Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
- From Prajñā Pāramitā: English translation by E. Conze
The Heart Sutra in Sanskrit
The Chinese translation of the same scripture
|When moving on from a post to the next, I often revisit Prajñā Pāramitā Hṛdaya, better known as the Heart Sutra, in its Chinese version, and sometimes stay there for weeks. I just want to make sure I haven't been swayed too much by crybabyism and busybodyism widespread among English-speaking prisoners of ideologies.
The Sanskrit words literally mean "the heart of the perfection of transcendent wisdom." This particular one, among other tens of thousands of scriptures, is considered to best represent the original way "Mahayana" Buddhists viewed the world. It was first put in writing presumably in the second or third century. But because of too much impurities added in the subsequent centuries, there are few other undistorted Buddhist sutras today.
"Mahayana" is literally translated as "the Great Vehicle." Professional monks, and Buddhist scholars alike, say there are other groups, especially in South Asian countries, who are generically called Theravada Buddhists. But none of them are not denominations of what the Westerners call Buddhism in the sense that Roman Catholic or Protestant is to Christianity. Buddhists are Buddhists.
To begin with, Buddhism is not a religion because it knows no god. It's just a set of principles. And unlike dogmas upheld by Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Buddhist principles are something which should be constantly tested against the ever-changing reality of life. Hence there are no fixed do's and don'ts.
Instead I have my own principles as an avowed Buddha fundamentalist with which to govern myself. One of them is NOT to seek truth because I know if I do, it runs away from me. At the same time, I never run away from truth because if I do, it starts chasing after me. Another rule says I should never cherry-pick because it's an illusion to expect I'll find something that is flawless or costless in this world. Since it's a self-imposed code of conduct, there's no prize at stake in adhering to it. No punishment is imposed either.
Several months ago I bought a big kitchen knife made in Switzerland at a nearby hardware shop because I have no yakuza friend who would lend me a gun when I need one. In the light of law of the jungle that prevails in the American society, I am a person who is too sensitive to hurt other humans. That's why I haven't killed or robbed any person in the last 77 years. But that doesn't mean I will never use the Swiss-made weapon as the last resort. At any rate I don't want Moses or anyone else to tell me whether and when to use it and against whom - myself or someone else. A Buddhist can be a killer when necessity arises.
In short, the Buddhist code of conduct has nothing to do with theism, or atheism for that matter.
Needless to say, the Japanese interpretation of Buddhist principles is quite different from the way other Northeast Asians understand them. Situated at one of the world's busiest cultural crossroads, the country is where the West has met the East in the weirdest and most unfortunate way. It all started when the prehistoric Emperor Kinmei (509-571 AD) mishandled the relations with the three kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula.
In the 530s, the ruling class was divided over whether to permit the import of Buddhism from one of the Korean Kingdoms named Paekche. Shintoism, which was nothing more than the primitive Shamanism tailored to fit into the Tennoist cult, had already established itself as the de facto state religion. But the Soga clan, which is suspected to have had its roots in the Peninsula and represented the Korean interest, adamantly insisted against the import ban. Just like all his incompetent successors would do in subsequent centuries, Emperor Kinmei made every possible effort to avoid facing up to the critical issue at hand. Instead, he chose to let things drift until the problem solved itself. Finally the other clans had to settle for the idea of the Soga's that in effect went like this: "We already have 八百万の神 (eight million gods) enshrined here. What's wrong with just adding a Buddha as the 8,000,001st one to venerate?"
This is basically why the Buddha was deified from the beginning in this country.
According to the official statistics, there are at least 96 million believers in Buddhas as deity. Japan's total population stands at 127 million, including kids. But the numbers of registered members of all religions including Christianity add up to more than 300 million, almost three-times the total population. This is the most telling evidence that the Japanese sold their souls to the devil for good in the mid-6th century.
The world's oldest scripture of the Heart Sutra written in Chinese on paper made of the leaf of the "lontar" palm tree is in the possession of the Horyu-ji temple in the ancient capital of Nara since the 7th century. But even today, the Japanese don't understand, or don't care about, the meaning of these Chinese words, because at a funeral or any other memorial service, the bonze on demand is always supposed to recite the Heart Sutra or any other Buddhist scripture in On reading, i.e. Chinese in altered pronunciation. The congregation would never appreciate the worthiness of the scripture if its Japanese translation were to be chanted. Most Japanese, even well-educated people, are so superstitious that they don't appreciate anything but abracadabra.
Ben Hills, the author of Princess Masako - The Tragic True Story of Japan's Crown Princess isn't exaggerating when he observes: "Most Japanese of Masako's generation never worship, but happily embrace a trilogy of faiths. They see no contradiction in being taken to the local Shinto shrine to be recorded at birth, marrying in Christian ceremonies, and having their bones buried in Buddhist family tombs."
Across the Pacific, basically the same thing has been happening to the American people at least since the mid-1960s. Now you can see a striking resemblance between the two peoples in their unprincipled way of cherry-picking incongruous ideas from ideological rubbish. While most of them still cling to the same old delusions such as conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism, better-educated people are increasingly looking to the East as if Buddhism or any other Asian wisdom can be an alternative to Judeo-Christian ideologies. More often than not these people settle for the stereotypical exoticism and esoteric mysticism movie-makers in Hollywood are untiringly churning out.
And yet, there are a small number of people who are aware their country is now intellectually bankrupt and they are badly in need of something that is a little more than an antithesis of any idea derived from Christianity or anti-Christianity. Simply they are wrong; an antithesis can't precede the thesis in question. If you don't know it, the Buddha was born in the 5th century before Christ.
If you are one of those Americans who seek peace of mind through fasting or any other type of mortification, once again, you are wrong.
In the Christian world, there is only one God and only one Jesus Christ. Although not a few people have claimed to be a reincarnation of God or Jesus, they are all nuts. On the contrary, there supposed to be many real Buddhas in Asian countries because the name simply means anyone who is awakened to the fundamental principles Shakyamuni Buddha advocated. That's why I add a "the" when I refer to this particular Buddha.
One of the misperceptions typical of the Americans is the notion that the Buddha sought a way to detach himself from the real world in the expectation that he could attain peace of mind that way. If this were true, you could readily find in your own country tips for inner peace which is somewhat akin to Buddha's teaching.
The Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, for one, could be a substitute for the Heart Sutra. As far as I know, winos and junkies have found it effective in breaking their addiction to substance to chant these words everyday. There's no reason to rule out the Serenity Prayer as an effective cure for your pathological fixation to a delusive ideology or ideological delusion.
Likewise, the famous right-wing rhetoric "Love it or leave it", in a sense, resonates with Buddhists because the slogan is meant to say in a very straightforward way: "Don't cherry-pick."
Some 30 years ago, a psychiatrist named Howard M. Halpern wrote about addictive "attachment hunger" like this: "All of these [self-deceptive] people believe it would be better for them to leave the relationship, but when it comes to doing so they are paralyzed. In order to remain in relationship, knowing it is against their own best interests, they frequently try to trick themselves by distorting the situation."
All these words are convincing enough to tell you that it's none other than yourself that actually locked you in the imaginary prison, and that you can't find the way out of it simply because deep inside you don't want to free yourself. To that end you tend to mix up detachment with what psychiatrists call a "fugue state."
But something very important is missing in these statements made in U.S.A. For one thing, Halpern stopped short of telling you it's more important than just detaching or decommitting yourself from the wrong partner that you reattach or recommit yourself to the right person.
There's no denying the story about Jesus Passion is touching, but it's not really thought-provoking because it doesn't tell what if he hadn't been persecuted the way he was. On the contrary, books on the life of the Buddha is intriguing except they are also filled with absurd episodes such as the one about the white elephant.
He was 29-years-old when he started his penance. But at the end, he was awakened only to the truth that self-mortification would not lead him to a full awakening. The Buddha had learned by then that detachment from the material life would mean nothing but another delusion until renewing his attachment and commitment to it in a better way. In other words, he got the life-size view of himself in the newly acquired perspective of the infinite universe.
To a Buddhist, awakening is an open-ended process through which he breaks an addictive attachment and reattaches himself to someone or something new. If you say you have nothing or no one but your own self that makes your life worth living, I suspect you are one of those prisoners of egomaniac or narcissistic delusions. It seems quite unlikely that you can be awakened from your ignorance and arrogance.
The Buddha-to-be was born in a royal Hindu family to King Śuddhodana, the leader of the Shakya clan. So he belonged to Kshatriyas, the second-highest class within the caste system. It remains a mystery why he voluntarily left behind the affluent life in the palace, his beautiful wife and their new-born child. I hypothesize that he embarked on the long journey in search of suffering because of, rather than despite, his wealthy upbringing. As we all know, those who are stingy about earthly pleasure are also parsimonious about suffering because they have nothing to miss or no one to yearn for. To them suffering is just a word. So is delight.
The Buddha didn't embrace hedonism, Epicureanism, or materialism. But neither did he believe in asceticism or spiritualism. And the farthest thing from Buddhism is extremism or fanaticism.
Then did he go in the middle of the road, as the simple-minded Westerners often say? Not at all. Buddhism has nothing in common with centrism or moderatism either. If there is an ism that isn't really foreign to Buddhism, it's radicalism in the true sense of the word.
These are why I often use the Heart Sutra as the checklist for my words and deeds. ·