Saturday 21st May
The dewdrop bejewels the grass in the dazzling early morning sunshine, bringing forth the promise of a sunny day ahead.
Yesterday we were again at Oasis for the weekly service. In his dharma talk Dharmavidya gave a new perspective on the classic teaching of sila, samadhi, prajna sometimes referred to as the “three higher trainings of Mahayana” and traditionally regarded as being a sequential teaching, a teaching that can be mapped onto marga or the Noble Eightfold Path. In this way of thinking behavioural discipline (sila) creates conditions for mental training (samadhi) that leads to cognitive acuity (prajna). There is acknowledgement however in later interpretations such as those associated with the Yogacara that the three do interrelate and are cultivated together (see Lusthaus, D 2002).
Dharmavidya talked about how sila (the moral rules, as enshrined for example in the pratimoksha) and Samadhi (the practice of meditation and training of the mind) can both be seen within the scope of worldly cultivation and achievement. In this way the development of both as practices never ends – in other words we can always do better, improve morally and ethically, and become finer meditators. The trap with both of these practices is that we get caught up in what essentially is a “self-improvement project” – albeit in this case a project with some admirable outcomes. However this is quite different to prajna (most often translated as wisdom), Dharmavidya explains. Whilst the former two practices are gradually cultivated prajna is a sudden cutting through to the truth, a penetrating wisdom when one is empty of self and by virtue of the Other Power of the Buddha. This is not a wisdom that can be cultivated but rather happens at the point at which we realise the futility of cultivating such practices. It is of a wholly other nature.
The story of Takuan and Basso is relevant here. In the story Takuan encounters Basso sitting in meditation. He has been sitting for many hours. Takuan says to Basso: “why are you sitting meditating?” Basso says “I am meditating so as to become a Buddha.” At this Takuan takes up a tile and a stone and starts rubbing the former with the latter. Basso distracted by this says, “master why are you rubbing that tile with a stone?” Takuan says: ”so as to make it into a mirror.” Basso responds “you can’t make a mirror from a tile by rubbing it with a stone!” Takuan says: “and yet you think you can become a Buddha by meditating?” Basso has the insight of prajna. You could say for Basso the tile becomes a mirror in which he sees reflected his true nature or the true nature of things: rupa (self) becomes dharma (empty of self). We are all mirrors in this way. I very much like the symbolism of the mirror in the way it is used here. The other day Adam pointed out that quantum mechanics demonstrates how the reflection in a mirror is a pale or dimmed visual image of the object reflected. Materially that seems convincing theory. However in the way the mirror is being referred to in this context we might accept that what is reflected back is indeed an altered image and if we only see 'the self' reflected (mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?) then what we have is merely a view of our delusion, the self rupa we could say. On the other hand if we shift the mirror slightly towards the sun when looking into it, sometimes to the extent that we are blinded by the light, but certainly to the extent that the sharper image of ourselves is momentarily lost then there is prajna. Ergo, we see the reflection of our ordinary nature shattered by the brightness of the Tathagata’s light and its brightness can shoot off in a thousand different directions. This is what I think Dharmavidya meant by us all being mirrors. Although we might just as well say we are all tiles!
Another image is that of ordinary beings being cracked pots. I like the association to ‘crack pot’, meaning a person who is slightly unhinged or even crazy, but also in the way it is used to refer to ideas, as in ‘that’s a crack pot idea’. I like it because it also refers to doing something that runs counter to the ordinary, challenges the status quo (and of course risks ridicule) but also may well be inspirational and introduce a new wisdom into the world. In the Zen Buddhist canon many of the masters from the past say and do things that make them appear as crack pots. And yet what they say and do often turns out to be - for the person they are encountering - the very thing that cuts through delusion to bring about the sudden penetrating wisdom of prajna.
This morning at breakfast we talked about how history has shown certain figures from the last century to be pivotal in the development of human understanding. We also wondered together who might be the thinkers from our own age who will prove influential in the same way in generations to come. In this context we could say that Freud, Jung, Trungpa, Rogers, Bowlby, Klein were all most certainly crack pots.
As Pure Land Buddhists we may well change the nature of the narrative but the conclusion is much the same. We are all crack(ed) pots and it is only through having cracks that the light can get in to illuminate the empty darkness inside. The illuminating light is Amitabha and the 'lit up inside' Sukhavati. The dewdrops atop each blade of grass have disappeared. New ones will reappear and again glisten in the sunshine in days to come.
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