Friday, April 15, 2011

What is the ultimate enlightenment objective of the Diamond Sutra?

In Chinese classic texts, Zen enlightenment is oftentimes referred to as an enlightenment of Tao (得道). And within Taoist thoughts, there are different interpretation of the meaning of Tao. And the same within Zen or Buddhist thoughts. So, what is the meaning of the ultimate enlightenment in the teaching of Diamond Sutra? And a follow-up question is: How does it differ from what had been preached in classic Taoist meditation (Neidan or Taoist yoga) texts? An examination of these questions, I believe, can enable a modern student of the subject or practice to seek out what he can take from these classic texts, and how to appreciate them as books for a living practice.

It is in the tradition of Buddhism in China that the inner teaching of meditation has to be learned in private from senior monks (if at all such practice is still being taught, probably the only place where such practice is still being propagated en-masse is within the domain of Tibetan Buddhism). Since meditative practice is an essential part of any practice dealing with inner enlightenment, a reading of the Diamond Sutra must assume such practice to be part and parcel of enlightenment process together with the written texts. I shall further elaborate on my contention below.

Having this understanding in mind, we can ask the enlightenment question again as: What is the ultimate training objective of the Diamond Sutra? As a religious leader, the ultimate training objective of the Buddha has to be to train his top level disciples to be Bodhisattva, i.e. one who can put away his personal entanglement with personal interests and devote himself whole-heartedly to the teaching of Buddhism to every living sentient being. It is interesting here to compare a training approach of Tibetan Buddhism as explained by the Dalai Lama. In his book "How to practice the way to a meaningful life", the Dalai Lama mentioned the Tantra practice whereby with the help of deep meditation, a practitioner can be quickly enlightened to the level of Bodhisattva. In short, a complete mind-body overhaul into a new being. And it is my understanding that the Diamond Sutra can have two usage: firstly a purely Sutra practice for a mind-only enlightenment, and secondly a facilitative text to assist a Tantric practice.

I don't think I'm stretching the text too much by such saying. In the book of the famous Zen scholar Nan HuaiJin (南懷瑾), his “What says the Diamond Sutra” (金剛經說什麼), he mentioned five training objectives of the Diamond Sutra. Firstly, it is "True Bodhi" (實相般若), an intellectual enlightenment, secondly it is "Experiential Bodhi" (境界般若), to have the feel of enlightenment (like a literary insight or perspective), thirdly, "Language Bodhi" (文字般若), the ability to express deep inner feeling and enlightenment through language, fourthly "Wisdom Bodhi" (方便般若), the ability to use tailor made methods to enlighten different people, and finally, "Vow-making Bodhi" (眷屬般若), vow to enlighten every sentient being. Nan certainly implied more that a simple intellectual understanding of the Sutra itself to be able to achieve his five objectives.

It is interesting to compare the Diamond Sutra and Tao Te Ching in this area of enlightenment. Whereas the former is basically a Sutra (for intellectual study and related practice dominated by conscious mind), Tao Te Ching actually combines an intellectual study, practices made by the conscious mind, together with meditative practice in which the power of one's unconscious mind needed to be unleashed.

In future posts, I shall also discuss the classic texts on Taoist meditation (Neidan or Taoist yoga), most of which only focus on inner meditative practice, similar to the Tantric practice as explained by the Dalai Lama. Until then, I rest my case here.

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