Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Zen of Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra has been the definitive enlightenment text of Zen Buddhism since Master Hui Neng, whose life story was documented (or mythologized) in the Platform Sutra. The Diamond Sutra, since then, has been boggling the mind of generations of Buddhists. It blows up one's logical mind, and in the final analysis it blows up the Sutra itself, to the extent that a Buddhist comes out without ANYTHING out of the Sutra, except perhaps a "meaningful" smile!

Example: chapter three of the Sutra reads,

"Buddha said to Subhuti: “All Bodhisattvas and Mahasattvas (high Bobhisattvas) listen, this is where to put one's restless heart. All the different types of sentient beings, whether they are born from eggs, from wombs, from moisture, or by transformation; whether or not they have form; whether they have thoughts or no thoughts, or have neither thought nor non-thought, I compassionately vow to lead them into Nirvana. When immeasurable, countless, infinite numbers of sentient beings have been led into Nirvana, yet in reality, not even one sentient being as having been led . Why is this so? Subhuti.

If a Bodhisattva perceives beings as absolute self, persons, sentient beings, or elders, he is not a Bodhisattva.”

It all boils down to the following logical structure:

1. An enlightened one should vow to do A
2. After one has done A
3. One actually haven't done A
4. Buddha only says metaphorically one should do A
5. Because one who actually does A is not enlightened.

It does boggle everybody's mind, doesn't it?

What is the Buddha's reaction? He compared A's being metaphorical with literary metaphor. Like he always liked to dramatize large numbers with something like:

If you imagine every sand in Ganges River is one Ganges River ad infinitum, then resulting number of sands will be very large. Do you think I am talking about physical sands? No. I just play with the concept of sand to show something more profound.

It gets us closer to the Zen (or the Buddha's) trick. A question: Is it just a perceptual change of able to give the vow rather than any physical act of performing A that is the ultimate definitive guide to enlightenment? Apparently yes, but the Buddha was silent to this possible angle of questioning, presumably with the assumption that no lying exists.

How about one who fails to do A when an opportunity arises? The answer is simple, assuming he was enlightened before that he immediately loses his enlightenment by failing to act.

How about one who does A EVERY time when an opportunity arises? The answer is more problematic. Case 1: if he has the mental attitude of collecting good points then he is not yet enlightened. Case 1: if he mental attitude is like it is the result of karma instead of his own volition, he is enlightened.

If you have been following me so far, perhaps you might be able to get the point: the Buddha (or the Diamond Sutra) has been talking to folks in case 1 and try to "influence" them so that they will become case 2 folks.

My dear readers, if you're not case 1 folks, probably the Diamond Sutra is not talking to you!

One last important question: what is the significance of the Buddha's insisting on changing one's mental attitude instead of just satisfying with actual actions? This question can be analyzed in two directions: one religious (or metaphysical) and one psychological. I find the latter direction very interesting, and shall discuss along this route in some future post.

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