LETTER OF THE WONDERFUL LAW
Kudos to you all for the special section in the Spring 2006 issue, “The Lotus of the Wonderful Law.” The articles are scholarly and have as their basic intention the furthering of understanding of an elusive Buddhist sutra. The true meaning of this sutra has remained veiled to most practitioners for centuries. I always appreciate articles in your publication by authors who don’t portray Buddhism as a commodity.
Bradly J. Keller Albuquerque, New Mexico
Even the Dalai Lama, along with B. Alan Wallace (“Immaterial Evidence,” Spring 2006) and others, misunderstands how to speak about the nature of mind. This is a pity, since the subject is at the heart of Buddha’s enlightenment. It will always be fruitless to speak of mind as an organic system, or as either real or unreal. The better path is to follow Bodhidharma’s instruction and look at its nature. Once people forget about the idea that they are talking about “reality” or “nonreality,” then they can observe the nature of mind unhindered by intellectual baggage or preset beliefs. And what is the nature of mind?
Two primary Zen stories speak of the nature of mind rather clearly. The first is the taproot of Zen transmission in China, where Bodhidharma advises Huike, “Bring me your mind and I’ll pacify it.” Huike’s individual mind is, of course, nowhere to be found. The second story is of Huineng’s observation at Guangxiao Temple: “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving. . . . Your mind is moving.” Both stories indicate that the nature of mind is that it is not inside your brain. One analogy is that your brain is just the antenna of your mind, which is the mind of all beings, or what some call “Big Mind.” I think that being clear on the nature of mind, through meditation and reflection, underpins a genuine and manifest perception of the nature of reincarnation.
Andy Ferguson Petaluma, California
B. ALAN WALLACE RESPONDS:
Andy Ferguson is to be applauded for drawing our attention to the ultimate nature of the mind as taught by Bodhidharma. Some may applaud him with the sound of one hand, but in light of the Tibetan aphorism “One hand is not enough to create the sound of a clap,” I applaud him with both hands, which are regarded as symbols of the two truths, relative and ultimate. These two aspects of reality characterize all natural phenomena, and the mind is no exception. Scientists are seeking to understand the relative nature of the mind, and it can be meaningful for Buddhists to engage with them at this level of inquiry. There’s no reason to stifle such dialogue by insisting that there is only one way to speak about the nature of the mind. Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, to ascend to enlightenment we need both wisdom and skillful means, which correspond to the two levels of truth. Collaboration between Buddhism and science requires skillful means on both sides, and the inclusion of discussions of the relative nature of the mind may enrich that dialogue. Two eyes are better than one—it’s all a matter of perspective.
B. Alan Wallace President, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies
PICKING THE DHARMA BRAIN
Having attended this year’s Mind and Life Dialogue held in Washington, D.C., “The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation,” I had a personal appreciation of Kate Wheeler’s fine article “This Is Your Brain on Buddhism,” which appeared in your Spring 2006 issue. Wheeler accurately recounted the program and gave the reader a diverting description of the event’s spirit.
Unfortunately, Wheeler allowed the tone of her article to override objective insight, and failed to adequately report what may have been the most significant teaching/hypothesis shared by Buddhists and the scientific community during the conference.
At session two, on the first day of the dialogue, Professor Wolf Singer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, spoke on the “synchronization of brain rhythms as a possible mechanism for the unification of distributed mental processes.” He spoke of how our brain is organized, and indicated that there is no convergence center, no coordinator (“There is no juicy walnut in the center of your head where the little captain sits,” writes Wheeler). From the standpoint of neuroscience, there is no real “I.” Science has in this case accurately restated Buddhist doctrine. No matter how you dissect the brain’s mass, there is no Ghost in the Machine. The brain is rather an Indra’s Net through which discrete neurons communicate along divergent pathways.
Twenty-five hundred years of Buddhist sutras and thought have taught that there is no fixed self, no permanent “I.” Professor Wolf offered up neuroscience’s cognate to the doctrine of emptiness.
Kevin McLaughlin Palm City, Florida
GETTING INTO DISEMBODIMENT
I much appreciated Reggie Ray’s challenge to the disembodied practice many of us commonly fall into (“Touching Enlightenment,” Spring 2006), and am grateful for his re-framing of some of the teachings in terms of somatic wisdom. I would like to follow up with the texts he references, but he is vague about their source, simply citing “an early Theravada meditation text.” I would like to know what Pali phrase he is translating as “touching enlightenment with the body” and where precisely it appears.
Jo Marie Thompson Oak Park, Illinois
“Touching enlightenment with the body” refers to the Pali phrase kayena amatan-padan phusati, from verse 259 in the Dhammapada. It is also sometimes translated as “seeing enlightenment through the body.”
CLEARING THE PATH
Having visited the places of pilgrimage myself seven or eight times, including several times leading small groups, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Practical Pilgrim series by Allan Hunt Badiner. Badiner has done an excellent job of conveying the atmosphere of the sites, as well as the history.
Concerning Sarnath (“Spinning the Wheel at Sarnath,” Spring 2006), before looking in their atlases readers should know that Varanasi and Sarnath are northwest of Bodh Gaya, not northeast as stated. Also, in Sarnath there are several suitable places to stay, including the Jain Paying Guest House, a small guesthouse run by a local family in their home, with excellent home-cooked meals; the Hotel Golden Buddha, with comfortable rooms and a restaurant; and the U.P. Government Tourist Bungalow, with basic rooms and lovely outdoor space. Many people even find it preferable to stay in the quiet atmosphere of Sarnath and take day trips into Varanasi.
I hope Badiner’s articles have inspired others to visit these places. Sitting and walking in the places where the Buddha lived, practiced, and taught can bring unimaginable depth to the practice and understanding of the dhamma.
Norman Feldman Guelph, Ontario, Canada