Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional...

A Buddha’s discourse is beyond the sentient and the non-sentient; it is beyond the relative and the absolute. Even so, when He became aware of bodhisattvas, of ordinary humans, of the Real Form of things, and of this discourse, He opened the Gate of Skillful Means. The Gate of Skillful Means is the unsurpassed meritorious functioning of the fruits of Buddhahood. It is the Dharma that resides in the place of Dharma and It is the form of the world as it constantly manifests. The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill.
~Shobogenzo, Shohō Jissō, Hubert Nearman
“Skillful means” or “expedient means” (upaya) refer to the actual phenomenal form or forms of Buddhism, that is, to all of Buddhism that is actually accessible to human experience. Thus, when used in a general sense, rather than in the context of a particular teaching or technique, “expedient means” is inclusive of the whole range of Buddhist doctrine and methodology. While technically equivalent with “doctrine and methodology,” “skillful means” nevertheless puts greater emphasis on the significance of actual techniques and practical teachings than does more general terms. Also, as when we refer to the expedient means of law, or the skillful means of medicine, for example, referring to the skillful means of Buddhism focuses attention on the actual form or forms of the specific course, path, or way Buddhism is realized in the world.
To clarify and emphasize the significance of the specificity or uniqueness of “expedient means” or “skillful means,” consider, for example; the process of law is only realized (made real) through and as the actual engagement of the skillful means specific to law, medicine through and as the engagement of the skillful means particular to medicine. The manifestation (phenomenal appearance) of law in the world is seen and known as “practicing law,” the manifestation of medicine as “practicing medicine.”
Similarly, the actual manifestation of Buddhism is realized as and through “practicing Buddhism.” In other words, medicine is not realized apart from practicing medicine (exercising its means), law does not exist independent of practicing law, and Buddhism does not appear apart from practicing (engaging the means of) Buddhism. It should go without saying, but for completeness notice; drugs, scalpels, medical procedures, or therapies are not “medicine” apart from the presence of skillful application – independent of actual “practice” such are mere abstractions or, at best artifacts with as much potential to harm as to heal. Recorded codes of lawful conduct, precedents, or policies existing in the absence of means to manifest cannot be considered “law,” and Buddhist scriptures, temples, icons, rituals, practices – even teachers or students – could not be qualified as “Buddhism” in an absence of adequate means for manifestation.
In sum, provisional teachings may be skillful means, but skillful means should not be misunderstood as provisional teachings. Thus Dogen reminds us:
"The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill."
Please treasure yourself,

Monday, October 15, 2012

This Mind Is Buddha

This Mind Is Buddha
From the very beginning Buddhism has emphasized the mental nature of reality. The first verse of the first chapter of the Dhammapada, one of the earliest and most revered expressions of Buddhism, we read:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

~Dhammapada, translated by Thomas Byrom

The title and subject of an early Shobogenzo fascicle exemplifies this Buddhist axiom in Zen terms, Soku Shin Ze Butsu (“This Mind is Buddha”; translated by Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross as, “mind here and now is buddha”).

What every buddha and every patriarch has maintained and relied upon, without exception, is just “mind here and now is buddha.”
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

This fundamental principle of Buddhism is emphasized by Dogen and presupposed in all his writings. The comprehensive, multifaceted Buddhist expressions and teachings on the nature and dynamics of “mind” are some of Buddhism’s most significant contributions to human wisdom; and some of the most commonly misunderstood and misrepresented. Dogen therefore, like other Buddhist masters before and after, dedicated a great deal of time and energy clarifying exactly what Buddhism means when it asserts, “We are what we think, all we are arises with our thoughts, and with our thoughts we make the world.”
By “this mind” in the statement, “This Mind Is Buddha,” Zen means the “one” totality of the “myriad” dharmas – in short, “this mind” is inclusive of everything constituting the “self” (what we are) and “other than self” (the world).

Authentically transmitted like this, it has arrived at the present day. “The mind that has been authentically transmitted” means one mind as all dharmas, and all dharmas as one mind.
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

As one family is all the individual members, and all the individual members are one family, one mind (Buddha) is all dharmas, and all dharmas are one mind. From Dogen’s perspective, these examples are not to be regarded as analogies or similes; each (family) member is integral to the one family, each (particular) dharma is inherent to the one mind. What is Buddha? This mind is Buddha. What is this mind?

Clearly, “mind” is mountains, rivers, and the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Buddha – this mind – is (not is like) mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, moon, and stars. Mind – Buddha – is houses and streets, animals, plants, thoughts and laughter, guns, bombs, corpses, books, cancers, and good deeds.
Mind does not make-up a dharma or dharmas, nor is a dharma or dharmas reducible to mind. Mind as a particular dharma is that dharma as it is, a particular dharma as mind is mind as it is. This tree is mind as it is; that pencil is mind as it is. That this tree or that pencil is mind “as it is,” means there are no hidden qualifiers or meanings – this tree is mind – so much so that even this goes too far; better to simply say “this tree.” That pencil is mind with nothing added, not even “is mind,” thus simply, “that pencil.” As Dogen says:

Mind as mountains, rivers, and the earth is nothing other than mountains, rivers, and the earth. There are no additional waves or surf, no wind or smoke. Mind as the sun, the moon, and the stars is nothing other than the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross