Bob Schwartz

Tag: Red Pine

The Buddha Endorses Poetry

Gatha: A metrical unit of Indian verse that can be anywhere from two to six lines in length. It is sometimes used as a stand-alone poem and sometimes to restate preceding sections of prose.

From The Diamond Sutra, Chapter Thirty-two, translation and commentaries by Red Pine:

The Buddha speaks:

”Furthermore, Subhuti, if a fearless bodhisattva filled measureless, infinite worlds with the seven jewels and gave them as an offering to the tathagatas, the arhans, the fully-enlightened ones, and a noble son or daughter grasped but a single four-line gatha of this teaching of the perfection of wisdom and memorized, discussed, recited, mastered, and explained it in detail to others, the body of merit produced as a result would be immeasurably, infinitely greater.”

Red Pine writes:

The Buddha returns to the comparison he has made throughout this sutra, whereby an offering of the most valuable objects in the world is compared to an offering of a single poem that expresses the truth. As the extent and value of material offerings have steadily increased, the fearless bodhisattva has been presented as the most likely member of the Buddha’s audience to understand the greater value of a good poem. How ironic that at the end of this sutra, the merit of a fearless bodhisattva fails to compare to that of an ordinary person. For even a fearless bodhisattva can become attached to the net of jewels of an illusory world. But the message the Buddha wants to leave with his audience is that the body of merit synonymous with the Buddha’s own diamond body is accessible to anyone, that such a body is a four-line gatha away.

More About Compassion Toward Things

These are the creatures and objects that are spoken of as the possessions of this individual: his animals and his walls, his garden and his meadow, his tools and his food. In so far as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, he frees their souls. “For this reason a man must always be compassionate toward his tools and all his possessions.”
Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal Shem Tov

I earlier wrote about the concept of compassion toward your things. Here is a bit more.

What does it mean to be compassionate toward your things, to be “feeling with” them? This is easier to conceive if the thing is something alive like a pet, or something once growing but now picked like some of the food on your plate. But a chair is just a chair; does it really need your compassion to set its soul free?

Could it be that by stretching to find compassion for those things—for all those other things, no matter how insignificant they seem—we are exercising our practice and ability to be compassionate toward everything and everyone all the time? Could it be that by stretching to find the reality of those things, we are exercising our practice and ability to understand everything and everyone all the time?

The Buddhist concept of the trichiliocosm (also known as trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu) “posits that any given thought-moment perfectly encompasses the entirety of reality both spatially and temporally…. the microcosm contains the macrocosm and temporality encompasses spatiality. Thus, whenever a single thought arises, there also arise the myriad dharmas; these two events occur simultaneously, not sequentially.” (Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism):

Trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu. In Sanskrit, literally “three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world system,” but typically translated as “trichiliocosm”; the largest possible universe, composed of (according to some interpretations of the figure) one billion world systems, each of which have a similar geography, including a central axis at Mount Sumeru, four surrounding continents, etc.

In his translation of The Diamond Sutra, Red Pine reflects on a related point:

Chapter 1: One day before noon, the Bhagavan put on his patched robe and picked up his bowl and entered the capital of Shravasti for offerings. After begging for food in the city and eating his meal of rice, he returned from his daily round in the afternoon, put his robe and bowl away, washed his feet, and sat down on the appointed seat. After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him.

In ancient India, the main staple was glutinous rice, which was eaten with the hands by forming it into balls. The term pinda occurs again at the end of the sutra in Chapter Thirty, where it includes the biggest of all lumps: a universe of a billion worlds. This is not accidental, for the practice of charity and the concept of an entity, either compounded of smaller entities or compounding a greater entity, run throughout this sutra. In the chapters that follow, the Buddha takes us through a series of synonyms for the entities of reality and compares the results of offering such things as a ball of rice, a universe of jewels, numberless existences, or a four-line poem.

The Buddha said, “Subhuti, what do you think? Are all the specks of dust in the billion-world-system of a universe many?”

The Buddha turns from this teaching to the sanctuary where this teaching was being taught, namely, the vihara outside Shravasti where both he and Subhuti were sitting. If the teaching of prajna is no teaching, what about the world in which it is taught? The Buddha begins with the smallest perceivable constituents of matter and the largest conceivable entity that they comprise.

Chapter Thirty: “Furthermore, Subhuti, if a noble son or daughter took as many worlds as there are specks of dust in a billion-world universe and by an expenditure of limitless energy ground them into a multitude of atoms, Subhuti, what do you think, would there be a great multitude of atoms?…The Buddha said, “Subhuti, attachment to an entity is inexplainable and inexpressible. For it is neither a dharma nor no dharma. Foolish people, though, are attached.”

All things big and small are locked in an endless sleight of hand in which each negates the reality of the other. And yet we all look for something to grab. Sometimes, we grab the biggest thing we can find. Sometimes, we grab the smallest. The people of Shravasti offered the Buddha balls of rice. Were the balls of rice real, or the grains of rice? The Buddha ate what he found in his bowl. So, too, do Zen masters swallow the world and all its mountains and rivers. And the reason they can do this is because mountains and rivers do not themselves exist but are simply names we give to momentary combinations of causes and conditions that are themselves momentary combinations of causes and conditions: universes made of specks of dust made of specks of dust made of specks of dust that form universes that form universes that form universes. Zen masters swallow names and concepts, while the entities they represent change. Mountains and rivers and the ten-thousand things all change. If they did not, we would be in trouble. We would have no hope of liberation. But because nothing exists as an independent, permanent entity, there are no obstructions on the path to enlightenment. Foolish people, though, refuse to walk this path. They see nothing but obstructions. Buddhas see offerings and turn these offerings into dharmas.

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse

 

From The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse (Shihwu) (1272-1352), translated by Red Pine:

Here in the woods I have lots of free time. When I don’t spend it sleeping, I enjoy composing poems. But with paper and ink so scarce, I haven’t thought about writing them down. Now some Zen monks have asked me to record what I find of interest on this mountain. I have sat here quietly and let my brush fly. Suddenly this volume is full. I close it and send it back down with the admonition not to try singing these poems. Only if you sit on them will they do you any good.

40

A thatch hut in blue mountains beside a green stream
after so many years visits are now up to me
a few peach and plum trees blooming red and white
a green and yellow field of vegetables and wheat
all night I sit in bed listening to rain
when it clears I open the window and doze off watching clouds
nothing in life is better than being free
but getting free isn’t luck

Lao-tzu’s Taoteching

Taoteching

“The world is a spiritual thing.”

Taoteching, Chapter 29

Trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can’t be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes they blow hot
sometimes they blow cold
sometimes they expand
sometimes they collapse
sages therefore avoid extremes
avoid extravagance
avoid excess

Reading and studying the little (81 tiny chapters) and infinite pool of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching is as valuable as knowing any text from any tradition. Of the dozens of translations into English, all different and many worthy, the one by Red Pine—the translator and scholar Bill Porter—is the place to visit and rest awake. Along with his translation, he includes excerpts from 2,000 years of commentaries.

Dim Dusty Mirror

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (New Revised Standard Version)

Can you keep your crescent soul from wandering
can you make your breath as soft as a baby’s
can you wipe your dark mirror free of dust
can you serve and govern without effort
can you be the female at Heaven’s Gate
can you light the world without knowledge
can you give birth and nurture
but give birth without possessing
raise without controlling
this is Dark Virtue
Verse 10, Lao-tzu’s Taoteching
Translated by Red Pine

“Our spirit dwells in our eyes. When the eyes see something, the spirit chases it. When we close our eyes and look within, everything is dark. But within the dark, we still see something. There is still dust. Only by putting an end to delusions can we get rid of the dust.”
Commentary on Verse 10 by Wu Ch’eng (1249–1333)