No Reason No Use

Doing a thing just for the doing of it

Doing it one way or another

What’s the difference?

Other than preference

The wind and the fan

The wind and the oar

The old Latins had a saying:

“If the wind will not serve, take to the oars”


What is the difference between wind and water?

Between the bird and the fish?

What is the difference between an oar and a fan?

What are their reasons?

What are their uses?


At the end of Genjokoan Dogen says:

Zen master Baoche of Mt. Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. When, then, do you fan yourself?”

“Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,” Baoche replied, “you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.”

“What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.

The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent; because of that, the wind of the buddha’s house brings for the gold of the earth and makes fragrant the cream of the long river.

Dharma Talk Worth Listening To

Empty Bowl Sangha teacher-Joko Dave Haselwood, student of Suzuki Roshi   “Why We Practice” talk on Sept. 30, 2010 -“to align ourselves with reality” [he’s also not a big fan of self-help books or Big Mind and other purported “shortcuts” ]

Western Buddhism and Social Engagement

I just read an interesting blog piece at Zen Peacemakers written by Alan Senauke. It is called Engaged Buddhism: Service or Revolution? by Alan Senauke. He makes a number of good points about both eastern and western Buddhists and engagement.

One of the points brought up is that the activity of engagement, or looking at suffering from a systemic point of view rather than in individual point of view was that while this activity of engagement may be a development in the transmission of Buddhism from East to West it was seeded and first developed in the East because of the efforts of a number of teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  A.T. Ariyaratne, Sulak Sivaraksa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama who also take the systemic viewpoint. These teachers have to some degree been informed by a Western viewpoint in their approaches.

Gary Snyder is quoted:

The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.

The impact of social change or social revolutionary Western thought on many Asian countries began quite some time ago with the introduction of bi-lateral trade and colonialism. There were certainly conquests and regime changes before that but most did not have the ideological content nor the aims of social reformation. Principally they were power struggles or related to profiteering. Some, such as the Mughal conquests in India did involve an ideological element but their primary goal was not related to that. It was a secondary and not entirely successful result.

This was very much unlike the Crusades or attempts at missionarization (in Asia, North and South America, Australia and elsewhere) which was carried out with one of the express purposes being ideological and social change. Priests were often brought along to facilitate this element. Prevailing Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Shintoism,  local folk religions, shamanism do not have much if any of an element of conversion to them in themselves. Some groups may have insisted upon conversions of conquered peoples for political reasons like consolidation of power but the goal of conquest has rarely been to primarily introduce these kinds of changes. Taking the example of Asoka, the Buddhist king known for his early conquests as much as for his conversion to Buddhism, his edicts state:

All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. Rock Edict Nb7 (S. Dhammika)

Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions. Rock Edict Nb12 (S. Dhammika)

The thing I find most interesting is that social engagement, that is aiming for systemic change based on ideology, is a very “Western” originally proselytizing-based notion. Yet many of those who denounce an engagement factor within western convert Buddhism are the very same people who often speak most loudly for the development of a uniquely western version of Buddhism.

It’s a very strange paradox.

The Sense of Consciousness

Sort of an Introduction with Caveat Garnish (tho it’s more like an Afterward since I wrote it after)

This post is about my current area of interest and study. That is related to the Abhidharma. So this is more like a study note and thoughts on the fly than any conclusive thing.  That is true about anything on this blog. All I conclude for sure is that there are no conclusions. No definitive something, no absolute anything. Even the concept of absolute is not. So there’s a caveat.

If this is not of interest to you the 3 digressions from it (to be posted shortly after this) may be more to your liking. The titles will begin with the word Digression…

And here’s another caveat.

As to the relation of the teachings of the Abhidhamma to those of the Sutta Pitaka, two very apt comparisons given in a conversation by the late Venerable Pelene Vajiranana, Maha-Nayakathera of Vajirarama, Colombo, may be added, in conclusion:

The Abhidhamma is like a powerful magnifying-glass, but the understanding gained from the Suttas is the eye itself, which performs the act of seeing. Again, the Abhidhamma is like a medicine container with a label giving an exact analysis of the medicine; but the knowledge gained from the Suttas is the medicine itself which alone is able to cure the illness and its symptoms, namely craving rooted in ignorance, and the suffering caused by it.

from Abhidhamma Philosophy: Concluding Remarks and a Warning by Ven.  Nyanaponika Thera

Studying Abhidharma for me pushes out a lot of poetry-type stuff. (many people call it dry and boring but I don’t think so) And so there’s tangents like that occurring as well in case it stops making sense to anybody but me. (And I’ve been dipping into Dogen’s Instructions for the Cook so there may be a few food references too)

Abhidhamma is mainly concerned with the study of abstract truths in absolute terms.

But in describing the dhammas [things of every sort] in their various aspects, it is not possible to keep to absolute terms only. Inevitably, conventional terms of every day language have to be employed in order to keep the lines of communication open all. Abhidhamma states that there are two main types of conventional usage; the first type is concerned with terms which express things that actually exist in reality and the second type describes things which have no existence in reality.

from What is Abhidhamma Pitaka? at (aka This is Myanmar)

[About the word dhamma (dharma)-am working on a post about 5 usages of that word. Different contexts give a different meaning]

Another aside, for students, always write your essay introductions after you’ve written the essay. Then if you’ve gone off track it looks like you haven’t and it appears that you’ve written exactly what you’d set out to write. Same for articles. It works really well.

The Sense of Consciousness

Using consciousness to contemplate consciousness seems like a weird and illogical thing to do when you really think about it. Sort of like trying to see your own eyeball or smell your own nose or taste your tongue.  All the more reason to do it.

And how does a monk dwell contemplating (the nature of) the mind in the mind in regard to himself?

from Analysis of the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness (Satipaññhànavibhaïgo, Vibh. 7) (pdf) p. 11

That’s pretty much one of the $64,000 questions for anyone doing meditation.

“What is the way to remain established in the meditation on mind as mind?

“When the practitioner’s mind is attached to something, he knows it is attached to something. When the practitioner’s mind is not attached, he knows it is not attached. When the practitioner’s mind hates something, he knows that it hates something. When his mind is not hating, he knows it is not hating. When his mind is confused, he knows it is confused. When it is not confused, he knows it is not confused. When his mind is defiled, he knows it is defiled. When his mind is not defiled, he knows it is not defiled. When it is distracted, he knows it is distracted. When it is not distracted, he knows it is not distracted. When his mind has obstacles, he knows it has obstacles. When it has no obstacles, he knows it has no obstacles. When it is tense, he knows it is tense. When it is not tense, he knows it is not tense. When it is boundless, he knows it is boundless. When it is bound, he knows it is bound. When his mind is concentrating, he knows it is concentrating. When it is not concentrating, he knows it is not concentrating. Before his mind is liberated, he knows it is not liberated. When it is liberated, he knows it is liberated. That. is how the practitioner is aware of mind as mind, both inside the mind and outside the mind, and establishes mindfulness in the mind with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization, and that is called being aware of mind as mind. If bhikkhus or bhikkhunis meditate on mind as mind according to the details of these instructions, then they know how to dwell in the practice of observing mind as mind.

from The Sutra on the Four Grounds of Mindfulness Nian Chu Jing (Sarvastivada)

There are further instructions in that Sutra about contemplating on the objects of the mind as well.  These are part of the four grounds of mindfulness. The first two being body and feelings. It’s all laid out fairly straightforwardly.

Digression #1 Dealing with the Body Before the MindI went on a long digression that I’ve put in the next blog post.

Back to the Mind

So I am momentarily concerned with mind as mind. It’s like a big giant koan. Pretty easy to see where those guys came up with the idea of koan practice. They are like a bite at a time in the reality sandwich.

And then there’s advice such as:

“The mind that grasps is the mind that sets us free.” Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

via ryderjaphy on Twitter

which makes the whole paradox even more interesting.

One of the other reasons I am giving this mind as mind situation some consideration is this little bit of information I stumbled across.

The four grounds of mindfulness (you’ll have to read it at the link above or one of the other optional links below) have been categorized in a way for different sorts of temperaments. That is they are like prescriptions for those types.  A handy chart is provided at the Wikipedia page which I’ve duplicated below.

Personality-based typography (applied to Satipatthana Sutta)

According to Analāyo (2006, pp. 24-25) and Soma (2003, pp. xxii – xxiv), the Papañcasudani recommends a different satipaṭṭhāna depending on whether a person:

-tends more toward affective craving or intellectual speculation; and,

-is more measured in their responses or quick reacting.

Based on these two dimensions the commentary’s recommended personality-based satipaṭṭhāna is reflected in the grid below.

experiential orientation (character)
affective (extrovert) cognitive (introvert)
reactivity / temperament slow body mind
quick sensations mental contents

Knowing that I am definitely in the “intellectual speculation” (introvert) category is obvious just by reading this blog. And the temperament part is also obvious to me. Though I dare say some people might disagree if I’ve gone off in their blog comments or in a post here with what sounds like knee-jerking. But there are usually 2-3 other reactions considered over a matter of hours or even days before I let loose just so you know. Probably 70% of the time I just drop the urge to comment or post at all in fact. (that’s how my posts queue gets really long sometimes-like 30+ posts)

Soma (2003, p. xxiv) adds that all practitioners (regardless of their character and temperament) should also practice mindfulness of Postures (moving, standing, sitting, lying down) and Clear Understanding, about which he writes: “The whole practice of mindfulness depends on the correct grasp of the exercises included in the two parts referred to here.”

Putting this all together the prescription would indicate contemplation on the ground of mind. So I’ll look into that here, think on it, meditate on all that for a while.

Digression #2 The Use of Study and Thinking–I went on another long digression that I’ve put in another blog post. I’ll put that one up after Digression #1. It has to do with a couple of related blog posts I came across recently. We can titillate ourselves intellectually with all of this but what is it’s relevance from a practice point of view? So that’s what Digression #2 is about.

Consciousness as a Sense

The Buddha spoke about everything which is real. What he taught can be proved by our own experience. However, we do not really know the most common realities of daily life: the mental phenomena and physical phenomena which appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body sense and mind …

The Buddha explained that citta (consciousness) is a reality. We may doubt whether cittas are real. How can we prove that there are cittas? Could it be that there are only physical phenomena and not mental phenomena? There are many things in our life we take for granted such as our homes, meals. clothes, or the tools we use every day. These things do not arise by themselves. They are brought about by a thinking mind, by citta. Citta is a mental phenomenon; it knows or experiences something. Citta is not like a physical phenomenon which does not experience anything. We listen to music which was written by a composer. It was citta which had the idea for the music; it was citta which made the composer’s hand move in order to write down the notes. His hand could not have moved without citta.

from Abhidhamma in daily life by Nina Van Gorkom Part 3 Different Aspects of Citta

Citta [mind] as an arising phenomenon, just like a physical phenomenon and can give rise to physical phenomenon as well. The sense of something that gets attention, registers, causes reaction.

Here is an explanation of citta (consciousness as as a sense and how it functions in a similar fashion:

Awareness is the process of cittas experiencing objects. For a citta to arise it must have an object ( The object may be a color, sound, smell, taste, something tangible, or a mental object. These are the six external objects. Strictly speaking a mental object can be an internal phenomenon, such as a feeling, a thought, or an idea, but as forming the objective sphere of experience they are all classed as external. Corresponding to these external objects there are six internal sense faculties, called “doors” since they are the portals through which the objects enter the field of cognition. These are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Each of the five physical sense faculties can receive only its appropriate object; the mind door, however, can receive both its own proper mental objects as well as the objects of the five physical senses. When a door receives its object, there arises a corresponding state of consciousness, such as eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc. The union of the object, the door or sense faculty, and the consciousness is called “contact” (phassa). There can be no awareness without contact. For contact to occur all three components must be present — object, door, and consciousness. If one is missing there will be no contact. The process of the arising of consciousness and the subsequent train of events is analyzed in detail in the Abhidhamma. A study of this analysis will show that only “bare phenomena” are taking place and that there is no “self” involved in this process. This is the no-self characteristic of existence.

from The Abhidhamma in Practice by N.K.G. Mendis

Consider giving full attention to everything that the eye encounters, every detail of form, color, juxtaposition, relationship to other things and their attributes. [Maybe some people, with photographic memories for instance, could do that to some greater degree than others-but that’s an exception] Were we to do that continuously it would be something of an information overload. Partly because the point of registering each and every point of light upon the surface of everything would make life impossible. Taken to an extreme it might be like some kind of very extreme OCD where one couldn’t get away from examining something. There would be no time to cook, go to the bathroom, sleep or anything.

Consider what Kodo Sawaki Roshi said:

Don’t we live life from moment to moment? How could we possibly take life, analyze it, systematize it and file it away?

from the quotation Twitter account called SawakiZen

Mind/consciousness as a sense seems to be quite similar. Some thought comes, prompted by who knows what stimulus and it gets examined over and over. [I am noticing this as I am writing this post in fact] It is adjusted and compared with what comes before and after and beside and in digressions and there are billions of little paths it can take. Like billions of little eddies in a huge river.

Getting caught up in those thought eddies is just like being visually dazzled by some 3-D movie or fireworks show. They are scintillating and exciting and engaging and set off a whole brain chemical cascade wave. We may be excited, cheering, yelling, smiling. We want more of it. It’s hard to back off and only note the happening without getting swept away.

Or it can be nightmarish with a feeling developing of being pulled down into murky depths we’d rather not plumb. Rather like driving past an auto wreck and seeing blood on the windshield or suddenly focusing on a parent treating a child abusively in public. We don’t want to see that but we can’t ignore it either. We look, look away, look again, stare, close our eyes, as the scene registers at another level, and a different kind of brain chemical cascade wave occurs. We may be sickened, angry, sad, confused, disoriented, upset. We don’t want this. But again it’s hard to back off and only note the happening without getting swept away.

When thoughts appear it is the same sort of deal. We encounter it, register it, react to it. They may manifest in our heads, but this is the only difference between them and the things that register with the physical senses. They may be made of memory, emotion, hope and imagination (or a strictly bio-chemical process-another theoretical speculation) rather than reflections of light hitting the retina but registration (as in the processes described in Abhidharma) via sense doors is the same.

The starting point of Buddhist thought is the truth of suffering. Suffering is a problem of consciousness; only that which is conscious can suffer. Consciousness is subject to suffering because of ignorance, or fundamental not-knowing, which divides consciousness into subject and object, into a self and an other-than-self (i.e., the objects and people around the self).

In Buddhism, ignorance is defined as the notion of a permanent, independent self and its object. Once we have this division of consciousness into a self and an other-than-self, we have suffering, because tension is created between the two. We also have craving and aversion, because we want those things that support the self and are averse to those things that are not conducive to the self.

This division or discrimination between the self (or subject) and the other-than-the-self (or object) is the fundamental cause of suffering. Such a division is possible because of ignorance — the belief in a real self existing independently and in opposition to the other-than-self. Thus it is not surprising that the Abhidharma should turn first to an analysis of subjectivity and objectivity. Indeed, when we examine the teaching of the five aggregates, we see that form (rupa) is the objective component, while name (nama), consciousness, and the mental aggregates of volition, perception, and feeling are the subjective component…. Mind and matter are forms of experience, not essences.

from The Abhidharma Peter Della Santina, Ph.D. in Section (3) Analysis of Consciousness

That last line “Mind and matter are forms of experience, not essences. ” is incredibly important for a number of different reasons.

A thing is not a thing in itself but is only our experience of what may be called relatively objective matter. The form is registered, then comes all the subjective stuff.

The concept of object is what seems to give some pause. A thought is a thing in this abstract sense then.

The subject, the consciousness, receives objects from within and without. When a person is in a state of profound sleep his mind is said to be vacant, or, in other words, in a state of Bhavanga. We always experience such a passive state when our minds do not respond to external objects. This flow of Bhavanga is interrupted when objects enter the mind. Then the Bhavanga consciousness vibrates for one thought-moment and passes away. Thereupon the sense-door consciousness (Pancadvàràvajjana)arises and ceases. At this stage the natural flow is checked and is turned towards the object. Immediately after there arises and ceases the eye-consciousness (Cakkhu Vinnàõa), but yet knows no more about it. This sense operation is followed by a moment of reception of the object so seen (Sampañicchana). Next comes the investigating faculty (Santãraõa) or a momentary examination of the object so received. After this comes that stage of representative cognition termed the determining consciousness(Votthapana). Discrimination is exercised at this stage. Freewill plays its part here. Immediately after there arises the psychologically most important stage—Impulsion or Javana. It is at this stage that an action is judged whether moral or immoral. Kamma is performed at this stage; if viewed rightly (yoniso manasikàra), the Javana becomes moral; if viewed wrongly (ayoniso manasikàra),it becomes immoral. In the case of an Arahant this Javana is neither moral nor immoral, but merely functional(Kiriya). This Javana stage usually lasts for seven thought-moments, or, at times of death, five. The whole process which happens in an infinitesimal part of time ends with the registering consciousness (Tadàlambana),lasting for two thought-moments—thus completing one thought-process at the expiration of seventeen thought-moments.

from A Manual of Abhidhamma (Abhidhammattha Sangaha) By Narada Maha Thera

Choppy waters unless we are deeply asleep. But even then what of night terrors and the like? To be unconscious is not the same as Bhavanga consciousness it seems to me. If you’ve ever experienced general anesthesia that type of unconsciousness is an emulation of death in which nothing arises or moves. Since we can’t spend our lives in an unconscious state, thereby being free of any of these worries and we also can’t spend our lives completely absorbed with objects to the point of obsession the resolution becomes one of realization of the nature of the game as it goes on experientially.

Each citta which arises falls away immediately to be succeeded by the next citta. Cittas do not last, but there isn’t any moment without citta. If there were moments without citta the body would be a dead body. Even when we are sound asleep there is citta. Each citta which arises falls away but it conditions the next citta and even so the last citta of this life conditions the first citta of the next life, the rebirth- consciousness. Thus we see that life goes on and on.

The next citta cannot arise until the previous citta has passed away. There can be only one citta at a time, but cittas arise and fall away so rapidly that one has the impression that there can be more than one citta at a time. We may think that we can see and hear at the same time, but in reality each of these cittas arises at a different moment. We can verify through our own experience that seeing is a type of citta which is different from hearing; these cittas arise because of different conditions and experience different objects.

A citta is that which experiences something; it experiences an object. Each citta must experience an object, there cannot be any citta without on object. Cittas experience different objects through the six doors of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind.

A citta which experiences a bodily impression experiences this through the body-sense. Through the mind-door citta can experience all kinds of objects. There can be only one citta at a time and citta can experience only one object at a time.

Abhidhamma in daily life by Nina Van Gorkom Part 3 Different Aspects of Citta

We can simplify the seemingly complex mental processes by realizing the above but that is only a first step. What happens from there depends upon what we do with and about our experiences of said “objects”.  As long as there is the push-pull of preferences (desire, aversion) then it’s like being tied to runaway horses. (or oxes)

Suppose that a black ox and a white ox were joined with a single collar or yoke. If someone were to say, ‘The black ox is the fetter of the white ox, the white ox is the fetter of the black’ — speaking this way, would he be speaking rightly?”

“No, my friend. The black ox is not the fetter of the white ox, nor is the white ox the fetter of the black. The single collar or yoke by which they are joined: That is the fetter there.”

“It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how the eye is not the fetter of forms, nor are forms the fetter of the eye, but whatever desire & passion arises in dependence on the two of them: That is the fetter there. The ear is not the fetter of sounds… The nose is not the fetter of aromas… The tongue is not the fetter of flavors… The body is not the fetter of tactile sensations… The intellect is not the fetter of ideas, nor are ideas the fetter of the intellect, but whatever desire & passion arises in dependence on the two of them: That is the fetter there.”

from Kotthita Sutta at Access to Insight

Digression #3 Attempted Extrapolations as to the State of the Non-Suffering Conscious Which means I do wild speculation upon what it would be like to be enlightened. Or more aptly a short history of said speculations throughout my Buddhist career.  I also bash Mother Teresa and Gandhi. (but only a little bit)


What I am trying to get at here is not only the function of consciousness/mind but the origin of suffering within that.

A previously quoted author stated: Suffering is a problem of consciousness; only that which is conscious can suffer.

Here we have then the question of sentience as well as the implications for those who follow the Bodhisattva path.

Understanding the mechanisms involved in suffering, it’s origin in consciousness and its means of relief is what the whole project is about from this perspective.


Abhidhamma in daily life by Nina Van Gorkom Part 3 Different Aspects of Citta  Straightforward explanations and applications.

The Abhidharma by Peter Della Santina, Ph.D. particularly (3) Analysis of Consciousness wherein he discusses sense-sphere consciousness. This treatise is a description, summation and analysis of Abhidharma. Quite intense but interesting none-the-less.

from The Abhidhamma in Practice by N.K.G. Mendis is from Access to Insight. This essay gives a very straightforward introduction to the Abhidhamma. Terms are clearly defined and the main theses are outlined in an easy to understand way.

Analysis of the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness (Satipaññhànavibhaïgo, Vibh. 7) (English only- 43 p. pdf) from the Ancient Buddhist Texts site. Here’s the one with the Pali transliteration included (94 p. pdf)  Here is the same material from three different translators from
Access to Insight. 1.  Satipatthana Sutta: Frames of Reference translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2.   Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness translated from the Pali by Nyanasatta Thera 3.  Satipatthana Sutta: The Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness translated from the Pali by Soma Thera

Consciousnesses by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo -a dhamma talk that has been transcribed and translated on the development of consciousness

The Five Aggregates A Study Guide by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (describing their construction and deconstruction)

Five Skandhas -from Wikipedia. Includes a section on 5 Relation to other Buddhist concepts which deals with Four Paramatthas, Twelve Sense Bases, Twelve Nidanas / Dependent Origination,  Eighteen Dhātus.  As well there is a section on 2.3 Release through aggregate-contemplation which is what I am basically talking about in this post.

A Manual of Abhidhamma (Abhidhammattha Sangaha) By Narada Maha Thera One of many of the excellent e-books and other resources available at Buddhanet’s ebook library

The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha)by The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw This essay follows Buddhaghosa’s  Visuddhimagga but is simplified and more direct. Even so it is not exactly for beginners which the author states himself.

The Sutra on the Four Grounds of Mindfulness Nian Chu Jing (Sarvastivada) from Madhya Agama (number 26 in Taisho Revised Tripitaka). Translated by Gautama Sanghadeva from Sanskrit into Chinese, and by Thich Nhat Hanh and Annabel Laity into English.

Three Cheers for Tanha by Robert Morrison (Dharmachari Sagaramati) from the Western Buddhist Review Vol. 2  While I strongly disagree with the author’s approach to likening Buddhist concepts to Christian ones (tanha-original sin, Agamma Sutta-book of Genesis, tanha as the apple in the Eden episode, etc.), it only confuses matters, when that is left aside the analysis of the tanha concept is interesting and well researched.

A Big Mistake

Indian Crested Porcupine

“Why do you want enlightenment anyway?  You may not like it.”  – Shunryu Suzuki

“I don’t remember making a mistake called enlightenment.”  Ikkyu

“Because enlightenment must not remain, you grind it off completely, until there is not even a speck of enlightenment. When you reach this point of ‘no stink of enlightenment’ where there is no trace, you vow with great determination to let the absence of enlightenment continue long, long, long like a single rail of iron for myriad miles.” Bokusan

“You won’t know how much pain you’re in until you are enlightened.” Katagiri Roshi

Case 11: Unmon’s “Two Diseases”

Great Master Unmon said, “When the light does not penetrate, there are two diseases. Everything is unclear and things hang before you: this is one disease. Even after you have realized the emptiness of all things, somehow you feel as if there were still something there. This shows that the light has not yet penetrated thoroughly.

Also there are two diseases concerning the Dharma-body. You have reached the Dharma-body, but you remain attached to the Dharma and cannot extinguish your own view; therefore you lead a corrupt life around the Dharma-body: this is one disease. Suppose you have truly penetrated to the end, if you give up further efforts, it will not do. You examine yourself minutely and say you have no flaw: this is nothing but a disease.”

from Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity)

In Ch’an literature there is a famous story relating Bodhidharma’s audience with Liang Wu Ti, the devout Buddhist emperor of the Liang Dynasty. Emperor Wu described to Bodhidharma his many projects of charity and support for Buddhism and asked, “What kind of merit have I received from this?”

Bodhidharma replied, “No merit whatsoever.”

A little later Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, “How would you characterize true merit?”

Bodhidharma said, “Pure wisdom is marvelous and perfect; its essence is intrinsically empty and quiescent. Such merit is not sought by worldly means.”

To which Emperor Wu queried, “What is the ultimate meaning of the holy truth [of absolute reality]?”

Bodhidharma replied, “Empty and vast — there is no holiness.”

Emperor Wu then said, “Who is this person standing before me?”

Bodhidharma replied, “I do not know.”

Emperor Wu did not grasp Bodhidharma’s meaning. Knowing that the Emperor did not have the capacity to receive the Ch’an teaching, Bodhidharma departed

from Chan Magazine Spring 1997 (Dharma Drum)

Sounds like hella fun!

One would have to be a real fool to have some longing for that kind of thing.

Seems like enlightenment is the biggest obstacle of all to overcome.

Here is something else to do instead of trying to catch that porcupine.

Quiz: Your Enlightenment IQ from Beliefnet

The Third Step

Wind, flag, mind moves. The same understanding. (source)

Whoever understands the first truth, Should understand the ultimate truth. The last and first, Are they not the same? (source)

Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth? (source)

Paradoxes such as these involve a duality and the answer is the resolution of that duality. It is not mere polemic but seeks to go beyond that. Not in a merging but in synthesis. These examples of koans are only a few of a type that directly address the duality. Note that koans tend to, either directly or implicitly, involve a speaker and a respondent (mondo or Zen dialogue). The resolution comes when both have the same understanding.

And within them are often other dualities to be resolved. When you deconstruct them from this point of view they portray a delightful range of interconnected or even entangled dualities. Reminds me of the DNA helix. The various pairs such as question/answer, teacher/student, koan/commentary, past/present, word/thing (nama/rupa), object/subject, confusion/clarity, here/there, time/timeless, movement/stillness, noise/silence, empty/full or full/empty, first/last, coming/going, relative/ultimate, illusion/truth, meeting/parting, alone/together and many others are all often encompassed into these explosive little epithets.

The resolution of duality through synthesis is a dialectical approach.

Another way to understand dialectics is to view it as a method of thinking to overcome formal dualism and monistic reductionism. For example, formal dualism regards the opposites as mutually exclusive entities, whilst monism finds each to be an epiphenomenon of the other. Dialectical thinking rejects both views. The dialectical method requires focus on both at the same time. It looks for a transcendence of the opposites entailing a leap of the imagination to a higher level, which (1) provides justification for rejecting both alternatives as false and/or (2) helps elucidate a real but previously veiled integral relationship between apparent opposites that have been kept apart and regarded as distinct.   from Wikipedia

Dialectic analysis most simply stated involves:

Thesis –> Anti-thesis –> Synthesis

This is quite relevant when we are talking about understanding and conveying the Dharma. A well known teacher has stated, rather strongly, the following”

People language is used by the ordinary people who don’t understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. Sometimes, when only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the ordinary listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely opposite to the language he speaks. We can call it “Dhamma language.” You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.

People who are blind to the true reality (Dhamma) can speak only people language, the conventional language of ordinary people. On the other hand, people who have genuinely realized the ultimate truth (Dhamma) can speak either language. They can handle people language quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language, especially when speaking among those who know reality, who have already realized the truth (Dhamma). Amongst those with profound understanding, Dhamma language is used almost exclusively, unfortunately, ordinary people can’t understand a word. Dhamma language is understood only by those who are in the know. What is more, in Dhamma language it isn’t even necessary to make a sound. For example, a finger is pointed or an eyebrow raised and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So, please take interest in these two kinds of language–people language and Dhamma language. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu via Danny Fisher

Continuing on this topic from Dharmaweb Two Kinds Of Language: Everyday Language and Dhamma language  the author gives us many examples of this dichotomy. He introduces the topic and then defines quite a number of words. One of the words he describes in this way is Dhamma (Dharma).


The second word to consider is “Dhamma” (Dharma in Sanskrit). At the childish level of everyday language, the word is understood as referring to the actual books that contain the scriptures, the “Dhamma” in the bookcase. Or it may be understood as referring to the spoken word used in expounding the Teaching. This is the meaning of the word “Dhamma” in everyday language., the language of deluded people who has not yet seen the true Dhamma.

In term of Dhamma language, the Dhamma is one and the same as the Enlightened One. “One who see the Dhamma sees the Tathágata. One who sees the Tathágata see the Dhamma.” This is the real Dhamma. In the original Pali language, the word “Dhamma” was used to refer to all of the intricate and involved things that go to make up what we call Nature. Time will not permit us to discuss this point in detail here, so we shall mention just the main points. The word “Dhamma” embraces:

1. Nature itself;

2. The law of Nature;

3. The duty of each human being to act in accordance with the Law of Nature;

4. The benefits to be derived from this acting in accordance with the Law of Nature.

This is the wide range of meaning covered by the word “Dhamma.” It does not refer simply to books, palm-leaf manuscripts, or the voices of preachers. The word “Dhamma,” as used in Dhamma language, refers to non-material things. Dhamma is all embracing; it is profound; it includes all things, some difficult to understand and some not so difficult.

This is paradoxical to most of us-the same situations, sets of teachings etc having the possibility of being understood in multiple ways.  To help clear up this paradox we can return to a Zen perspective on stages of understanding language.  Note the dialectical approach with the resolution being one of synthesis.

    Stage 1: The pre-Enlightenment stage where reason and language must be thoroughly commanded and understood with regard to their intended meanings and referents.

    Stage 2: The Enlightenment stage where reason and language as means have achieved their goal and must be abolished or discarded so that they will not obstruct or dominate one’s experience of Enlightenment.

    Stage 3: The post-Enlightenment stage where one is able to freely use language for various purposes of instruction and verification of certain relevant experiences toward Enlightenment and where such use of language becomes an integral part of the goal achievement.

from On Zen (Ch’an) Language and Zen Paradoxes by Chung-ying Cheng

To add to the above consider what Ted Biringer wrote in the article Beyond the Gateless Barrier of Zen – Koan Introspection – revised

As writing is only discernible to those who have activated their (inherent) ability to read, so koans are only discernible to those that have activated their (inherent) observing cognition (the third of the Four Prajnas*4). In the Mahayana sutras and shastras this cognition is sometimes referred to as, “the eye to read scriptures” or the “Buddha-eye.” Just as writing appears “irrational” to an illiterate (and in fact is irrational to them) so it is with koans to those that have not activated the ability to “read” them. Thus, any appropriation or interpretation of koans by those that have not crossed the initial threshold of awakening (thereby activating their observing-prajna) is bound to miss the mark.

This is perhaps the most clear analogy regarding Dharma language, thought and understanding that I’ve come across.

Using an Example

From the amazing archive of the First Zen Institute which was begun by Sasaki Roshi we can consider texts such as those about the marks of Buddha as koans.  Here he is discussion the Holy Marks of the Buddha.

What are the thirty-two holy marks that appeared on Buddha’s body? If I give you this koan, how do you answer? You must observe every Buddhist term from all angles. You must not just accept the statement that there are holy signs of the Buddha’s physiognomy as physiognomical marks. In the morning the sun appears in the East, and after sundown the moon appears. Day and night come one after the other. The mountains soar high;the ocean is almost endless to the eye. In a week four days are clear and three days rainy. In spring the flowers bloom;in autumn the leaves fall. Farmers plow the ground in the spring and birds sing. These are the holy marks of the Buddha. Of course it was traditional to describe the Buddha’s body as the place to reveal the thirty-two holy signs. But you must penetrate to the inner meanings the Buddha very carefully set in his teachings.

Sasaki Roshi from p.4

From this perspective pretty much all of Buddhist canonical and non-canonical literature such as commentaries can be taken up in this fashion.

Many people would like to toss out most of the Buddhist texts in favor of more experiential practices. In my opinion that is somewhat jumping the gun. If one has not understood fully what they are rejecting then how can it’s value be ascertained? 

Some refer to this as the “baby out with the bathwater” approach. I would choose a slightly different metaphor. Suppose someone gives you a rock. If you don’t have the knowledge to determine it’s value likely it will be left on the road. But if you do have some knowledge of geology and you happen to know what kimberlite is you might want to ask, “Where did this come from? Can we go there? Can we get more?”

Experience alone does not always provide the necessary clues to determine what is worth keeping and what is worth throwing away. And knowledge alone does not provide the same depth that experience coupled with knowledge can give.

A Few Other Considerations

On Wild Fox Zen, Dosho Port recently wrote:

Dogen says, “Taking the backward step of transforming the self is the way to bring ease to the community” (Leighton and Okumura translation).

This comment has a number of angles. One is foreshadow for several stories that Dogen then tells about his encounters with tenzos who took radical responsibility for their service.

While I’m not going to take up the complete content of that, the point that is made regarding foreshadowing is important. In any text, such as Shobogenzo (Treasury of the True Dharma-Eye) one can take bits and pieces and discover quite a bit. But taken as a whole there is an inner resonance and greater significance to a great deal of it.  A literary technique like foreshadowing is often employed in longer works with larger thematic implications.

This is true of the entire body of Buddhist writing including the various Canons, commentaries, discussions and later works. It is true of koans, mantras, mandalas, rituals, meditation practices and every other artifact, if you will, that has acquired significance to people on the Buddhist path. This is why picking and choosing on a whim can be a fruitless endeavor. The sum is greater than the parts. Always has been, always will be.

Context is always important in trying to resolve difficulties on the path. To fully comprehend something requires more than just focus upon that one thing. There is always something else that accompanies it. Sometimes a lot of something elses.

The True Dharma-Eye is one of examination within context and with regard to connections. There is discrimination there but of a particular type. This has been mentioned in several of the quotes above.

The ordinary way of looking at things sees a thing on it’s surface but does not penetrate too deeply. A few characteristics may be noted, it is judged good/bad/indifferent and one then moves on to look at the next object. The Dharma-Eye encounters something until it is experienced in it’s most deep and broadest, connections intact and not artificially severed by the mind. Judgement is irrelevant since one is experiencing from a standpoint of equanimity.

The duality of subject/object is synthesized into dissolution.


What comes to mind upon thinking about this is the Tibetan style of debate. A debater with a particular point of view must state his opponent’s point of view with complete understanding before continuing on with attempting to demonstrate his own viewpoint.

This dialectical methodology, which results in both participants sharing understanding of a particular point-the synthesis and the point of the exercise-can serve to really enrich practice for anyone.

Moving out of the small imaginary worlds (Umwelt) we live in inside our heads a lot of the time and on to greater understanding takes a great deal of work and willingness. 

Dharma eyes, dharma ears, dharma senses, consciousness and eventually understanding all bring resonance and meaning to life.  We can state one thing, state it’s opposite but from there where do we go?

To reach the dialectical synthesis we must examine duality, not deny it as many wish to do. The complexity of duality is not a simple either/or. There are far too many connections to reduce it to that point. Nor can we say “All is one” with any confidence while we are cognizant of duality. That is simple denial. The situation is much bigger than all of that.

This is apparent in all Buddhist practices if we examine them from such a perspective.

We must be open to taking that third step.