Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Mystery of Wholeness, Differentiation, Mind, and Matter

We experience ourselves as the subject of a world of experiences that are not ourselves. This is the fundamental reality of the world that we experience. When we analyze that world empirically and scientifically we discover an intricate mechanism, quite different from what appears, that “just happens” to be able to be modeled by our mathematical imagination. Numbers are the threshold between reality and experience, between objectivity and subjectivity. Numbers embody the principle of differentiation that is the fundamental characteristic of experience that we experience as self. This whole complex is what the Indic traditions, including Buddhism, regard as essentially illusory. On this basis, they reject the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth that they call samsara as illusory. Because it is illusory, it is therefore unreal and therefore there is no question of an “origin” or even a relationship between samsara and reality – samsara is simply a word, a name that we give to a mirage. Unfortunately, this mirage encompasses what we perceive as ourselves and that results in a problem. For if we do not exist, if we are merely a mirage, then what is reality?

Contemporary philosophical nihilism has rejected the problem summarized above as itself illusory. Its answer is that reality is intrinsically unknowable and therefore the question is meaningless. To seek after knowledge that cannot be had is foolish. Instead, we should – note the ethical “should” – fall back on what we can know and make the most of it. Like survivors on a life raft who wake up with no memory of the disaster that led to their being there, we analyze our situation and provision for our future as best we can, rationing – same root as “ratio,” reason – our resources and maximizing our viability, but knowing that in the end there is no hope. We have succeeded at this 10,000 or so year old enterprise better than we ever imagined. The technical revolution that is driving us forward has transformed human existence to such an extent that a significant minority of the human race never come into direct contact with anything fundamental, even the question of their own relationship to being that is the essence of identity. We have created a society in which all thought is restricted to the commonplace, the practical, the economic, and the trivial. Life is defined in terms of “work” and “leisure,” leisure being merely escape into the unconsciousness of the sensual or the stupidity of the religious. Indeed, the sensual has become the religious. We have idealized the sensual to such an extent that we regard sexual love as our highest good and nature as the arbiter of human conduct. We are so immersed in our games and so confident of their rules that we can tolerate books and even movies like Things to Come, Animal Farm, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Anthem, 1984, and The Matrix because “everyone knows” that books are merely “entertainment.” Books and the knowledge they contain are not “real.” They are ephemeral, chimerical, and essentially false, with certain notable exceptions of course, with the books of science at the apex of the pyramid, followed by the corporate ledgers (money, of course, is fundamentally real). The question then becomes, what will it take to wake us up? Or will humanity die in its sleep?

However, to return to our life raft analogy, what if the survivors are not waking up on a life raft at all? What if they are asleep and merely dreaming? Inside the dream, the dream appears perfectly real to the dreamer with its own set of rules and its own lawfulness. The only way to recognize that one is dreaming is if one recognizes a discontinuity within the terms of reference of the dream itself. This is how lucid dreams are generated. In addition, what are dreams anyway? What is their relationship to experience?

Does such a discontinuity exist in our world? Yes, it does, and it lies in the nature of the reflexive self. For when we reflect upon the being of the self, what we find is not what we are told we should find. What we are told we should find is an infinite regression into differentiated experiences and phenomena, for according to that view that is all the self is – an inter-association of experiences ultimately reducible to changes in the electrochemical state of the neurons and synapses of the brain. Consciousness is literally manufactured by the brain.  Moreover, of course we do find that. If I reflect upon myself, what first comes to mind are (symbolic representations of) all the experiences that I have had. But when I enquire further, I begin to enquire into the nature of experience, the selfness and otherness of things, and the presence of my body in relation to (what I infer) are other similarly differentiated beings with their own presence, what we refer to loosely as the body. That is all there should be (there is that ethical imperative again). But what I actually do find is a regression into far more interesting phenomena, including those of dreams, imagination, visions, abstractions, concepts, ideas, judgments of various kinds, what appear to be volitions and decisions, and finally – not nothingness, but the abstract self, the ineffable non-reducible quality of reflexive sentience itself as the universal ground and foundation of all of it, different in quality and yet inextricably interwoven with all of these and more, and yet not reducible to them either individually or as a totality. A world far more similar to the world of Buddhist metaphysics than of the contemporary world of insatiable development.

A common mistake of Buddhists is to think that the search for enlightenment is a quest to return to a perfect origin or source, a fundamental reality or truth in relation to which our experience is illusory and therefore something to be transcended. The Tathagata and his Arahants do not “return.” They are “emancipated” from experience. Only the bodhisattva “returns,” but even the return of the bodhisattva is contingent. When all of existence is liberated, then the bodhisattva too will be liberated. The religious, who long for the annihilation of samsara, take this eschatology literally as the ending of illusion, despite the statements of the texts themselves, including the foundational texts of the Pali Canon, that samsara is infinite – a finite samsara is a contradiction in terms, which would require an act of some deity to set in motion – merely begging the question of the deity’s origin, and so on in an infinite regression. Infinity, again. Buddhism emphatically rejects theism in all its guises, seeing clearly the absurdities and contradictions to which it leads. This interpretation of samsara is a contradiction of just this type. The texts reiterate that samsara has no creator and no beginning, but many religious Buddhists have failed to understand the metaphysical implications of this statement, preferring to take refuge in a psychologized and samsara-centric Buddhism that is essentially nihilist.

This self-contradiction comes out in Buddhism in another way. The religious explanation of the arising of the thirst for enlightenment that sets into motion the karma that leads to enlightenment itself, albeit after thousands, millions, or even billions of rebirths, is that it arises spontaneously in response to the essential unsatisfactoriness of experience, characterized as it is by change. Since nothing is stable no object of desire can ever be retained, leading to unhappiness. Sooner or later a being realizes this and formulates an alternative strategy. Such is the arising of a buddha. However, such a doctrine can only be true if samsara is finite, for over infinite time it is certainly true that every being whensoever and wheresoever situate should have already experienced the essential unsatisfactoriness of existence, formulated the intention to awaken, and achieved it. We should therefore all be buddhas! If we are all buddhas, and buddhas by definition are not reborn, samsara should not exist. Clearly religious Buddhism is in error in this detail.

If samsara has no beginning it is infinite, and if it is infinite then it has no end, so the quest of the bodhisattva is a hopeless one. Since his quest is hopeless, then it is not his quest, for a quest cannot have hopelessness as its goal. We are confronted by the problem of teleology, as we are by the fundamental identity of human and universal sentience – the anthropocentric nature of existence.

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Rite of Self-Ordination (Vajrayana)

– I would like to dedicate this English language recension of the Vajrayana rite of self-ordination, or self-initiation, to the Memory of Mr. Gerald Yorke, the Personal Representative to the West of the Dalai Lama the XIIIth (1901-1983) –

Bhikkus, if anyone from a clan of nobles goes forth from the home life into homelessness, and by realizing for himself with direct knowledge here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints, then he is already a recluse because of the destruction of the taints. (Cula-Assapura Sutta, MN 40)

the Dharmakāya of the Buddha has the perfection of permanence, the perfection of pleasure, the perfection of Self, the perfection of purity. Whatever sentient beings see the Dharmakāya of the Tathagāta that way, see correctly. Whoever see correctly are called the sons of the Lord born from his heart, born from his mouth, born from the Dharma, who behave as manifestations of Dharma and as heirs of Dharma. (Shrimaladevi Sutra)

[To be performed at 5 a.m., with solemn intention and awareness, after bathing. Approach the shrine. Standing before the Buddha, say:]

Taking Refuge

The Enlightened One is the teacher;
The teacher is the source of all good;
I go to the teacher for refuge.

The teaching of the Enlightened One is the teacher;
The teacher is the source of all good;
I go to the teacher for refuge.

The community of awakened ones too is the teacher.
The teacher is the source of all good;
I go to the teachers for refuge.

Formulating the Will to Attain

I promise to seek awakening
Both for myself and for all conscious beings.

[repeat three times]

Purifying the Place

May the universal ground be pure,
Free of all flaws,
As smooth as the palm of the hand,
Like lapis lazuli.

Prayer to Magnify the Offerings

[ring the bell, passim]

May these gifts, both human and spiritual,
Including those both physically and mentally presented,
Become voluminous clouds of offerings to the Universal Sage [Samantabhadra],
Permeating all space.

Cloud Offering Mantra

Om namo Bhagavate Vajra Sara
Pramardane
Tathagataya
Arhate Samyak Sambuddhaya
Tadyatha
Om Vajre Vajre
Maha Vajre
Maha Teja Vajre
Maha Vidja Vajre
Maha Bodhicitta Vajre
Maha Bodhi Mando Pasamkramana Vajre
Sarva Karmavarana Vishodana Vajre
Svaha

[repeat three times]

The Power of Truth

I call on the Teacher, the Teaching, and the Taught;
I call on all enlightened beings and awakened ones;
I call on the two canons;
I call on the perfect, unutterable realization
To infuse these gifts with the Power of Truth.

Invocation

[light incense]

O Sustainer of all living beings
Who dispels the obstacles with love that hath no limit,
All-knowing.
Oh most holy ones, I beseech your presence.

[strike the bell]

Prostration Mantra

[prostrate three times, repeating the following three times]

Om Namo Manjushiye
Namah Su Shriye
Nama Uttama Shriye Svaha!

[sit]

Homage to the Enlightened One

I prostrate to the Teacher and the Founder; the Powerful Transcendent Destroyer; the Utterly Transcendent One; the Destroyer of the Enemy; the Completely Perfected, Fully Enlightened One; the Illustrious Conqueror, the Subduer from the Shakya Family. Please inspire me!

I go for refuge to the Teacher and the Founder; the Powerful Transcendent Destroyer; the Utterly Transcendent One; the Destroyer of the Enemy; the Completely Perfected, Fully Enlightened One; the Illustrious Conqueror; the Subduer from the Shakya Family. Please inspire me!

I offer myself to the Teacher and the Founder; the Powerful Transcendent Destroyer; the Utterly Transcendent One; the Destroyer of the Enemy; the Completely Perfected, Fully Enlightened One; the Illustrious Conqueror, the Subduer from the Shakya Family. Please inspire me!

Seven-Limb Prayer

[strike the bell]

Worshipfully I prostrate my body!
Worshipfully I prostrate my tongue!
Worshipfully I prostrate my mind,
Presenting voluminous clouds of every kind of gift, both physical and mental gifts.
I take responsibility for all my errors since beginningless time
And celebrate the essential goodness of the awakened ones and all beings.
I implore ye to remain until the end of time,
Turning the wheel of truth for all that live!
To thee I dedicate the goodness of myself and all beings
That all may achieve awakening!

Short Mandala Offering

I dedicate this place to the Enlightened One,
Glorious with flowers, incense, and perfume.
Mount Meru is the centre of the universe,
Four continents, sun and moon.
May all living beings rejoice in this world.

Inner Mandala Offering

I offer the objects of my clinging, the objects of my malice, the objects of my ignorance,
As friends, enemies, and strangers respectively,
Including my body, my wealth, and all my pleasures.
Without attachment I offer them all!
Please accept these offerings and free me
From the three poisons.

Idam Guru Ratna Mandalakam Niryatayami

[repeat three times]

Prostration Mantra

[kneel on the right knee]
[place the right palm on top of the left palm]

Om Namo Manjughriye Namah Sushriye Nama
Uttama Shriye Svaha

I ask the Enlightened Ones and the awakened ones wheresoever situate to come here!

Just as those who having gone before, the awakened ones, the complete and perfect Awakened Ones, destroyers of the enemy, who, like the wise horse and the great elephant, have done what was necessary; have completed the tasks; have laid down the burden; have achieved their own good; have severed their bondage to becoming; possessed of perfect speech, well-liberated minds and well-liberated wisdom, have sworn the vow for the sake of all conscious entities, for the good of all beings, in order to liberate them, in order to eliminate hunger, in order to eliminate sickness and disease, so that the 37 aids to awakening may be perfected, and in order that the highest, most complete, and perfect awakening shall be truly realized; so do I this day, I who am called from this moment hence for the salvation of all conscious entities, in order to benefit them, in order to liberate them, in order to eliminate hunger, in order to eliminate sickness, so that the 37 aids to enlightenment may be perfected, and in order that the highest, most complete, and most perfect awakening may be truly realized, do swear.

Just as those who having gone before have destroyed the enemy in the past; abandoned all physical, verbal, and mental defects, so do I, for the sake of all beings, renounce all physical, verbal, and mental defects, devoting myself wholly to the pure practice of the work of  awakening.

[repeat three times]

Committing to Keep the Precepts

I promise to observe the precepts,
Attaining awakening soon,
That the beings of the world, afflicted by pain, may be freed from the bondage of becoming.

[sit]

Mantra of Righteousness

Om Amogha Shila Sambhara
Bhara Bhara
Maha Shuddha Sattva Padma Vibhushite Bhuja
Dhara Dhara
Samanta
Avalokite
Hum Phat Svaha

[repeat 21 times]

May my actions be without fault
And perfect,
Pure and without pride.

[prostrate three times]

Dedication

May the sublime seed,
The unrealized intention to awake,
Now manifest and grow,
Not decreasing
But ever-increasing.
As a result of these right actions
May all beings gain good and wisdom
Attaining the body of righteousness
And the body of wisdom.
Just as the courageous Gentle Glory [Manjushri] and the Universal Sage [Samantabhadra]
Realized reality,
I too commit whatever good I may produce
In the tradition of their perfect example.
I commit these righteous roots
With the best commitment
According to the victorious ones of past, present, and future,
That I too may do righteousness.

[finish with three prostrations]

June 26, 999 K.E.

Further Reading:

The Direct and Unmistaken Method
The Eight Mahayana Precepts
The Eight Mahayana Precepts Ceremony
The Ritual of the Bodhisattva Vow