Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Schedule and Readings

Hello All, Before getting started I wanted to lay out our schedule for the first four meetings. Once we finish with the initial 11 sections, the autobiographical portion of the Platform Sutra, we might slow down and go a section or two at a time. There is a two week gap between weeks 3 and 4 because some of us will be at the Entangling Vines retreat at Kairos where I hope to give more detailed talks on the early sections of the Platform Sutra.
week 2 (10/20): sections 2-5
week 3 (10/27):sections 6-8
week 4 (11/10): sections 9-11

    Hui-neng is regarded as the 6th ancestor in China. Seng-t'san, the author of the Verses of the Faith Mind which we studied last year, was his great grandfather in the dharma. It is said that Bodhidharma brought the L:ankatavara Sutra with him from India and this was the most widely read and regarded sutra by the new sect. With Hui-neng's ascendency to the one teaching seat, the Diamond Sutra and, after Hui-neng's death, The Platform Sutra became the main guides for the evolving Chan sect. The Platform Sutra presentation is clear, precise and direct like, I imagine, Hui-neng himself. It is said in our zen mythology that Hui-neng was from a very poor family and that he was illiterate. He also had his first opening to what is when he was a boy. This myth immediately tumbles some of the previous tenets of the majority Hinayana sect ie you do not have to be a monk, practice does not take lifetimes, you do not have to study sutras and sastras & nirvana is not the 'goal' of practice.
    I will primarily be using Red Pine's translation of this work, and although I do not have the other translations with me (I am in Ashland on our annual sojourn for a week of Shakespeare) and cannot give you their sources,  I will be using two other translations for comparison when meanings might be unclear. I encourage you to read Red Pine's 'Introduction' for the history and some other contextual issues regarding this text and translation. You'll find it to be a good read with valuable insights replete with Red Pine's wry humor.
    In the Diamond Sutra, the buddha, after completing his begging rounds and his morning ablutions, sat down in front of the monks and preached the Diamond Sutra in response to a question. The sutra ended with the buddha speaking to monks, nuns, laywomen and men. Hui-neng  also has in his audience the four-fold noble sangha and he is, in fact, about to do a lay ordination, possibly what we call jukai. Before starting the formal ceremony, or maybe as part of the ceremony, he tells the participants something of his own spiritual journey. (Actually this might be something you could do--how did you get here, around this table or reading this blog? What brought you to this very moment, to this very place on the wisdom path that you/we are walking? Who was important or instrumental in your developing spiritual life?) We take up part of his story as a koan in the Gateless Gate and you may want to read Aitken Roshi's chapter from his Gateless Gate before coming to the next two meetings.
   This first section is brief and i don't think I need to say much about it. The words that leaped out  at me in this section are " to transmit the Formless Precepts." He doesn't say as is usually said 'to transmit the precepts' but he calls them 'the formless precepts'. Why do you think this is?  What are the formless precepts? Are they the same or different than the ones we recite in our jukai ceremony? And that is where I will start next week.
Enjoy the read. I am looking forward to doing this with you. Hui-neng is direct, simple and clear but he is not easy. And, I think, together, we can learn much from him that is still relevant to our practice and to our modern lives although these words were spoken almost 1300 years ago. He, like the Diamond Sutra Buddha, continually points directly to what is right before us and leaves nothing out. He says that it is within our lives, it is within our very bodies where we will find what has never been hidden. He is insistent that each thing 'posses' its own original nature which is your very own original nature...all we have to do is to see that and then see through the one who sees!
take care

& from Ted Biringer--a great resource himself:

There is one "complete" commentary by a Zen teacher, if I remember right, in the Charles Luk 3 part series; I think in part 2...

The most helpful "related" commentary for me is "Huineng's Commentary On the Diamond Sutra" - this, accompanies Thomas Cleary's translation of the Platform Sutra (unlike the Wong translation which includes the Diamond Sutra without Huineng's commentary).

Next would be Red Pine's translation of PS which includes extensive notes and commentary - Pine's own commentary is basically helpful in a "scholarly" sense, but it is interspersed with quotes from classic masters.

Next is D.T. Suzuki's "The Zen Doctrine of No Mind." This offers a commentary on the PS, but remains primarily focused on Suzuki's understanding of "No-Mind" which is certainly worth grappling with - provided Suzuki's biases are taken into account by the reader. As usual with Suzuki, there are lots of great quotes from the classics.

In Norman Wadell's "The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin" between about pages 46-60 Hakuin offers some classic scathing criticisms - as well as insightful clues - on the PS, mostly in connection with the significance of the notion of "The Pure Land."

Finally, Dogen offers some profound commentaries on the PS expressions about "Buddha nature/no Buddha nature" (Bussho/Mu-Bushho) in the Bussho or "Buddha Nature" fascicle. The PS treatment of "Thusness" in the "Immo" fascicle. And the PS story of Huineng's encounter with the "Sutra Turning Monk" in the "Hokke Ten Hokke" (Lotus Turning) fascicle.

1 comment :

  1. Saturday, October 13 – PZC Reading Group Report

    We read section 1 aloud (we didn't all have books yet) and hit on selected parts of the commentary (whereever someone's eye or interest fell), and discussed the historical Hui Neng and the idea of a this sutra: to explain teaching of majaprajnaparamita and to make a record for students of the way. We discussed how the beginning of this sutra is unique in that it includes autobiography, that it’s the only Chinese document with the “rank” of “sutra” (meaning normally “words of the Buddha”), and that this exception shows esteem for Hui Neng. We discussed the account of the attendance as numbering 10,000, and how this number seems to be a handle for “the many” or “all that is”; this lead us to remark that it’s interesting that lay people were present too. We recalled/reviewed the prajnaparamita and various aspects of Buddhist teachings and the historical Buddha. Looking at the commentary, we turned over what “Formless Precepts” might mean. We asked “why is truth so hard to grasp”? And “what makes Hui Neng memorable? Why is this sutra preserved? Did he innovate on ideas, or on pedagogy, presenting them in a new light in an important way? Why do we read other texts that transform the original teachings?” We discussed how one might read and engage these texts: to grasp their teachings, or as examples of pedagogy? We commented on the value of the reading group and sangha, of sharing different views.


Please comment using an account or a name from the 'Comment as' menu. Your comment will be published after it is approved (anti-spam process), usually within 24 hours.