Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Zen Essay

I came across a nice, lucid introductory essay on Zen, which I thought some of you might be interested in:

Zen is essentially about the resolution of the dualism between the knower and the known, which is the fundamental problem of self and other. In Zen, self-realisation cannot be attained by reasoning or logical processes.

The mind hinders and separates the self from Reality by the same reasoning processes that it supposes is answering the ultimate questions. The paradox is that that which is being sought is seeking. The mind does not realise that the questions it raises are the mind itself. By virtue of the human capacity for self-consciousness and the ability to make value judgements, humans become too involved in the duality between self and other, subject and object, right and wrong, good and evil, and so forth. By making value judgments and distinctions, people become attached (to worldly things). Unlike plants and animals (who are “just as they are”), we can see ourselves only from the outside. For Zen, the fundamental goal is to achieve “no-mind”, or freedom from the bounds of conceptual dualities. This dualistic perception is regarded in Buddhism as the “ignorance” inherent in human existence. Zen aims at perceiving Reality as it really is; as it actually asserts itself, rather than as it is filtered and interpreted by the mind. Ultimate Reality is lived out by “pure experience”, meaning that there is no experiencing subject, or any objective experience of Reality. Nagarjuna called Ultimate Reality (which is ineffable) “emptiness” or “void”. There is no naming, no “emptiness”; just an “experience experiencing itself”. This is reached when there is a union between the subject and the object, the knower and the known.
The essay is the final one in this paper

19 Comments:

At March 30, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

Nice one.
Thanks for sharing it, Justin.

 
At March 30, 2006, Blogger me said...

I like this "experience experiencing itself"

 
At March 30, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

"Zen aims at perceiving Reality as it really is; as it actually asserts itself, rather than as it is filtered and interpreted by the mind."

Hmm. How can we experience anything other than through the filters and interpretation of the mind?

 
At March 30, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

How can we experience anything other than through the filters and interpretation of the mind?

Because the mind is self-aware it can have a direct awareness of itseld unmediated by by thought. And ultimately all we experience is nothing but mind, that same direct awareness is available to everything we experience.

 
At March 30, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

What we experience is Mind's view of reality. We can never know what that reality actually is or even if it exists in any way independent of me.

I look around me. I think I see things. I think I see coloured things. I think I hear things. If I was a bat or a cat or a fish then all the things that I think I see and think I hear would be differnt. If I was an electron microscope I would see no things at all. If I was a prism what would I 'see'?

As I look around this room. Am I seeing a room? Am I seeing an image that appears to be a room? Am I dreaming? How deep does the dream go?

Sometimes when I dream the dream feels like it is real life - I do not always know that I am dreaming. I only know that I was dreaming when I wake up. So how can I be sure that this is not a dream? What differentiates it?

jinzang: The mind is not self-aware. This self-awareness is just another construct that the mind creates.

I have no idea what awareness actually is, merely that it appears to exist. It does not however appear to exist indepedently of anything. I can find and have never found any awareness that exists independently of the 6 senses. Therefore I tend to conclude that awareness is nothing more than how our brains represent the 6 senses so that 'decisions' can be made.

Some of the Tibetan schools talk about a Subtle mind that 'resides' in the Chest area. However, I learnt 'Buddhism' from a shaolin root and they taught that this thing that we think we perceive in the chest area is nothing more than our representation of a Centre-of-Gravity and they then teach how to move this thing down to the Tan Dien - which results in a lowering of the C.o.G.

So, if something I think resides in one area of a body can by thinking alone be moved to another area of the body - was it ever there in the first place?

 
At March 30, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

There is no experience other than by interpretation of the mind. When you see a flower of a particular color, is this a "direct experience" of that flower and its color? What is that experience? It is based on sight. What is sight? It is light reflected off the object, hitting your eye, causing optical nerves to fire in a particular pattern.

What you consider to be an experience of the flower is a construct created by mind... a categorization of the pattern of optical nerve impulses which is then correlated to previous experiences of similar patterns, which mind has classified as "flower" of a particular color.

Okay, this is admittedly not the most scientific explanation, but you get the gist.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger me said...

I would say that Zen practice allows us to minimize the cascade of thoughts that can result from perceiving something.

The initial thought is an identification of the object. Without this step we can't function.

But additional thoughts arise in which we judge the object - we add fears or hopes etc to the object. We get carried away.

So the statement that Zen aims at perceiving reality as it really is is OK - but it's not some kind of robotic pure awareness without any thought - our minds need to 'complete the equation' but we just need to not add more terms to the equation than are needed / justified by the data.

Hey, I hope Karen is ok.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger PA said...

Yeah, I hope Karen is OK too.
May the force be with you Karen.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger karen said...

I owe a lot to my practice. But I keep getting these messages that while I'm busy analysing, thinking, reading, something else is moving on and it's my life. I'm pretty well convinced at this point that this is the culmination of many years of practice and that the discussions, thinking and reading were a necessary step in this direction. I have to let life take it's course, follow my gut and see what happens. I have to say that part of the reason that I don't feel a need to read any more "How-to's" or practice manuals is that I have developed a very deep trust that things are as they should be. No matter what. Even when I am sweating over an exam that I have to take and am worried that I won't pass it, it is as it should be and will be as it should be. Those thoughts allow me to move into a more calm space and continue on. So I am grateful for my practice, I just am not sure how I deal with this sudden distaste for all the analysis.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

I hear ya, Karen.
Endless analysis was the thing that turned me off about Western philosophy. It seemed that the deeper they dug, the more complex it got. Much like western physics' search for the "atom"... the smallest particle... beyond which there was no smaller particle.
When I discovered Taoism and Zen, I found meaningful ideas... ideas that I could really use in my life. I liked the focus on simplifying, rather than complicating my life.
The stage I am at right now is one where I actually appreciate some of the subtle complexity in zen buddhist thought/philosophy. But I have to pull back every so often, and just go with the flow.
Ananysis, and especially arguments about analysis can get very tiring sometimes.
I prefer simple communication. And I think that many of the zen teachers attempt to do this. But there is always a possibility of misunderstanding. And then the analysis comes in, trying to make it more clear.
My view is that deep analysis is necessary sometimes. But zazen is simple and straightforward. Nature teaches us by just being. We can learn more from nature than by any philosophical discussion.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

Read S. Suzuki or D. Katagiri- they are excellent examples of teaching through simple means. They hammer home very simple thoughts over and over.

Not a whole lot of deep philosophy or analyzation.

The problem arises when we try to over-extrapolate these ideas. "Me" makes a very convincing argument that there is no such thing as "free will". I'm not so sure, but a good case nevertheless. I think if one is clever enough, they could create a fairly convincing argument or analysis of just about any abstract idea. It sounds good but we can't prove it right or wrong in the end.

Whether the mind can perceive itself unfiltered or whether free will exists or not doesn't really come into play in most of our lives.

As in the story this blog is named after, sometimes we just need to shut our flapping mouths and sit. It's probably the best way. As long as we think we can get our minds around reality, we'll continue (I'm included) to flap our mouths. One day though, most of us will probably realize that there is nothing to grasp at and we will drop most of this.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

I'd say that it's not that 'we have no freewill' but that philosophical questions of that nature are about linguistic and conceptual conventions - defining 'me' as if it was a self-contained part of the universe and 'freewill' as an ability for that sub-system to exhibit some independence from external controlling factors. So, on this level then yes 'we have freewill'. Similarly, freewill can be seen as the mind's internal representation of its ability to evaluate certain options.

However, it isn't true to say that there being no ultimate inherent (independent, separate,) self means that 'we have no freewill'. This is a sort of category error.

There isn't a metaphysical self bouncing around under the control of impersonal cosmic forces like a ping-pong ball in a torrent.

The above realisation renders the question meaningless.

To use Nagarjuna's system, where he eliminates all four possibilities allowed in Indian philosophy:
We don't have freewill
We don't have no freewill
We don't both have and not have freewill
We don'n neither have nor have not freewill

Now, the real Zen part is what's left after these beliefs have been eliminated. What is left?

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger karen said...

Yes, eardrum, simplifying is key. I always try to simplify in all areas. Speech, cooking, my art work, my clothing, furnishings etc. I'm not anti-social, but I don't like to spend a lot of time talking about things that really don't need discussion. Sometimes difficult in the workplace. Likewise I have worked towards a simplified practice. I have a natural tendency towards liking things to be bare bones, so I suppose that helps.

 
At March 31, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

jinzang: The mind is not self-aware. This self-awareness is just another construct that the mind creates.

There are conceptual contructs of what mind is. But awareness is just the ability of the mind to behold objects. And self-awareness is the the ability of the mind to behold itself. Awareness is nothing other than the defining characteristic of mind. As such, it is quite different than any conceptual construct.

The ability of mind to be self-aware is an important point in mahamudra. I can't say it better than my teacher, so let me quote him.

So what is the authentic insight? You experience for yourself what described as the ground and explained as the view. You experience the mind as self-cognizant and that it has had that ability from the beginning. This quality is known as the dharmakaya. Your mind sees its own wisdom, and because of this it involves no ideas or concepts. Your mind simply sees itself. In this self-recognition the mind's qualities are indivisible.

When this insight is achieved, it is experience and knowledge. But it is not conceptual, so you cannot explain it. This nature is self-arisen and self-illuminating. It is glaringly obvious. This is what is meant by insight. But this does not mean that what is recognized is anything new. The recognizing awareness was always there, but was never used. There was never a moment when this self-cognizing awareness was not there. But until blessings entered your heart, it was not recognized. What is resting in even placement and what is still or moving is this same self-cognizing awareness. An ordinary person who has never meditated, their thinking, no matter how deluded, was this self-cognizing awareness. When the mind experiences lucidity and insight, this is the same awareness. Until the self recognition occurs without any division between recognized and recognizer, there will be no awakening. When it occurs, whether your mind is still or moving, everything will arise as mahamudra. Whatever you experience with your senses or mind is not duality or bewilderment. It is only when you mind fixates on it and regards them as other, that it is duality. When the mind is pacified and seen nakedly and no concepts arise, that is insight.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

By the time the mind becomes conscious of itself, the mind has already become something different - changed by time and changed by the process of observation. The mind isn't a thing but a set of changing processes. In so far as it is self-aware it is a feedback loop. And all awareness involves distortion in it's representation. Including and perhaps especially self-representation. Point a video camera at its own minitor and you'll see what I mean.

What they call 'mind experiencing mind' I think is better thought of as 'just being' - the mind is just being itself, not believing its own activity as some absolute truth about philosophy or the world. Just seeing activity as activity and form as form.

 
At April 01, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

jinzang: The ability of mind to be self-aware is an important point in mahamudra.

justin:
What they call 'mind experiencing mind' I think is better thought of as 'just being'

I prefer justin's comment to jinzang's.

I cannot be sure that what I take for self-awareness is nothing more than a construct. I say this because the thing that is doing the looking is the thing that is being looked at and even so there is nothing to look at and nothing to see. So, I treat any concept or thoughts of self-awareness as just another thought with no actual validity.

I would treat Self-awareness of the mind as a Meme even more subtle that the Ego in its deceptiveness.

 
At April 02, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

There is a strand of belief in Buddhism, which - as far as I can tell - is a distortion of one of Buddha's teachings - the Tathagatagarbha doctrine. It is a minority view in Buddhism as a whole (where it is widely regarded as 'heretical') but is AFAIK dominant in contemporary Tibetan Buddhism and shows its face in certain interpretations of the Zen concept of 'original mind'. This is the idea of 'pure consciousness' - that when you strip away everything impermanent and dependent, there is a silent but omnipresent and permanent ultimate entity - 'mind', 'Buddha Mind', 'Big Mind'. If such as mind is taken as an inherent entity this is really a survival of the notion of an ultimate Atman as per Hinduism.

These terms are often just used as teaching methods, but sometimes they are used literally as if they we speaking about an inherently existent entity. It is an extremely easy error to make. This tendency to fixate and reify (to posit ultimates/inherent essences) is one that Nagarjuna warns us against when he teaches the emptiness of emptiness, the emptiness of the Tathagata.

Whatever is the essence of the Tathagata
That is the essence of the world
The Tathagata has no essence
The world is without essence


For me, the definitive response to this interpretation of the Tathagatagarbha doctrine is found in the Lankavatara Sutra:

Then Mahamati said to the Blessed One: In the Scriptures mention is made of the Womb of Tathágata-hood and it is taught that that which is born of it is by nature bright and pure, originally unspotted and endowed with the thirty-two marks of excellence. As it is described it is a precious gem but wrapped in a dirty garment soiled by greed, anger, folly and false-imagination. We are taught that this Buddha-nature immanent in everyone is eternal, unchanging, and auspicious. It is not this, which is born of the Womb of Tathágata-hood the same as the soul-substance that is taught by the philosophers? The Divine Atman as taught by them is also claimed to be eternal, inscrutable, unchanging, and imperishable. Is there, or is there not a difference?

The Blessed One replied: No, Mahamati, my Womb of Tathágata-hood is not the same as the Divine Atman as taught by the philosophers. What I teach is Tathágata-hood in the sense of Dharmakaya, Ultimate Oneness, Nirvana, emptiness, unborn-ness, unqualified ness, devoid of will-effort. The reason why I teach the doctrine of Tathágata-hood is to cause the ignorant and simple-minded to lay aside their fears as they listen to the teaching of ego-less-ness and come to understand the state of non-discrimination and imageless-ness. The religious teaching of the Tathágatas are just like a potter making various vessels by his own skill of hand with the aid of rod, water and thread, out of the one mass of clay, so the Tathágatas by their command of skillful means issuing from Noble Wisdom, by various terms, expressions, and symbols, preach the twofold ego-less-ness in order to remove the last trace of discrimination that is preventing disciples from attaining a self-realization of Noble Wisdom. The doctrine of the Tathágata-womb is disclosed in order to awaken philosophers from their clinging to the notion of a Divine Atman as transcendental personality, so that their minds that have become attached to the imaginary notion of "soul" as being something self-existent may be quickly awakened to a state of perfect enlightenment. All such notions as causation, succession, atoms, primary elements, that make up personality, personal soul, Supreme Spirit, Sovereign God, Creator, are all figments of the imagination and manifestations of mind. No, Mahamati, the Tathágata’s doctrine of the Womb of Tathágata-hood is not the same as the philosopher’s Atman.

 
At April 02, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' - A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata'

 
At May 03, 2006, Blogger Ed said...

I recently attended a weekend sesshin. During a break, I sat in a chair, gazing at a tree.

A bird flew down and rested in the tree. It shifted postition slightly, and I could suddenly no longer distinguish between the bird's outline and the clumps of leaves. The bird and the tree were the same.

Then, one of the clumps of leaves jumped off the tree and flew away -- the bird, now recognizable as a bird again, leaving.

In that small moment, I realized more about non-duality and the impermanence of reality than I had learned in three years of intensive reading.

 

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