I've been reading a book about "consciousness-only" Buddhism called "Living Yogacara" by Tagawa Shun'ei, and really enjoying getting to know more about this system of early Mahayana Buddhist thought that ultimately had a big influence on Zen. Many of the ideas that I've come to take for granted in Zen, especially the system of consciousnesses that include the 5 senses, plus thinking as the 6th, and then the 7th (unconscious) consciousness where the concept of self lives, and the 8th storehouse consciousness, which is so similar to the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious, originate in the speculations of the Yogacarans.
And then, towards the end of the book, my enthusiasm took a sharp dive. It turns out that, unlike my style of Zen, where we rely on the understanding that practice is enlightenment, and that, like Universalists, everyone is already "saved" -- that is, already a Buddha, an awakened being whose true nature is hidden from us by our blindness to the real meaning of Buddha nature, Yogacara says there are 5 kinds of categories of people, and one of them is incapable of awakening to Buddhahood. Whoa nelly, I said to myself when I came to this part of the book (yes, my own 6th consciousness sometimes talks to itself in arcane ways.) What's going on here?
Of course, this theory wasn't just a problem for me, and I was relieved to see all the twists and turns that other people took to reconcile this teaching with other Buddhist teachings about liberation. My favorite twister and turner is Jokei, who came to realize that he must be one of those people in the 5th category who will never become a Buddha, and that, therefore, because he knows this about himself, the motivation to do everything he can to become a Buddha comes alive in him, and he is therefore really in the category of someone who can become a Buddha.
Twisted logic, but there's something sweet and human about all this. It's really, really hard to believe, for most of this, that with all our greed, anger, ignorance and various foibles and failures, we are already Buddhas. So Jokei's logic fits our secret belief that, while everyone else is a Buddha (or, in Buddhist schools where striving for enlightenment plays a role, as it does in Yogacara, capable of achieving Buddhahood), we are probably the one exception.
So, in Jokei's words, "by means of none other than my foolishness, I know my possession of the Great Vehicle nature...how could I possibly be lacking the buddha-nature?"
My hope for Jokei, and for myself, and for all of us, is that, by whatever means necessary, we all come to this realization. When the filters that blind us drop from our eyes, we see that Buddhas are everywhere.
|A few Buddhas of my acquaintance (back row from left: Jean Erlbaum, Derrick Matheiu, Jan Seymour-Ford, James Cordova. front row from left: James Ford, some big guy, moi.)|