Dharma Talk: Monday, June 22nd 2009
Tonight we are going to be speaking about the concept of Dualities in Buddhism, and hopefully begin to see that there can be a marriage between Mahayahan and Theravadan thought on the matter. Since I am the most familiar with the writings of Zen Master Dogen and the early Pali Canon, I will be reading selected writings from both of these schools of thought tonight.
One of my favorite quotes from Dogen that address duality from a Zen perspective is as follows,
“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others. — Dogen ” — The Manifestation of the Koan, Shobo-genzo
Another for our topic, is from the Shusho-gi.
For those interested in history, the Shusho-gi was actually compiled about 600 years after Dogen’s death, but is still considered to a Zen writing of upmost importance. What is most important about the Shusho-gi is not found within its content, but rather, is in its intent. Its content is basic, a rudimentary summary of Dogen’s larger work (the Shobogenzo), but they reason why it was produced is in and of itself extraordinary. Certain Zen monks and Masters in Japan began teaching the practice to commoners, to those outside of the monasteries, and began encouraging regular people to take up a home practice. They also began to treat these lay workers as valid members of their Buddhist community, and exalted the role and position of lay-workers in the practice. When some other Buddhist sects in the region began to scorn this idea, calling it “farmer zen” they called out for them to correct this “mistake” of taking Buddhism outside of the monasteries. Now, how did these Zen leaders respond? Instead of shying away from it, they opted to start producing reading materials and teachings that they commoners could understand and that they could take home with them to read, outside of the libraries of the monasteries which were normally off-limits to the common people. They decided to officially open the practice up to and embrace the lay-worker and the non-monk Buddhist.
The following is taken from the first chapter of the Susho-gi,
“The thorough understanding of what enlightenment and delusion is—this is the most important question facing all Buddhists. If the Buddha lives both within enlightenment delusion, then where does delusion exist? Simply understand that enlightenment and delusion are both in themselves Nirvana; there being then, neither delusion to be hated nor Nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, you will be freed from enlightenment and delusion. Realize that this understanding is of the utmost importance.”
So, in keeping this text in mind, where is there not-Buddha? Where is there not Buddha-nature, the potential for enlightenment? If the Buddha is everywhere then the Buddha is in enlightenment, and in delusion. This being the case, is there really such a thing as delusion to hate, a body to hate, a mind to hate? This being the case, is there really such a thing as enlightenment to love, to attain, to strive for? Somewhere and somehow being freed from this concept of duality brings a freedom that is part of the enlightenment experience itself.
But how can this non-duality in any way come to terms with earlier Buddhist writings that appear to be so dualistic in nature?
If, to study the self is to forget the self, then a study of the self is necessary before one can move on to the forgetting of oneself. I must know before one can forget. We, as human beings, cannot simply start at the point of non-self, non-dualities, non-thought, non-striving. To start at the end is impossible for most; instead we start at the beginning. The beginning is to meditate, still the mind, live a contemplative life, and study the self thoroughly. We see which thoughts, desires, emotions, actions arise and we inspect them—continually letting go and further refining the process until it becomes less and less.
This check, comparison, introspection, and effort may seem like striving or grasping to us… and it is. However, it is “skillful grasping”. It is a sort of grasping that is necessary for the study of self that moves us skillfully along the path, until we are able quiet ourselves to the point of this effort no longer being necessary. It is a vehicle that we use to cross over, and then must know when to let go of, or maybe that just naturally happens?
If we are to constantly study and know the self so that we may forget the self, then what do we compare the self against? There are times in which we know our good intent and our bad intent, but there are other times that a deluded mind is unable to know the difference between delusion and truth. So what do we do in these cases? What do we take refuge in? We take refuge in the Buddha. We take refuge in the Sangha. We take refuge in the Dharma (Buddhist scriptures).
When checking ourselves as deluded or contemplative, we need additional insight and a standard by which to measure ourselves against. We need a Sangha that can offer us advice; we need a Master that we can trust to give us proper insight, and we also have a vast resource available to us of Buddhist scriptures that we can use to help us see the difference between deluded self and non-deluded self.
Keep in mind though, that in both Zen and in Theravada practices this is a vehicle to use towards forgetting self. We use duality skillfully so that one day we can move past these dualities.
To end this part of the discussion I am now going to give a reading from the first chapter of the Dhammapada—one of the oldest texts available to us in Buddhist literature. For those unfamiliar with the Dhammapada, think of it as a book of Buddhist Proverbs—a collection of wise sayings attributed to the Buddha. Many modern Buddhists consider the Dhammapada to be a bit “old-school” since it deals mostly with proper ethics for a follower of the Way, but I believe that it is still an important text that may be grossly misunderstood today due to its translation, and due to our misunderstanding on how the perceived duality here does come to an end—that the end-goal is still the surpassing of these dualities. I believe that it can be a useful tool to use in the studying of ourselves to forget ourselves, and in studying the Way so that we can forget the Way.
CHAPTER I: THE TWIN-VERSES (Dualities)
Translation by The New Heretics
(1) As one thinks, so one acts. All that we do is led by our minds, and is made by our minds. If one speaks or acts with suffering in their mind, suffering follows, as the wheels of a wagon follow the horse that pulls it.
(2) As one thinks, so one acts. All that we do is led by our minds, and is made by our minds. If one speaks or acts with a tranquil mind, happiness follows, as a shadow follows a traveler on a sunny day.
(3) “I was hurt, I was mistreated, I was defeated, I was wronged!” For those who cannot let go of such things, their pain will never cease.
(4) “I was hurt, I was mistreated, I was defeated, I was wronged!” For those who learn to let go of such things, their pain ceases.
(5) For harboring hatred for those who hurt you does not get rid of pain, it only adds to it. Suffering can only be ended by non-suffering; the cycle must be broken with kindness. This is an ancient truth.
(6) Most do not live in the realization that life is short. For those who fully realize this, quarrels become unimportant.
(7) One who lives for seeking out pleasures, is over-indulgent, uncontrolled, unrestrained, full of laziness and apathy, is easily broken by hard-times and temptation, just as a little wind can easily break a weak and hollow tree.
(8) One who does not live seeking out pleasures, is moderate, controlled, restrained, not afraid of hard work and devout, cannot be easily broken by hard-times and temptation, just as a great wind cannot move a mountain.
(9) The robe does not make the monk. If the one wearing the robe lacks self-control and honesty, they are unworthy of such a robe.
(10) The monk makes the robe. If the one wearing the robe has self-control, honesty, is well established in our virtues, they are worthy of such a robe.
(11) Those who consider the unimportant things in life to be important and the truly important as unimportant will never find that which is important, for they were looking in the wrong place all along.
(12) However, those who correctly see the important as important and the unimportant as unimportant will find the important, knowing where to begin looking for it.
(13) Were you lazy when you built your house, or diligent? As rain will still find a way through a poorly-made roof, corrupting the house, so Want will find its way into an unreflective mind.
(14) Were you lazy when you built your house, or diligent? As rain cannot find a way through a well-made roof, and into the house, so Want cannot find its way into a well-reflective mind.
(15) For those who do wrong to others it will only end in grief, grief in the present, grief in the future. In both states there is grief; from seeing the suffering that they have caused, from having to live with what they have done.
(16) For those who do well to others there is much rejoicing, rejoicing in the present, rejoicing in the future. In both states there is joy; seeing one’s own pure acts bear fruit brings joy and delight.
(17) Those who do wrong suffer in the present, suffer in the future. In both states there is suffering. Tormented today by the thought, “I have done wrong”, tormented tomorrow, by falling into the cycle of suffering.
(18) Those who do well to others delight in the present, delight in the future. In both states there is delight. Here they are delighted knowing, “I have treated others well”, and tomorrow, in entering the cycle of bliss.
(19) One, who studies the teachings, memorizes them, quotes them often but, doesn’t do what they say, is like a banker, surrounded by other people’s wealth, counting it as their own, deluding themselves into thinking that they are now rich. Such a person does not gain any real benefit from their studies.
(20) One, who knows little, but still lives according to the Dharma, free of grasping, hate, and delusions; aware of the Four Noble Truths, not clinging to this life or the next, such a person, will gain the benefits of the contemplative life.
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