Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Buddhist I Ching: Difficulty

This week's random I Ching hexagram is number 3, Difficulty.

From Thomas Cleary's translation of the commentary by Chi-hsu Ou-i:

In Buddhist terms, the first movement of ignorance is firm; defining objects based on awareness is flexible. Once there is subject and object, then there is a basis for the continuity of the process of subjectivity being mistaken for objectivity; this is how difficulty arises.

The initial random stirring of mind is the first way of entrapment in compulsive mental habits, yet it is also the barred opening to liberation; just observe the quality of movement of mind. During this movement, the dichotomization of subject and object takes place; then the mind grasps objects, defines and labels them, and acts on and gets entangled in the subjectively constructed continuity of the perceived world. Thus the image of "thunder and rain filling, heaven creating confusion and obscurity."

It is best to immediately apply subtle observational knowledge to analyze this process; one should not sit in the nihilistic nest of unknowing. Generally speaking, when practitioners notice that random thoughts have not cropped up for a while, they mistake this for empowerment; they do not know that annihilation is the abode of production. So one should not stick to this realm of tranquility and should break through it.

Especially the last paragraph that I've quoted above seems to be talking about the Satan's Cave phenomenon that I briefly wrote about last week. People like to believe that they are working toward a goal, and that the goal will be recognizable when they've arrived at it. Buddhist teachings, on the other hand, seem to always be saying to me that if I can verbalize or otherwise comprehend a spiritual goal, I have misapprehended it.

I wish I could find the quote now, but I believe I'm not horribly mangling the meaning of Pema Chodron when I attribute to her the notion that an enlightened being should be indifferent as to whether the world about them is calm or busy, or whether they are experiencing plain or pleasure. But a beginning practitioner might need to find the calm, before they can find that there is no difference between the calm and the busy. Or perhaps, that the calm and the busy are differentiated only in our minds.

I am particulary stricken by the part of the quoted passage which talks of the mind's "grasp[ing] objects, defin[ing] and label[ing] them," and its similarity to a quote from existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: "Once you label me, you negate me."

Once you say, "Oh, those people coming over the border are illegal aliens," you start the process of dehumanizing them.

Once you think, "Tor's a libertarian, so he's a whack job who's to the right of George W. Bush," you start to miss the many ways in which I'm to the left of the Clintons.

Once I think, "I'm a Buddhist, so I should revere the Dalai Lama," I'm getting into the cult of personality, and away from my own path to enlightenment.



P.S. Thanks to these folks for making the I Ching graphics!

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