Monday, December 31, 2007

The Soil Beneath our feet


Before taking our first step down the Eight-Fold Path it will be worth the time to consider the soil beneath our feet, upon which this path lies. According to Ch’an Master Han-shan Te-ching [1546-1623], “All Buddhas come from prajna (wisdom).” That is a statement of source. The question is what, or where, is that source? It is obviously in our minds but not the divided mind we with which we are accustomed. The source lies in our transformed, integrated and balanced mind. Master Te-ching was one of the pre-eminent commentators on the Diamond Sutra which is perhaps the most important Buddhist sutra on Wisdom, thus the name: “The Diamond Sutra-The Perfection of Wisdom.”

If nothing else, this sutra is a manual for Bodhisattvas to follow in honoring their vow. That vow is to strive for as long as samsara endures to emancipate all sentient beings from samsara and deliver them into Nirvana—The incomparable state of bliss. The Bodhisattva does not seek bodhi (awakening) solely for him/herself, but chiefly for the sake of freeing all other beings and aiding them into the bliss of Nirvana. Members of a Mahayana sangha recite this vow as a pledge, unfortunately often times without understanding how such a mission can be approached and realized. The Diamond Sutra is the manual for understanding the ground of wisdom upon which their path lies.

In the eighth chapter of the sutra the Buddha says to Sabhuti that grasping and teaching a four-line gatha from this sutra will result in merit greater than billions of worlds filled with the most precious of jewels. The four-line gatha referred to is “no perception of self, no perception of being, no perception of life and no perception of soul” and the meaning of that gatha lies at the very heart of Buddhism. Until that gatha is fully grasped (and taught) the mission of the Bodhisattva is doomed.

This gatha is fundamental but not complete. The meaning is that every aspect of life and beyond from internal (self) to external (beings), in this time frame (life) and beyond the grave (soul) are empty of independent and intrinsic substance. These aspects: self, being, life and soul—do not exist separate and apart from context. All four aspects are forms and every aspect of form depends upon corresponding aspects of emptiness. Dependent origination is the foundation of wisdom upon which the Eight-Fold Path lies.

There is just one hair left that transforms this premise into majesty and converts this observation into the power of wisdom, and that hair is using the premise of dependent origination to destroy itself. What is the balance point upon which dependent origination depends? That “nothing”—absolutely nothing (including dependent origination itself)—has independent status. Wisdom that lies mired in a fixed status, while life itself is constantly in motion, is not wisdom. Such fixed wisdom is dead on arrival and the same must be said for the dharma of interdependent origination: it too can’t be a fixed teaching.

Yes, I know, this juncture can get confusing. A “dharma” is supposed to be a truth-teaching of the Buddha. But this sutra says that while prajna gives rise to Buddhas and their teachings, prajna itself is not a dharma. In fact it goes a step further (and this can be very confusing) and says that Buddha dharmas are no Buddha dharmas. Dependent origination is THE premier Buddhist dharma, but this sutra says that even this dharma is no dharma.

To fathom this conundrum we must move the discussion to the matter of attachment and clinging. At the center of the human dilemma, which produces suffering, lies attachment, which is a manifestation of the self desiring stability. We resist change and aspire to stability. The problem is that, as this four-line gatha points out, every aspect of life and beyond is moving and de-constructing. The illusions (which we create in our minds) is in one of two directions. Either we see total impermanence and conclude with nihilism (full of despair—nothing exists substantially) or the opposite of permanence, (full of denial—everything exists substantially). Neither of these two extremes exists independently. They too are subject to dependent origination. While it is true that one aspect of life is impermanent (self, being, life and soul) this aspect doesn’t exist independently any more than anything else. To cling to this realization will just continue samsara and strip the bodhisattva of essential power. Neither aspect is real (by itself) but both aspects are real (interdependently) and to acknowledge this is to travel the Middle Way—The Eight Fold Path.

What can it mean to use dependent origination to destroy itself? It means empty-emptiness or the fusion of opposites—total and complete destruction of discrimination and opposition. Dependent origination says that “this” arises with “that”—“is” arises with “is not”—nothing exists by itself. Thus to push the point, it means that dependent origination arises with non-dependent origination. If the premise has validity (any validity at all) the rule must apply to everything, one aspect of which is dependent origination. Form is not independent. Emptiness is not independent. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. The separation of these into discrete divisions is a delusion which we create in our minds, which in turn produces irresponsibility, isolation, estrangement, opposition, blame, anger, frustration and bad karma. And the only place where this delusion can be undone is where it originated: “in our minds.” A dharma is a manifestation in our minds. A dharma is a teaching of the Buddha which The Diamond Sutra says is not a dharma. If it is not a dharma/teaching, what can be learned and how is it possible to use a non-teaching to teach?

The answer is incredibly simple yet incredibly profound! And the answer MUST begin in faith—faith that Buddha-Nature and prajna are ubiquitous and ever-present. A Buddha is forever an already fully realized (awakened) entity. Prajna is likewise ubiquitous and ever-present. A Buddha does not need a dharma, nor wisdom since a Buddha is already perfect and complete. Either we accept the ubiquitous and ever-present dimension of Buddha-Nature and prajna or we don’t. It is a matter of faith. If it is true, then nothing is lacking in us (self), others (being) life (this life) or beyond (soul). It is not a matter of becoming enlightened or attaining some transcendent state since such is ever-present. The task is to begin with this understanding and proceed with the task of removing obscurations, defilements and delusions which block this inherent wisdom. The removal will reveal what is already there—enlightenment is not created, it is realized. As it says in the Heart Sutra...

Because nothing is attained
Bodhisattvas maintain prajnaparamita
Then their heart is without hindrance
And since without hindrance, without fear
Escaping upside-down, dream like thinking
And completely realizing nirvana
All buddhas of all times maintain prajnaparamita
Thus attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (incomparable awakening).

The question is (in today’s terms)—What’s the bottom-line? In other words, what difference does it make? Five points:

1. Wisdom can’t be taught. There are no hard and fast rules, regulations nor precepts which will cover all circumstances with the blanket of justice since life is ever-changing. True wisdom: prajnaparamita—is a continuous unfolding which perfectly reflects that unfolding. Removing obscurations which block access is like removing clouds which obscure the sun. The sun is always present, just as prajna is.

2. Trying to attain what is ever-present is like trying to catch horses while riding on the back of a horse.

3. Choosing one-side against another side is just trading one delusion for another delusion. Life is not divided into discrete, mutually exclusive, independent states. It is our mind which creates such divisions. We say “form” and “emptiness” but these are not two things with independent status. They are obviously different and just as obviously the same. One can’t be separated from the other.

4. Integration (dependent origination) is the prevailing wisdom of life (but not an independent rule). We are inexorably linked with all sentient life, thus interdependent. To avoid that linkage is to live a lie and invite bad karma.

5. Non-dependent origination is the necessary condition to validate dependent origination. We use this non-dharma dharma to aid ourselves and others in the quest to gain emancipation and then we lose it. It too can become a source of clinging. True wisdom: prajnaparamita—is the same thing as emancipation. Surrendering from ALL clinging sets us free. Wisdom, dharmas, The Buddha, self, beings, life, soul—All are fabrications of the mind. By removing all fabrications and living by the ever-present body of Buddha-Nature and wisdom, as it emerges and unfolds—is the supreme act of faith, and there is no greater bliss!

Having thus laid out the soil upon which the Eight-Fold Path lies, we’ll now begin to trod the path.

Buddhas say emptiness is relinquishing opinions. Believers in emptiness are incurable. Nagarjuna
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