Perfect Wisdom (Heinrich Dumoulin)

Perfect Wisdom (from Zen Buddhism: A History, volume 1, by Prof. Heinrich Dumoulin S.J., translated by James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter, New York 1988):

In the Prajñaparamita sutras the significance of wisdom for the pursuit of salvation is evident. It is wisdom that sets the wheel of doctrine in motion. The new doctrine of the Wisdom school is thus considered by Mahayana to be the ‘second turning of the Dharma wheel’, second in importance only to the first teachings preached by Shakyamuni.

The Prajñaparamita sutras also set forth the evangel of the Buddha by claiming silence as their highest and most valid expression. Wisdom, all-knowing and all-penetrating, is deep, inconceivable and ineffable, transcending all concepts and words. Most important, wisdom sees through the ’emptiness’ (shunyata) of all things (dharma). Everything existing is always ’empty’. The broad horizon of meaning enveloping this word, which occurs throughout the sutras, suggests that, in the attempt to grasp its content, feeling must take precedence over definition. In the Heart Sutra, the shortest of the Prajñaparamita texts, wisdom is related to the five ‘skandhas’, the constitutive elements of human beings, and to all things contained in them. The sutra is recited daily in both Zen and other Mahayana temples, often repeated three times, seven times, or even more. In drawn out, resounding tones the endless chanting echoes through the semidark halls (…)

In the Wisdom sutras the stress is put on demonstrating the doctrine of the emptiness of ‘inherent nature’ (svabhava). Free of all inherent nature and lacking any quality or form, things are ‘as they are’ – they are ’empty’. Hence, emptiness is the same as ‘thusness’ (tathata), and because all things are empty, they are also the same. Whatever can be named with words is empty and equal. Sameness (samata) embraces all material and psychic things as part of the whole world of becoming that stands in opposition to undefinable Nirvana. In emptiness, Nirvana and Samsara are seen to be the same. The identity of emptiness, thusness, and sameness embraces the entire Dharma realm (dharmadhatu). Like the Dharma realm, Perfect Wisdom is unfathomable and indestructible. Here the doctrine on wisdom reaches its culmination.

Of special importance for Zen is the fact that Perfect Wisdom reveals the essence of enlightenment. As a synonym for emptiness and thusness, enlightenment is neither existence nor nonexistence; it cannot be described or explained. “Just the path is enlightenment; just enlightenment is the path” (Conze, Selected Sayings – see advayavada.org/excerpts.htm for more relevant excerpts).

Advayavada Study Plan – week 34

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 34] Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. In weeks 27 to 31 we again treated the preliminary subjects, in week 32 we again honestly reviewed and took stock of our personal situation (first step on the Noble Eightfold Path), in week 33 we again took an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course (second step), and to continue with this quarter’s 13-week Advayavada Study Plan, this week we shall again put our decision and improved objective in writing as precisely as possible. This task is based on the third step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-vacha (in Pali) or samyag-vac (in Sanskrit), in Advayavada Buddhism’s fully personalized usage: our very best enunciation or definition of our intention; in Dutch: onze beste uitleg (de derde stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 33

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 33] In week 32 we again honestly reviewed and took stock of our personal situation at this time, and to continue with this quarter’s 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP), this week we shall again take an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course. This task is based on the 2nd step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-sankappa (Pali) or samyak-samkalpa (Sanskrit), in Advayavada Buddhism: our very best resolution or determination; in Dutch: onze beste beslissing (de tweede stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience; adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths suffice to start off and proceed on the Path at any time. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

An Interesting Week (Stephen Schettini)

It’s been an interesting week. Several of my former companions in Tibetan Buddhism have written scathingly of me, As I type, they huddle together against my onslaught. The funny thing is that I had no idea it was an onslaught until they started screaming.
In hopes of starting a thoughtful discussion, I’d suggested that for all we know the Buddha may never have existed. As with Jesus of Nazareth, there’s not much evidence one way or the other, and either religious founder might be a successful invention.
I was just saying.
This upset one of them so much he actually claimed to not remember me. He contradicted my every memory and photographic proof. I don’t think he forgot me; I think he was trying to unremember me. He was sounding desperate.
Another was furious because I invited him to a webinar about ‘breaking dependency on spiritual teachers and beliefs.’ He took it as a personal insult, and has been posting rambling, sarcastic posts ever since, some of them here on my timeline.
Cronies jumped right on board and accepted his lopsided version like a pack of chortling schoolboys. These are grown men in their 50s and 60s who used to call me friend. They claim the Dalai Lama as their role-model. From their point of view my apostasy destines me for aeons of torture in the vajra hells, but they don’t seem to care. I’m a jerk and a spoilsport.
Unfortunately for them, I am but one of a growing tide. We call ourselves ex-Buddhists, former-Buddhists or recovering Buddhists, but for short perhaps we could be the Buddhist Jerks. Our vision of what the Buddha meant couldn’t be more different from the fearful religion of my attackers.
The sort of Buddhism in which modern educated people adopt a medieval Asian culture is a dead end. Forty-odd years ago we were young and idealistic and thought it was the future, but we were wrong. While these zealots practice sophisticated rituals that would blow the Buddha’s mind, others among us have been working to interpret him as a human being whose message speaks loud and clear.
What he taught needs to make sense for the life we’re living here and now. Otherwise what’s the point? Somehow it must take root it in this insanely pluralistic, digitally accelerated, self-destructive monster of consumer capitalism that we call home.
When the Dalai Lama and his monks build their sand mandalas and blow their long horns, it all seems quite natural. It’s their inherited culture. They’re doing what Tibetans do.
When non-Tibetans try to share in that medieval simplicity, simplicity is the first casualty. They don’t fit in. They stick out like sore thumbs. They are weird.
When I felt weird in my crimson robes and shaven head, I had to suppress it in order to pursue my career as a monk. Eventually I and others like me reached a breaking point.
These few did not. Just like you and me, they’re products of a modern, sceptical, scientific education. Even if we only did secondary school we’re irreversibly non-medieval. Perhaps these boys have forgotten that what tossed them into Buddhism in the first place was a rejection of their own inherited religion (or atheism). With them, the Buddha’s quest to transcend ideologies has become just another ideology to hang on to and defend.
We the jerks do not study the Buddha for his certainties and guarantees but for precisely the opposite—we are learning to thrive in the clear understanding that no belief system will ever be ultimately true, and that there is nothing to defend. ~ Stephen Schettini, on Facebook.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 32

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 32] When the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path as taught in Advayavada Buddhism is followed conscientiously, it becomes nothing less than the main karmic factor in one’s life, i.e. in one’s fleeting share in the universal interdependent origination process (madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada) which brings forth wondrous overall existence. The 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year for this lofty purpose: in weeks 27 to 31 we therefore again treated the preliminary subjects and, to continue with the current third quarter of 2016, in week 32 we shall again honestly review and take stock of our personal situation at the present time. This task is based on the 1st step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-ditthi (Pali) or samyag-dristi (Sanskrit), in Advayavada Buddhism: our very best comprehension or insight; in Dutch: ons beste inzicht (de eerste stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 31

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 31] In Secular Buddhism generally, firmly bearing in mind the impermanence of everything and the selflessness and emptiness of all things, the focus is on the correct interpretation and realization of the historical Buddha’s so-called ‘four noble truths’: 1) the truth of the ubiquity of existential suffering in the world, 2) the truth that ignorant craving and attachment are the actual and immediate causes of such suffering, 3) the truth that this suffering shall cease altogether when we deal with and overcome its causes, and 4) the truth that the sure way to achieve this is by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which, in Advayavada Buddhism, is understood dynamically, as an ongoing and fully autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight, reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time in its manifest direction, this evolution or progress being, then, the fourth sign or mark or basic fact of being. It is composed stepwise of (1) our very best (samma in Pali and samyak in Sanskrit) comprehension or insight, followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition (of our intention), (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to (1) a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 30

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 30] Human beings are essentially prone to existential suffering (see week 29) because they wrongly strive after and try to hold on to things, concepts and situations which they believe to be permanent, but are not. Their mistaken view of things is produced by a thirst, craving or clinging (tanha in Pali, trishna in Sanskrit) which is in turn caused by their fundamental ignorance (avijja in Pali, avidya in Sanskrit) or disbelief of the true nature of existence, particularly the changeability of everything (see week 27) and the selflessness and emptiness of all things (see week 28). This thirst, craving or clinging, which is the second noble truth of Buddhism, can moreover easily take on a more unwholesome form: already as sensuous desire, ill-will, laziness, impatience or distrust will it seriously hinder the individual’s efforts to better his or her circumstances, as well as contaminate the efforts of others to improve theirs. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 29

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 29] Dukkha (Pali) or duhkha (Sanskrit) means suffering, sorrow, dissatisfaction, frustration, anxiety, or stress; the ubiquity of suffering is the third of the three, in Advayavada Buddhism, four signs or marks or basic facts of being, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (see week 27), the selflessness and emptiness of all things (see week 28), and evolution or, in human terms, progress. Suffering is also the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism, which, in Advayavada Buddhism, does not include emotional grief nor physical pain, and is, above all, not seen as a permanent feature of reality; it is chiefly understood as the existential distress and distrust of life non-liberated human beings are prone to, and which is essentially caused by the unhealthy and socially infectious feeling that reality does not conform to their desires and mistaken expectations. The unremitting persistency of human distress, alienation and conflict is undeniably due to the very many everywhere not knowing or not understanding or simply disbelieving the true nature of existence. (from advayavada.org/#plan)