Hexagram 24 – left-hand tantra

In the year 142 AD a Chinese alchemist produced an “important alchemical classic”, says Richard Bertschinger, the only one who translated Wei Boyang’s “The Secret of Everlasting Life” (or “Can Tong Qi“, London and Philadelphia 2011) into English. The “Can Tong Qi” deals with the “outer alchemy” (producing gold out of inferior metals), the “inner alchemy” (finding the recipe for everlasting life), and with the Yin-Yang and Ijing (Hexagrams) philosophies that preceded Daoism, as well as with the Daoist Daodejing and Kongzi’s (Confucius’) maxims. The first two mentioned philosophies, Yin-Yang and Ijing, used to be stand-alones until they were picked up by Daoist alchemists and incorporated into their thinking about material alchemy, the mental alchemy and its relation to Heaven and Earth. Kongzi’s thinking actually seems to stand in considerable contrast to the Daoist philosophy as it is laid down in the Daodejing. Nevertheless, skillful picking and choosing produced Confucian sayings that later commentators deemed useful in explaining Wei Boyang’s writings — or in reinterpreting it and turning it into a tantric manual.

In one of the first passages of Mr. Bertschinger’s translation we meet such Daoist masters as Shangyang (390-338 BCE) and Yuyan (1258-1314 AD) who seem to have been outstanding in interpreting Wei Boyang’s oeuvre.

hex24
In Mr. Bertschinger’s translation (p. 59/60), the section on “the function of shifting lines” (of the Hexagrams), he mentions Hexagram 24, Fu (see picture), which’ title he translates as “Restored”. The passage points into the direction of Laozi’s commentary who called this Hexagram 24 “the dark female” (Daodejing Ch.6).
The Buddhists, says Mr. Bertschinger, called Laozi’s “dark female”, “the gateway to life and door to death”.
Below we will see how Mr. Bertschinger’s understanding of Buddhism is that of the Vajrayana, resp. that of (left-hand) Tantra.

HEXAGRAMS

The practice of throwing Ijing-sticks is described here. The psycho-analist Carl Jung, who in the process did disservice to the Buddhist thought as a whole, and to Daoist philosophy in particular, used to have a set of Ijing-sticks in his office and threw them on a nearly daily basis in order to “read” the direction Buddhism pointed him. Useless to say that throwing divination sticks has nothing to do with Buddhism which heavily stresses on conscious delibaration, i.e. on action and result of action (karma), not on chance of “fate”.

HEXAGRAM 24

Most translators agree on the text of the “judgement” that accompanies Hexagram 24: Fu — “Restored” or “Return”.
Although both Thomas Cleary and Richard Wilhelm translate Fu with Return (and/or “turning point” according to Wilhelm), they describe it with : “When return is accomplished successfully is when firm strength returns to actions and operates harmoniously; this is how to go out and in without trouble, the companion whose coming means there will be no problem. Returning back over the Way, coming back in seven days, refers to the operation of Nature. It is beneficial to have someone to go to, in that strenght is growing. Return may be referred to as seeing the center of the universe.” (Cleary, p.37/8)

Wilhelm’s Chinese master made him write the “judgement” of Hexagram 24 as:
“RETURN. Success.
Going out and coming in without error.
Friends come without blame.
To and fro goes the way.
On the seventh day comes return.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.”

THE DARK FEMALE

Why does Laozi calls Hexagram 24 “the dark female”, and why does Bertschinger say that Hexagram 24, the dark female, is, to the Buddhists, “the gateway to life and door to death”?
“The dark female” is taken from Laozi’s poems, Daodejing, Chapter 6. Clearly Laozi commented on Hexagram 24 after throwing the sticks. Comparison of a number of translations and commentaries of these two verses of Chapter 6 are basically identical.

The French edition of René Étièmble (philosophes taoïstes, Gallimard 1967, 1980) runs as follows:
“Le génie de la vallée ne meurt pas.
Là réside la femelle obscure.
Dans l’huis de la femelle obscure,
réside la racine du ciel et de la terre.

Subtil et ininterompu, il paraît durer.
Sa fonction ne s’épuise jamais.”

Taoistic.com translates the first of the two verses as:

“The valley spirit never dies.
It is called the mystical female.
The entrance to the mystical female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth.”

D.C. Lau’s translation is pretty much identical to that of Taoistic.com.

Of course “la femelle obscure” is “the dark female” or “mystical female”, or in Wilhelm’s translation into German “das dunkle Weib”. There’s another translation by T. McCarroll that has “the unknown first mother”, (/whose gate is the root …)

kù-chen = the spirit of the valley. “Kù” equally connotes “gorge” as well as the female sex organ.
“The valley spirit” (or “Le génie de la vallée”) is in the translation of Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel (ed. 1919) “The Mysterious One.”

MASCULIN AND FEMININ

The alchemist Wei Boyang struggled with the mystery of birth, resp. giving birth. In his “Can Tong Qi” he mentions the coming-together of the cock (the black) and the hen (the yellow [egg-yoke]) and apparently concludes that this coupling is conception, the beginning of new life. The chaste Chinese never went as far as clearly describing the coupling of man and woman, the coming together of of yang and yin in all its practicality, but, as we shall see, the Himalaya peoples did. Hence the Chinese elegantly referred to “the act” by sayings in which there is mention of the “mystical female” which is “the root of Heaven and Earth”. Such a saying sufficed, no need to further elucidation. They furthermore incorporated “the act” concerning “the black” and “the dark female” into the Daoist philosophy and reverently called this dark female “emptiness“, a clear reference to the state of mind that accompanies this coming-together. Emptiness, the Daoist furthermore says, is potential but as yet unrealized. That is, it yet has to materialise [into an egg/chick, or an infant]. Emptiness is in Daoist parlance “wu” i.e. nothingness.

Now Richard Bertschinger says that it is precisely this: “” (the spirit of the valley), i.e. “wu“, “the dark female” (the emptiness experienced) that the (vajrayana/tantrayana) Buddhists share with the Daoists.
And here he makes a mistake: “emptiness” in the Buddhist sense of the word is not nothingness, or in Daoist philosophy mere potentiality, yet to be realized. Rather, says Buddhism, “emptiness” it is the absence of “ens” in living beings, the absence of an enduring, unchanging entity in this conglomerate of mind and body, senses and matter that is in a constant flux. The Hybrid-Sanskrit technical term is “sunyatā“. The early Buddhists rather employ the Pali term “an-atta“, not-self (which as a composite of negation [an] and name [atta] ) does not appear in the classical Sanskrit of Hinduism).

Now does Buddhism has something comparable with the Daoist “wu”, the potential-as-yet-unrealized? Does Mahāyāna Buddhist thought has it? No. What is called “the Dharma-kaya”, i.e. the Body of the Dharma (teaching) is “everything” taken together, not “nothingness” as a single concept. But again, yes it has it, as far as (Japanese) zen goes,  deeply influenced by by Taoism as it is. Zennists call it “Mind”, and consider this Mind as being the source to which one has to return to, in accord with Taoist thinking. Mind in this sense is clearly comparable with “wu“, nothingness. But nowhere in the pre-sixth century Buddhist canon do we find references to Buddha’s meditation leading to “wu” or, for that matter, to anything else that has name. The content of nirvana, if there is any, is not described, nowhere. Zen’s statement that nirvana is Mind is an assumption; it has no basis, not in the words, nor in the non-words of said pre-sixth century Buddhist canon.

TANTRAYANA

How come that Tantrists, and especially the left-hand Tantrists of the Himalayas came to see “the spirit of the valley”, resp. the “mysterious female” — i.e. the act of coupling the male and female — as being a Buddhist practice? We don’t know. They don’t know, or don’t want to know.
Yet they found a way out of their giving-in to sexual pulses while all the way — as far as (semi-)professionals in the Faith go — not leaving the Buddhist fold in giving up the life of the (semi-)ordained Buddhist professional with all its honours and accoutrements. For in practising this “to go out and in without trouble” (Cleary’s translation of the “judgment” of Hexagram 24) and yet not ejaculating in the process (pardon the rudeness) they profess(ed) to practice putting the Buddhist concept of emptiness into action. It must be stressed that post-sixth century Himalayan Buddhist thought seems to be unaware of the Daoist wu-wei (acting/not-acting). Rather they were, or are, well-versed in the non- or pre-Buddhist tantric practices of the Indian continent.

In the early Buddhist canon we find no references to the practice of accouplement (to use the French) as a way to gain at least insight, and at most nirvana. One early text speaks of a king who married a flower-vendor: “by this evening she (the flower-vendor) will be the king’s consort”, Buddha says (according to one of the Pali sutta). He did not refer to the “act” of marrying, but rather to the fact that here a high-born accepted a low-born as his wife — which was highly unusual and frankly not-done, 5-6 centuries BCE.

Therefore the left-hand Tantrists excuses for resorting to their practice are very, very thin. All these words about “the gateway to life and door to death” ( in Mr. Bertschinger’s words) are a very thin veil, a cover-up for indefensible highly sexualized practices. Therefore, don’t call left-hand Tantra Buddhism. It is not.

 

Advertenties

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.