Original Sin and Original Enlightenment

I think it’s a bit confusing to say that our original-nature is given, while sin or ignorance is an accretion. Every sort of Buddhist account of “the fall” I have known leaves precisely what separates original from fallen nature a bit obscure. What is Original Sin and Original Enlightenment.

The original sin was not an act by Adam or Eve anymore than it was an act by you or me. God’s very creation of Adam was that sin, and not because he was destined to along with Eve disobey God. That Adam and Eve were created separate from God and given the opportunity to subsist forever in this separation through the Tree of Life, is God’s own self-sundering.

Adam and Eve partake of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which prefigures the Law, and throw themselves into sin in the course of ultimately transcending it for Him, but not apart from Him. This is why Zizek is right to see Christ’s rising in Adam’s falling, and why Paul calls Adam (in Romans 5:14) “a type of the one to come” (i.e. Christ).

A great book on sin is the first half of “Lying: A Augustinian Theology of Duplicity” by Paul Griffith. Pair that then with Karl Barth’s “Adam and Christ: Man and Humanity in Romans 5,” which is basically about the samsara/nirvana relationship.

I draw on Karl Barth here, but this is why I think he’s useful for working with the Buddhist terms: our sinfulness, our ignorance of our original nature and the active withdrawal from it (think of Augustine’s shtick about how as a boy he stole that pear just to steal it, just because it was wrong – he didn’t even like pears), is given along with that original nature – not as a later stain upon it.

If you want to use a term like “openness” (Heidegger’s Lichtung) to convey this original-nature, our openness is from the beginning an openness to that very ignorance of it. What is sinful is not apart from that original nature (samsara is nirvana), but sinfulness as sinfulness, ignorance in-itself is not self-sustaining either. It’s temporal; it arises and it ceases. In a sense, it doesn’t even arise /from/ original nature (lending itself to the idea that original-nature is temporally prior to sin or ignorance), but exists from the very beginning with it – co-dependently arising. Co-dependently-arising, our ignorance of our original nature ceases while our original nature remains.

This is what Dogen is getting at when he says in his Genjokoan that

“To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

To forget the self is tantamount to taking that Adamic fall into ignorance and sinful-nature, but with the wholesome intention of realizing the original-nature heretofore under erasure. Myriad things are not-self (anatta), and the dropping away of body and mind is the dropping away of original sin. Dogen doesn’t just say it happens either, that it’s already there. Instead, it’s a moment in a process. The “no trace of realization [that] remains” is our original-nature, but it is not original nature “before” sin.

The weird idea some Christians have is that our sinfulness (or ignorance of God) is our original nature, which is to say that God created only to condemn us. To get us back on the path, whether we’re getting lost in the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy or stumbling in an Ox-Herding painting, we’ve got to let go of sin, but we have to engage it in order to do that, just like we have to pass through ignorance of our original nature to realize it.

It would then seem that some Soto Zennists or otherwise proponents of shikantaza coupled with a one-sided view of “Original Enlightenment” are latter day Pelagians.


What Is In Buddhism More Than Buddhism Itself

Jacob Libby leaves an excellent comment on my now somewhat old post on Western Buddhism (redux), which I have been meaning to update and otherwise revise. I would like to put it up for its excellence in itself, and as a way point for further discussion. The only thing I will say now (there will be updates) is that I whole-heartedly agree in dropping the true/false-buddhism angle. I even think I have in subsequent posts, when I pick up on Zizek’s critical/therapeutic religion distinction (though I wouldn’t isolate this split to an effect of modernity; Walter Breuggemann employs this same distinction, though without naming it, when discussing “the religion of God’s freedom” and “the religion of God’s accessibility” or religions of transendance and immanence in his book “The Prophetic Imagination”).

Set aside the question of whether Plum Village is capitalist in its Essence. Ask rather, what would it take for Plum Village exist in Port-au-Prince, Haiti? This is the revolutionary question: can Buddhist “practice” undermine the Capitalist relations of production that warp and control the social and economic space of our choices — that ultimately determine where and when Buddhist practice can flourish?

If you love Haiti and you love Buddhism, please read my words!

Joe claims that the Buddhism Zizek critiques is not the real Buddhism. The properly Zizekian response here would be to claim that the division between so-called Western (postmodern) Buddhism and “true” (scriptural) Buddhism is not an aftereffect of Buddhism’s cooptation into America and European society but rather is a primordial cut inherent to Buddhism itself. In other words, the postmodern “interpretation” of Buddhism was part of Buddhism from the beginning, one of its intrinsic possibilities. In this case, Western Buddhism expresses what is to the scriptural Buddhists the repressed core of Buddhism proper, its relativistic complicity with the violence of Global Capital. So, for example, Suzuki’s commentary on affirmation “not conditioned by a negation” (mirroring Nietzsche’s notion of the Yea-sayer as well as Foucault’s double circumscription of meaning and truth in philosophical archaeology) strikes a relativistic chord sharply contrasting Zizek celebration of Divine Violence, which depends upon a double negation. For Zizek, such an act must first step out from the coordinates of world-perpetuating activity by a radically negative gesture of non-participation; only by means of this negating gesture of freedom is the space opened for a true act. In what Zizek would call “a properly Hegelian paradox,” freedom is the condition for freedom.

But does this not put Plum Village alongside the Shanghai Commune and the Paris Commune in a line of radical communities who have dropped out of society and forged ahead with a new non-Capitalist vision? The answer is clearly “No.” No where does Zizek celebrate the apolitical compassion of the sustainable, non-exploitative, and egalitarian Buddhist community. Plum village does not fit alongside the death-defying radicalism of Robespierre or the Red Guard in Zizek’s narrative of world transformation for a simple reason: a Plum Village alive and well in the heart of capitalist Europe offers no fundamental challenge to the hegemony of Global Corporate Power. The Paris Commune and Shanghai commune occurred at the epicenter of world-transformative revolutionary violence — to Zizek they were failed attempts to directly institutionalize the spirit of the revolution. Plum Village is what Zizek would call decaffeinated revolutionary — the impossible revolutionary without the revolution. If, instead, on the proverbial day after the apocalyptic scene at the end of Fight Club — after Tyler Durden destroys the computer databases of the main central banks — yes, then Plum Village would be the site of revolutionary activity (the revolutionization of the revolution) — and Durden’s death would represent his truly Buddhist detachment from commodity fetishism. But without the explosives, the personal transformation does not make it into Zizek’s pantheon: while Global Capital still calls the real shots, still controls the economic realities that interpolate and warp our reality and our choices, Plum Village remains an ideological appendage of Capitalism.

My question is therefore a different one. Does a “True Buddhist” really care whether his faith is admitted into Zizek’s pantheon? If so, why? Does he inwardly doubt this his path can build the world he envisions in the age of global ecological collapse and continental enslavement? The political dynamics of the modern world demand new questions of the original Buddha. The questions of freedom in the age of global finance cannot but change Siddhartha’s path. The modern circumstance begs Buddhism to reveal what is in Buddhism more than Buddhism itself.

And apropos to today: Who will build (and fight for!) a Plum Village in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

(PS: My understanding of Zizek is based on “Tarrying with the Negative”, “Parallax View”, “Violence”, and “In Defense of Lost Causes”)

Bacon sizzles, Plates clatter, Light falls

Bacon sizzles,
The coffee refills
My meals late,

Plates clatter
The check comes,
Got 100 cash.

Light falls
on coffee mugs,
and people sing.

Written at Junior’s diner, in Portland Oregon, 2006. The stanzas’ proximity to one another is merely conventional, and seem at first to be written about the same thing. These are examples of poetry written at the level of Hegel’s “sense-certainty,” which when in Kevin Hill’s Hegel-class at PSU in 2007 was curiously suggested to be some kind of Zen simplicity.

Sitting as Social Activity

Thesis 8 from Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach”

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice. (Marx’s emphasis)

Do that whenever you are sitting on a bike or bus, at a restaurant or movie theater—on a zafu or even with your breath.

Buddhist Church Inc.

From Buddhist Geeks:

We continue our discussion with Shambhala acharya, Judith Simmer-Brown, about how we can strategically invest in American Buddhism so that it survives in the long-term. We explored the first three areas of importance in-depth in part 1, which included the translation of core texts, the development of a monastic lineage, and the appointment of dharma heirs.

In this part of the discussion we flesh out the details of the fourth area, which is royal patronage. Judith speaks about how, given a lack of that kind of support, most dharma teachers and organizations turn whole-heartedly to the market to sustain them. And with that come all sort of issues–including the pursuit of fame and fortune. We finish the discussion, going back to the question of whether we’ll be able to develop a monastic community in the West, and why that’s important to the healthy development of Buddhism in America.

What better than a Buddhist Church Inc. to supplement the post-modern feudal order? I mean, Nazi Germany was nominally Christian, right? Stalin’s Soviet Union was still haunted by the big Other. What about nationalism is consonant with a vision of universal liberation?

Buddhism and Abstraction

Extending a thought I started in a comment at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt I add:

G.W.F. Hegel’s “Who Thinks Abstractly?” and his critique of common-sense abstraction (Nietzsche’s “herd mentality”) are kind of at the heart of it, and I think the originality of Buddha’s everywhere in terms of both compassion and wisdom.’

‘Common-sense’ abstraction as opposed to the more conventional attribution of abstraction to academic and otherwise educated people. Hegel’s response to the question ‘who thinks abstractly?’ is ‘the uneducated, not the educated.’

We have to remember that with the exception of Hui Neng and some other figures in the Pali canon, most of the prominent figures of Zen and Buddhism in general were either directly from or just outside the aristocracy of their time and place, the Siddharta Gotama especially. However, I think we are led astray if we chase after some hitherto repressed ‘householder/everyday buddhism’ as something very different from what does appear in the written and orally transmitted teachings/stories. There is no authentically ‘everyday’ form of Buddhism, and it would be absurd not to view the already given teachings as speaking to and from everyday life. Kings and Queens and Masters and Buddhas are just ordinary people.

We should recognize a form of this ‘talk in plain speak’ attitude in the appeals many conservatives and hicks make to the common-sense appeal of creationism and intelligent design (or the common-sense appeal many liberals feel comfortable making to ‘the market’). Mind you, those two bits in particular are beside the point. The point is in the way that ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ rhetoric appears even when we seem to be talking about universality and equality and the close ties it has with other forms of reductive thinking.