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Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick

Avalokita, the Holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the Wisdom which has gone beyond. He looked down from on high, He beheld but five heaps, and He saw that in their own-being they were empty. Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form ; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness. Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness ; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete. Therefore, O Sariputra, in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness ; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind ; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind ; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to : No mind-consciousness element ; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to : There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.
- 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. ·

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Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick | 5 comments | Create New Account
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Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Authored by: samwidge on Wednesday, January 30 2013 @ 10:02 AM JST

You always startle and please me with lines like, "... swayed too much by crybabyism and busybodyism widespread among English-speaking prisoners of ideologies."

Thanks for that though I think that you and I would agree that everybody is gouged to some extent by this problem. As my mother used to say, "If it isn't one thing, it's another.

As for, "... 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," this is also true of many Americans. We just use the words carefully. Among our astronauts, there are people who honor all the above and Confucius as well.

Seems to me that our kindest people are universally kind (but they still get into trouble).

Your point about Conservatism versus Liberalism in American culture is well taken. Like Buddha, Confucius and the people of Shinto faith, Conservatives and Liberals make no meaningful claim of Universal Wisdom and Creation.

We see Conservatism and Liberalism as innate mindsets grown from experience and something that resides in the brain from birth. The agony of these two apparent opposites is also the source of our intellectual health.

In the United States, your own mindset would be considered Conservative and you might take that as a compliment (or not).

The American political paradigm can be likened to two arch enemies who have only one foot each. Neither can walk alone. Working arm-in-arm they may progress. When they do, they must jointly decide on a goal that will please both.

Their strength is their weakness, their power is their difference. Neither dares kill the other.

Win, lose or draw, Christianity is faith in addition to belief. In some of our teachings, God came to people in the form of three men, not just one.

This is a mystery of teachings. Like life itself, there is something of value if we inquire for it.
Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Thursday, January 31 2013 @ 07:43 AM JST

Thanks, samwidge.

I'm still anxious to know how you Americans (or you and other Americans) view Buddhism more specifically.

If I understand it correctly, the blogosphere (and not Facebook or Twitter) is the only venue where we could possibly promote "cross-cultural" understanding. Frankly I don't think we can narrow the gap between the two cultures. Neither do I think that is necessary. The only thing I think is necessary is to identify the differences, very clearly and specifically. To that end I want you to know I am an avowed, but unregistered, Buddhist and tell me exactly why you believe in Christianity, if ever you have faith in it.

I hope I'm not asking too much of you, because now I know you are swamped with preparatory work for presentations. Also it will be nice if you tell us why you think America will return to normalcy if the Republicans and the Democrats reconcile - and exactly in what point they have to reconcile in the first place. Or do you support a single-party system?

Thanks in advance.

Yu Yamamoto
Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Authored by: samwidge on Thursday, January 31 2013 @ 05:18 PM JST

More specifically; How Americans view Buddhism.

If I could give you a definitive answer, I would be far more capable than the smartest. The world remains too large to understand and criticize the ideas of others effectively.

A Japanese friend of mine, Dr. Toshimi Tatsuyama, taught my class on religion. He explained that there were many angles from which to examine religion, not merely many religions. Among Christians, we think of religion as being any belief-set that includes creation and an ethereal god or God that made or makes miracles.

I decline to look up some classical definition on the subject because, in the United States, our views shift too rapidly. If I understand correctly, the Shinto way is an example of faith that is not religion. That is; it has no creation and no God. Instead, this powerful approach guides people to success and comfort with lessons in behaviour.

We see Confucius in somewhat the same way but with a name for a person or being who is a source of good advice for getting along with everyone else.

Buddhism somehow crosses this line. Like most here, I do not know if Buddha or any being related to him/them is considered a deity in any way.

My understanding is vague and I was taught that the Dali Lama is a god of sorts and a part of Buddhism. Obviously, I should be corrected in that. There has been too little time for me to understand my own faith to take many excursions of learning elsewhere.

I believe that most of us are confused on the matter of religion versus faith. When we wonder about religion, we wonder how people think about things they cannot understand. When we wonder about faith, we wonder what actually succeeds not only today but for the millennium ahead.

Still, that's a poor analysis though I think that few do better than this. Neither of us is afraid to die. Neither of us is anxious to die.

You have no expectations for the time after death. As a Christian I do.

Doesn't seem like there is much difference in all that.

If there are problems between the peoples of religion, it must be problems of personality and not issues of faith.

Thanks, good friend, for asking an excellent question, one that I will spend weeks working on to answer for my own self. There are few gifts better than a great question.
Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Authored by: Diogenes on Wednesday, January 30 2013 @ 07:41 PM JST
I completely disagree with your understanding of what the Heart Sutra means. Buddhism is a religion whose fundamental tenet is a psychological experience beyond concepts. It’s a living experience beyond words, beyond concepts or thoughts, as the Heart Sutra describes. It is a destination with which to arrive, psychologically, where: “…Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete. Therefore, O Sariputra, in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness ; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind ; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind ; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to : No mind-consciousness element ; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to : There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.”

The Heart Sutra is the description of a psychological state where the self, the ego, has died, but…something is still within that is beyond all concepts. This is the “emptiness is form, form is emptiness” experience. This is the Middle Way. When the ego, the sense of a self as a separate being, has died, what’s left? As the saying goes, Buddha is what you were before your mother and father were born and will be around after you die. Mother and father is also a metaphor for ignorance and delusion, created by the self. There is an awareness with which we are born that is the same awareness at five-years-old and the same at ninety-years-old. It never grows old. It doesn’t pass judgments; it is where there is “no attainment and non-attainment”; it’s a similar concept as the Christmas tune for children in the U.S., whose words include: “…he knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Some would say that Santa Claus in this song is a person’s conscience, but it could also be considered the Buddha mind, the mind that never dies; that is the same ageless awareness that we all have, whether we are blind, or whether we are deaf and mute; it’s the mind that simply bears witness and never passes judgment, unlike Santa Claus. It is where time stops, and when that happens, death and birth ends, or as the Heart Sutra says: “There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death.” This is a psychological experience beyond words, beyond Buddhist precepts.

When a person has attained this state of where the sense of a self has died, one will be like the monk that when robbers threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t give them all his money, he responded calmly, “Come forward and cut off my hoary head forthwith.” For him, there was no need for a knife when there was nothing to protect, or as the Heart Sutra says: “…No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.”

The Buddha is alleged to have used his suffering to find this place. In this endless existence where we live temporarily, there is a question each human being must ask: Am I willing to give up my ego to get to a paradise that is beyond words? Am I willing to kill this friend, this ego, that thinks it is alive; that thinks it is me? Am I suffering enough to be motivated to find this inner land of freedom, this land of liberation? There is nothing more important than this inner search for liberation from suffering.

There is nothing left to say on this subject. I have no dog in this fight, so whether you disagree with me or not, which I expect, it is irrelevant.
Love it AND leave it - and don't cherry-pick
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Thursday, January 31 2013 @ 06:26 AM JST

Thanks, Diogenes. I don’t really appreciate the zero-tolerance statement I see at the bottom of your post because after all I am a Buddhist though you may not agree. But otherwise, I appreciate your counterargument very much. So let me say something whether or not you think it’s totally “irrelevant” to you.

I quoted the important passage from the Heart Sutra simply because I didn’t know any older Buddhist scripture. As you may know, the Sutra is believed to have been put in writing several centuries after the Buddha died by someone named Nagarjuna. He is credited with founding the first “school” of Mahayana Buddhism. Also important to note is that the main part of the Sutra is a collection of quotes from Sariputra, not the Buddha himself. The Wikipedian says Sariputra was one of the disciples of the Buddha, but I suspect he was not a disciple in the sense Simon Peter, et al. were to Jesus. It’s more likely that Sariputra was one of the Buddhas himself. But this doesn’t really matter because we can safely assume anyone who was awakened may well have talked about the same principles the Buddha upheld. He didn’t need a certificate that would have certified he was not a heterodox Buddha.

To me all that matters is I have my own principles that essentially say, “Love it and leave it, and don’t cherry-pick.” And equally important, I constantly test them against changing reality of life, because otherwise they would soon be reduced to dogmas. Yet, the common denominator for all of us seeking the Buddhahood always remains: “Be honest with yourself.” Very simple.

Let us not be mistaken. It’s not only these empty-headed guys such as Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and Steven Seagal, but the Westerners at large, who think seeking Anatman (complete selflessness) is what Buddhism is all about. They are under the influence of dubious gurus in India or Zen monks in Japan. This Anatman joke is now widespread in the West. As you say, ego is a delusion, But for the very same reason, Anatman is yet another delusion. To the best of my knowledge, this is exactly what the Buddha meant to say when he was awakened to the truth that emptiness is form and form is emptiness.

At any rate, we are not talking about dogmas here. I bought the Swiss knife only to protect this principle, not my delusive ego or the imaginary absence of it. I couldn't care less if uncle Moses reprimands me for that.

Another thing I wanted to say is that we Northeast Asians owe the Buddha our modesty and humility. Without these traits, we, just like you Westerners, must have gotten stuck in dogmas and never-ending battles between ideologies. In later centuries, Buddha’s wisdom has been greatly distorted as Northeastern rulers, especially those in Japan, have taken advantage of these virtues. As a result, now we see unprincipled and self-deprecating sheeples all over this region. And yet, some of us still keep Buddha's inheritance intact and remain modest and humble people who are willing to listen to different opinions. We are not like Western fanatics who easily go from one extreme to the other, e.g. going back and forth between egomania and Anatman.

In 2001, a stupid yellow Yankee wrote: "[In 2011] China is a lake of gasoline, and [some individual] in some small town or large city, will have only to throw a [lighted] match." As usual the prophet was 180-degrees wrong. In this region, a dog never "bites the hand that feeds him." I've been at all-out war against the government simply because nobody feeds me.

However, this is not to say I'm completely in disagreement with your argument about Buddha's "psychological experience beyond words." As usual I have learned a lot from your argument from this angle.

Yu Yamamoto