Middle Way Solution

Affliction is anything one has an emotional attachment to. Once there is no such involvement, it is not an affliction. But this might be mistaken for lack of emotions and apathetic detachment.

Afflictions are already empty as they are. So there is no need to do anything with them. But this might be mistaken for embracing delusion.

Realistically, we can neither turn into robots nor keep our dissatisfying mindset. Thus the usual resignation that buddhahood is something far far away, that we are all sinful humans who can only hope for salvation from some higher being. That is one valid solution in Buddhism offered in Mahayana.

But I like to believe that there is another way. And that way is total relinquishment of subject, object and action. In other words: there is nobody to do anything. With a positive tone: everything is fine as it is. Translating it back to the basic terminology: the answer to dissatisfaction is not in satisfying it but dropping the wish itself. Although that sounds like we need to do something (drop the wish), that is not exactly true. To give up all hope one only needs to see that the goal is false. And that is realising that nobody can do anything. As Guanyin says in the Heart Sutra: "Due to non-acquisition, the bodhisattva, having relied on Perfect Wisdom, dwells without mental obstruction. From the non-existence of mental obstruction, he is fearless, he overcomes inverted erroneous views, and ultimately reaches Nirvāṇa."



Both Theravada and Mahayana aim for no attachment to the five aggregates and six senses, thus one is unbound. According to Theravada after parinirvana there is nothing to say, since even before that there is no individual to point to. Mahayana says that because of compassion bodhisattvas and buddhas do not leave samsara, nor do they enter nirvana, but because they have realised the emptiness of appearances they can function without being affected. So actually both affirm that there is no individual entity to be bound.

As we can see, they can accuse each other with wrong views: Hinayana is annihilationist, Mahayana is eternalist. But as actually everyone is aware, the topic of the existence or non-existence of the Tathagata after death is a question based on the incorrect assumption of self.

There is really no establishment of various vehicles, and so I speak of the one vehicle; but in order to carry the ignorant I talk of a variety of vehicles.
(Lankavatara Sutra, 2.56, tr Suzuki)


See Nature and Become Buddha

To know that the world is entirely everything that is experienced is to turn toward our actual living reality. To see that without exception experiences come and go, they are unstable, is to comprehend the nature of reality. When an experience - a physical impression, an emotion, an idea - is grasped, that is where something imaginary is created, and within that imagined realm all sorts of craving and hatred can occur, thus with grasping comes dissatisfaction, and with dissatisfaction further pain ensues. To be free from all that trouble caused by grasping is to see the world for what it is: unstable experiences only imagined to be reliable, true and personal. As it is perfectly clear the moment you look at the ongoing experiences, there is nothing that endures, nothing reliable, consequently no matter what view seems true, it is necessarily construed, and no matter what feels yourself, it is necessarily an unreliable mental image.

Although it may be clear that the whole reality is only unreliable experiences, one can be shocked to inactivity and uncertainty about what to do then, or one can turn that realisation into a concept about the world and then easily forget about it the next moment. Actually, both are products of thoughts, one falling into the extreme of nothingness (not thinking of anything), and the other into the extreme of objectification (thinking of something). But thoughts come and go anyway, just like everything else. They are not the cause of dissatisfaction and suffering. Imagining them to be reliable and personal are the real culprits. But if you try to think of them as unreal, that's fighting against shadows.

Do not expect to get all the answers from words. Not because words are somehow deficient, but because life is too complicated and relying only on teachings is tiresome. Rather just see the nature of reality for yourself and then experiment. Be open and aware to whatever comes and goes. Know that what is imagined exists in a context, everything is always interdependent - i.e. one thought has innumerable thoughts behind it and can generate innumerable other thoughts. The meaning of a single thought depends on the meaning of all the other thoughts. Since no meaning can be found in only a single thought, many meaningless thoughts still make no meaning. Nevertheless, everything looks meaningful. That's the illusion of the imagined world.

So, relax and experiment. Life is just life. You already have many skills and know how to eat and sleep. Beyond that, you fall from one mental complication into another. Just as you don't put your hand in fire, so you should see that different thoughts lead to different experiences. Anyway, this is just one small post, not a treatise on everything. There are all sorts of resources to turn to for more words. Besides that, just see experiences for what they are, that way you stop making a fuss.


Zen Stages or No Stages

On one hand, there is just morality, meditation, and wisdom. On the other hand, it is a cardinal point of the Zen teachings that unlike the so called gradual path, it is a direct one.

If we just go and break down the immediate path to the bodhisattva way, that's basically calling Zen's bluff and bursting its bubble of fancy rhetoric. That is, in my view, perfectly fine, but then it should also be accepted that once the veneer is blown away the whole Zen set up is untenable, and the so called masters of present and past are nothing more than clowns.

Or we can take the message seriously and consider the possibility that there is more to Bodhidharma's arrival than entertaining words. If the mind transmission actually means something, this is not found in historical records, written words, meditation practice, or nice robes with cool titles. It is simply realising for oneself that all experiences are empty and unattainable. That insight is of course no different from what the sutras and the gradual path teaches. The question then is: how can one go directly instead of by stages? That's what all the Zen teachings are the answer for. Anyone can easily confirm that no bodily or mental occurrence remains for a moment, and it is only out of ignorance of this simple truth that one pointlessly attempts to hold on to something and experience dissatisfaction. So the mind is indeed originally pure and can never be tainted. Therefore, engaging in any kind of cultivation is not only meaningless but actually contra-productive and misleading.

What may be lacking to put a finger on the subitism of Zen is the general context of everyday life either in a monastery or as a lay person. That's a false impression texts (and films) can make, as inevitably the whole picture cannot be included into a few pages, not to mention all the things that were evident for contemporary readers. Basically, Zen is not a separate school or organisation, but exists as a (small) part of the larger East Asian tradition where monastics follow the precepts and perform rituals, and the laity visits the monastery to gain merit and hear some chanting. It's like high brow theology for everyday church goers and parish priests.


Real Mark Buddha Remembrance

In Chinese Pure Land you find the four types of buddha-remembrance (四種念佛), and among them the real-mark (i.e. ultimate) buddha-remembrance (實相念佛). See a brief explanation here.

The Zen explanation of that practice is from Daoxin, the fourth patriarch, in his "Fundamental Expedient Teachings for Calming the Mind Which Attains Enlightenment" (T85n2837p1286c19), who sums up the definition of yixin sanmei as "the mind which is aware of the Buddha is the Buddha, whereas [the mind which] does false thinking is the ordinary person" (tr. David W. Chappell), based on the Manjusri PP Sutra. After that he quotes the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue (T09n0277p0393b10-11): "The ocean of impediment of all karmas / Is produced from one's false imagination. / Should one wish to repent of it / Let him sit upright and meditate on the true aspect [of reality]." (tr. Bunno Kato) And here meditation on the true aspect is "念實相", i.e. (using the translation above) remembering/thinking real-mark. Further on repentance, or rather formless repentance, there is the 6th chapter of the Platform Sutra. Then Daoxin (tr. Chappell) continues:

"The Dapinjing [couldn't find what it actually refers to, but an almost identical teaching is found in the first volume of the Fozangjing T15n0653p785a25] says: "No object of thought (wu-suo-nian) means to be thinking on Buddha (nianfo)."
Why is it called wu-suo-nian? It means the mind which is "thinking on Buddha" is called thinking on no object (wu-suo-nien). Apart from mind there is no Buddha at all. Apart from Buddha there is no mind at all. Thinking on Buddha is identical to the thinking mind. To seek the mind means to seek for the Buddha.
Why is this? Consciousness is without form. The Buddha lacks any outer appearance. When you understand this truth, it is identical to calming the mind (anxin). If you always are thinking on Buddha, grasping [onto externals] does not arise, [and everything] disappears and is without form, and thinking is impartial without [false] discrimination. To enter into this state, the mind which is thinking on Buddha disappears, and further it is not even necessary to indicate [the mind as Buddha]. When you see this, your mind is none other than the body of the real and true nature of the Tathagata."

Uchiyama's zazen is letting go of thoughts, what Dogen calls hishiryo, what the Platform Sutra calls no-thought (wunian). It is the same as real-mark nianfo. Not anything complicated. But whether one manages to abide by not abiding anywhere is another question.


Zero, One, Two, Six

Wisdom and samadhi cannot be separated, just as wisdom and compassion cannot be separated. The wisdom that is without samadhi and/or compassion is not the wisdom of the buddhas, but rather some ideology, emptiness grasped incorrectly.

I don't mean ultimately. It is more a matter of how those words are defined. On the one hand, there is the path of sila-samadhi-prajna. On the other hand, there is the unity of samadhi-prajna in the Platform Sutra, or Keizan's statement "Zazen is also not based upon discipline, practice, or wisdom. These three are all contained within it." And even the PP8000 (3.4) says, "The five perfections are in this manner contained in the perfection of wisdom, and the term ‘perfection of wisdom’ is just a synonym for the fulfillment of the six perfections. In consequence, when the perfection of wisdom is proclaimed, all the six perfections are proclaimed." At the same time, Dazhu Huihai writes, "People who are confused or deluded do not understand that the other five paramitas all evolve from the dana-paramita. Therefore, in practicing the dana-paramita, one also fulfills the practice of the other five paramitas." How does all this work? Nagarjuna explained it in the MPPU (p 41-45) that one can cultivate any one of the six that includes all the others, or can focus on one or two paramitas and thus cultivate the rest, or it is also possible to cultivate none and thus realise all.

In the case of the immediate enlightenment of Zen, there are no stages or levels, everything is included in the single realisation of no-mind. Talking of the general teachings for bodhisattvas is another matter.

As Dogen said, zazen is dropping body and mind. It means that, as you can always see for yourself, that all physical and mental experiences are impermanent, they don't last even for a second. Dropping them is not creating an issue, not taking a position. On the other hand, if one takes up a gradual training, instead of practising enlightenment, then I think it should be done properly, following the well established tradition, like the instructions found in Zhiyi's Smaller Samatha-Vipasyana treatise or some others. It is better to be clear about the methods being used, otherwise they bear no fruit.


With Superpowers to Enlightenment

What may seem mystical and supernatural in Buddhism are generally about the inner world. Just consider how the various heavens are connected to different levels of absorption (see here). The various visions of the world can be summed up in what is called the five eyes, where the first one is our ordinary eye, and the second one is where all the supernatural things can be seen, while the other three are actually different levels of wisdom. Karma also is something that operates within one's inner world, defining one's perception of things and what could be called one's personality.

With a materialist ideology the entire inner world of one's mind is disregarded as if it had never existed. But we all experience thoughts, emotions, dreams, visions and various mental states. In fact, the concepts of materialism are also mental creations. Every experience one can have is within the mind, otherwise there is no consciousness of the experience and as such it cannot be called an experience. Since suffering/dissatisfaction exist within experience, it is within the realm of experience where one needs to look for solutions. Similarly, dreams and visions are also experiences, no different from ordinary events, like drinking a cup of tea. The difference is that while common people rarely encounter anything beyond the everyday worldly experiences, those who engage in spiritual cultivation - like meditation - can and often do have so called other-worldly experiences. Those other-worldly events are then reflected in the teachings and numerous stories that modern people easily and unthinkingly disregard as myths.

It is actually not particularly difficult to get in touch with the mystical side of our world. What it takes is to move our attention from the outside world of ordinary experiences to the inner realm. Normally the path to do that in Buddhism is to gain a firm foothold within the basic levels of absorption, that is, to be capable of maintaining a stable, calm and attentive mind at your will. There are other ways as well, generally not used by Buddhists, because those are not really conducive to liberation. Once one has a fairly good command of one's mind, it is then a matter of directing one's attention toward a particular topic or area of investigation. It can be used for the cultivation of the six supernormal powers (e.g. AN 5.28), while in Mahayana it is applied to so called visualisation practices, where one can visit buddhas and buddha-lands (e.g. Pratyutpanna-samadhi Sutra). Used properly, one can gain the benefits of both concentration and insight.