Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Full Huang-Po

Here's a quote from Transmission of Mind by Huang-Po (who lived in China, they say, in the 9th century). Thanks to Daily Zen for posting this, and the NDHighlights Yahoo Group for pointing to it.

Yeah, yeah, when Huang-Po says things like "full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery," the words are a bit too beautiful and unnecessary. Truth has already appeared in this moment; why make anything? That being said, I've got a soft spot for this stuff, at least as poetry.
"Buddha" and "sentient beings" are both your own false conceptions. It is because you do not know real Mind that you delude yourselves with such objective concepts. If you will conceive of a Buddha, you will be obstructed by that Buddha! And when you conceive of sentient beings, you will be obstructed by those beings. All such dualistic concepts as "ignorant" and "Enlightened," "pure" and "impure," are obstructions.

Question: If our own Mind is the Buddha, how did Bodhidharma transmit his doctrine when he came from India?

Answer: When he came from India, he transmitted only Mind-Buddha. He just pointed to the truth that the minds of all of you have from the very first been identical with the Buddha, and in no way separate from each other. That is why we call him our Patriarch. Whoever has an instant of understanding of this truth suddenly transcends the whole hierarchy of saints and adepts belonging to any of the Three Vehicles. You have always been one with the Buddha, so do not pretend you can attain to this oneness by various practices.

Discuss it as you may, how can you even hope to approach the truth through words? Nor can it be perceived either subjectively or objectively. So full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness Beyond All Activity. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it.

Were you now to practice keeping your minds motionless at all times, whether walking, sitting, standing, or lying; concentrating entirely upon the goal of no thought-creation, no duality, no reliance on others and no attachments; just allowing all things to take their course the whole day long, as though you were too ill to bother; unknown to the world; innocent of any urge to be known or unknown to others; with your minds like blocks of stone that mend no holes-then all the Dharmas would penetrate your understanding through and through. In a little while you would find yourselves firmly unattached.

Thus, for the first time in your lives, you would discover your reactions to phenomena decreasing and, ultimately, you would pass beyond the Triple World; and people would say that a Buddha had appeared in the world. Pure and passionless knowledge implies putting an end to the ceaseless flow of thoughts and images, for in that way you stop creating karma that leads to rebirth-whether as gods or men or as sufferers in hell.

The Void is fundamentally without spatial dimensions, passions, activities, delusions or right understanding. You must clearly understand that in it there are no things, no people and no Buddhas; for this Void contains not the smallest hairsbreadth of anything that can be viewed spatially; it depends on nothing and is attached to nothing. It is all-pervading, spotless beauty; it is the self-existent and uncreated Absolute. A perception, sudden as blinking, that subject and object are one, will lead to a deeply mysterious wordless understanding; and by this understanding will you awake to the truth of Zen.
Re-tweet from emptygatezen:
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains. -Li Po and Tu Fu

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Letting Go of God

Letting Go of God is a monologue by comic, cancer survivor, and Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney. (imdb.com calls it a "one-person-monologue." Heh.) I'm a fan of one-person shows, and Sweeney is great at combining comedy with philosophical depth.

I'm watching it on Showtime cable TV as we speak. Sweeney talked about being visited by some fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. She was stunned by how stupid their lead story was: a tale about Jesus visiting America on his way up to Heaven, about Joseph Smith learning of this visitation when he dug up golden tablets conveniently buried in his neighborhood, how Smith conveniently found a magic rock that allowed him alone to decode the writings on the tablets, which for some reason were in ancient Egyptian. Etc.

Like most things in life, the story of Mormonism is explained most incisively by South Park. The half-hour episode All About the Mormons is available in full on several sites, including MySpace. If you haven't seen it, do so immediately.

Yes, reasonable men cannot deny that the story is stupid. Sweeney feels like telling the Mormon kids, "Even Scientologists know they shouldn't start out with stories about Xenu the alien volcano master!" But later, she realizes that she can hardly feel superior, as her own Catholic faith, if viewed through fresh ears, would sound equally preposterous.

I'm less than 1/3 through the show, but based on the title, I assume she's on a path towards some sort of Atheism. I love Atheists, at least the ones who challenge the dominant mindset in a clever way, like Sweeney and Richard Dawkins.

It's not that simple a matter for me, though. For some odd reason, the question of God is strong in my mind at this time of year. I blogged two Decembers ago about being asked, at a Christmas party, if I believed in God. At that time, I wrote
I ended up saying something like this: There are times when I get this sense that all of existence is already in perfect balance, harmony, and resolution. These experiences come only now and then, but they're strong enough to color my life at other times. I sense that there's truth in the perspective of perfect balance, whether or not I'm seeing it at the moment.

That was as honestly as I could communicate it. Though I rarely talk about "God," I realized that someone who says, "God is all-powerful and perfect, and He's taking care of everything," is pointing to a perspective that's not so different from what I had expressed.
I'll add now: lots of the time in ordinary life, I most definitely don't see a universe of perfect harmony. My thoughts are on the frustrations and difficulties and suffering of life, at least as much as the average Joe. It's also true that during the rare times I do see that perfect balance, it's a wider perspective. That is, from that elevated(?) viewpoint, I can see how the ordinary perception of imbalance is itself part of the whole. The balanced viewpoint encompasses its opposite, in a way the imbalanced viewpoint doesn't.

It's like camping in the wilderness, and marvelling at the trees and such. I know that something made the sun, the moon, and the stars, and it sure doesn't seem like that something is understandable by my ordinary mind. Some people would say the Source is randomness. To my mind, calling something random means precisely, "I don't know anything about it." I heartily agree with that sentiment, but I submit that calling the origin of existence randomness fails to explain anything at all.

When I gaze at a clear night sky long enough, I start to feel like I'm in no position to quibble with whatever made all that, as if I could do a better job. (I think the Book of Job reaches a similar conclusion. The Lord, in so many words, tells our hero, "Can you make a universe, buddy? Come back when you can make a universe, and then maybe you can question My actions.")

Anyway... particularly after some discussion about belief and doubt in the comments section of a recent post... I'm at the moment again attracted by that question. When I recall a viewpoint of perfect, complete balance, even in the midst of life's sufferings... is my mindset all that different from someone who believes that God is all-powerful, and takes care of everything? I don't even know if it matters, but that's my question of the moment.

Follow up... the day after posting this, I found a video of Sweeny discussing LGoG, in an audience Q&A from the time of the filming:

Even better... is Sweeney's speech to the Freedom From Religion Foundation a couple years ago. An audio download and transcript is available on the Friendly Atheist blog. She talks about ten things she's learned since the monologue, living as an atheist.

Sunday, December 06, 2009