Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rebirth - The short answer

Perhaps the thing I get asked most often by folks new to Buddhism and non Buddhist as they cock a skeptical eye in my direction is "Well if there is no self, or no soul what gets reincarnated, and just how do you explain our new huge worldly population, were are all these new souls coming from? "
So here is Togen's short form for those questions. I know its not as obscure as zen is supposed to be, but I can't always be as cosmic as I should be.
First off Buddhist don't subscribe to reincarnation. reincarnation is the transmigration of the soul from one life time to the next. We believe in rebirth. This is rebirth without a transmigrating eternal, unchanging intrinsically existing soul or self.
So you ask what is going on here? The best thing to do here I think is to look at how Buddha explained our identity in this single life time. Buddha said , what we are, how we really exist is as a functionally unified combination of five aggregates. These five aggregates fall into two groups or types of processes.
First there is a material process, our body, which can be seen as a current of material energy. Then there is a mental process , a current of cognitive happenings. Discrete events of cognition. Both these currents consist of factors that are subject to momentary arising and passing away. The mind is a series of mental acts made up of feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. I suggest you look at my blog on mind.
In Pali these mental acts are called "cittas". Each citta arises, breaks up and passes away. When it breaks up it dose not leave any traces behind. It dose not have any core or inner essence that remains or is passed on. But as soon as this mind or citta breaks up, immediately afterwards there arises another citta. So we have a succession of cittas, or a chain of momentary acts of consciousness.
When each citta or mind falls away it transmits to its successor whatever impressions have been recorded on itself, whatever experiences it has undergone. Its perceptions, emotions and volitional force are passed on to the next citta. Imagine one pool ball on a pool table striking another and passing on its speed, direction and momentum. Each of these emotions and the very volitional force or our intentions is passed on to the next citta and in that way all the experiences we undergo leave their imprint on the onward flow of consciousness which is called the "cittasantana" or the continuum of mind.
This transmission of all our experiences and intentional actions , this causal continuity, gives us our continued identity. We remain the same person yet not the same person throughout our lifetime. From moment to moment and from life time to life time we carry the imprints of the cittas that proceeded us. So there is no self, but you have a valid sense of "I" so don't think you don't exist, you simply don't exist in the way you thought you did.
The traditional Buddhist believes that rebirth takes place through out six realms of existence. These we call the desire realms.
They are:
The god domain
The jealous god domain
The human domain
The animal domain
The hungry ghost domain
The hell domain
All these realms are just associated with this one universe; they also believe that there are countless universes in existence at any one time. So the current population of this human realm on this one planet is and has been just a small percentage of the sentient beings in existence.
Should the population here reach a hundred billion humans it would not begin to reach the countless population of all sentient beings.
I hate defiling the concepts here, I am sure Dogen would say I am just passing along a mundane view of a inexpressible truth. But we gotta start some where.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Zen and Non-conceptual Thinking

When folks are told that Zen involves non-conceptual thinking they often have problems wrapping there mind around it. They can't "conceive " of it. Yes that was a pun.
Part of the problem is many people think of a concept as the basic unit of thought. The smallest unit of cognition. In Buddhism we call the smallest unit of cognition a mind, not a concept.
Buddha taught that we are all deluded, we live in a world of delusion. He didn't say the world wasn't real, just that we were ignorant of its true nature and how it and we really existed.
The modern philosopher Grant Evans put it this way:
" Behind the idea of a system of beliefs lies that of a system of concepts, whose structure determines the inferential properties of the beliefs."
Our training, world experience and socialization shapes the world we live in, our Samsara.
On a more particle scale if we are dealing with the concept of a chair I think things may become easier to understand. We encounter an object, we perceive it and we automatically run through our concepts to see into which it fits. There are many types , styles designs and forms of a "chair", but usually we can agree on whether something is or isn't qualified to be called a "chair". We look to see if it fits into or out of our concept of a chair.
We pull away from the very idea of non-conceptual thinking in fear. Our world is based upon our concepts you say, without them all would be lost. I tell you laugh in the face of this silliness.
You have non-conceptual thought every time you encounter something new, every time you can't fit a new object or idea into the list of concepts you have generated and stored up during your life time.
Now is when I bring out D.T. Suzuki's "Zen Mind, beginners mind" Just what dose that mean?
OK, you walk into a room, there is something on the table like nothing you have ever encountered before. the best you can do is decide its a material object. You reach out and your hand passes right through it. Now you have no concept for it at all. Your mind churns to find one for it. I walk in behind you and say "I see you have found my holographic atom sorter."
I have started to pass along to you the concept of the holographic atom sorter, and boom your back in conceptual thought land again.
In truth there is non-conceptual content to every thought you have. Zen can show that to you it can train you to be aware of it to experience it. To bring you back to the beginners mind.
In the end we must leave all the conceptual "belief systems" behind, even the Buddhist ones. We cross the river and leave the raft that is the Dharma on that far shore.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On The Death of My Daughter

I have the power to make the pain stop. I have the training to sit and make the world neutral, empty and quite. But I will not. I must not because I cling to my love of her and I can not lose the one without the other being lost. I still can not separate the love of her from the pain of losing her. In Zen I wash the dish's and eat my meals and that's enough for the day. I have given up my anger, but I have no mouth and I must scream. The pain rocks me to my core, but I will not sit and stop it. I am a fool.
Come all you Masters of the cushion all you who ride the waves of emptiness and rise above the earth, I will sit here among the mud and mire of this world and hold her in my heart. I wish you well, I admire you expertise, but I will sit here, exactly were I am.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Zen - It's just a state of mind

It would not be unfair to say that Buddhism and Zen are in fact practical on going research projects into the nature of mind.

Modern materialist, doctors and scientists see the mind as an emergent property of the brain. In essence the mind is the by product of a certain configuration of cells and chemicals associated with the organ of thought housed in your head. We see ourselves as an organic machine. We also tend to see the mind as an object, a single thing, a monolithic structure contained within itself. We may see it as intellect itself, or the power to reason, to do analysis. But essentially we see it as a unity.

From the beginning the Buddhist science of the mind was and is a system of understanding and observing the mind with the mind. The purpose of the Buddhist science and analysis of the mind is not to give a scientific definition of the mind but to develop a functional description that allows the practitioner to observe his own mental process's and use those observations to over come delusion.

In Buddhist philosophy the mind is not a product of biological processes, but something that has existed without beginning or end . Mind will be drawn into a physical shell, trapped in a body, time and again. This is what we call being trapped in Samara. The only way it can escape this infinite cycle of rebirth is by the training and experience we call practicing the Dharma. This is the path to liberation which the Buddha taught.

The fourteenth Zen patriarch Acharya Nagarjuna was perhaps the first Buddhist philosopher to write extensively on mind and body having two separate natures. He wrote that mind can only arise from mind, that the body has a different nature and can itself only arise from another physical process. He said that the truth of this can only be demonstrated by your own practice of the Dharma.

Buddhist mind science defines "mind" as Luminous" and "knowing". Another translation might be that which is clarity and cognizes. In either case Luminosity or clarity refers to the nature of mind while knowing refers to it function.

OK you say, my mind; it's mind is Luminous and knowing. Now - STOP Right There.

Dislodge your usual conceptual frame work of analysis, -- remove your underlying assumption of the mind as a monolitich object.

In Buddhist mind science:

"Consciousness" "awareness" and "knower " are synonymous: they are the broadest terms among those dealing with the mind. Any mind or mental factor is a consciousness, is an awareness, is a knower. These terms should be understood in an active sense because "Mind are momentary consciousness", which are active agents of knowing. In Buddhism mind is not conceived to be merely a general reservoir of information or just the brain mechanism. but to be individual moments of knowing, the continuum of which makes up our sense of knowing. "

The above Quote is from "Mind in Tibetan Buddhism" by Lati Rinbochay

Mind then in traditional Buddhism (not just Tibetan Buddhism) is an event of knowing. The period of each discreet event being the time it takes to have that single cognition. Thus we can be said to "generate" a mind such as in the phrase to generate a bodhi mind or bodhicitta.

Now you know what Dogen took from granted seven hundred years ago. That mind is a discreet event occurring in a series of discreet events. That the true nature of the mind occurs only in the present. That our reality is a product of a mind or conventional consciousness which arises from moment to moment usually generated by fluctuating causes and conditions. Our unenlightened consciousness is nothing more than false discrimination's and imaginings.

Now perhaps we can more easily understand Dogen's writings. When he states that "Thus the whole of existence , the whole universe is present in each moment of time. " "Real time is always the time present." Your entire "mind" your existence is a momentary event.

In Zen we seek our Buddha nature, which is the true nature of our mind. When Dogen says to allow the body and mind to drop off, he is saying to reach for that true mind unaffected by the fluctuations of the events around you. To drop off that deluded consciousness we discriminate with, make plans with and are tortured by from moment to moment.

That is the essence of the Buddhist science of the mind. It has been tested and tried for almost three thousand years. When you are mindful you are not meant to become self fixated or self obsessed but just observe. when you sit you observe the mind until it simply drops away.

"The way seeking mind arises in this moment. A way seeking moment arises in the mind."


Minding mind is may be just a state of mind but that is both everything and nothing..