Tuesday, July 8, 2008

10. Not to Do Any Evil [Preamble]

Not to commit wrongs,
To practise the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind;
This is the teaching of the buddhas.


Not to do any kind of harm,
To allow the many kinds of good:
For yourself, clarify that intention.
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

[June 2008]

Not doing any evil,
Allowing all that is good,
Cleansing one's thinking/intention,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

[July 2008]

To clarify what the Buddha meant by the third line is a great challenge.

The 1994 translation reflected a certain bias, and the June 08 translation reflected another kind of bias -- a position arrived at in antagonistic reaction against the first kind of bias.

The July 08 version reflects renewed effort over the past couple of weeks to translate into English the Shobogenzo chapter in question, plus the input of Professor Richard Gombrich, to whom I am indebted for:

(1) reminding me of the principle of "lectio difficilior potior : it is the difficult reading which is likely to be the original, the easy one an attempt by the tradition to smooth over the difficulty."

(2) the following translation direct from the Pali:

Not doing any evil,
Performing good,
Cleansing one's thoughts,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.

To clarify what the Buddha meant by the third line is the great challenge. The true meaning, as I fail to see it now, was definitely not as I understood it in 1994, and not either as I tried, fudgingly, to understand it a few weeks ago in June 2008. I think I understand from my Alexander tradition a little bit about the importance of clarifying one's intention. But the original word is not clarify. The original word is cleanse.

So what did the Buddha mean by "cleansing one's thoughts/thinking/intention"?

What kind of thinking/intention is dirty, impure, soiled, tainted? And what does it mean to cleanse such thinking? How does one go about this?

I ask the question not because I am interested in anybody else's opinion. I ask the question because I myself want to know, I want to learn in practice, what the Buddha really meant.

To be continued.


Jordan said...

So what did the Buddha mean by "cleansing one's thoughts/thinking/intention"?

What kind of thinking/intention is dirty, impure, soiled, tainted? And what does it mean to cleanse such thinking? How does one go about this?

The Buddha taught: "Just be good." The rest is just commentary.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I think that what Prof. Richard Gombrich has truly observed, from the unbiased, non-sectarion standpoint of a philologist -- one who seeks to understand the original meaning of words recorded in ancient Indian languages -- is that when we come across words whose meaning we do not clearly understand, our tendency is to reduce their meaning to something that we can understand, through the filter of the received wisdom of our particular tradition.

But what we understand like that, is never it.

My honest perception, Jordan, is that you and I do not know what the Buddha taught.

Even though I havne't clarified yet the meaning of the third line, I am glad to have these words to study:

Not doing any evil,
Allowing the good,
Cleansing one's thoughts,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Here we have a kind of starting point -- not as knowers of the truth, but as seekers of the truth.

Mike H said...


The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra talks about cleansings one's intention (ch: ISTR "The Buddha Path")

Ultimately I think it comes down to wanting what is achievable.

"Mike Cross supreme Zen Master and Ruler of the Universe" is not achievable.

It's possible to end (effectively) your own suffering. It's possible to help others to do that.

Everything that you can be is already latent in you - good and bad.

You can be Mike Cross, loving husband.

You can be Mike Cross, loving father.

You can be Mike Cross, translator.

You can be Mike Cross, AT teacher.

Other things might already be in you that you or I don't know about. Maybe Mike Cross, Pianist. Who knows.

In Zazen all you can possibly be is yourself unabridged. That's it.

So, if you really want to it is possible to learn to be yourself.

It's not possible to be someone else.

Brad is a natural author for a mass-market. Jundo's a natural teacher. I couldn't match either of them. But then they cannot write software.

Trying to be things that you are not is the essence of suffering.

I think suchness/thusness or whatever you want to call it is probably about giving up totally to being anything other than what you are.

Mike Cross said...

Mike H, you are a pest.

But even a pest has his place in the Universe as a pest.

So I will publish your comments, as long as you limit them to one comment a day, maximum of four lines.

Plato said...

Perhaps accepting that we are always seekers of the truth and never knowers of the truth is a step towards the cleansing of our thoughts.
Perhaps when the teacher says "not this!" is a step towards the cleansing of our thoughts.
Perhaps when we inhibit unconscious reactions, to external or internal events, that make us tense, contracted and lead us to do harm, has to do something with what Buddha said.
But most probably none of the above really touches the point but at least helps me and others to understand what Buddha did not mean by asking us to cleanse our thoughts!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Plato,

"Cleansing one's thinking" seems to suggest thinking as something tangible and real -- not thinking about, not only intellectual thinking, but a more real kind of thinking.

Now, am I imposing an Alexandrian bias on the original words of the Buddha -- trying to reduce what the Buddha taught to something that my puny intellect, and dirty paws, can grasp? Or did Alexander maybe re-discover something that the Buddha had discovered about how real thinking can be?

I suspect myself, on the basis of past experience, of the former.

Harry said...

Hi Mike et al,

Yes, "think non-thinking", surely no big news there for someone who has simply just sat on their hole for more than 20 minutes or so to directly experience (for even a few seconds) a more passive state of thinking, a non-thinking rooted in the real world.

Why all the fuss/ mystery/ agony?

The nature of the 'good' which is represented in that line is ineffible too I think. Trying to be good may sometimes be very appropriate (e.g. talking ourselves out of punching someone's face in while in a drunken rage), but that's not the nature of the message.

Regards to you,


Mike Cross said...

Hello Harry,

You are a bit of a pest, too. But from Gudo Nishijima's response to you, from his calling you "Ven. Hanrei," I was able to learn something about how the old man's mind is working now, and in fact how it has always been working. So thank you for that.

There are different kinds of thinking.

For example, there is the kind of thinking you have just expressed.

There is the kind of thinking that FM Alexander endeavored to teach others to practise -- saying that it was thinking, but not what people understood as thinking. Thinking in Alexander work is not passive. If an Alexander pupil demonstrates to me, not necessarily in words, that thinking is something passive, my job is to let the pupil know, not necessarily in words: No, not that.

There are different kinds of taintedness.

For example, you and I don't seem to worry too much about what people call "foul" language -- but it is a kind of taintedness. It probably reveals a certain lack of purity in our thoughts.

Another kind of taintedness is as discussed in chapter 7, Senjo, or Cleansing.

Thus, gradually we fit in little bits of the jigsaw and struggle to get a picture of what the Buddha was really teaching.

If you think you got the big picture already, I think you are deluding yourself. Gudo Nishijima called you "Ven" because he, in his senility, decided on the basis of a bit of internet communication that you, one of the true Buddhists, was prepared to accept his true Buddhism as the truth.

Conversely, somebody who served him for 30 years like Michael Luetchford, he calls "Mr," because he perceives something other than blind acceptance of what he believes to be his true Buddhism.

What is more, behind this calling people "Mr," there is a kind of ill-will. Seeing that for what it is, only quite recently, has given me really deep cause for self-reflection.

I see, as if for the first time, that the universal precept of the Seven Buddhas is not only about not doing any evil in one's physical actions but it is also about the working of one's mind.

For example, my habitual response to a person who has shown the intention to hurt me, which is to wish to hurt them back, with interest, might be a kind of taintedness of thinking.