The One

The Bukhan mountain range is not too far from South-Korea’s capital city, and cool enough to spend the summer. Bhukhan is furthermore known as the seat of the monk Seongga (or Seonga) who lived during the Tang dynasty of China, the era of emperor Gaozong. Seongga went to China and came back as a Línjì chan monk. (chan = zen, and línjì = rinzai in Japanese)

Part 3 of Korean Jogye Anthology describes Seongga’s monkhood and how he penned down his Seongga gwigam (his ‘guide to seon’ [chan/zen]). In this guide Seongga shows himself as a proponent of both “Patriarchal Teacher Seon” and “Ganhwa Seon”. The latter, Ganhwa Seon, is about what the West knows as koan, and what China and Korea know as huatou, respectively hwadu.

Seongga sunim (sunim = monastic) introduced this hwadu: “What is the single thing?” As many western zennists have scant knowledge of the Buddhist philosophy, this “What is the single thing?” came to be abbreviated to “What is it?” leaving “the single thing” out — and leaving thousands of zen-pupils in the woods. Nevertheless, this “single thing” is at the heart of the most important refutation as the historic Buddha had it. “The One” is in early Buddhist philosophy an unthinkable something.

We find the probably oldest and most historically “true” instance of the discussion around “The One [thing]” in the Pali canon of the Southern Buddhism, the Songs of the Elder Bhikkhuni (Théri-gāta. 5.9 ——; a bhikkhuni = a fully ordained Buddhist nun; a théri = an elderly nun with at least 12 years standing).
This occurred somewhere between the 6th and 5th Cent. aD, somewhere in Northern India. In this Théri-gāta we read the conversation between the bhikkhu (monk) Sariputta and the bhikkhuni Bhadda Kúndalakésa. Bhikkhu Sariputta asks: “What is the One”, and bhikkhuni Bhadda remains silent. Much later she will find the answer all by herself and will Awaken to the Truth of Buddhism.

Why did Bhadda remain silent? Some commentators state that she used to be a Jain nun before she came to the Buddhist sangha. But the mention that she was a Kúndalakésa, someone with dreadlocks, makes that hard to believe. The unclothed Naga sadhus in this part of the world have dreadlocks, but there never have been female naga sadhus. It is furthermore hard to conceive the naga sadhus as being hindu, let alone brahmin. This was and is a religious movement in and out of itself. There were and are Saiva ascetics; they wear dreadlocks. Saivists are devotees of the Hindu god Shiva who receives the name The One, as being one of the manifestations of the ultimate in Hinduïsm. Could there have been Saiva nuns, in those days? Possibly, possibly not.

Nevertheless Bhadda(1) could have been raised in this belief of The One, and in becoming a Buddhist nun she must have received the information that this precisely was what Buddha refuted. Hence, in conversation with bhikkhu Sariputta (the son [putta] of the woman Sari) she doesn’t dare to speak for fear of making a serious mistake — in the eyes of Buddhists, that is. Deïsms, in whatever shape or form they appear, think higly of The One.

Let’s assume that this conversation is the first instance where there is mention of The One, and that scribe-monks, shortly after Buddha’s demise, picked up on this theme and used it twice more, after which these two more instances became part of the early Pali canon. That is, it is highly likely that the conversation between the monk and the nun actually took place, but whether the next two instances in the Pali canon are historically true is less evident.

Whatever the case may be, the theme of The One returned once more in the form of a meeting between a Brahmin monk and a Buddhist bhikkhuni: “The One, what is it?” the monk asks. And she, according to the Pali canon: “Sabbé-sattá áhára thítika — all things subsist on food.”

We might say that this is one of the first huatou / hwadu / koan: What is … (nonsense question)? Answer: …. (nonsense in the eyes and ears of outsiders).
Nevertheless, this refutation of The One is not nonsense. It’s an ultimate truth in Buddhism: there is not such a thing as “a first instance”, a One as Creator/Destroyer, or a One “tout court”. Underlying all things are multiple causes and conditions. It never occurs that óne thing arises on the basis of óne prior thing or óne instance. Multiplicity is the answer, not a One.

Since this Buddhist concept of oneness, as the (non-)thing that precedes the dichotomy between the singular and the plural, which therefore is beyond words, must have been rather “en vogue“, the early 8th Century hindu philosopher Sánkara made it the pivot around which his Advaita Vedanta is woven. He however strongly believed in The One in the old sense of the Hindu-word but added that this One comprises all there is, and that all there is is a manifestation of The One, the whole.

(1): in Pali language Bhadda = auspicious; she received this name upon taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma (dharma) and the Sangha.


Advertenties

Gender

In her “Eminent Nuns; Women Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China” (2009, Hawai’i Univ. Press), a book that seems to have been put online, entirely or partially, the author Beata Grant addresses the issue – if it is an issue – of female monks of East-Asia.

She writes with the western concept of women’s emancipation in mind, and hence seems to stress the thought that women need to be elevated to the status of men while at the same time at least not downplaying the physical and mental differences between the two sexes.

The East-Asian Buddhist approach of monks and nuns – the Chinese and Korean – is a different one: as the object of one’s endeavours, enlightenment, is genderless, so is the monks Sangha, the men and the women, at least as far as the cultivation goes and the presentation to the world.
Beata’s “defeminization of Buddhist nuns” (p.94) therefore appears correct to the eyes of the western feminist, but it is a non-issue in the eyes of the said Chinese en Korean Sangha-members. (Sangha in the narrow sense of the community of monks and nuns.)

The gender-equality of the Dharma, hence the gender-equality of the East-Asian monks and nuns is demonstrated in the “families” that structurize themselves around a preceptor. Monks and nuns ordained at the same time under a particular preceptor are “brothers”; the “elder generation” of monks and nuns ordained under such a preceptor are “uncles”, and a “younger generation” of ordainees, ordained under this preceptor, are “cousins”. Certainly, this chosen form has gender: as there does not exist a gender-neutral way to convey genderlessness they show the male form.

Therefore Beata’s translation of “Dharma aunt” (p.95) is incorrect. In the absence of the original manuscript we may even surmise that the original Chinese text does not have the word “aunt” (ayi / āyí ) at all.

As an illustration we may give Beata’s feminist rendering of the Linji-monk Yikui Chaochen’s last poem, followed by a gender-neutral rendering:

All her life, this “fellow” has been tough as nails;
Once she dug her heels in, she could not be moved.
At twenty-four, she first found out about this matter;
Ten years she bitterly struggled, for forty forgot herself.
The nine bonds of this suffering world were untied
When she saw how to cut through its ways like water.
She’s long wanted to leave, and now her karma agrees;
Seven springs in a single day, iron nails turned to dust.
The four great elements dispersed by wind and fire.
Leaves fall, it is clearly autumn: time to return to the root.
Ha, ha, ha!
Footloose and fancy-free – that’s me!

A life long this “fellow” has been tough as nails;
Once having firmly footed, there was no way of moving.
At twenty-four the first discovery of this matter;
Ten years of bitter struggle, for forty forgotten the self.
The nine bonds of this suffering world were untied
Once seen how to cut through its ways like water.
Then this longing to leave, and now karma agrees;
Seven springs in a single day, iron nails turned to dust.
The four great elements dispersed by wind and fire.
Leaves fall, it is clearly autumn: time to return to the root.
Ha, ha, ha!
Footloose and fancy-free – (that’s me)!

(Does “that’s me” really occurs in the poem?)