Friday, February 08, 2008
Gudo Nishijima, the Japanese Soto Zen master from whom Brad Warner received dharma transmission, is also the author of the most widely circulated (now) and most comprehensible translation of Dogens' Shobogenzo, which is surely the greated Buddhist book ever put together. If you come to other translations of the Shobogenzo, even with a degree in Philosophy as I did, you're likely to be put off by its apparent impenetrability. But in his intro, Nishijima
explains the structure of his translation, which he says is also in the original. Each section is structured as a Hegelian dialectic between idealism and materialism, leading to action and thus to reality. If read in the light of this four-stage structure, passages which appear incomprehensible in the Cleary translation become illuminated, with the aid of course of a good bit of zazen.
And in fact, Nishijima's teaching (embodied very succinctly in A Heart to Heart Chat on Buddhism with Old Master Gudo) makes a very good case for the description of Buddhism as the Middle Way. Often, this description is taken as an admonition to moderation; and while that may be desiriable, Buddhism is obviously a lot more than that. Nishijima posits that the action required to reach the reality found in Buddhism is to find the middle way between idealism and materialism. This is why many passages of the Shobogenzo seem contradictory at first reading; one is from the viewpoint of idealism, the next from materialism. The action needed to synthesize the two in order to perceive reality is zazen. The bringing together of the two cannot be done in the mind; the rational mind yields only opposing statements. Only the larger intuitive mind -- the "Buddha mind" -- can comprehend both. And this is brought about not by thought, but by action. Thus Nishijima and others posit Buddhism as the philosophy of action. I heartily concur, of course.
Of course, if the only benefit of hours and hours of zazen over the course of years were to enable one to understand relatively obscure works of philosophy, it would definitely not be recommended for everyone. The actual proof of the validity of the teaching is in the real world. This came to me the other day while I was watching a campaign commercial for Barack Obama.
Obama's masterfully conducted campaign has brought him from a junior Senator to one of three remaining White House hopefuls. By appealing primarily to idealists, including first-time voters, outsiders, new voters with no long education in political realities, he has become a very viable contender for the Democratic nomination. And I have no doubt that Barack Obama is a very well-intentioned man. Hey, he has to be a whole lot smarter than me. He was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, and he didn't get there by being a legacy kid. I knew the editor of the Stanford Law Review when I was there, and he was definitely a genius but not probably someone you wanted in your house. These people are geeky smart to the nth degree. Go back and read the comments about Obama written by clintonfan, one of Obama's Harvard Law classmates.
But then please read this article, which I ran into just before the primary this week, and which embodied and verbalized some of the fears I was having about the Obama candidacy. The reality of the situation was brought home as I watched him win in red state after red state (Tennessee, which has been retro and Republican-stupid for so long I've given up on my fellow citizens, being the surprise exception and backing Hillary this time). Are crossover Republicans and remnants of the organized voter fraud of the last two elections helping naive idealists propel Obama into the Democratic candidacy, to set him up for a campaign crushing by the Republican propaganda masters? I don't know.
It is obvious that not much can come out on Hillary Clinton between now and November; it's all been done before. Monica Lewinsky? Old news. But Obama is grist for the mill, and he may in fact, and due to no fault of his own, be a perfect stalking horse for John McCain. He is set up to be the Black Kennedy, I think, and in fact may be the next John Kerry.
So it's time for everyone who really wants to make America better, and if you haven't given up already, to save the world, to really work to make Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee. And yes, I'm at least a week too late. So now we just have to cross our fingers. Clinton's campaign ads make one most salient point; we need a new President who can hit the ground running. There's no time for training wheels in the White House right now. Maybe in eight years, it'll be Obama's time.
Of course I'll vote for Obama if he's the Democratic candidate! Are you kidding? John McCain will keep us in Iraq forever. But it's time for reality. Hillary Clinton can start to address the real needs of reality in the real world. So come out of the clouds for now and vote for her. And by the way, check out Jackie Fox's pre-Super Tuesday blog here. Good stuff from a very versatile mind.