Thursday, June 28, 2012

The "only" way to enlightenment?

GROWING UP MARA (2) with Mara Schaeffer and Dharmachari Seven, Wisdom Quarterly
MARA: I insist that different traditions have somewhat different visions of "enlightenment" -- referencing Alan Watts, Joseph Goldstein, Adyashanti, [B. Alan Wallace, etc.].
Yes, Rodney, we can all just get along.
SEVEN: Yes! That's kind of the problem. The historical Buddha meant something very specific. But various Buddhist schools use the same word to describe altogether different things.
And of course other religions and movements have different goals though they may think the Buddha's goal was the same, that we are all moving toward the same final goal. We are not. Theravada and Mahayana do not have the same goal, even if it's blurred and assumed to be ultimately the same. Across Buddhist schools (Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen, Nicheren, Vipassana, Lamaism, Esoteric, Tantra), the problem becomes one of watering down the historical Buddha's original message. There are other things besides enlightenment -- saving the world, nonduality, samadhi, miracles, healing, world peace, becoming a buddha, teaching, stream entry, getting to heaven, full absorption, a good human rebirth, supporting one's parents... satori. So when we speak of Buddhist "enlightenment" (bodhi), let's be perfectly clear: When would Shakyamuni (the Buddha Gautama) use that term, and when are we using it to describe other wonderful things in beautiful traditions far from what the Buddha described as enlightenment?
    Meditators are beset on all sides by hindrances.
    MARA: I worry when we as Buddhists insist that there is only one right, true, correct way of experiencing enlightenment, like [some] Christians insisting that they alone are saved and everyone else is hopelessly damned to hell.
    This can lead to exploitation on many levels. For instance, "My way is right; your way is wrong! = Pay me $1,500 for my way; we take PayPal." It denigrates the gorgeous diversity of spiritual and religious experience existing today. But quality standards are definitely helpful. And I think we've clarified much of what has been mis-written about enlightenment, especially the Buddhist rebound effect in Hinduism. (Or at least we got the self-examination started and the conversation rolling. The Buddha really did have something different to say).

    SEVEN: That's true. You're right. Of course different traditions have different definitions. Moreover, they are right in their differing definitions. It leads them to what they call "enlightenment." But are they all talking about the one the Buddha meant, which is not subjective?
    Once the Buddha was asked by a Brahmin something regarding the ultimate goal, like will everybody get to it, or what percentage will? The Supremely Enlightened One remained nobly silent. But Ananda, concerned that the Buddha's silence not be misconstrued, explained using an analogy:
      (Hooper Project)
      BRAHMIN: "Will all the world reach enlightenment and liberation, or half, or a third of the world?"
      The Buddha remained silent.
      ANANDA (taking the Brahmin aside): Imagine a city surrounded by a flawless and impenetrable wall with a gatekeeper standing guard at its single gate. The wise gatekeeper walks around inspecting the wall and sees that there is not so much as an opening big enough for a very flexible cat to slip through. Being wise the gatekeeper realizes there is no sense in pondering how many people will come into the fortress or when. Nevertheless, one thing is known with certainty: Whoever gets inside the safe fortress will have come through the gate. In just the same way, the Buddha does not contemplate on how many people will or will not reach enlightenment. Yet the Awakened One knows with certainty that anyone who reaches the ultimate goal will have gotten there by traversing the same path he found: abandoning the obstacles to meditative success and gaining liberating-insight by establishing natural mindfulness on these four foundations: body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects.

      There's One and Only Way?
      MARA: But what about the claim of old English translators of the sutra on the "Four Foundations of Mindfulness" (MN 10 and DN 22)?

      "This is the one and the only way for the purification [of the hearts/minds] of beings, for overcoming sorrow and lamentation, for the cessation of physical and mental pain, for attainment of the Noble Paths, and for the realization of nirvana -- that is, the four foundations of mindfulness."

      SEVEN: Yes, fortunately modern English translators have since clarified just as the ancient scholars had tried to explain. This is a pivotal discourse, and it has gotten a great deal of extra attention thanks to the rise of the Vipassana (insight meditation) movement almost independent of its Theravada Buddhist roots.
      The "one and the only way"? Ekayano maggo means that this is the only way which surely leads to the benefits listed. It may mean simply that this is the direct way, that is, leading only to this goal rather than another goal. This path was the one being taught by the Buddha as the sure path, the straight path, the most expedient path. In any case, it is verifiable by one's own experience (DN 22). British scholar Maurice O'C. Walshe clarifies.
      Buddhaghosa, the great commentator
      WALSHE: "[This is] sometimes translated 'the only way' or the 'one and only way' with, on occasion, a slightly triumphalist connotation. DA [Buddhaghosa's commentary to the collection of long discourses] in fact offers a number of possibilities, thus showing that the old commentators were not entirely sure of the exact meaning. Ekaayana can be literally rendered "one-going," which is ambiguous. Nyanamoli has 'a path that goes one way only.' In any case  it should not be confused with the term times found in Buddhist Sanskrit ekayaana 'one vehicle' or 'career'" (Note 626, The Long Discourse of the Buddha, Wisdom Publications).

      SEVEN: One could say that there is no other way that it will go if one continuously practices because this way (maggo) leads only to this goal. But the American scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi translates the line more simply.
      BODHI: "This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of nirvana -- namely, the four foundations of mindfulness" (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, MN 10, p. 245).
      Bhiikkhu Bodhi emerging
      Furthermore, according to Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Nyanaponika Thera (born Siegmund Feniger), the great German scholar and author, points out that the key phrase in question has the unambiguous contextual meaning in MN 12.37-42 of "a path that goes one way only."
      And the commentary to the middle length discourses explains the phrase as: "a single path, not a divided path; as a way that has to be walked by oneself alone, without a companion; and as a way that goes to one goal," nirvana. (See more of Bhikkhu Bodhi's explanatory comments in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Note 135, p. 1188).

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