Fourteen months ago I had a debate with Zen Master Jeok Myeong in Korea. It illustrates different ways of seeing and teaching the Dharma...
I spent the afternoon with Master Jeok Myeong who is the Seon master of Bongam Sa. He is 78 years old and has never left Korea. We had a lively good humoured debate which, missing out a great deal of detail, could be paraphrased as follows:
Jeok Myeong gave a short exposition on karma then said...
Jeok Myeong: Everything is consciousness
Jeok Myeong: So it is one's choice. Each person can be totally in charge of his or her own life.
[There was quite an extensive discussion here on the implication of Yogacara philosophy)
Brazier: Life, perhaps, but not everything. You cannot make the cup change into something else by act of will.
Jeok Myeong: Agreed. But most people do not realise that it is them living their life.
Brazier: However, we do not even control our own bodies. Birth, ageing, sickness and death happen to us.
Translator (alluding to an earlier conversation, to DB): We had a conversation in which I said that I cannot say Buddha is alive for me, but you said that you could say that.
Translator (to JM): I don't have faith in Buddha like that. I practise in order to be a Buddha.
Jeok Myeong: I am a Buddha. Every person is a Buddha
Brazier: That is one way of teaching, but it runs the danger of promoting arrogance.
Translator: I think it is like this: If I dance, I dance. Even if you are paying me to dance, it is still my choice, right?
Brazier: Yes, it is still your choice. If I said, "If you dance I will kill you," you could still choose to dance, but you would probably go into a cold sweat involuntarily as you saw me taking out my knife.
Jeok Myeong (to translator): Ah! That is not exactly what I meant. Mind is like a mirror. The mirror does not choose or control what comes before it.
Brazier: This seems like a different position. The mirror is passive. It is true in a sense that being simply a mirror one is in charge of one's life because things just pass through, but it is a different kind of control.
Jeok Myeong: If a person believes he is Buddha, then one day he will become Buddha.
Brazier: OK, that is certainly one way to practise. If you firmly believe you are in essence Buddha, then your job is to fill out that identity. However, it is still true that many people make resolutions on January 1st in the morning and think that they are now going to do or be such and such and by the 2nd they have lost it. We are ordinary human beings, but we can have faith in Buddha.
Jeok Myeong: We have different ways of understanding, but if you continue to praise Amitabha Buddha, one day you will be Amitabha Buddha - we shall all be Amitabha Buddha.
We all had coffee together. I enjoyed the man's vitality.
So, if we try to summarise the differences and agreements:
1. Myeong believes that consciousness is all important and controls life. Brazier believes that consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg of the unconscious, or, to put it in more spiritual language, that what appears in consciousness is a symptom of disturbance in the soul.
2. Myeong holds to the idea that we are all originally Buddhas and just need to realise this (realise in understanding and in action). Brazier acknowledges that this is a common way to teach Buddhism, but holds that the idea is incoherent.
3. They agree that we may become Buddhas, but Myeong believes this comes about basically through individual effort whereas Brazier sees it as coming through faith and grace.
4. However, Mteong also believes that the state of Buddha is 'mirror mind' and a mirror is passive - simply a medium that things reflect in or pass through. So there is an implication that the effort required in Myeong's system is the effort needed to become still, like a pool of water. Here they are close to agreement, though in Brazier's conception it is easier to be still as a millpond by having faith than by making effort.
5. So here we see that self-power and other-power have a similar end point, and it is a matter of opinion or experience which route is more efficacious. These two paths correspond to Nagarjuna's "difficult" and "easy".