In coming to better understand Alan Watt’s view and his influence, especially his discourses on Zen and take on ancient Hindu scriptures, especially Vedanta that I have earlier referred to, I think his primary concern and disappointment was how the nature of divine reality is lost on man. How complementary opposites represent the method of life and the means of cosmic renewal and human evolution. His writings seemed to focus on our fundamental ignorance of that which rests in Tao, nature, and lack of evolution of man’s ego.
Painting by MARINA SOTIRIOU “no copyright infringement is intended.”
Zen for Watt I think, was how we are to encounter our own divinity, our own transcendence, and eventual longevity. And when we do, then what to do next. In first appreciating Zen, Watt’s book The Way of Zen, is what led me to try to better understand Mahayana Buddhism and my doing this series. He did as much or more, as anyone in the 20th century to connect the West with Eastern thought and philosophy.
In Alan Watts many books and writings, he explores how a person’s identity makes them the center of the universe, conveying that the universe has meaning only if we place ourselves as its center. How the coming together of Mahayana Buddhism, Lao Tzu and Taoism, Confucius, and Vedanta became a collective wisdom shaping history and philosophy in the East, and what was to become known as Chan or Zen. Just as the I Ching, Lao Tzu and Taoism from the East, and Tolstoy, Emerson, and so many others from the West, have relayed that the separation of the Self from the physical universe has led to the mundane world’s hostile attitude to the environment and that a destructive attitude towards nature should not become what defines us. In coming to understand our place in the universe, Alan Watts legacy helped us in taking the next step.
Mahayana Buddhism as illustrated by The King of Meditation Sutra, Lao Tzu, and others below in Chapter Seven, is representative of the continuing eternal journey we all take together. Many of Alan Watts thoughts on Mahayana Buddhism will be added as we proceed. 7 becoming 7A and 7B with 7A below and 7B to follow in the next entry. Alan Watts always seems to want to say more on the subject.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – 7A Embracing discipline while abandoning hypocrisy…
Key thought: Important to evaluate yourself with constant mindfulness of your actions. Alternating between compassion and illusion. Living within a first-person account of patience. With patience motivated by our desire for inward and outward peace and by faith in our ability to accept things as they are. In Buddhism patience has three essential aspects: gentle forbearance, calm endurance of hardship, and acceptance of the truth.
- Writing not in the abstract, but true samadhi following the footsteps of my mentors. Aspiring to become one with my writing in the art of becoming. What can be the illusion? What I encounter in the here and now, what I see on a winter day with snow falling this morning. Or the constancy of the pull that is coming from inside like a flame that shows the impermanence of the snow that is soon to resemble an illusion. What was here for a moment is no more. Writing always only to resemble the next step I am to take. Understanding the complimentary opposites of the I Ching and how things are meant to find the middle way.
With Lao, Chuang, and Lieh inviting me to join them, but staying to the lower clouds as I remember the meaning of having and releasing merit and earning my keep. Knowing the right steps to follow and having the mindful presence to just do so. To embrace the Tao fully, then to go to teach and write stories connecting all. As if only a reminder of images and remembrances I am to now follow.
Recalling time in the countryside with my students in Shandong and traveling throughout China to incorporate the essence of history and meaning of structure and of discipline I seem to yearn for but lack that define why I am here this time. Remaining both the teacher and student. Remembering to heed the words of my mentors. Knowing appearances – now diminished by the hypocrisy of living in illusion every day. Living in Samadhi, in meditation and mindfulness, needing the courage of innate convictions only waiting for discipline and transformation to arrive and take hold. As it seems always my writing that takes me there.
- According to Alan Watt, what is important to note, is that early Buddhism that was to become Zen was the expression of Buddhist ideals in secular terms in early China in the arts of every type, in manual labor, and in appreciation of the natural universe. Both Confucians and Taoists would be agreeable to the idea of an awakening which did not involve the extermination of human passions. However, not exterminating the passions does not mean letting them flourish untamed. It means letting go of them, neither repressing passion nor indulging it. Much of early Buddhism in China referred to Taoist parallels, quotations, and phrases. This as much as anything led to a common denominator that fed the beginnings of Chan Buddhism in China and what was to become of Zen. (The Way of Zen page 81)
- The duality of self, or lack thereof always present with images of ego being tossed aside. Buddhism teaching that in no self all illusions fade into nothing. What could be important today that becomes nothing tomorrow? Are we who we see in the mirror each day or something more? Does this duality serve a higher purpose just waiting to get our attention? Maybe this becomes the ultimate progression. With change the only constant as we are here to adhere to and take the next step to enlightenment, to becoming genuine ourselves without hypocrisy reflected by our practice and by how we live.
- In following Lao and Chuang Tzu as my teachers with Confucius adding structure, the ultimate becomes awakening to what all this could be about. This pull to encounter the seeming unknown, as something seamless waiting to be revealed through meditation, mindfulness, and study of the King of Meditation Sutra, seems to provide the answer for now. As if following the flight of an arrow shot high in the air, will it return or just keep going. Of course, it will like us eventually land… but where? And what was it that influenced its direction along the way. What winds did it encounter that caused a mid-course correcting before returning?
- It is as if we are on the path of “practicing pragmatic engagement” as we assess our role with all things interconnected and interdependent. Accordingly, they require systemic solutions. Where all things work together to solve the problems of the whole. A good way to begin is to teach the knowledge of the Buddha and dharma. This begins as discipline without insincerity and pretense transcending into who we have always been.
- The Art of Becoming is ultimately simply putting aside illusions and remaining on the path, or way, of eternal peace, tranquility, and authenticity. To step into the next step as if directed by intuitive insight. To something some would call wu wei.
- With the track we are following here, our focus is still on the Mahayana. Training ourselves in the three levels of discipline as follows: 1) To physically abstain from harming other beings; 2) To continuously practice the Dharma; and 3) To bring the results of our practice into the world. The challenge is to bring ourselves into the view and cultivation of dharma. Mindfulness is to do all three.
- To look back and consider the essence of samadhi with the universe our guide as our responsibilities shows and teach us the equal nature of all things. Of course, as we step out of what may be our comfort zone, we must first pivot and say to ourselves “Do I want to go there, what could this mean, and where will it take me”. Chapter 1 of the Sutra reminds us that it remains the commitments of body, speech, and mind, as pure action beyond any reference point with knowledge of the aggregates that help Buddhism for so many and to guide our way that remains important. Ultimately try as we may – you cannot get away from it. Many have asked this over the centuries and are guided by the following:
The five aggregates are:
- Form, or rupa. The form is physical matter. It is anything you can perceive with your senses, like a tree, a cup, or a piece of cake.
- Sensation, or vedana. The sensation is the physical sensory experience of an object, like sight, touch, and taste.
- Perception, or samjna. Perception is the labeling of sensory experience, like salty, soft, or warm.
- The mental formation, or samskara. Mental formations are your biases, prejudices, interests, attitudes, and actions.
- Consciousness, or vijnana. Consciousness is awareness of physical and mental processes, including the other skandhas.
Each person experiences the world through the five aggregates. Together, they make up a conscious experience. Together, they create a sense of “I”, or individualism. It is the combination of the aggregates that we come to know as our own individual selves.
- It is that individualism that the interdependence of the cosmos looks to, why it begins with us and paying attention to our mind. History tells us that when our body and speech are under control, our mind becomes stable. Many feel that the mind is the vestige of our spirit, or our soul.
When the Taoist and Lao Tzu refers to the heart/mind as our “inner nature” they refer to spirit. When we are mindful, we do not forget impermanence, suffering, selflessness, or emptiness. In line with an old Buddhist saying, “To see the light of wisdom, you must first empty your cup”.
- To become one with our highest selves, to meditate on our presence and where it leads us. To simply remember and go there. Finding discipline is why you are here (speaking for myself). While often mistaking the sense of wanting freedom with the need for discipline needed for the journey as we look to liberate all beings from suffering, this is the way of the Mahayana sutras.
- Living in the mundane world it becomes too easy to become hypocritical and insincere towards other sentient beings. The first step to transparency is becoming transparent ourselves. The word seems overused these days. To see through to what our motivations and those of others seems to be the first step to awakening. Some would say in this context that transparency is intentionally baring our soul to the world by showing our true self to others. It becomes the sincerity we express that defines us. For those that follow the Way of Virtue, the Tao, it is our second nature that defines compassion.
Alan Watts impact on understanding our role, especially the Tao and Lao Tzu, is immeasurable. His final book Tao – The Watercourse Way, should be required reading for anyone wanted a better appreciation of history. I especially liked his take on Chuang Tzu. Living the Tao, what would be called “everything happening as is should or in tse jen”. The man of Tao lives as if a fish in water as a way of life. Recognizing the flow and staying one with it… The key for Watts was his adherence to respect of and for the Tao and its principles. How the Tao reconciles sociability with individuality, order with spontaneity, and unity with diversity.
Finally, Watts dismissed the need for zazen, or what has been referred to as the “aching leg syndrome” as necessary for awakening or enlightenment. He, like many Taoist masters, felt the use of meditative exercises such as sitting as a means of attainment was to be frowned upon. One is to align with wu wei through living in the moment day to day.
- When our compassion becomes our strength this becomes our roadmap to follow. Joined with sincerity and effort…. discipline and merit will inherently follow as well. The key to wisdom is learning to abstain from hypocrisy. Where we learn to use illusion to mask laziness by covering our actions with self-interest.
- Discipline means recognizing our hypocrisy and knowing that it hurts others. Knowing how to act and how to change our view of things and our conduct. Having confidence gives us the dignity to overcome our fear. That we can change with wisdom and compassion aligning our actions with love and kindness.
Number 13 through 28 of this chapter to follow as 7B…