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April 26, 2020


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We are saddled with the six senses the most troubling being the last or the 'manas' from whence come our thoughts—the world of mentation (this includes our imagination). If we don't transcend this we have not touched spirit. We have no idea what the Buddha is talking about. We see the waves (thoughts) but not the water (spirit).

This is the sense that Zen works on through it koans and other means.

"The three realms arise, all return to first mind (spirit) Buddhas before and Buddhas after (or: from Shakyamuni to Maitreya), use mind to transmit to mind, they do not use language."

When thought (configured spirit) is stopped (nirodha) one beholds spirit. This is what Buddhas teach. Short of this realization, one is spinning their tires in the mud.

Great comment.


First I would like to say I am glad to see that you are recovering from your stroke and wish you well for the future. I very much appreciate what you have been posting on your website and hope that you reach a larger audience as appreciation for what you do grows. I do wonder how it strikes people who are not especially drawn to Buddhism that there are so many different strands of discussion winding to and fro. Probably it doesn’t seem at all unusual when viewed from the perspective of other traditions, especially the Abrahamic religions. Ruptures, schisms, and conflicts have been the historical pattern there, so regional separations in Buddhism would not signify much from that perspective. On the other hand, I do think all human beings could do far better in developing channels of negotiation between the various teachings with the avowed purpose of peace.

Buddhism should really be exemplary in propagating a manner of discourse in which statements do not rest their authority on drawing differences and establishing principles of exclusion. The difficulties here are not inherent in the teachings, but rather in the institution of learning, and still more in the intellectual inheritance to which they have given rise. Schools compete, and then theories do too. There was an interesting model for overcoming this proposed by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel at the end of the 18th century in a text he called the New Mythology. In brief, his point was that almost all our metaphysical statements should be understood the way we understand fictions, whose meaning we derive through the process of comparing them as allegories and metaphors. He only later became a scholar of Sanskrit and explored another world of representations, but one can see his career as a consistent thread of investigation into the nature of discourse through its limitations.

The closer one examines the original conversations recorded with the views by which Gautama engages with his many and varied interlocutors, the more one realizes that he never turns language into the vehicle of a final and definitive form for his insight. His message operates subtractively, always nudging his listeners to see that the transformation undertaken in crossing over the flood does not literally mirror a spatial change, nor does the array of different feelings does amount a literal count and number of alternatives. And in all cases in which it might look as though the condition we aspire to in dharma might resemble a material metaphor, like an island, it is not this. However we might expound an image, it is not this and not that either. Neti, neti. In my own case, I was invited at a very early age – initially far too young to understand what I was being taught directly – to pay attention to the Ānanda Sutta and the gap in speech that it contains. As I grew up, that gap remained as the heartwood of my awareness. Unfortunately, or perhaps merely ironically, that remains as an odd obstacle to my discourse with the many groups and individuals who have embraced a positive and determinate view of Buddhism here where I live in Madison, Wisconsin. If I try to nudge them away from asserting a literal position to define the nature of the group, then of course I am invited to leave. One would say they are immersed in forms, and of course one does not want to suggest that this why the holy life is not possible. To communicate adequately, would have to go back to the very beginning, the root of discourse. As Goethe once remarked, until one has learned a second language, one does not understand one’s own.

As a child, I was encouraged to remember that Gautama was not a “Buddhist” any more than Karl Marx was a Marxist. That world of divisions and oppositions comes later for the Dharma as it does for any quality of hope. One learns to progress to an origin. I must say I particular liked your use of the simile likening waves and water to spirit and thought. The image in the original sutras of consciousness without surface, radiant all around, precedes that nicely. That which arises in the continuity extending truly from that origination does not contain the seeds of division and opposition within itself. And that would be the teaching in its simplest expression.

So I thank you very much for what you are doing and hope it prospers in every way.

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