood for the welfare of all beings. When bodhicitta arises, all the actions of the individual are those of a bodhisattva.

If you have insight into emptiness but no bodhicitta, you will not realize full awakening.  If you have no insight into emptiness but have bodhicitta, you are on the way no matter what.  Bodhicitta is a benefit both temporary and long term.  You should practice bodhicitta as an antidote to pride.  It is also powerful when you are depressed.

Bodhicitta cannot be realized merely by making a wish or offering a prayer, but you can practice to a point where you make a simple thought and this causes a spontaneous arising of bodhicitta within you.

To develop compassion first cultivate a sense of closeness to all sentient beings, then a real empathy with them.  A practice that is very powerful for cultivating compassion is seeing others as your mother, who symbolizes the one who has shown you the greatest kindness.

It is important to have some understanding of what kind of sufferings you wish others to be free from.  The wish to free oneself from suffering is true renunciation.  To wish others to be free is true compassion.

Bodhicitta has two elements: 1) closeness to others and 2) understanding of suffering.

To achieve the kind of liberation we are talking about requires great courage.

Three elements to attain Buddhahood: 1) bodhicitta, the heart of the practice, 2) compassion, and 3) understanding of emptiness (through tranquil abiding and penetrative insight).

The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is to transform negative aspects of the mind and mind training.

Both the Buddha and Nagarjuna had unobstructed vision.  One should think that in their presence, ‘I have nothing to hide, I have no guilty conscience.’

Great guidance! As you know, a bodhisattva is an individual who begins his or her practice by generating bodhicitta, the aspirational wish to liberate all living beings from their sufferings.   The Tibetan term for bodhisattva is jang chub sem pa, which translates roughly as “mind-hero.”

Bodhisattvas are heroes of the mind.   They have learned to master their minds, rather than letting their minds master them.  Why are they heroes?  They have the “great courage” the Dalai Lama talks about, the bravery, the audacity to aspire for liberation.

It reminds me of the line in the David Bowie song “Heroes”: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”  That is all it takes… small acts of random kindness… beginning with just one day.  Be a hero for just one day and it expands from there like a ripple in a still water when there is a pebble tossed… which reminds me of another song…

 

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True Self

In recent posts I have mentioned the false sense of “self” several times.  But what about the self we call True Self?  True Self has many names: Buddha nature, original nature, mind – to mention just three.

Tsung-mi (780-841) was an important figure in Chinese Buddhism, regarded as both the fifth and final patriarch of the Flower Garland School and a Ch’an (Zen) Master of the Ho-tse School. For Tsung-mi, True Self was the Real Mind revealed through the process of awakening.  Here are some of his thoughts about the subject from Yuan Jen or “On the Original Nature of Human Beings”:

“All sentient beings have been endowed with the true mind of original enlightenment. From the beginningless beginning this mind has been constant, Pure, luminous, and unobscured; it has always been characterized by bright cognition; it is called the Buddha Nature or the Womb of the Awakened.

From the beginningless beginning the delusions of human beings has obscured it so that they have not been aware of it. Because they recognize in themselves only the ordinary person’s characteristics, they indulge in lives of attachment, increasing the bond of karmic power and receiving the sufferings of birth and death. Out of compassion for them, The Awakened One taught that everything is empty; then he revealed to all that the true mind of spiritual enlightenment is pure and is identical with that of the Buddhas.”

Ultimately, this True Self is unknowable.  Beyond all concepts and words.  Yet, in order to experience healing, find wisdom, and create harmony, we need to uncover True Self, remove the veils of delusion, lose our ego.  This allows us to drop off the feeling of separation from others and world.

Meditation is the indispensable tool, the most effective method for making thoughts of “I” disappear.  By intuitively realizing that we are not ego, that we are interconnected with the world and all living things, which is greater than self or ego, we have an opportunity to experience the harmony, the unity, we so urgently need.

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Can Meditation Bring About a Process of Healing?

When we suffer we experience pain.  Whether it is mental, emotional, and/or physical, pain is a message that something is out of balance, that we are lacking harmony.  Healing is the restoration of harmony.

In Taoism, everything is energy.  Pain and stress arise when energies are off balance or when they clash.  Taoism teaches how to achieve harmony.  Balance or harmony is also important in Buddhism, which holds that the main disturber of harmony is the false concept of “self,” “I,” or “ego.”

Both philosophies prescribe the same cure:  meditation.

Can meditation really bring about a process of healing?  That was the precisely the question posed to the great   philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti during a 1969 talk.  He answered,

“Most of us have had pain of some kind – intense, superficial, or pain that cannot be cured.  What effect has pain on the psyche, the brain or the mind?  Can the mind meditate, disassociating itself from pain?  Can the mind look at the physical pain and observe it without identifying itself with that pain?  If it can observe without identifying itself then there is quite a different quality to that pain…  The more you are attached to the pain, the more intense it is.  So that may help to bring about this healing, which is an important question and which can only take place when there is no `me’, no ego or self-centered activity.  Some people have a gift for it.  Others come upon it because there is no ego functioning.”

Krishnamurti considered meditation “the natural act [that] brings about the harmonious movement of the whole.” Healing is about becoming whole.

The word ‘whole’ comes from the old English ‘hale’, which means to be in good health, to be whole and healthy.  The original meaning of ‘whole’ implied “keeping the original sense,” “that which has also survived,” and “to heal.”  The prehistoric German root of whole is also the origin of ‘heal’, ‘health’, and ‘holy’.

To heal means to be whole and to be whole means to heal.

I don’t think we should ever expect to achieve complete wholeness or perfect harmony.  Because we are human beings, we will always be incomplete, imperfect.  Completion is the journey of life, and perfection, an endless further.

But we can expect to heal.  And naturally I am going to tell you that meditation, or what in the T’ien-t’ai/Tendai tradition is called kuan-ksin (Jp.  kanjin), “observing the mind,” is a powerful healing tool on all levels – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and social.

“Meditation develops your innate energies. With practice, you can take charge of your mind and body, preventing disease before it arises. Shouldn’t everyone make an effort to learn something like this?”
– Yin Shih Tzu, Tranquil Sitting

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