Saturday, December 14, 2013

Early Chan Meditation 1: Bodhidharma, Wall-Examining, and Broughton’s Commentary on Tibetan Abiding in Brightness

Bodhidharma - from Two Entrances

Entering by principle means that one awakens to the thesis by means of the teachings, and one deeply believes that all living beings, common and sagely, are identical to the True Nature; that it is merely because of the unreal covering of adventitious dust that the True Nature is not revealed. If one rejects the false and reverts to the real and in a coagulated state abides in wall-examining, then self and other, common man and sage, are identical; firmly abiding without shifting, in no way following after the written teachings-this is mysteriously tallying with principle. It is nondiscriminative, quiescent,  and inactive; we call it entrance by principle.

tr-Jeffrey Broughton (bold formatting by aumdada)

Commentary on Wall-examining (by Jeffrey Broughton)

The elusive term wall-examining has been the subject of countless exegeses, from the most imaginative and metaphorical to the suggestion that it refers to the simple physical act of facing a wall in cross-legged sitting posture. Tibetan Ch'an, a new and exciting subfield of early Ch'an studies, offers us one more. Various Ch'an texts were translated into Tibetan, one of the most important being the Bodhidharma Anthology, which in Tibetan is usually referred to as the Great Chinese Injunctions (Rgya lung chen po). The recently discovered ninth-century Tibetan treatise Dhyana of the Enlightened Eye (Bsam gtan mig sgron) contains translations of some of the Two Entrances, some material from Record I, and the whole of Record III. Early on the Dhyana of the Enlightened Eye gives summaries of four teachings known in early Tibet: the gradualist gate; the all-at-once gate (Chinese Ch'an); Mahayoga; and Atiyoga (Rdzogs-chen).

The summary of Ch'an ends with a series of quotations from Ch'an masters, the first of whom is Bodhidharmatara, the version of the name that is encountered in Tibetan sources: "From the sayings of the Great Master Bodhidharmatara [Bo-dhe-dar-mo-ta-ra]: 'If one reverts to the real, rejects discrimination, and abides in brightness, then there is neither self nor other. The common man and sage are equal. If without shifting you abide in firmness, after that you will not follow after the written teachings. This is the quiet of the principle of the real. It is nondiscriminative, quiescent, and inactive. It is entrance into principle.' " A Tibetan Tunhuang manuscript gives a virtually identical rendering. This understanding of wall-examining must have been widespread in early Tibet.

The Tibetan closely follows T'an-lin's Chinese with one exception, the line "in a coagulated state abides in wall-examining" (ning chu pi-kuan), for which the Tibetan reads: "rejects discrimination and abides in brightness" (rtogs pa spangs te I lham mer gnas na). This is a curious and consistent divergence. Why not a literal rendering, since the Tibetan translations of Chinese Ch'an materials are as a rule quite literal? We have the gloss of a Tibetan commentator.

The subsequent summaries of Mahayoga and Atiyoga give us the context of this gloss, since both of these tantric teachings center on luminosity (gsal ba). Of the Mahayoga thesis it is said: "All dharmas are a self-knowing brightness wherein the two truths do not exist. It is not made by a maker. The universal bright light and the infinity of gnosis are nondual. " Of the Atiyoga thesis it is said: "What is there to cultivate in the bright, bright [lhan ne lhang nge = lham me lham me] primordial light that is self-knowing, does not split, does not move, is undefiled, and does not abide?" The translator most certainly did not see wall-examining as a practice of sitting cross-legged facing a wall-an interpretation that often appears in later Ch' an texts. He saw it not as a physical posture but as an analogue of tantric teachings on all-at-once perfection. 

(bold formatting by aumdada)

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