Buddha's Words (Talk 03 of 13)
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | September 20, 2006
Transcribed by Murray McGillivray and abridged and edited by Barbara Byrum
Now we're in the second section of Bikkhu Bodhi's book, and his title for this is "The Bringer of Light."
In Zen - maybe you've noticed from Zen literature - the Buddha is mentioned now and again, but not all the time. The Buddha is not the center of the Zen world. And when the Buddha is mentioned, quite often the Buddha is mentioned in a very familiar way, sometimes even in a sort of a mocking way. And the more I think about it, the more I appreciate that Zen's radical non-dualism seems to logically or naturally lead to a way of practice that includes a certain amount of humor and irony, much of which is heaped on the Buddha. Sometimes they say, "Shakyamuni Buddha is only half way there! He's still working on his practice, poor fellow." They refer to him as "old Shakyamuni," like a run-down, broken-down old guy. So, I like that aspect of Zen, that tone of voice.
Traditional Zen teachers talk a lot more about the old Zen masters from China than they do about the Buddha, but I have always felt like the Buddha is our teacher, and we should appreciate the Buddha and know something about him. But while we do that, it's a good idea to keep the attitude of our Zen ancestors in the back of our minds, so that we don't get overly pious in our appreciation of the Buddha, because then we'd get so stuck on the Buddha that we would lose track of ourselves, and that would not be the point at all.
The Buddha of the Pali Canon is not the same as the Buddha of Zen, and it's also not the same as the Buddha of the Mahayana scriptures. In the Mahayana scriptures the Buddha has almost no vestige whatsoever of being a person. The Buddha in those scriptures is completely a spiritual principal of awakening, which has a sort of cosmic dimension to it. It's bigger than the mundane notion of awakening that you and I hope to experience and put to practice in our lives.
The Pali Canon contains both senses of the Buddha, as a person, a wise spiritual teacher in the world, but also as a cosmic Buddha, miraculously born into this eon after countless eons of previous practice. The Buddha, even in the Pali Canon, is seen as one in a long line of Buddhas, stretching way into the past and into the future, but also the Buddha for this eon, who was born for the benefit of beings and for the happiness and welfare of all. The Pali Canon depicts - almost side by side - two different Buddhas at the same time. I think that we need to appreciate them both and not say one is better than the other or truer than the other, but see how they both need to fit together.
In the second text, under the heading of "The Quest for Enlightenment," is the section called "Seeking the Supreme State of Sublime Peace." Bikkhu Bodhi quotes this because this is the Buddha telling the story of his own spiritual quest and his own awakening. The Buddha says that he shaved off his beard and put on the robe and left home. The first sage that he practiced with was Alara Kalama. He learned what Alara Kalama had to teach, but then he realized, "I'm just memorizing this stuff. I'm just learning by rote. I should have direct experience." So Alara Kalama helps him to have direct experience, and he does have direct experience in a concentration practice known as the Base of Nothingness. And it's interesting to note that in order for him to achieve that concentration, he has to develop the Five Powers: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. It's interesting that this concentration is not sufficient. The Buddha develops these qualities, enters the Concentration of Nothingness-which we can imagine is a very deep concentration state - but the Buddha says, "No, no this isn't going to do it, because it's not yet leading to the goal"
But it occurred to me, this dhamma does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbana, but only to rebirth in the Base of Nothingness.
So, in other words, "I attain this concentration of Nothingness, and what does that get me? More nothingness. I can rest in this nothingness all I want, but as soon as I get up"-he doesn't say this here, but I think what's implied is-"as soon as I get up from the meditation, as soon as I stop doing this concentration, I notice that my mental stream is the same as before. Whatever it is that I've noticed, that's keeping me clinging and grasping and in dis-ease. It is not there when I'm in the Concentration of Nothingness, but it is there as soon as I get up. So I haven't really disenchanted-I'm enchanted, I'm obsessed, with my life. I need to be dis-obsessed. I'm passionate, in the sense of I'm stuck. I'm hooked on my life, and I need to be unhooked."
He goes to another place and meets Uddaka Ramaputta. He achieved the concentration called "Neither Perception nor Non-Perception," which is the ultimate concentration. In the eight-fold division of concentrations it is the deepest. The Buddha learned it, he memorized it, then he realized, "I have to experience it. " So Uddaka Ramaputta said, "Well, you be the teacher now, because that which my father realized you have also realized, and I haven't!" But the Buddha had the same thought, "No this doesn't lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nirvana, but only to rebirth in the Concentration of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception. As long as I'm meditating in this concentration, I'm blissful, I'm happy, but as soon as I get up it's the same old story, so I have to move on."
Still in search, monks, of what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered by stages through the Maghadan country, until eventually I arrived at Uruvela near Senanigama.There I saw an agreeable piece of ground, a delightful grove with a clear-flowing river, with pleasant smooth banks, and nearby a village for alms resort. I considered, this is an agreeable piece of ground, this is a delightful grove with a clear-flowing river with pleasant smooth banks and nearby a village for alms resort. This will serve for the striving of a clansman intent on striving. And I sat down there thinking, this will serve for striving.
Now we come to the path that the Buddha discovers that is the one that's really going to work, the method that's really going to work. He remembered all of a sudden, he had this memory flash of being a little boy. He was sitting under an apple tree. It was nice and peaceful, and he just started spontaneously following his breath, and then in a very easy-going gentle sort of way, he entered into a state of pleasant and happy concentration. He remembered that all these many years later, and he said, "That's the thing! That's what I'm going to do! I'm going to sit down somewhere, just like I did when I was a boy, and I'm going to meditate in just that way!"- a very childish, spontaneous, easy-going meditation. This is, more or less, zazen. The idea is that zazen is exactly an imitation of this meditation of the Buddha.
And now the jhanic states, the meditation states, are described.
Now when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelled in the first jhana (the first concentration state), which is accompanied by thought and examination.
In this state of meditation, there's still thinking, and there's even still the kind of thinking where you can examine something. But there's also "rapture," which I think means physical ease, which means ease of mind, "born of seclusion"-born of meditation. "But," he says to the philosopher, "this pleasant feeling didn't overcome me or capture my mind."
Now thought and examination fall away, and he enters into the second jhanic state, which has "internal confidence and unification of mind." This means that the mind and the body are unified, and the thoughts are not coming that take the mind away from the body. So consciousness and the body are in one place. Ordinary thought and examination fall away, and there's still rapture and happiness. The difference between the first and the second jhana is thought not appearing.
In the third jhana, the rapture of the body fades away, and instead of the rapture of the body, there's an "equanimous and mindful and clearly comprehending mind," which I think means a more refined state, which is not exciting or enticing but where there is more equanimity. So in the third jhana the rapture falls away, and the feeling of the jhana is more equanimous or more settled.
He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily, but such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain., with the abandoning of pleasure and pain.
So there's a pleasant feeling in the third jhana, more settled, but still a pleasant feeling.
With the previous passing away of joy and displeasure I entered and dwelled in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not did not invade my mind and remain.
There's always some danger of getting caught where the happiness and the rapture is too noticeable. And one notices that as a problem. In other descriptions of the jhanas, what happens is you enter the jhana, and at first it's very pleasant and wonderful, and then as you're in the jhana for a while you realize, "Oh, there's something here to be refined, because there's something here that I could get stuck on, get caught on, and that's unpleasant. There's a hook in this state, there's a little bit of a hook. It's a little addictive, and I feel that, so I want to refine further." And you're refining always in the direction of more settledness, more peacefulness.
So basically, the four jhanas are a progression. In the beginning, there's still some thought and discursive mind, but then there's unification of mind, and then a progression toward more and more settledness, and more and more equanimity.
Now when my mind was settled to that extent, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, that is one birth, two births, three births, four births . . . a hundred thousand births, many eons . . . There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain . . .
With this mind, which is so settled and so concentrated, he sees his own personal destiny over large spans of time. He understands where he's come from and where he's going. He sees his own life. Here, it's described as many, many lifetimes. Then seeing his own place in the cosmos, he directed his mind to the knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings - meaning everybody else, not just him, but everybody.
Now he understands the world and all that's in it, and how it's just exactly right as it should be and how the arising of this world in this moment couldn't be other than it is. So I can really appreciate this. They're using very specific imagery of seeing past lives, but I think to take it literally would be to do it a disservice. But just imagine the feeling of the absolute and total rightness of your own life and of the whole world: it has to be this way! Everything that's ever happened has been exactly choreographed for this moment to be as it is! And to feel completely rooted in that moment, in the world, knowing your place in the world, and knowing the scope of the whole world! This is a beautiful insight that the Buddha had on enlightenment night.
And then when my mind was concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rooted in perfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints. [The klesas, the defilements]
I directly knew as it actually is. This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, and this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering. I directly knew as it actually is, these are the taints, this is the origin of the taints, this is the cessation of the taints, this is the way leading to the cessation of the taints (of the suffering, in other words). And when I knew and saw thus, my mind was liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of existence, and from the taint of ignorance. When it was liberated, there came the knowledge, "It is liberated." I directly knew birth is destroyed, the spiritual life has been lived, what was to be done has been done, there is no more coming back to any state of being. This was the third true knowledge attained by me in the last watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and the true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who dwells diligent, ardent and resolute, but such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.
This story is told several times in the Pali Canon, always with little variations here and there, but that's the gist of it. There are some stories that leave out a lot, but all the stories that include these elements: the meditation practices that are deep but not going in the right direction, the austerities, and the practice of the jhanas.
In some versions the Buddha attains awakening from the second jhana. He goes through four jhanas and then comes back to the second jhana. So it differs. And you know, the difference between the jhanas is, in my opinion, not as hard and fast as the texts would make it out to be, and also remember that you can enter and leave a jhana in an instant. So it's not like you're going to be in a jhanic state-"I'm in the first jhana for half an hour, and then I'm in the second jhana for half an hour." There may be some oscillation.
So I won't go any further tonight and I think next time I'll talk about the chain of causation.