Youtube Channel: The Compassion Network



Making a Difference in Each Instance with Non-Discrimination

Everyone is a loser in the destructive aftermath of the Ferguson jury decision.

We have contributed to this decision by building an unjust system, by exacerbating racial discrimination consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, and more importantly to me as a Buddhist, by being unaware as we attribute virtues, kindness, intellect, or leadership in those who are more attractive, more privileged, and more fair.

Studies point out that the halo effect, the height premium, white privilege, and other differentials lead to differential treatment, some extreme.

From the Buddhist perspective, it would be too easy to call all this karma and simply ask you to accept it!  In that case, we would be dismissing a prophetic opportunity to create future karma and collective karma that call for more sensitivity and impartiality.

While a technical fix such as a body camera that the Michael Brown family implores us to help them legislate may seem like a quick fix, I would ask all of us to take a fresh look at the way we treat others. Together we have contributed to the current state of race relations in America, and together we must improve it.

To a Buddhist like myself, the solution is not in policies or politics, but in my daily interactions. Do I notice myself paying more attention to my cuter niece? Do I assume that the pretty woman at my door is here for compassionate engagement or meditation rather than to complain? Do I quietly comply with the commands of the tall white man rather than question them because he represents the powerful status quo?

We have an opportunity to make a difference here. Our prophetic voice and actions require us to pause and reflect on our deeply ingrained discriminating inclinations first. Only when such acute awareness translates into consistently kind intention and interactions will we have truly made a difference for all of us who are in some respect like Michael Brown.


Listening to Silence

Part IV of Meditating on Sounds: 
Listening Your Way to Enlightenment

An excerpt from Master Jiaoguang's treatise on The Shurangama Sutra:
As for the times when there is only stillness and silence, the nature of hearing feels even more boundless. Listening makes evident the entity that can hear. When we can listen without grasping the states of movement and stillness heard, we begin, at that point, to know that the wonderfully mysterious essential is inherently complete; it is not achieved (through cultivation). It is only because our scattered mind and worrisome thoughts based on external conditions obscure, alienate and betray us that we do not notice [the wondrous Absolute]. Furthermore, in terms of the internal, we should know that there are no fixed, real body and mind -- a concept to which we have become attached. Externally, we should know that there are no fixed and real material objects and worlds -- a concept to which we have become attached. All this is without a trace, other than a span of vast and boundless void.
The myriad dharmas are evident and exist only because of the mind. The wonders of their intersections and integrations are all within the mind. The dharmas are neither of existence nor emptiness, and yet are of emptiness and existence. This extremely wonderful and unthinkable state is the patriarchs’ Treasury to the Eye of the Proper Dharma, the wonderful mind of nirvana. The teachings of the patriarchs are not limited to one practice, though it is often revealed through the faculty that is the mind and explained by the word “knowing.” These are some differences between the teachings of the patriarchs and the instructions in The Śūraṅgama Sūtra. Value this text, it determines whether we may reach the illuminated state for which we aim. 


Meditating on Sounds: Listening Your Way to Enlightenment

Part III
Am I Listening Correctly?

Sounds cannot be eliminated. No matter where you are or how quiet it is, there are sounds that cannot be eliminated. The “sound of silence” can therefore be acknowledged as an impossible-to-eliminate sound, the sensory object of quietude.
Knowing the different types of sounds, the question now posed is: how do you know if you are attached to any sound (or sound of silence)? 
Master Jiaoguang responds:
For those of you who listen inwardly and most earnestly, the nature of hearing for you is clear like the moon in the autumn sky. There is not a moment that it is blurry or darkened. Since there is no outflow directed toward even one sound, no sound is missed. 
Up in the Sky
You can try these two tests to see if you are grasping or attached to any sound in the slightest: One, the nature of hearing would be the first to become blurry and unclear all of a sudden. Second, an outflow [of warm energy and attention] towards only one sound would mean you miss all other sounds. 
Let me further clarify with an analogy. For instance, someone gets dizzy at the sight of water and cannot go over a body of water by himself. He needs another person to take him across by holding his hand. The companion tells the man to look up at the sky and not focus on the water for a minute. Were he to forget the advice and to look at water for a moment, he would immediately feel faint. 
Similarly, directing hearing towards your inherent nature is  like staring at the sky. Quitting your search for sound all around is like avoiding gazing at water. Along these lines, you would have no problems with being misdirected just as you would have no problem with being drowned. In this way, you know you cannot eliminate every possible sound, but you can listen inwardly and focus on that. So just as water cannot be eliminated around you, you can look up at the sky and focus on that.[i]

[i]      Jiaoguang 交光, Dafo Dingshou Lengyan Jing Zhengmai Shu 大佛頂首楞嚴經正脈疏, Xinzhuan Xuzang Jing 卍新纂續藏經 X12n275 (Taipei: CBETA, 2012).


Part II of Meditating on Sounds: Listening Your Way to Enlightenment

With What We Do Not Listen 
First of all, “the nature of hearing” is not in or with the physical ears. This nature of hearing is fundamentally the sea-like consciousness that stores all karmic interactions. It is the single entity with six functions, of which include the seeing of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, and the knowing of the mind. I am now referring to accessing the nature of hearing with the ears, which is to listen.
Secondly, the nature of hearing is not in or with the ear consciousness. The nature of hearing hears sounds and silence clearly, with not the slightest confusion it does not discriminate. Similar to the nature of seeing, it is like a mirror free from judgment or any inkling of a discursive thought. It is equivalent to space, constant and pervasive. Stream of consciousness restricts our inherent nature to one tiny space as each thought comes and goes momentarily, which is neither pervasive nor constant. This is the type of consciousness that conditions sound. To follow it without being aware indicates that you are still under the shadow of phenomena, discriminating based on conditions and surrounding objects[. . . .] In the kind of listening you are aiming for, not a thought comes into being and yet the Dharma Realm is perfectly illumined. It is the ground of still extinction for personal and collective enlightenment, the proper place for practice.
If these insights do not become clear to us immediately through the Sūtra text, we can experience it and get to know it by practicing meditation (quietly). Try to get up and meditate at dawn, when the air is fresh and clear. At the start of the day when everything is just beginning to stir, without letting one thought come into being, you will notice this hearing nature. This hearing nature is vast, encompassing, lucid, unobstructed by mountains or walls, and unclouded by obscurities or darkness. Tapping the nature of hearing, you will hear all sounds, be they loud or soft, near or far.
You will not miss even a breeze wafting through trees or footsteps that make stairs creak. If a giant bell were tolled several miles east of you, it would be absolutely clear to you. Similarly, were a drum ensemble sounded several miles west of you, the drumming would be crystal clear to you. From cries in a valley south of you to laughter on the streets north of you, from sounds of carriage wheels to horse hooves, all these would be apparent in the face of perfect hearing the way reflections appear on a spotless mirror.[i]

[i]               Jiaoguang, Dafo Dingshou Lengyan Jing Zhengmai Shu.


Meditating on Sounds: Listening Your Way to Enlightenment


According expert meditator and teacher Jiaoguang of China's Ming dynasty, meditators must get to know our illusions well before we may experience bursts of insight.

With regard to the types of sounds for those who practice hearing as a form of meditation, Jiaoguang elaborates:

There are sound categories of movement and stillness. Movement means sound and stillness means silence. Here, we first let cease the object of movement, which consists of two types. One, warped sounds that contain intended meaning, such as language, songs and the like. Two, direct sounds that are devoid of intended meaning, such as sounds made by wind, water, birds, beasts, bells, drums, and others.
There are two types of warped sounds: First, warped sounds about the mundane. Second, warped sounds about principles. Furthermore, there are two types of warped sounds about the mundane — the powerless and the powerful. The powerless ones refer to critiques of past or present literature and phenomena that have to do with other people and other times. Having nothing to do with us, [such sounds] may breed scattered thoughts only, but have no real power to increase our afflictions, hence [such sounds] are ‘powerless.’ ‘Powerful’ sounds refer to words about various states for which we desire, words about various kinds of injustices that make us angry, words that build our reputation or slander us behind our back, words of compliment or outright teasing — any words that cause benefit or harm to ourselves so that we suddenly become recklessly joyous or hateful, forgetting and losing our proper mindfulness — these are all warped secular sounds.
Warped sounds about principles have to do with words describing internal, external, deviant or proper principles. Even talks about Buddhist practices, as mystical and wondrous as they may be, lead people to develop certain understanding based on words. Such words trigger internal discussions and thought processes, but people may not realize what is occurring in them. Grasping at such conditions, [even if related to Buddhist practice,] also means that we pursue and float along with those sounds, which is a most severe obstruction to our fundamental hearing. This is why this Buddhist meditative tradition treats even the verbal teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs as enemies.[i]

Jiaoguang’s explanation here reveals to us that sounds cannot be eliminated. No matter where you are or how quiet it is, there are sounds, including “sound of silence”.

And yet sounds, representative of phenomena, are in fact illusory, temporary transformations from our effulgent and everlasting core of being.

[i]               Jiaoguang 交光, Dafo Dingshou Lengyan Jing Zhengmai Shu 大佛頂首楞嚴經正脈疏, Xinzhuan Xuzang Jing 卍新纂續藏經 X12n275 (Taipei: CBETA, 2012).


The Avatamsaka Four Dharma Realms and the Shurangama Meditation of Listening Intersect in Zen

Preview of Upcoming Presentation

Seen as stages of practice, Chinese preeminent monk Chengguan’s theory of the Four Dharma Realms and Guanyin’s perfected meditation method via one’s ears inevitably meet complementarily to enhance our understanding of meditation as a practice.

More than mere philosophy, the teaching of the Four Dharma Realms requires both theory and practice. The Chinese Huayan School's descriptions of magnificent, dream-like states not only can be read as a philosophy but can be contemplated upon and experienced in meditation mindstates. With the Four Dharma Realms specifically, Chengguan provided specific contemplations such as that on true emptiness, the non-obstruction between phenomena and noumenon, pervasive embodiment, and others. Where phenomena are dualistic, when contemplated upon through a singularity, a noumenon that is the same among the differences, awareness expands to non-obstruction between phenomena and noumenon. At some point phenomena and noumenon become one in perfect integration, or emptiness. And finally, the meditator enters the Dharma Realm of the mind that is simultaneously the greatest expanse, where emptiness extinguishes to become ineffable wondrousness.

The Shurangama Sūtra’s stages of meditation as Guanyin described in his realization of enlightenment complements the Four Dharma Realms precisely. Seen below, the typical linear and two-dimensional portrayal of these stages of meditation offer us a glimpse of how a meditator moves from noticing dualistic sense objects to an investigation of the nature of the ear, to an awareness that ends in the emptiness of dualities, and finally to the extinction of that emptiness.  

(From Translating Totality in Parts: Chengguan's Commentaries and Subcommentaries to the Avatamsaka Sutra by Guo Cheen)

The complementarity between these Avatamska and Shurangama developments affirms, plus multiplies their dimensions manifold with, the Zen fundamentals of one mind (一心 yixin), “everything is but from the mind” (萬法唯心 wanfa weixin), and from emptiness a plethora of wonder bursts forth (妙有miaoyou)


Admonitions: Part II

More from Buddhist monastic teachers.
With instructions from different people, pronouns shift.

Again, as explained more fully in "Admonitions: Part I", these instructions were directed at monks and nuns and excerpted from my translation of Admonitions for Monastics 緇門警訓.

Even monastics perpetrate grave errors . . . . behavior that can be even more offensive and deceptive.
I turn my back on justice.
I cover errors and promote my own virtues.
I delight in seeing misfortune befall others and mask others’ capabilities.
I lie, cheat and bribe, competing for gain and fame.
I contend over who is right and who is wrong, battling with people.
I appear to have comportment but that only adds to my deceit.
I harbor conceit internally and furthermore am lax and mad.
I immerse myself in laziness and indulge in sleep.
I am shamelessly miserly, jealous, and greedy.
It is best that we restrict our boorish and uncouth speech because they are ineffectual.
Questions should be impassioned and profound; it is not about twisting a few words.
Never give in to win reputation.
Never slight juniors on the basis of rank or seniority.
Always stay away from unkind juniors.
Never be obsequious to others due to an agenda.
Never reject others due to personal prejudice.
Never try hard to draw near those who are unkind; be kind and never detest those who are unkind. 
Never praise yourself for some capability.
Never speak ill of others without knowing much.
Never dismiss articles of law because the congregation objects.
Never blame others when slandered.
Never find fault with others.
Do not peek at women.
Observe the laws of the State.
The mouths of the [gossiping] assembly can melt gold
Endless contention becomes slander.
In contemporary times, five out of ten brothers speak obsequiously, flattering officials in the audience into decorating and building hermitages.
Monks above and below should unite. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses, so we should aid and cover for one another. Do not let outsiders hear about any ugly family business. Though such disclosures seem harmless enough, they do reduce faith in others after all. Just as insects on the bodies of lions eat the flesh of lions.


Admonitions: Part I

The Buddha Shakyamuni never established any rules for his Order until problems developed. Most of the Buddhist proscriptions were established as individual cases occurred. For instance, it was not until several dozen monks committed suicide by their own or another’s hands due to extreme (and excessive) disgust for their bodies, that the Buddha instituted the first precept for laity and monastics, refraining from killing.

Similarly, monastic teachers offer instructions on improper actions as their students enact them.
Hence a question for Buddhist educators follows: what is the insight to the Buddha’s prohibitive teachings? Would not preventative education be more effective? While I invite others’ views on this, I venture to offer one possibility. For practitioners whose minds are often calm, the power of suggestion multiplies manifold for them -- just as a small pebble thrown into a waveless and quiet sea stirs up seemingly extensive ripples in comparison to the hardly palpable effect of that same pebble in a tumultuous ocean of high tides. By establishing rules before anyone has committed the said transgressions is to describe those transgressions, thereby causing the students to mirror those wrongdoings in their assumed to be particular serene minds (which is experienced by the brain as if the event is occurring in actuality). Most of us know nowadays that by commanding ourselves to “NOT eat” only leads the brain to focus on the affirmative part of the sentence “EAT”.  

I cannot fathom the full extent of the Buddha’s wisdom and do not wish to digress further. Let me return to the topic of monastic lessons on offenses committed. These instructions by monastic teachers were directed at monks and nuns in Buddhist monasteries and excerpted from my translation of Admonitions for Monastics 緇門警訓.

It seems apt that the following excerpts and this particular compilation begin with a response from monk Zanning (919 – 1001 C.E.) to one poignant question:

Question:         Why have you published a brief                                     history about the Sangha?
          This could start trouble.
Answer:           To make Buddhism flourish and the                             proper Dharma long abide.

To such a succinct answer, meditation master Dayuan adds further irony, “The thought of [what occurs in the Sangha] so saddens me; grief is so overwhelming that my heart is in pieces. So how can I remain silent and not pass on these warnings? . . . . I offer my myopic views in the hopes of clarifying some things for future generations.”

With that, here is part 1 of the exhortations from various monastic teachers:

They have no words that can help the newer students who ask questions. If they do have something to say, their words are not drawn from any Buddhist text. When slighted, they scold the new students for being impolite.
They consider those who can compete for fame and gain capable, while they consider the circulation of the Dharma child’s play.
Nowadays monks’ conduct is mostly superficial and abusive.
People only see different masters praise their own faction, hence they become attached and different factions criticize each other.
To those who are in the role of a teacher: I suspect you do not have much shame or virtue. You may think that you undoubtedly will achieve Buddhahood. If you do not praise yourself, why would you be so arrogant about such petty views and limited knowledge of yours?
They may be six feet in height but they have no wisdom. The Buddha calls their kind deluded monks. Their tongue may be three-inch long, but they cannot explain the Dharma. They are what the Buddha calls mute monks.
People who talk about zen nowadays like to confuse each other with coded words.
Spitting and dragging a bowl, making bodily noises that only disturb the great assembly.
They despise poor guests and favor affluent guests, valuing laity and slighting monastics.
They secretly measure the lengths of deceased monastics and check out their belongings. ….They carve up the valuable items to such an extent that they are worse than ordinary merchants. They do not know to reflect and be ashamed, instead, they consider their finds bargains.
They look down on meditators as if they have been enemies for hundreds of lives, and yet they treat the powerful and the elite like they have been relatives for countless eons.
The level of filth that messed about in the sea of Buddhas in the past had never reached the height of today. We may talk about this with wise individuals but not petty individuals.


Buddhist Persecution Past and Present

Whereas Shakyamuni Buddha accepted students from all walks of life, including the Untouchables who were born into the lowest echelon of the hierarchical Indian caste system, some so-called monastic teachers have told other monastics that they are ill suited for the monastic life. 

Political infighting in Buddhist monastic orders past and present have led to monastics being overtly and covertly forced into becoming lay people. The force behind laicization varies.

In historical China, the most egregious form of forced laicization occurred under emperor Wu. He ordered the destruction of all things Buddhist. According to Xu Liu’s records of history, the emperor “was soon able to boast of closing over 4,600 monasteries, confiscating enormous tracts of monastery land, laicizing 260,500 monks and nuns. . . . scriptures were burned and priests were executed.”

Master Hsuan Hua (1918 - 1995) had revealed the many extreme tactics and power plays that his disciples employed to oust fellow monks or nuns. Search for not yet censored or "cleaned up" talks by this enlightened teacher for some unfortunate specifics that I do not wish to iterate here. Unpublished transcripts of disciples' self-revelations also affirm these stories from the 60's and on.


Chinese-English Buddhist Translation Theory Proposed

The Dynamic Possibilities Theory
One Possibility
As a result of pondering sacred text translation discourses east and west, four aspects of Buddhist philosophical views of language and texts, I have developed one possible theory for the translation of Buddhist sacred texts from Chinese to English. I balance American Bible Society theorist Eugene Nida’s dynamic equivalence theory on the target side plus Buddhist intentionality and continued dialogic with the interlocutor of the sacred text on the author side -- if we have to name sides in what I mean to be cycles as seen in the diagram below. To elucidate too, “intentionality” as Buddhist scholar Masao Abe identifies it, is “not so much a textual question as it was -- and more properly is -- a human and existential one.” He insists that the capacity for deep interlocution is in the Buddhist sacred texts long after the death of the author or orator.
Ground this equation in ancient Buddhist translation models, including the determination to evolve spiritually, the divide morphs among participants, languages, texts, contexts, motives, and understanding with each additional dynamic interaction. 
The following is my published illustration in Translating Totality in Parts: Chengguan's Commentaries and Subcommentaries to the Avatamsaka Sutra. This two-dimensional diagram is meant to resemble an infinity symbol where each member along the translation spectrum is so intimately connected to the others that there is no reified one or the other.