Tuesday, January 01, 2008

One Side Makes You Larger & One Side Makes You Small

Happy New Year according to the foreign calendar system. During that last month of 2007 I must’ve been napping. That would explain why I didn't notice that Tibeto-logic had been awarded the prestigious White Rabbit Award, vying and tying for first place with PSz of Thor-bu blog, which can be accessed via my sidebar (just look up and to your right). It is possible this particular White Rabbit Award (there have been many as you may know from a quick & simple Schmoogle) has never been given before, which would make it all the more unique and special now wouldn’t it? Have a look here right now if you want to.

I’m not sure which if any of the above bunnies might be Tibeto, and which Thor-bu, but anyway I’d like to imagine (from my pov, natch’) that Tibeto is the one in the center looking into it’s own reflection below the ground level, looking for all intents and purposes like the white rabbit that took Alice down the rabbit hole. This provokes a possible question, which is, Did (and do) the White Rabbits, including their weblog namesakes, lead into a world of greater delusions, into a kind of psychotropic fog-b[l]og of ego-centered fantasies, or might they to the contrary point the way through a world of alternative/alternating delusions like meditation can do? I think the question is very important, but I will defer to the Rinpoche’s
thugs-dam divinations on this one.

The Rinpoche, with whom I’m not personally or even impersonally acquainted by the way, does bring up an interesting position, one not his own but one often held by modern western Buddhist-inspired meditators. It can and sometimes does go something like this: Learning can have no good effect. It only serves to make the learned proud, and pride is after all the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life. There could really be truth in this. The 4th-century Desert Fathers and Mothers of Syria, Judaea, Gaza and Egypt thought so. (It’s been said Jerome became a scholar just because he was a failure as a desert hermit...) You can also find some somehow somewhat similar echoings of this position among meditation-focused Buddhist thinkers in Tibet’s past. One of my favorites is from Pagmodrupa, a Kagyüpa two generations after the much more famous Milarepa. He says,
The learned scholars cut away the veils of words with words and establish the objects of knowing... Make forests into pens, oceans into ink, land into paper, and still there would be no end to their writing. Yogins do not establish external objectivities; they establish the mind. The mind established, its objects establish themselves.

Although I shan’t spill much ink over the issue, the forests of pens, the oceans of ink, etc, being well known to Indian writers, are not original with Pagmodrupa. Clearly, for Pagmodrupa, meditation held primacy over other things one might do as a Buddhist.

And he wasn't alone. Listen carefully to something his contemporary Zhang Yudragpa said,
Religious people in these bad times of the present
have little of the inner discipline that comes from study.
Even those who are learned in societies of words
have not realized their significances.
In the future, their proud contentions will increase.
The revered Lamas of the accomplishment transmission
pursued meanings and became accomplished.
Permanently renouncing such things as pride,
understanding meanings was the only skill
in scriptural authority and reasoning they required.

Scriptural Buddhology (or Buddhalogical philology) was not for these early Kagyüpa teachers an end in itself. It could (and I emphasize could) have negative consequences on its practitioners by making them focus or fixate on matters not exactly conducive to Enlightenment, or by making them overly concerned with the reactions of their peers, as does often happen in the academy, even to the point of thinking this kind of competition is the only game there is. But I think even seasoned meditators will have to admit that some kinds of knowledge can be helpful. Everybody knows how inspiring reading can be at times, especially slow and meditative reading of something edifying (by ‘edifying’ I mean something that holds out the promise of bringing out your better side). True, some kinds of book knowledge may not be helpful, but still there’s no reason they would have to get in the way of anything. Relax, they’re just knowable objects, more and less well known, more and less well observed, more and less well described, after all. And differing points of view about how they all might fit together. Relax. Like they say, A little knowledge can be a noxious thing. It could make your head swell up real large, as if you had just received a much coveted prize. Well, yeah, but on the other hand, a little knowledge can be totally innocuous. Like the ones your mother gives you that don’t do anything at all. No need to ask Alice.

Amma Syncletica said,
There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.

This same Desert Mother also said,
Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which is known vanishes; just as wax melts when it is near fire, so the soul is destroyed by praise and loses all the results of its labor.

Langritangpa said,

I will train [myself] to take the defeat upon myself
And offer the victory to others.

This last quote is from the best translation into English from Tibetan ever made, Thupten Jinpa's Englishing of Shönu Gyalchok & Könchok Gyaltsen's compilation Mind Training: The Great Collection, Wisdom (Boston 2006), page 277. This next quote is from somewhere else:
The fact is that even though any sentient being can be enlightened, there is one minor exception: scholars. That is the one thing that really will stand in the way forever of making any progress towards enlightenment. So whatever you do, don’t become a scholar. In fact, scholarship is so dangerous that you shouldn't even read anything by scholars or listen to them speak. More than that, you should earn as much merit as possible by telling everyone you know never to listen to anything that scholars say. Dayamati, aka Richard Hayes (1992).

Artist: Niccolò Antonio Colantonio, b. ca. 1420 CE.
Notice the concentration with which the learned scholar removes
the thorn causing so much aggravation to the patient lion.
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