Intro Philosophy 3: Ancient Indian Philosophy

Shiva Statue DancingHinduism & The Upanishads

‘Hindu’ is the Persian name for India (Persia and India are next door to each other and have traded for thousands of years).  Our society borrows the term from the British, who get the term from the Persians.  As we read in the Vedas, Hinduism brought together many traditions from many regions with many gods, but there are three levels that are equally interchangeable and separable.  First, each can have a particular god that is the emphasis of one’s particular branch of the tradition.  Second, the many gods are each one aspect of a single god, often the great father and creator, named by most traditions Brahma.  Third, there is a philosophical monism that goes beyond god or not god, living or dead, conscious or unconscious, that is the One, called Brahman, different from the personified Brahma.

ganesh carvingThere are three paths of worship in Hinduism.  First, there is devotional worship, known as Bhakti Yoga (‘Yoga’ means ‘discipline’, or practice).  In Bhakti devotional worship, the devotee prays, sings hymns, lights incense, and performs rituals to gain favor with the gods and heavens.  It is impossible not to notice that most of what we call ‘religion’ the world over is in fact forms of Bhakti practice, devotion to particular gods and ancestral spirits.  The two most populous forms of Bhakti Hinduism are Shaivism, the worship of Shiva (the transformer and destroyer) and his incarnations such as Ganesh (the elephant headed god), and Vaishnavism, the worship of Vishnu (the savior or preserver) and his incarnations such as Krishna.  Worship is often called ‘darshana’, or seeing/experiencing, and Hindus will say, I am going to the seeing, meaning I am going to see and be seen by the god.  Another common form of Bhakti devotion is worship of a particular goddess such as Kali.  Notice that, like a scientist, Bhakti practitioners also believe in learning by experience and seeing, but their subject matter is quite different.

jain tathankara bahulbaliRaja yoga, the second path, is worship by meditation and asceticism (living in isolation, standing in place for days, fasting chanting the names of gods for hours, sitting on spikes, and other means of hard activity) meant to gain a meditative state of insight.  Raja means ‘force’ or ‘effort’, and India is famous for its forest sages practicing these techniques.  Jain sages were known for standing in the jungle for days, allowing vines to grow up their bodies.  They were also not that into pants.

Jnana yoga (“zshna-na”), the third path and my personal favorite, is worship by acquiring knowledge, wisdom and understanding the order of things through study and philosophizing.  This class itself could be seen as a form of Jnana yoga, designed to bring you closer to the core by studying the ways of the world.  All three paths, or any mixture of the three, are understood to work towards the same goal: liberation from the bonds of attachment and desire, rising into enlightenment and release from the constraints of identity to join together with the whole.  Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and others were known for debating each other’s philosophical positions.

Japanese Bline Men and the ElephantThe famous story of the blind men and the elephant originated in India and has served to illustrate how reality is always beyond each and every human perspective for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, and much later Europeans.  The story goes that several blind men encountered an elephant, and each took hold of a part, and they got into an argument about the shape of the entire elephant.  The one who holds a leg says an elephant is like a pillar.  The one who holds an ear says an elephant is like a sail.  The one who holds the tail says an elephant is like a rope.  The one who touches a side says an elephant is like a wall.  The one who holds the trunk says an elephant is like a tree branch.  They then all get into a fight about which view is exclusively true.  Of course, all of the views are partial perspectives, and if they could see the whole, they would know that they are each, in part, correct.  Each has experienced one side of the elephant, first hand.

RumiRumi, the Sufi Muslim poet, retold the story as an elephant in the dark, surrounded by Hindus, showing his awareness of the Indian story’s source.  He adds that an elephant’s back is like a throne, and it’s trunk is like a fountain.  Like Zhuangzi, the Daoist from China we will study later, Rumi says that we should try to see the ocean, beyond each bubble of foam, and that if each of the Hindus lit a candle, they would all be able to see the elephant as a whole, together.

Mara Wheel of ReincarnationThere is an ultimate goal to this process.  Initially, there is hope for a better next life.  Many are familiar already with the Hindu idea of reincarnation.  This is not a form of afterlife particular to India, but in fact there is evidence that many tribal cultures and early Egypt believed that one’s present life will be reincarnated in another life on earth based on one’s actions and intentions.  This interconnection is called ‘Karma’, which simply means ‘action’ in Sanskrit.  Interestingly, physical causation is ‘karma’, just as metaphysical causation (next life physics) is ‘karma’, same word and understanding of cause and effect applied to a different sphere of existence.  If you punch someone in the head, it is karma that makes their head reel backward, and karma that also weighs down your chance for a favorable life after death in the Hindu tradition.

Buddha India StatueBeyond better lives, there is hope for release, for freedom from rounds of rebirth on earth.  This can be thought of as dwelling in a heaven with one’s personal or family god, but also as a dwelling with the order of things without residing in any particular place.  Bhakti yoga tends to favor the dwelling with a lord, while Raja and Jnana tends to favor the dwelling with the universe as a whole, however it is important to remember that some Hindus believe that both amount to the same exact thing (while others will insist that their school’s truth is ‘more true’, the same variation one finds in any religion and in our own culture).  This release is also called Moksha and Samadhi, but in America we know this first and foremost by the same name as the famous grunge band, Nirvana.

Buddhist Dharma WheelWhile moksha is the ultimate goal, via the more immediate goal of positioning oneself favorably for moksha either in this life (dwelling in the forest or a monastery) or in a next life, there are three other goals that Indian philosophy points to as desirable making four in total.  In addition to moksha/nirvana, there is law or morality, ‘dharma’ (the term Jains and Buddhists use to describe their traditions and rules), pleasure, ‘kama’ (as from the Kama Sutra), and material well-being, ‘artha’.  Clearly, the overall idea is that pleasure and comfort (kama and artha) are not in themselves evil, but one should pursue liberation through discipline (moksha through dharma).  Buddhists identify the dharma or teachings of the Buddha with the symbol of a wheel, turning as a cycle in line with the cosmos.

wootz steelAncient India saw a great deal of development in science and technology.  They observed the natural world and put phenomena into families and categories as did the ancient Greeks and as we still do today.  The Romans would trade Germanic and Celtic slaves to India in exchange for Indian wootz, the metal most prized for weapons in the ancient world.

Indian Arabic Numerals ChartIn mathematics the Indians were unsurpassed by ancient civilizations, developing the base ten system and the Indian-Arabic numerals we use today.  They laid down the basics of symbolic equations, the concept and symbolization of zero, and invented the variable (originally a thick dot).  All of this got picked up by the Muslims, who turned it into algebra, which then got picked up by the Europeans, who turned it into Calculus.  Typically, we learn about Euclid and the Greeks doing geometry as the source of the Western mathematical tradition.  Muslims were influenced by the Greeks and Euclid, but Euclid argued about lines drawn in sand and did not use equations.  It was the Indians who invented the sorts of mathematical symbolism that the Muslims turned into step by step symbolic mathematics as we know it today and teach it up through high school.

upanishadsThe Upanishads (beginning in 800 BCE, most having been written by 600 BCE) were philosophical teachings about the soul/self (atman) and how to release the soul from desire and identity to merge with the great One and All (the goal of moksha or nirvana, discussed last time).  The Upanishads frequently interpret the stories of the Vedas as metaphoric teachings, instructions for the truly wise on how to develop the mind/soul/self.  The self (atman) was to be united with the supreme reality, oneness, and spirit of all, Brahman.  ‘Upanishad’ means “sitting down near/beside”, (upa, ‘near’, ni, ‘down’, sad, ‘sit’) as these are the close teachings of the priest, philosopher or master who has taught the Vedas for a long time and knows their secret  and hidden ‘inner’ meaning.  The students who were talented and advanced would sit down beside the teacher after the normal lecture to get the advanced, inner teaching that the normal students were not ready to hear.  Unfortunately, there are no authors to which the texts are ascribed, having been lost to history.  Perhaps some of these teachings are as old as the Vedas, and were only written down after 800 BCE.  There are over 200 Upanishad texts, though there are 10 central Upanishads.

TatTvamAsiOne of the most famous sayings from the Upanishads is Tat Tvam Asi, “That is you”.  No matter what “that” you are looking at, it is in fact your own self because all is one and there are no complete or permanent separations between any two things.  This means there is no complete distinction between any ‘this’ or ‘that’, and thus no complete distinction between atman and Brahman, or between any of the gods and Brahman.  This is similar to another passage of Zhuangzi the Daoist, one of my favorite skeptical passages of philosophy, which says, “A sage too has a this and a that, but his that has a this, and his this has a that”.  Notice the monism that unites all connecting not only the various Hindu gods together but all individuals in the singular One of reality.

Grand Buddha Ling Shan ChinaJust like the unorthodox systems of Jainism and Buddhism would do later, the Upanishads point beyond particular duties to ritual, sacrifice, caste or class to the supreme goal of self-liberation.  This had a great appeal to those who were not Brahmins, the priests who formed the top level of the caste system.  While the Upanishads did not say to abandon the caste system, the teachings were applicable to all.  As we will see, Mahavira who founded Jainism and the Buddha both had great appeal as they openly said that one did not need to be reborn as a priest to have a shot at nirvana.  Rather, one could have it in this very life and not need to reposition oneself for a better life through karma.  Both Mahavira and Buddha were warrior’s sons and so were second class themselves.  We can see that, as the Upanishads caught on and became one of if not the most influential source in the further developments of Indian thought, people increasingly questioned the Vedas and the caste system even as they continued to retain them as many still do today.

Yama Lord of DeathIn the Katha Upanishad, a dialog between the sage Naciketas and Yama, god of death, the good is praised above the pleasant.  As the sourcebook points out, this is very similar to what Socrates argues in dialogues written by Plato.  The highest mind is to be pursued, rather than the simple passing pleasures.  Naciketas says to Death, after being taught: “Ephemeral things!  That which is a mortal’s, O End-maker, even the vigor of all the powers, they wear away.  Even a whole life is slight indeed.  Yours are the vehicles!  Yours is the dance and the song!”.  This passage uses ‘vehicles’ as vessels or individual things that convey pleasure or anything else.  The vehicle is a popular metaphor for teaching or school in Indian thought, and as we will see the various schools of Buddhism are known as vehicles.

Krishna Arjuna ChariotYama replies that those who teach that reality is some part rather than the whole are blind men led by a blind man.  This is, in fact, the origin of the phrase, “blind leading the blind”.  Yama says, “Him who is the bodiless among bodies, stable among the unstable, the great, all-pervading self, on recognizing him, the wise man sorrows not”.  Yama uses a metaphor used by Plato through the mouth of Socrates, the self as charioteer, the body as a chariot, and the senses and passions as the horses.  Yama tells of a complex stack of higher and truer selves: “Higher than the senses are the objects of sense.  Higher than the objects of sense is the mind, and higher than the mind is the intellect (buddhi, also ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’, just as the Buddha is the ‘awakened one’).  Higher than the intellect is the great self.  Higher than the great is the unmanifest.  Higher than the unmanifest is the great person.  Higher than the person is nothing at all.  That is the goal.  That is the highest course.”

In a hilarious passage of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, a student questions that master about how many gods there are repeatedly, and the master keeps changing his answer.  At first, he says that the Vedic hymn to all the gods says there are 303 and 3003, which would be 3306 all together.  Then he says there are 33, then 6, then 3 (likely Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma), then 2, then one and a half, and finally one, which is breath and Brahman.

frog headIn the Maitri Upanishad, we read, “In this cycle of existence I am like a frog in a waterless well…In thinking ‘This is I’, and ‘That is mine’, one binds oneself with oneself, as does a bird with a snare…Therefore, by knowledge (vidya), by austerity (tapas), and by meditation (cinta), Brahman is apprehended…For thus has it been said: He who is in the fire, and he who is here in the heart, and he who is yonder in the sun – he is one”.  This is again very similar to things we will read in the Daoist Zhuangzi.

jain templeJainism

Jainism, or “Jain Dharma” is still practiced today by four million Jains (not Jainists as some mistakenly say).  There are currently 4 Million in India today, with many others in communities around the world including New York and Toronto.  Jainism rose just before Buddhism, as Mahavira (650 BCE), the main teacher and founder of Jainism, lived just before the Buddha (550 BCE), though all of these dates are still in debate.

shades of greyJainism advocates two principles that are shared with Indian thought but credited to Jain innovation.  The first is anekantavada, “non-one-endedness” the multiplicity and relativity of reality, seeing relative shades of grey between black and white absolutes. The second is syadvada, the hypothetical and imperfect nature of judgment that is always the fiber of human truth, the idea that truth is always a partial perspective.  According to these two principles, all human beliefs and judgments are temporary and partial views of each particular thing, including the self, and the cosmos, the greater whole.  Jains, like Buddhists, believe that things may or may not be as they seem and may or may not be expressible as they are.  Jains believe that there are seven points of view of each and every thing.  Each thing, including the cosmos and the self, IS in a way that is describable, IS NOT in a way that is describable, IS and IS NOT in a way that is describable, is indescribable, IS in a way that is indescribable, IS NOT in a way that is indescribable, and IS and IS NOT in a way that is indescribable.

nagarjunaWhile other schools, including Nyaya logician/debaters, claimed that Jains and Buddhists are at fault for contradicting themselves and seeing contradicting views in things, the Jains and Buddhists argue that one only falls into problematic contradiction if one makes one-sided claims.  This is a classic duel between all/none logic and some/some-not logic, between the absolutist and the relativist.  The absolutist says the relativist does not have certain truth and contradicts themselves because they are on all sides of the issue, and the relativist replies that the absolutist does not have the full truth and contradicts themselves because they are NOT on all sides of the issue.  This was the position of Nagarjuna, the most famous of the Buddhist logicians and one of the central figures of Tibetan Buddhism.

refrigeratorJain texts use the example of hot and cold.  An absolutist would argue that a thing cannot be both hot and cold at the same time, but a relativist would argue that a thing is always somewhat relatively hot and somewhat relatively cold.  To say a thing is simply hot ignores how cold it is, and to say it is simply cold is to ignore how hot it is.  We could supply the example of a refrigerator, which cools on the inside by heating up in back and drawing the heat out of the inside.  A refrigerator is simultaneously hot and cold, and it could not be cold in one part unless it is hot in another.

large yin yangJains also, much like the wheel of Laozi in chapter 11 of the founding Daoist text, the Dao De Jing, use the example of a pot being solid and empty, there and not there.  In one part, it is, and in another part, it is not.  They use another example of a multicolored cloth, which is and is not many colors all over.  Notice that each thing one can say about anything is true in some ways, but false in others, a very critical way that things are and are not as they are described yet are never fully describable.  Jains argue that one sees and argues for the side of things that one wants to see, that one wants to be true.  This is yet another example of attachment and desire carving the One into many, shining light on some and plunging others into darkness and ignorance.

buddha face closed eyesJains note that, because human views and descriptions are always one-sided, it is perfectly alright to understand the whole yet lead people in one direction as opposed to another, just as ignorant arguers do, if one sees all of what one is doing.  Jains and Buddhists would see Jain and Buddhist teachers and saints in this light, as always telling what cannot be fully told, as leading us towards what is in all directions to begin with.  It is only a low and ignorant mind that thinks such leading is impossible because it is contradictory.  If the Jains and Buddhists are correct, all human perspectives and positions contradict themselves in some way, and are contradicted by each other opposing perspective and position.

treeJains use the image of a tree, with the absolute view (naya) as the trunk, what one joins after being fully liberated, and the particular view as the branches and twigs.  Notice that the trunk is and is not the twigs, just as the absolute and all-encompassing view is each particular view as a sum of them all but is not each particular view in that it is everything opposed to each particular view as well.

Similarly, Jains argue (like Hegel, who considers seeing being, non-being and becoming simultaneously in things as the first leap of philosophy and associates it with the ancient Greek skeptic Heraclitus) that things simultaneously are and are not because they are being birthed/generated, stable/still, and decaying/transforming at the same time at all times that they are.  Each of these views are false if they are considered independently true as opposed to their opposite, but in conjunction with their opposites they are the whole truth of each particular thing and of truth as a whole.  Notice that the union of stability with transformation as a single whole view is entirely similar to the orthodox Hindu union of Vishnu, the preserver/savior, and Shiva, the destroyer/transformer, in Brahma, the personification of all.

wheel of lifeJains were also early proponents of the idea that the cosmos works in cycles: like the physical rising and setting of the sun, consciousness rises, then sets.  People start to become awakened teachers and develop religion in the rising era, and people lose religion in the setting era.  This is endless, like the cosmos.  The cosmos becomes enlightened to its own self through us, and then loses consciousness of itself through us.  The Hindus and Buddhists share a similar picture of the cosmos, and the Indian golden age of philosophy, which includes the birth and teaching period of Mahavira and the Buddha, is seen as the apex, the high noon, of this current cycle.  Unfortunately, we currently live in an era of dimming religion and consciousness according to most Jain and Hindu teachers (the Hindus following the Jains in this picture).

SONY DSCJain teachers and saints are known as Tirthankaras, “one who makes a ford” (cutting through water as order over chaos, as land becoming firmament in the chaotic waters).  Mahavira (also Mahavir), the founder of Jainism, is understood by Jains to be the 24th Tirthankara.  Like others of his time, Mahavira was a practitioner of austerities that are aimed at detachment from desire and multiplicity of the world: fasting, standing in jungles, going without food or luxuries for extended periods of time.  Statues of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras show vines growing up their legs and bodies, as vines grow several feet in the jungle a day and so would grow up your body if you practice standing austerities for days at a time.  Jains believe that these practices purify the self/soul/mind.

mahaviraHere, we come to THE critical difference between Jainism and the other schools of Indian thought.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma can be positive (merit and blessing) or negative (demerit and sin).  Thus, karma can either help you up or drag you down.  For Jains, karma is always bondage, always weight that keeps you down, always division or blockage between you and the ALL.  Thus, one tries best to avoid accumulating karma and to destroy the karma one has already accumulated.

waffles with strawberriesWhile there are kinds of karma and attachment that make ourselves and others happy which the Jains call good, they are hindrances to be overcome if final liberation is to be obtained.  If you really, really like waffles, this is fine but to become one with all you must be as indifferent to waffles, neither loving nor hating waffles, as the cosmos from which comes all waffles and things that are sadly not waffles.  Jains believe that “good” karma, such as that which causes pleasure when helping others out of compassion, matures and falls off naturally along with the body.  It is easier to get rid of “good” karma which only affects the body, but it is still to be left behind.

CarrotsJains are famous for their doctrine of the negativity of attachment and the radical nonviolence that follows from this principle.  Jains wear masks to prevent insects from flying in their mouths, sweep the ground to avoid killing insects (even though the killing would be unintentional, it would still be an accumulation of karma), influenced other Indian thought in promoting vegetarianism, and even don’t eat root vegetables as it kills (up-roots) the whole plant rather than that plucked from the plant.  Like Buddhists, Jains believe that one should be disciplined and practice austerities and meditation not just for one’s own salvation, but for compassion and salvation for all living beings.

boat india riverThe best way to understand the dual practice of avoiding karma AND shredding karma is the metaphor of the Leaky Boat:  You ride in a boat across water to a distant shore (Nirvana).  Notice that water represents chaos and desire, and the land represents the firm and the enlightened.  The boat is leaky, and water is pouring in.  You have to BOTH plug the leaks (preventative principles like vegetarianism that prevent bad karma from getting IN you) and bail out the water that has already inside the boat (shedding karma, practicing austerities like fasting or standing in postures to get the karma you already have in this life OUT of you).  Jains believe that it is only by this two-pronged strategy that the individual can be fully liberated and join back together with the cosmos and thus gain eternal life rather than round after round of rebirth.

buddha statue smallBuddhism

According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha, the “awakened one”, practiced austerities like Mahavira, but found that this way was not enough.  Buddhism is famous for long periods of meditation, and this is quite like Jain austerities of standing in postures, but Buddhism suggests that it is through balance and not extremes that one will be liberated.  The Buddha found Jain asceticism to be one sided and promoting of self hatred which is still attachment and duality.

buddha four sightsAccording to the tradition and legend, Buddha’s father was the king of a kingdom in Northern India.  When the Buddha was born, the king’s wise men told him that his son would be EITHER a great king OR a great holy man.  The king did not want his son to be a holy man, but rather the next king, so to control his son he hid his son away in his palace and gave him all the luxuries in the world, hiding death and pain from him, surrounding him with dancing girls and servants and only healthy, happy, obedient people.  At 29, the Buddha had become bored of this, and snuck out to see the city, taking along his trusted servant.  In succession, the Buddha the Four Sights (an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man).  When he saw the first three, his servant each time told him that this was unfortunately inevitable for everyone, but when he got to the fourth, the holy man (likely a Jain or proto-Jain), his servant told him that the monk was working on the first three (age, sickness, and death).

Buddha statue Belum Caves IndiaThe Buddha was immediately envious of something more wonderful than he had ever possessed in the palace, and so he escaped into the jungle where he found sages practicing austerities.  The Buddha did these Jain (or proto-Jain, depending on the scholar) austere practices in the jungle for six years, but he found that this brought no great enlightenment and in fact brought him self-hatred and self-denial (notice here that this is where Buddhism breaks away from Jainism as a direct criticism of Jain practice, taking much of Jainism with it in the process but seeking a middle way between denial and indulgence, attached to neither).

IMG_1780.JPGThe Buddha left the jungle disappointed.  He decided to sit beneath a large tree, the Bodhi Tree (which one can go see in India today, a tree supposed to have been grown from the original in the original spot), and he vowed not  to rise until he found complete and total truth or he would give up his life.  After 49 days, at the age of 35, he realized complete enlightenment, the goal of moksha and nirvana that the Hindus and Jains also revere.  This is defined in the tradition as the total extinction of greed (raga), hate (dosa), and delusion (moha), obtainable in this life by anyone through overcoming duality and desire.

Dharma-WheelPhilosophical Ideas of Buddhism

The Doctrine of the Middle Way: In all things, as the mind splits things into opposites and prefers one while rejecting the other, one should always practice moderation between the extremes.  As a criticism of Jainism, this means that one should balance pain and pleasure, being attached to neither, rather than chase pain and difficulty to liberate the self.  The Buddha found Jain practice to be immoderate: too much deemphasis of self is attachment to self hate, not detachment from particular things (as self-hate is particular and bound up with particular things just as much as self-love or pride is).  One must love and hate the self, bringing the two together, to find detachment from many and complete identity in the One, the All.

Doctrine of Impermanence: The Buddha taught that all things are impermanent.  Thus, everything is constantly evolving, never the same twice.  Only the great All is eternal, the One to which we all belong, but as soon as you say this it becomes a conception, a particular being separated from other particular beings, and then is simply a temporary being in your mind.

chimp thinkingThe Buddhists, like the Jains, believe that one does not have a permanent self, and this constant transformation is a central cause of the fear and clinging of the mind to something opposed to an opposite in order to seek stability.  However, because the things and views are not themselves permanent, the mind must jump from one thing to another, seeking ideal stability in each thing and then leaping to the next with the same hope, endlessly without rest unless wisdom is developed and liberation achieved.  The Buddhists use the metaphor of the monkey mind, of a monkey leaping from branch to branch in a frenzy.

Codependent Arising (Pratityasamutpada): Another major teaching of Buddhism is codependent arising of all phenomena.  All things are themselves in so far as they are connected to every other thing.  Opposites, such as heat and cold or self and other, do not anchor things in themselves or give things their true meaning, but rather all things exist dependent on all other things.  Just like Jains, Buddhists believe that because of suffering there is attachment and bondage to particular things, to “this versus that”, such that we come to have one-sided views of ourselves, of particular things, and of the cosmos as a whole.  Growing in wisdom and enlightenment is growing into identity with the whole, with all the sides that human minds can cling to out of despair, anger and fear.

japanese rock garden zen

Zen-Flesh-Zen-Bones-Reps-PaulTales from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Zen, or Chan in Chinese, is a school of Buddhism that originated not in India, but in China, later flourishing in Korea and Japan.  While Zen is not Indian, I wanted to include some excellent Zen stories as an expression of Buddhism.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps, was one of the first books on Buddhism I encountered in grade school.  He has collected some of the most striking stories from over 700 years of the tradition.

An old woman in China had supported a monk in a hut in her yard for over twenty years.  She decided to test his progress.  She told a young girl to embrace and caress him.  When she did, the monk replied, “An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter.  Nowhere is there any warmth.”  When she heard this, the woman was outraged that, while he had done nothing passionate, he had done nothing compassionate for the girl either, such as offering her kind words, and she promptly burned down the hut.

Notice that an old woman trumps a monk in this story, and that if there is no warmth anywhere then the monk must not mind if his hut is on fire.

rain bridge japanese printTwo monks were traveling in the rain down a muddy town road.  Around a bend, they found a beautiful girl in a kimono unable to cross.  One offered his help, picked her up and carried her over the mud.  After the monks had reached an inn later, the second turned to him and scolded him for dangerously becoming involved with the girl, and the first replied, “I left the girl back there.  Why are you still carrying her with you?”

Mokusen was approached by a villager who was upset with the stinginess of his wife.  Mokusen visited her, clenched his hand in a fist and asked her, “What if my hand were always like that?”  She replied that it would be deformed.  Then he stretched out his open hand and asked the same question again, and she replied again that it would be deformed.  Mokusen nodded and left.

bodhi dharmaA samurai came to Hakuin and asked whether there was in fact a heaven or a hell.  Hakuin replied that the man was as ugly as a beggar, and when the soldier raised his sword to kill Hakuin, Hakuin said, “Here open the gates of hell.”  The samurai understood, and put his sword away.  Hakuin said, “Here open the gates of paradise.”

Sengai was asked to write calligraphy for the prosperity of a rich man’s family.  On a large sheet of paper, he wrote, “Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.”  The rich man became angry, but Sengai explained that if each generation passes away in the proper order, it would be the happiest course for the entire family.

Hogen was visited by traveling monks who were arguing about subjectivity and objectivity.  He asked them about a large stone in the yard, and whether it was inside or outside the mind.  One said that from a Buddhist viewpoint the stone was inside the mind.  Hogen replied that his head must be very heavy to carry around a stone like that around in his mind.

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