Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dogen's Teaching in Light of Aśvaghoṣa's

What is there in Dogen's teaching, I asked myself this morning, while lying in bed, and then again while sitting, that corresponds to the use of what Aśvaghoṣa called bhāvanā, bringing into being, i.e. mental development or cultivation?

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi,
the Buddha advizes Rāhula
in the The Long Discourse Giving Advice to Rāhula:

"Develop/cultivate the development/cultivation that is to be as even as the earth."

wrote Dogen.
"Don't think of good and bad."

"Don't care about right and wrong."

These are part of Dogen's instructions for sitting-dhyāna, but they can't be understood as the kind of instruction one can follow by doing something physically, like obeying the rule not to slouch or hyper-extend, not to lean left or right. They are rather pointing to something to be mentally cultivated, a mental attitude to be cultivated.

A hundred years ago in my country, Britain, in the days of the Great British Empire, racism was not only tolerated, it was pretty much an essential part of how colonial rule worked. But nowadays, racism is seen as the great evil. If a footballer smashes an opponent in the face with his elbow, he stands to get maybe a 3-match ban. Alleged racist taunting got Liverpool's Luis Suarez an 8-match ban. Evidently Uruguay is not so advanced as England is in the matter of not being racist -- or at least putting on a good show of not tolerating racism.

Dianne Abbot, a black woman MP, stupidly makes a sweeping generalization about white people in a late night internet posting (been there myself), and earns a "severe dressing down" from her leader, Ed Milliband, a Jew.

From where I sit, there is something about Dianne Abbot that is typical of black British women, which my wife for one admires, but which gets on my nerves. And there is equally something about Ed Milliband's response which is typically Jewish, and which I also find annoying, via the mirror principle. Pompous self-righteousness, and intellectual acuity without the coolness of the naturally talented sportsman -- those are tendencies that I don't want to see in myself, so I project them onto ones who are obviously other than me, a black woman and a Jewish man, and feel irritated by them.

Now that I recognize this tendency in myself, what is Dogen's teaching in light of Aśvaghoṣa's teaching? To abandon a wrong idea, and thereby show myself to be right? Yes, to abandon a wrong idea. But hell No, the teaching is never to try to be right.

Dianne Abbot issues a statement to show her non-racist credentials, but I don't believe her. I think she's as racist as I am. The difference is that her role in public life allows her to be racist only as long as she keeps that terrible evil hidden from public view. Whereas the teaching of Dogen and Aśvaghoṣa, as I see it, requires me, if I am harbouring a racist idea, not just to hide it but to abandon it. Before that, however, the teaching requires me to cultivate an attitude of not worrying about good and evil, right and wrong. Or else how can I look that bugger Māra squarely in the eye?

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