Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dignāga's Path of Conceptual Mind

Dignāga was from southern India, in what is now Tamil Nadu, and lived in the late fifth
and early sixth centuries. He is considered to have been a disciple of Vasubandhu, the author of
the Abhidharmakōsa.(1) At that time there was a great flourishing of philosophical thought both
within Buddhistm and among various schools of Hinduism, and real debate was engaged in by
contending thinkers. Dignāga was important in that he further developed a Buddhist approach to
epistemology and logic by which he could challenge the assertions of non-Buddhist
philosophers. His work was expanded on in the seventh century by Dharmakīrti, and together
their texts are the basis of all Buddhist logic practiced and studied today in the Tibetan scholastic

Though debate has, from the start, been the main way logic has been practiced, its true
purpose, rather than simply besting an opponent, is to learn to examine one’s own beliefs—to
subject one’s own presuppositions to rigorous analysis. Although Dignāga’s theories have been
criticized, both in his time and by modern scholars, his logic continues to be studied and valued
because it is such an effective method for working with conceptual mind, which is both the root
of all suffering, and the means to reach the understanding that dissolves suffering. In other
words, in Buddhist terms, it is a path. In this paper I will attempt to describe the main features of
Dignāga’s thinking and argue for its utility as a practice with a soteriological goal.

Dignāga’s Writings and Theories

Over 20 works attributed to Dignāga survive, mostly in Tibetan and Chinese translation.(2)
The most important of these are the Hetucakraḍamaru, in which he introduced a chart showing
all the possible combinations of the three modes of reasoning; and the Pramāṇasamuccaya,
which is considered to be his last and most important work.(3) The milieu in which Dignāga
operated was one of promiscuous dialogue and debate between and among Hindus and
Buddhists. One of the main areas of dispute among these various groups was the question of
what constituted pramāṇa, variously rendered as a “reliable warrant,”(4)“accredited source of
knowledge,”(5) or “valid cognition.”(6) Without some level of agreement on basic definitions, and
on what can be included as valid provenance for knowledge claims, it is impossible for debate to
be fruitful. Many of the Hindu schools that Dignāga criticized allowed for such things as
hearsay or scripture to be included as valid cognition. Dignāga allowed for only two: direct valid
cognition, or perception, and inferential valid cognition, or inference. He further said that these
two valid cognitions each have their own exclusive kinds of objects. For direct valid cognition,
the objects are particulars, or “specifically characterized phenomena,” and for inferential valid
cognition, its objects are generalities, or “generally characterized phenomena.” Another way to
say this is that for direct perception, i.e., the perception of a sense consciousness, its objects can
only be specific things, divorced from any generality imputed on them by conceptual mind
regarding its class, type, or quality, while the object of inference can only be mental constructs or
concepts with no actual reality. For Dignāga, the problem arises when conceptual mind mixes
the actual phenomenon with its name, conceptual class or category, and takes that mixture to be
the actual thing itself.

In addition to limiting the sources of valid cognition, Dignāga also insisted on the
presence of the three modes of reasoning in any syllogism or knowledge statement. This method
of analyzing arguments was already widely used before Dignāga, but his systematic presentation
of all the possible permutations of the three modes in his Hetucakraḍamaru was highly
influential. Any syllogism necessarily has three parts, the subject, predicate, and reason. For example, in the statement “sound is impermanent because it is produced,” “sound” is the
subject, “is impermanent” is the predicate, and “because it is produced” is the reason. In order to
test this statement for logical soundness, it has to be examined for the presence of three modes:
the subject quality, forward pervasion, and reverse pervasion.

The definition of the subject quality is “a reason that valid cognition has determined to be
present in all instances of the flawless subject in question, in a corresponding formulation.”(7) This
means that the reason, in this case being “produced,” has to be the present in all instances of the
subject, “sound.” In other words, its essence has to exist in the subject. There cannot be an
instance of sound that is not produced. The meaning of “flawless subject in question” is that the
subject has to be something we have a question about—in this case, whether it is impermanent.
There can be no doubt as to whether it is produced. In this case, we know all sounds are
produced, we assert that therefore they are impermanent, and thus we have determined that the
first mode, the subject quality, is present in the statement.

The definition of the forward pervasion is “a reason that has been determined to be
present only in the concordant aspect or aspects.”(8) The concordant aspect is that which is similar
in nature to the predicate. This means that the reason has to accord with the predicate, or in this
case, “Produced” has to be in accord with “impermanent. Furthermore, the reason cannot accord
with that which is dissimilar to the predicate, for example, “permanent.” which it does not, so
the forward pervasion is indeed present.

The definition of reverse pervasion is “ a reason that has been determined to be absent in
all instances of the non-concordant class.”(9) The non-concordant class is that which is
contradictory to the predicate. Non-concordant classes are divided into three types: those of non-
existent phenomena, those that are other than the concordant class, and those that are
contradictory to the concordant class. A traditional example of a non-existent phenomenon is
“the horns of a rabbit.” The non-concordant class of phenomena other than the concordant class
would, in this case, be things that are simply other than impermanent, such as “objects of
comprehension,” the premise of which does not directly relate to permanence/impermanence.
The non-concordant class of phenomena that are contradictory to the predicate would be,
in this case, the class of permanent phenomena. To the Vaibāṣhikas and by extension the
Sautrantikas, with whom Dignāga is associated, permanent phenomena include space, non-analytical
cessation or absence, and analytical cessation or nirvana. Thus, if a reason is found to
be present in any one of these non-concordant classes, the reverse pervasion does not occur, and
the reasoning is faulty. The lack of any one of these modes in any syllogism automatically
invalidates it even though it may seem true on the surface. The three modes provides a thinker
with a systematic way to evaluate a truth statement, whether it comes from an opponent in
debate, or from one’s own conceptual mind. It gives one a method to step outside one’s
preconceptions and rigorously examine the coherence of a statement multilaterally, uncovering
any internal inconsistencies.

Another important theory advanced by Dignāga is that of apoha, or exclusion, which is
basically the idea that the meaning of a term, as it is apprehended by conceptual mind, is actually
everything other than what the term is applied to. This is described as a kind of nominalism by
Chakrabarti and Siderits:

Buddhist logicians have an error theory about universals and permanent substances that
they reduce to mental or physical particulars or simply eliminate. There are nothing but
momentary quality particulars in the world. But the human mind, afflicted by
perpetuation wishes and language-generated, deeply ingrained myths, has a tendency to
cluster some of them together first in the fictional form of enduring substantial
things...and then further classify these “things” into types...[w]hen a particular seen to be other than all other animals, the original indeterminate (concept-free)
perceptual content somehow causally triggers this difference-obliterating tendency. The
particular cow image is made to “fit” this linguistic and imaginative exclusion from the
complementary class of horses, rabbits, pillars, and such things. The specificity of the
particular cow—its its numerical detailed differences from other cows—is ignored;
instead, this mere exclusion from non-cows is foisted onto the perceptual content as a
predicate. This exclusion masquerades as the universal cowness.(10)
This theory about how conceptual mind cognizes its objects, generally characterized phenomena,
says that our assertions are often wrongly predicated due to mixing the particular with the term
generality. For Dignāga, the categories we create for things have no reality of their own, and
neither do they have any real connection to the specifically characterized phenomena they
represent. Even though the theory of apoha was challenged, especially by the Jainas and the
Mīmāmṣakas, It continued to be defended and adapted by Buddhist thinkers like Dharmakīrti
and Jñānaśrīmitra.(11)

Refuting Other Schools

One practical purpose for the development of such definitions and theories by Dignāga
was to refute the views of opposing schools in debate. Of the six chapters of the
Pramāṇasamuccaya, five are dedicated to criticizing other schools of thought. He even refutes
his own teacher, Vasubandhu, though he does so in a roundabout way, by disputing Vasubandhu’s
authorship of a text called Vādavidhi.(12) Dignāga takes a definition in the Vādavidhi, that“perception is a cognition produced by that object,” and refutes it, saying
[If that which forms a cause of cognition, although it assumes an appearance different from its real form, is to be recognized as the object, then] there would also be the absurd conclusion that even the visual sense and the other [senses] would be [admitted as] objects [of cognition]. This is because they also exist, in the ultimate sense, in different forms [from those appearing in cognition], and [yet they] become the cause of such cognitions as the representations of something blue,etc., or of a double moon, etc.(13)
 In other words, perception is not just caused by its object alone, but by contributing factors such as the sense consciousnesses, and to ignore that would lead to absurd implications. Dignāga concludes that since the Vādavidhi is thus flawed, it must not have been composed by Vasubandhu, or if it was, it is a case of him being mistaken since he contradicts himself elsewhere.

One Hindu school of thought Dignāga takes on is the Naiyāyika. He begins with their
definition of perception: “That cognition which is produced through the contact of sense and
object, which is inexpressible (avyapadeśya), nonerroneous (avyabhicārin), and of a determinate
nature (vyavasāyâtmaka),”(14) and shows that the qualifiers in the definition are inadequate. The
sense consciousnesses, for example, could never perceive something expressible, since what is
expressible is by definition the province of conceptual mind. Therefore it is redundant to
describe the cognition of sense perception as inexpressible. Dignāga also takes issue with the
Naiyāyika view that physical senses actually go out to meet their objects outside the body.
Saying that, instead, the sense faculties remain in their bases in the body and perceive their
objects there, which, he says, is why we can see objects at a distance and why we can’t see when
our eyes are covered.(15)

Another school Dignāga criticizes is the Sāṁkya, who held that the five senses, through
the auspices of the mind, act to apprehend objects of sound, color, and so forth, that are equally
composed of the three guṇas, or potentialities inherent in everything. Dignāga responds that this
implies that (a) the sense organs would be infinite in number, because every object is just a
different proportional mixture of the three guṇas, and that means there are infinite possible
variations, each of which would need its own sense faculty; or (b) one sense organ would
apprehend all objects, because again, the objects are all of the same substance: the three guṇas.16
The whole theory of the three guṇas is attacked as being inapprehensible, either taken separately
or as a unity. He accuses the Sāṁkya of an “insufficiency of definition”17 in naming the type of
cognition that can apprehend mental objects, such as recollections, or that can recognize such
things as pleasure or desire. He also faults the Sāṁkya for asserting, by implication, that the
sense perception and mental consciousness operate simultaneously. Dignāga held the Sautrantika
view that a moment of perception was followed by a second moment of both perception and self awareness, followed by a third moment in which consciousness arose.

The final chapter of the Pramāṇasamuccaya examines the Mīmāṃsaka theory of
perception, in which they define perception as a cognition that arises “[w]hen a man’s senses are
in contact with something existent.”18 Dignāga takes exception to the use of the qualifier
“existent” (sat), pointing out that the use of the term “contact” naturally excludes the nonexistent,
since a sense faculty can only contact existents. This flaw renders the definition
essentially meaningless. Dignāga anticipates Mīmāṃsaka responses that the use of the term
simply denotes the counterparts, or objects of the senses by saying that the names of the actual
counterparts, i.e., sound, form, and so on, should instead be used as the predicate of the
definition. When his hypothetical Mīmāṃsaka interlocutor replies that the term “contact”
implies a transitive action toward objects, or even the mind and soul (ātman), Dignāga counters
that it has already “been proved that the soul...and other factors[i.e., the mind and the senses]
come in contact only with ‘sat,’”19 or existent phenomena. Interestingly, Dignāga does not
directly refute the existence of a soul at this point, which presumably would have been his position, but merely claims that a soul would not be able to contact non-existent objects.

Dignāga also counters the Mīmāṃsaka assertion that “[p]erception is that by means of
which an the form of ‘this is a cow’ or ‘this is a horse’ arises in regard to ‘this’
[immediately perceived object].” This, he points out, amounts to saying that “sense-cognition is
able to perceive cow-ness” at the same time it perceives the particular cow it is looking at. For
Dignāga this is an untenable position because bare perception is incapable of perceiving “a
cow,” as such.
Therefore, in all cases of [our cognizing] a qualifier (viśeṣaṇa) with a qualified (viśeṣya)
or a name (abhidhāna) with an object named (abhidheya), there is [involved] a
conceptual construction (vikalpa) produced by the mind (manas) which ascribes identity
(abhedôpacāra) [to the two factors], and [there is] not sense-cognition.(20)
Again, Dignāga is reiterating the fact, which he considers settled, that the properties we ascribe
to a category like “cows” are not perceived by the senses, but overlaid by conceptual mind.

Critiques of Dignāga

Some of Dignāga’s positions have been seriously questioned by other philosophical
schools, including the Mīmāṃsaka and the Madhyamaka. The question of how to interpret
Dignāga is still the subject of scholarly controversy today. In his book Buddhists, Brahmins and
Belief, Dan Arnold argues for an analysis of Dignāga as a foundationalist, which means that his
views implied previous beliefs as a valid basis for forming new beliefs. Arnold characterizes
Dignāga’s preference for direct perception as making either “...the ontological claim that mental
events are all that really exist or the strictly epistemological claim that mental events (such as
representational ‘sense-data’) are all we can directly know.”(21) He criticizes both Dignāga and
Dharmakīrti for the causal nature of their account of the relationship between “propositional
judgments” and “foundational perceptions,” and questions how experience could be the most
privileged source of knowledge when experience and perception seem to be completely divided
along the perceptual/conceptual line. Arnold paraphrases John Mcdowell in asking whether,
since knowledge, by definition, consists entirely of conceptual content (i.e., terms and
generalities), it can never really occupy the same “logical space”(22) as perceptual contact. “[I]n
the end,” says Arnold,
...the views of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti...involve an epistemic notion of truth. And such
a notion is at odds with what we can characterize as a realist notion of truth. Given these
points, Buddhist thinkers in the tradition of Dignaga and Dharmakirti are in a position
only to give reasons for why they believe what they believe, not for the likely truth of
their beliefs.(23)
Arnold’s criticism is concerned more broadly with “epistemic notions of truth,” wherein the fact
of beliefs “being known” is held as evidence for them also being warranted.
Arnold also brings in Mīmāṃsaka and Madhyamaka critiques to bolster his charge of
foundationalism against Dignāga, as well as those later in his tradition. The position that the
Mīmāṃsaka take exception to is the Buddhist’s privileging of direct cognition, or perception, as
especially reliable:
what is finally problematic about the Buddhist approach (and what renders that
vulnerable to the Mīmāṃsaka critique) is simply the claim that one can specify that only
certain kinds of cognition have this status. What the Mīmāṃsaka have shown to be
problematic, in other words, is simply the view that one can specify that certain kinds are
uniquely able to confer justification, simply in virtue of their being of that kind—with the
question of which kinds are singled out ultimately being less significant...Wedded as they
are to an essentially causal approach to justification, the Buddhist critics of the
Mīmāṃsaka doctrine of intrinsic validity do not appreciate that their attempt to privilege
causally explicable cognitions only presupposes precisely what is called into question by
that doctrine.(24)
The result of this privileging leads, according to Arnold, to a kind of “epistemic circularity.”(25)

What the Mīmāṃsaka have in common with the Madhyamaka, says Arnold, is the fact
that they both require an epistemology that is in accord with intuitive experience—counter to the
Sautrāntika redescription of reality in terms of relative and absolute truth in which actual reality
is said to be quite different from what we experience. The Madhyamaka took the ontology of the
Abhidharma, rather than the epistemology of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, to be the salient
contribution of foundational Buddhism—specifically, the doctrine of interdependent origination
(pratītyasamutpāda). The Madhyamaka considered that the
ontological primitives posited by Abhidharma could have explanatory value only if they
are posited as an exception to the rule that everything is dependently originated; that is,
dependently originated existents would really be explained only by something that did
not itself require the same kind of explanation. But it is precisely the Madhyamaka point
to emphasize that there is no exception to this rule; phenomena are dependently
originated all the way down, and it is therefore impossible to specify precisely what it is
upon which anything finally depends. Hence, there is no set of ‘ultimatly existent’
The Madhyamaka, according to Arnold, rejected the epistemological project of Dignāga largely
on the grounds that there are no truly existent objects for a valid cognition to perceive, and that
any knowledge claims are therefore flawed and that such claims involve infinite regress. For the
Madhyamakas, there simply is no basis for our conventions.

Christian Coseru criticizes Arnold’s analysis for being predicated on the view that the
idea of self-aware valid cognition necessitates the conclusion that for Dignāga, “mental events
are all we can directly know.”(27) Coseru makes a case for interpreting Dignāga “as advancing
something like a phenomenological account of cognition.”(28) In this account, the resemblance of
subject and object is accounted for by the category of self-aware valid cognition, without which
“object-cognition without self-cognition and self-cognition without object-cognition would be
indistinguishable.”(29) Coseru criticizes Arnold’s Kantian view that all perception is self-conscious
and argues that the “...justification of knowledge—which is the primar[y] concern of
foundationalism—falls outside the scope of [the] pramāṇavāda enterprise,”and offers “an antifoundationalist reading of the Buddhist epistemological project” that does not rely on “...the
requirement that perceptual awareness provide a justification for basic empirical beliefs.”30
Coseru dismisses Arnold’s concerns with the perceived inherent contradictions of self- aware
valid cognition, saying “...self-awareness is precisely the type of cognition in which there is
awareness that (or thinking) is taking place without there being any engagement in it. Such is the
case, also, with feelings and memories.”(31) Coseru questions whether “anti-psychologism is still
tenable as a philisophical attitude” in light of advances in cognitive science and a return to
naturalism in epstemology, and points out that the primary purpose of Buddhist epistemology is

The Path of Conceptual Mind

Dignāga's teaching, then, should be valued and studied mainly for it’s value as a path
toward the Buddhist goal of liberation. Its foundational relationship to the scholastic traditions of
Tibetan Buddhism is undeniable, and those traditions continue to give practical application to
Dignāga's theories in the form of debate, or “clear thinking” practice. The point of debate is to
train the mind, through repeatedly challenging assertions and having one’s own assertions
challenged, to question one’s own views rigorously. The ways that suffering is created are
conceptual—it is considered that saṃsāra, or cyclic existence permeated by suffering, results
from kleṣa, or afflictive emotions. Kleṣa, in turn, result from conceptual mind. Thus, the root of
suffering lies in conceptual mind.

That does not mean, however, that conceptual mind should be discarded or ignored (as if
such were possible), but that conceptual mind is the very way to examine and dismantle the very
beliefs that give rise to the narrative triggering of afflicted states of mind. As Nāgārjuna is
supposed to have said, conceptual mind appears at the beginning to be one’s worst enemy; later
to be one’s spiritual friend; and finally, to be the Buddha. This describes the contour of Buddhist
soteriology—conceptual mind is the only kind of consciousness that can grasp logical argument
and identify sound reasoning, which leads to inferential valid cognition. In the end, when
realization is gained, inferential valid cognition is transformed into yogic valid cognition, which
sees reality as-it-is and in its entirety. This means, paradoxically, that although conceptual mind
is the problem in the first place, there is no way to reach liberation other than through conceptual

One can meditate intensively for many years, but if conceptual mind is not engaged, it is
unlikely to lead to liberation—even if it does, conceptual mind has to come along eventually.
That is why the schools of Tibetan Buddhism have all made the practice of debate and the study
of logic part of the formal education of monks—without clear thinking, the training of these
monks to be bodhisattvas would be incomplete. While meditation and devotional practices might
increase compassion and commitment, only the practice of logic can train conceptual mind.

Conceptual mind is always considered to be mistaken, in that it does not deal with
existents, but with mental constructs, and only apprehends its object indirectly. However, it is not
always wrong. The output of conceptual mind is always in the form of truth statements using
terms and categories. Through the application of the three modes to the truth statements we
make to ourselves, we can root out the beliefs those statements are based on which are not
themselves based on valid cognition. Thus arriving at correct inference—which, though still mistaken, is valid, and it can lead to a certain kind of conceptual realization. In other words, it
can lead to a mystical experience. Anne C. Klein says the connection between the direct and the
conceptual is a natural one:
The intellect’s significance for mystical experience would also be impossible except for
the assertion that the nature of awareness itself is such that conceptuality can be
transformed into direct perception...conceptual thoughts and direct perception are not
merely compatible in terms of their potential for mutual enhancement, but their very
nature is the same.(32)
This would seem to answer some of Arnold’s concerns with what he sees as a chasm between
perception and inference. According to Klein, since the definition of mind from the bLo Rigs (33) is
“that which is clear and aware,” and direct perception and inference are both minds, they are of
the same essence, and hence there is no real contradiction, but they are more like different
modes. It also points again to the how the ideas and definitions compiled by Dignāga are used as
a path—epistemology in service of soteriology. In describing the scholastic tradition of the
Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Klein lays out the contour of this path:
Conceptual thought is not transformed of its own force into direct experience; other
elements of mental training and engagement with religious path are involved. Most
significant is the gradual union of conceptual understanding with increasingly stabilized
periods of concentration. The practitioner alternates between analytical meditation
(dpyad sgom) and stabilizing meditation (‘jog sgom). Finally, one reaches the point where
instead of analysis acting as an interference to stabilization, or stabilization weakening
analytical understanding, each enhances the other. This union of analytical or insight
practice with a concentration developed to the point of calm abiding (śamatha, zhi gnas)
is called special insight (vipaśyanā, lhag mthong). Attainment of this union of insight and
concentration marks the beginning of the second of the five paths or stages of practice,
the path of preparation (prayoga-mārga, sbyor lam).(34)
In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are said to be like the two wings of a bird—without both
the bird can not fly. Dignāga can be credited with codifying the technicalities of the path of
conceptual mind, and for this he is rightly esteemed. His is not seen as as the final word, but
understanding and practicing his way of thinking is indispensable in causing the development of
conceptual mind.


1 Hattori, 1.
2 Ibid., 6-10.
3 Ibid., 3.
4 Arnold, 3.
5 Coseru, 241.
6 Tenpa, coloected topics.
7 Acharya Sherab Gyaltsen, commentary, 5.
8 Ibid., 12.
9 Ibid., 22.
10 Siderits, 12.
11 McCrea, Patil, 20,21.
12 Hattori, 114.
13 Hattori, 35. Brackets in original.
14 Ibid., 36.
15 Hattori, 38.
16 Ibid., 52.
17 Ibid., 61.
18 Ibid., 63.
19 Ibid., 64.
20 Ibid., 67.
21 Arnold, 35.
22 Ibid., 41.
23 Ibid., 48.
24 Ibid., 102.
25 Ibid., 103.
26 Ibid., 119.
27 Coseru, 243.
28 Ibid., 244.
32 Klein, 16.
33 The Classification of Minds, the Tibetan text that assembles the definitions and categories of Dignāga and
34 Klein, 16.


Arnold, Dan. Buddhists, Brahmins and Belief. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Coseru, Christian. “Naturalism and Intentionality: A Buddhist Epistemological Approach.”
Asian Philosophy 19, no. 3, November 2009, 239–264.

Hattori, Masaaki. Dignāga, On Perception, being the Pratyakṣapariccheda of Dignāga’s
Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1968.

Klein, Anne C. Knowledge and Liberation: Tibetan Buddhist Epistemology in Support of
Transformative Religious Experience.
Ithica: Snow Lion, 1998.

McCrea, Lawrence J., and Paramil G. Patil. Buddhist Philosophy of Language in India:
Jñānaśrīmitra on Exclusion.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2010

Monday, May 9, 2011

Opening the Heart: Buddhist Meditation Weekend

“How can we take up the bodhisattva path?” This is the question with which Anyen Rinpoche opened this weekend retreat at Naropa University in February of 2011. Rinpoche was very affable, humorous, and relaxed, but at the same time intensely serious. His English was very good, but he was assisted by his wife and translator, Alison Graboski, who enabled him to have very precise interactions with the students, whom he engaged quite frequently over the course of the weekend. In a natural yet systematic way Rinpoche led us through an overview of Mahāyāna Buddhism and gave us specific instructions for practicing the bodhisattva path. Rinpoche’s definition of this path was simple—to put others before ourselves.

Anyen Rinpoche challenged us to think about how we might do this with the people closest to us: our boyfriends, wives, or partners. In the first of several personal anecdotes, he told us how, as a young tulku,1 he had been given the only comfortable seat—a cushion with branches under it—in the tent which served as a practice hall. He related how he gave his seat up to an old lama who was in physical pain, and how he had to consciously make the decision to do so—to follow through, in action, on the concepts of the bodhisattva path he was studying. Rinpoche then gave detailed teachings on some of those concepts.

The Four Seals

First, there was a lengthy discussion of the “Four Seals,” or the four things which characterize all existence, according to Buddhism: 1) All conditioned phenomena are impermanent. Rinpoche said “Impermanence is the door, or the key, to the spiritual path—if we could think about this [that everything is impermanent], our life can become easier, because we realize there is no reason to be attached to either happiness or suffering. This realization will bring us patience, diligence, and compassion.” 2) The nature of saṃsāra is suffering. Suffering is broken down into three categories: all-pervasive suffering, the suffering of suffering, and the suffering of change. All pervasive suffering is the background noise of saṃsāra—the basic unsatisfactoriness at the root of confused existence. The suffering of suffering is simple pain—the pain of an injury or slight. The suffering of change is the pain we feel when he are happy, yet we know that it will not last. 3) All phenomena are empty of self. According to Anyen Rinpoche, this seal points to the path to getting rid of afflictive emotions. Examining things, we find they have no inherent existence, but are the result of innumerable causes and conditions in an infinite web of “dependent arising.” 4) All phenomena are characterized by enlightenment. This means that enlightenment, or nirvāna, is the actual state of that which seems to us to be confused.


Rinpoche discussed two types of bodhichitta: conventional and absolute.
Bodhichitta (literally “awakening mind”) is the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. On the conventional level, it is aspirational and engaged. On the absolute level, the belief in self and others no longer operates, and compassion is a natural function of a non-dual experience of emptiness. Rinpoche stressed the importance of motivation for those who would undertake the bodhisattva path. He encouraged us to examine our motivation at every turn, and if we found it to be selfish, to try to turn it towards benefiting others, saying “beings who have excellent motivation sooner or later experience the benefit of that motivation [themselves].” He also said that without the proper motivation, it would be difficult to practice the six pāramitās of generosity, discipline, exertion, patience, meditation, and wisdom—the six “perfections” necessary to help beings. Rinpoche discussed the two accumulations: of merit and of wisdom. He said that merit is more important than wisdom—that it alone would suffice whereas wisdom alone would not—and that generosity could include all the other pāramitās.

The Four Immeasurables

Another way to cultivate bodhichitta is the practice of the Four Immeasurables. Equanimity is “not falling into attachment or aversion” and can be cultivated through śamatha, or “calm-abiding.” Loving Kindness is unconditioned love, like that of a mother for her child, and can be cultivated by wishing that “sentient beings should have happiness and its causes.” Compassion is putting others ahead of ourselves, and can be practiced in tonglen, or “sending and receiving” meditation, which Rinpoche taught us, and in which we learned to take the suffering of others—even our enemies—and transform it into benefit for them. Finally, Joy is to rejoice in the happiness or good fortune of others instead of being jealous of them.


I found Anyen Rinpoche to be a sensitive, humorous, humble, and compassionate teacher, and I left the retreat feeling very inspired to put his teachings into practice. In addition to his extensive doctrinal teachings, Rinpoche spent quite a bit of time practicing with us, both śamatha and tonglen, which gave us the opportunity to follow his instructions directly and immediately, with his very presence to guide and invigorate us.

Of the many personal stories he told, one in particular was very touching and I still remember it vividly. When he was a small Child, and was still living with his parents and being tutored by his first teacher, Lama Chupur, he had a “yak baby” which he loved very much. When the baby yak got sick and died, he was inconsolable, and would not let his father “touch a knife to the yak baby’s body.” Lama Chupur used the situation to teach the young Anyen Rinpoche about the truth of impermanence, and told him to cultivate that same feeling of love he had for the yak, and to extend it to all sentient beings. This strategy of starting with cultivating bodhichitta towards someone we love—for whom its easy to feel compassion—and then expanding the feeling to include more and more beings, is one that Rinpoche recommended, and which makes a lot of sense as a method. The idea of generating compassion and love equally for all beings can be daunting, and starting small can be a way to get a handle on the practice. I now have a renewed sense of urgency toward acting out the creed of the bodhisattva as elucidated by Anyen Rinpoche. He is truly a treasure, and we are extremely lucky to have him as an instructor at Naropa University.

1 Tib., sprul sku, a reincarnated master.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Interracial Origin of Appalachian Fiddling: Lost in Perception

Writing Seminar II
Professor Spohn
3 December 2009

Appalachian fiddle music has long been associated in the popular mind, at least through most of the twentieth century, with white Americans. Images of fiddle-and-banjo players in the modern era have been almost exclusively of white “hillbillies” or mountain people, and most of the people actually playing the music in that time period have been white, which tended to reinforce the stereotype. But this was not always the case. In an earlier era, there was much more diversity, with many players of fiddle-based dance music in the Upper South being black, and derogatory images in popular culture reflecting an association of the music with blacks. Fiddle has, from very early in America, been identified with the banjo, and this duet of instruments became intimately tied together, both in actual practice and in the popular imagination. The banjo can be traced directly to Africa, and that is only the most obvious clue pointing to the interracial origin of Appalachian instrumental music. The duet of fiddle and banjo is “interracial” in itself—the fiddle, European, and the banjo, African—and this paper will show that there are many other signs that the music which is traditionally played on this duo of instruments has components of both Anglo-Celtic and African musical concepts, material, and practices deriving from a process of exchange between European and African Americans.

There are many references to exchanges between blacks and whites in the 19th century. Joel Walker Sweeney, the first famous white banjo player, learned the instrument from a slave on the plantation of a neighbor, Dr. Joel Walker Flood, Sr. But cultural interchange between whites and blacks, though not well documented, certainly went back to the very first contact, and was more extensive than has been portrayed by the conventional historical view.

Modern Perceptions of Old-Time Music

I grew up in rural southwest Michigan, in an area which had many families whose parents or grandparents had migrated from the south during the Great Depression, seeking work in the factories of the auto industry. Some of these families migrated intact from Tennessee and Kentucky, and my father’s family was one of these. Many of these family groups kept aspects of southern culture, and Bluegrass music, a modern descendant of Old-time music, was very popular. I don't think any of these people would have conceded that African-Americans had any role in the history of their music. From a young age, I was aware of a pervasive racism among my neighbors and even members of my family. The music perceived to have come with them from the Appalachian region of their forefathers—which they generically called Bluegrass—was very much imbued with a sense of white pride. At the annual Bluegrass festival in Barry County, which I often attended with my parents, confederate battle flags and other symbols of White Supremacy were prominently displayed.

Of course, Bluegrass music is quite different from what I am referring to here as “Old-time” music: it is a product of the 20th century, mainly created by Bill Monroe, its most famous proponent. Monroe actually acknowledged the influence of Jazz on his music, and said that he organized the Bluegrass band along the same lines as the Swing band—with each instrument inhabiting a different sonic space, and taking turns soloing over the chord changes of the tune. Bluegrass owes much to the fiddle music it supplanted, which came to be called “Old-time” to distinguish it from Bluegrass, and for many white non-musicians, there is no distinction between the two. For many, if the music is Southern, and has fiddle and banjo, it is “Bluegrass.” The perception that this southern, Appalachian fiddle music was the exclusive province of whites was largely unspoken. It was a matter of white pride to associate oneself with fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, and the “high lonesome sound” of what was taken to be a racial heritage of music stretching in an unbroken line back to the British Isles.

This is the story I internalized growing up, and it still persists today. I don’t know how many times I have been at a Celtic- or Folk-music festival and had someone approach me saying: “that Irish music is in my blood, just like my Grandad used to play in Kentucky,” or “Bluegrass music (interchangeable with Old-time in the popular mind) and Irish music are all the same thing,” or some such construction conflating Anglo-Celtic and Appalachian musics. Actually, the fiddle music of the Upper South is very different from that played in either the Irish or Scottish traditions today. Though there are many tunes in common, and many tunes in American fiddling that seem to have their origin in Anglo-Celtic sources, there are a great many tunes that are native to America, and moreover, have no archetypes in European music. More importantly, though, the rhythmic conception embedded in Appalachian fiddling is utterly different from that of either Irish or Scottish fiddling, and is profoundly syncopated and polyrhythmical: in a word, it is African. Later, as I learned more about music generally, and was exposed to different styles, I realized that Irish fiddle music sounded quite different from the Bluegrass and Old-time music I had grown up hearing. If Appalachian fiddle music had come directly from Ireland and Scotland, what accounted for the drastic difference I heard, but could not yet describe, between the two?

The answer is complex, and much more interesting than the simple idea of Anglo-Celtic migrants bringing their music intact from one continent to another. It involves the profound cultural interchange brought about by the African slave-trade and the colonization of America, a largely brutal and tragic history which nevertheless produced a unique and beautiful style of fiddle music which is quite unlike the parallel styles in Ireland and Scotland. This dissimilarity is made more clear by the unlikely combination of the European fiddle and the African banjo.

The Exchange of Instruments: Fiddle and Banjo

The tradition of the banjo, an instrument which has existed in various forms and been called by different names, goes back to at least the seventh century in Africa. The first documented instance of African-American slaves playing the banjo is from 1740, but the instrument in America undoubtedly goes further back. By 1781, Thomas Jefferson could say that “the instrument proper to them (the slaves) is the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa”. While it is not clear exactly when the banjo arrived in America, historians and musicologists agree that it was very early; probably in the 17th century. The Reverend Jonathan Boucher, who lived in Virginia and Maryland prior to 1775, noted in his Boucher’s Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, published in 1832, that in Maryland and Virginia,

The Favourite (sic) and almost only instrument in use among the slaves there was a bandore, or as they pronounced the word, banjer. Its body was a long hollow gourd, with a long handle attached to it, strung with catgut,and played on with fingers. Its sound is a dull, heavy, grumbling murmer; yet not without something like melody, nor incapable of inspiring cheerfulness and myrth. Negroes... are always awakened and alive at the sound of the banjer.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of Scottish, Irish, and Northern Irish immigrants were arriving in the colonies, many of them as indentured servants. Some undoubtedly brought their “recently standardized” fiddles with them, but actually, rather than fiddle music from the British Isles being the ancestor of American fiddle music, all of these styles emerged simultaneously as part of a revolution of instrumental violin music throughout the English-speaking world in the late 18th century. A profound democratization of the instrument occurred at that time, corresponding to its becoming widely available due to mass production. During the earlier part of that period, the African slave-trade was just getting underway, and the ruling elites of the colonies depended on these “white slaves” for a large part of the labor force. They didn’t consider the Irish—mostly Roman Catholic and Gaelic speaking—to be “white” at that time, and white and black slaves were often housed together, resulting in a great deal of interchange, including de facto intermarriage. It is likely that the Africans, being familiar with fiddle-like instruments from their homeland, were quick to understand and adapt to the European violin, and it is probably during this period that the instrument was introduced to them. One thing which is very clear is that the unique combination of fiddle and banjo—the very signature sound of Old-time music—which is today so strongly associated with white mountain people, was played exclusively by blacks for at least 100 years.

African Rhythm, European Melody

Thus began a process, lasting over three centuries, of musical interchange whereby Africans and African-Americans were introduced to Anglo-Celtic instruments and melodies, and Anglo-Americans were exposed to African conceptions of rhythm. By the end of the 17th century, planters in the colonies had turned more and more to African slaves for their labor needs. Frightened by a series of interracial revolts, most notably “Bacon’s Rebellion,” in 1676, they segregated white and black servants, and began to develop the legal system of slavery.

During the height of plantation slavery, slave owners often sought to have the more musically talented of their slaves play for their dances, parties, and celebrations. They would have wanted the slaves to play familiar types of dance-tunes, which the slaves would have had to have been taught. Because these slave owners wouldn’t have necessarily had white musicians at their disposal, and presumably would not have cared one way or another as to the color of the musicians, it became very common for blacks to play for white dances. In fact, it appears to have been the rule rather than the exception for musicians at white dances to be black. The iconography of the period shows the fiddle as practically the only instrument played at these gatherings, sometimes accompanied by percussion such as the bones.

It is likely, almost inevitable, that the slaves would have “Africanized” the Anglo-Celtic melodies they were required to play. These would have been standard dance-tunes like marches, quadrilles, flings, and reels, and would have been Africanized by simplifying them melodically, while complicating them rhythmically. African music is, in general, less melodically dense than European music, but much more complex in terms of rhythm. Africans would have introduced polyrhythm into these melodies, or what whites would hear as “syncopation”—the stress of non-primary beats or divisions of beats in the cycle of the rhythm. At the same time, the white dancers would have experienced, in their very bodies, the influence of this Africanized rhythm, and it could not have but had an effect on them.

Musicologist Douglas Goodhart, of Kansas City, believes that African rhythm is actually embedded in the bowing patterns still used today in Appalachian fiddling. Goodhart has discovered that “bell patterns,” set rhythmic patterns that form the basis for many styles and genres of African music, are actually being “hammered out” constantly by the bows of fiddlers. The most common bell pattern is related to what is called the “clave beat” of Caribbean music, The melodies played or sung over these rhythms also begin halfway through the rhythmic pattern. Goodhart can show that, in the bowing, the melody will start at that same halfway point. This is uncanny, and there is “absolutely no way white people could have come up with this.” Yet, for blacks, in whom these rhythms were ingrained, it would have been second-nature, and could have easily entered their fiddle playing. The impact of these rhythms is undeniable and would have been adopted by whites immediately, as a fashion. If you watch Goodhart play a tune like “Cluck Old Hen,” and you follow the movement of his bow, you can see it defining this twelve-eight bell-pattern rhythm all the way through the tune.

In addition to the tunes of Anglo-Celtic origin which were rhythmically Africanized, there are also tunes of American origin that follow a “short motif” form in which the melodic content is very short—usually two bars long—and extremely simple. The melodic content in these tunes “says” almost nothing in comparison to the relatively well-developed melodies of European dance music. These tunes are profoundly African in their rhythm, and are melodically very similar to certain styles of African tunes. There is absolutely nothing like this in European music, and it is almost certain that these kinds of tunes were originally composed by African-Americans or by white musicians, in imitation of those kinds of melodies. Tunes like “Backstep Cindy” and “Boogerman” are examples of the short-motif form which are still played today.

In addition to the interchange and Africanization which took place purely in the context of the fiddle, the combination of the fiddle with the banjo further solidified the African-American component of the fiddle music of the upper south. The common style of playing the five-string banjo is called “frailing,” or “clawhammer,” and involves a downward brushing motion of the hand in which the backs of the fingernails of either the first or second fingers play the longer strings on the downbeat and on the upbeat, while the thumb plucks the short “drone-string” in between those beats, creating a “micropulse,” or a further subdivision of the beat. This way of playing banjo-like instruments with a short drone-string is still done in Africa today, and is done on no European instrument. The effect is a repeating rhythm of eighth-notes which, especially when every other thumb is left out, sets up a loping rhythm that sounds like “bum-titty, bum-titty.” When the syncopated melodies of the fiddle are overlaid on this micropulse, the effect becomes all the more polyrhythmical.

Polyrhythms are rhythms, usually of two and three, which happen simultaneously one over the other. These rhythms are already suggested in many traditional fiddle tunes, but the micropulse, or the minutely divided rhythm of the banjo, makes them even more explicit. Goodhart defines polyrhythmic music this way:

Polyrhythmic music is music organized so that two or more rhythmic parts, independent in their rhythmic makeup, create a whole, with an identity different from that of any of the parts. The parts may, seemingly, have nothing to do with one another but when played together interlock and form unity. The difference between polyrhymic and non-polyrhythmic music is that in non-polyrhythmic ensembles it is possible for an instrument to drop out and still have a version of the music, depending on the genre and which instrument is absent. But with polyrhythmic ensembles if an instrument drops out there is no music. The vase has been broken and the pieces of glass are no longer a vase.

Polyrhythms tend to be heard by Europeans as being “off” the main downbeats because the concept of polyrhythm is basically absent from formal European music. It is, however, central to African music.

In addition to the evidence of African-American and Anglo-Celtic interchange that is embedded in the music itself, there is work being done on the iconography of the period by musicologists, including Chris Smith, who is looking at the work of painter William Sydney Mount (1807-1868), and is finding evidence for widespread musical contact between blacks and whites in New York, where Mount lived, throughout Mount’s life and apparently long before. Musicians were a favorite subject for Mount, and a painting of a black banjo player is one of his most famous. His sketchbooks abound with images of white and black musicians playing together, and they are thought to have been rendered from life. Mount was an amateur musician who is known to have learned from black players, most notably, Anthony Clapp, a fiddler. Mount once wrote “I have sat by Toney Clapp and heard him play his jigs and reels.” The cultural interchange between blacks and whites was “far more ubiquitous” than conventional history would have us believe. There is also evidence of an important black role in Old-time music cited by musicologist and fiddler Paul F. Wells. Of particular note are the recollections of Kentucky fiddler Richard Burnett (b. 1883), interviewed by Charles Wolfe in 1973:

Oh yeah. Yeah. Bled Coffey here in town [Monticello, Kentucky], he was a fiddler during the Civil War, and the Bertram boys here, Cooge Bertram was a good fiddler. He was raised in Corbin [Kentucky]. Yes sir, there were a lot of black men playin’ old time music. Bled Coffey was the best fiddler in the county. Been dead for years. I played many a tune with him—used to play with me, oh, sixty year ago. He’d play any o’ the old songs that I did. The old-fashioned tunes, like “Cripple Creek,” “Sourwood Mountain,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Fire on the Mountain―them old-fashioned tunes is about what he played. (Quoted in Wolfe 1973, 7)

This kind of interchange between white and black musicians was common from at least the early 19th through the early 20th century. While there was always fiddling among whites, the quintessential duet of fiddle and banjo, the signature sound of Appalachian music, was played only by blacks for over 100 years.

Minstrelsy and changing styles

White people did not begin playing the banjo in earnest until the middle of the 19th century, and when they did, it was with their faces painted black. Blackface minstrelsy has a poor reputation today. It is considered the very embodiment of the racist society that gave birth to it, and, of course, it does reflect that society. However, it was also a medium which showed African-American characters in a positive light relative to “Mr. Interlocutor,” who represented the slave-owner, and was always the villain. Moreover, white performers who pioneered the minstrel stage were often serious fans and students of African-American music, learning it from the slaves themselves and striving for, and taking pride in “authenticity.” Many liberal, anti-slavery Americans at the time welcomed the minstrel shows as an indigenous art-form equivalent to opera. Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, and Walt Whitman sang its praises. The material presented on the minstrel stage, with its

studied imitations of slave styles of singing and dancing and celebrating...brought to the nation’s attention the very concept of racial and cultural difference, making black-style expression into a vocabulary of social commentary. How else could a form of entertainment be interpreted when everyone on the stage but one performer, Mr. Interlocutor, was portrayed as black, and when he continually played the straight man to those portraying slave—and was often the butt of laughter?

Roger Abrahams argues that even while the minstrel-stage reinforced simplistic and negative stereotypes of blacks as lazy, happy, and carefree, at the same time, it humanized plantation life, and celebrated blacks’ creativity and talent at entertaining. “In this process,” he says,

the minstrel-stage entertainment confounded American notions of self and other, for the very success of the form placed actors of all sorts in the position of agreeing to play black even as the system of enslavement was being subjected to moral scrutiny.

The minstrel shows were the most popular form of dance-hall entertainment in America for the better part of 100 years, starting in about 1830. Their influence on all styles of American music, both commercial and vernacular, is undeniable. Their styles were drawn directly from corn shucking and other forms of African-American performance. Joel Walker Sweeney learned to play from African- Americans in his area, and so did many other minstrels. They seem to have been among the more progressive members of white society in that they respected African-American culture, and learned it on its own terms. The African-American music they strove to faithfully reproduce on the stage was taken into the remotest corners of the south, where it was adopted by whites, and entered their traditions. Mountain whites also came into contact with black musicians at the river ports of the Ohio and the Sandy, where tunes and songs were no doubt exchanged, and by the end of the 19th century, Banjo/fiddle music was well-established among whites all over the Upper South.

The 20th Century: Whites Only?

Though blacks continued to play Old-time music well into the 20th century, a number of causes contributed to their moving away from fiddle and banjo. Blues and Jazz grew more popular outside their places of origin—the Mississippi delta and New Orleans—and as blacks migrated in large numbers to urban areas in the north, these newer styles were seen as more vital and relevant. Also, the phenomenon of Blackface minstrelsy soured blacks on the old-fashioned music that was being used to satirize them. At the same time, fiddle and banjo were being embraced by whites in the South, particularly in the Appalachian mountains, and by mid-century, the fact that blacks had once been central to this style of music had faded from memory.

By the early 1900’s blacks had moved on to other styles of music: ragtime, blues, and jazz were all created and embraced by African-Americans, who may not have been anxious to hold on to the fiddle music which represented a past for which they probably did not feel much sentimentality. This “moving on” by blacks can also be said to typify an African approach to music which is constantly seeking change. African arts are always replacing and updating the content within a form. Conversely, the Celto-European approach can be seen in the English ballad tradition, in which generations of singers passed down lyrics which changed very little over time. Thus, as time went on, white musicians tended to preserve the fiddle music, while blacks, for a variety of reasons, sought fresh avenues of expression, and made those their own as well. By the middle of the 20th century, the pivotal role of black Americans in developing fiddle music was all but forgotten.


Perceptions are often slow to change, but sometimes they are abandoned overnight. The idea that Appalachian fiddle music is “white” is simply wrong, and should be thrown out and replaced with a more truthful story of the history and provenance of this unique and powerful music. The evidence is overwhelming, and it comes from many different lines of inquiry: Alan Jabbour has collected accounts of past interchange between white and black fiddlers from his sources in the Piedmont; Roger Abrahams uses written records to reconstruct some of the crucial musical interaction between blacks and whites; Cecilia Conway looks at patterns of migration and traces the routes of interchange; Paul Wells analyses tune families, teasing out the probable timeline of variation; Chris Smith finds graphic proof, in the sketchbooks of an artist, of black and white musicians playing together as a matter of routine; Douglas Goodhart has discovered the structure of African music theory embedded in Old-time bowing patterns. All of these scholars, in one way or another, have found strong evidence for African-Americans’ deep involvement in the development of the music—not just “influence,” as some scholars have conceded in the past—but a central role in the very foundations of the music. Since both black and white culture, music, and dance were absolutely critical to the formation of this native American genre, Appalachian fiddle music is truly interracial.


Abrahams, Roger D. Singing the Master: The Emergence of African American Culture
in the Plantation South. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.

Carlin, Bob. The Birth of the Banjo:Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy.
Jefferson:McFarland, 2004.

Conway, Cecelia.“Black Banjo Songsters in Appalachia,” Black Music Research Journal, Vol.
23, No. ½ (Spring – Autumn, 2003) pp. 149-156

Goertzen, Chris, “American Fiddle Tunes and the Historic-Geographic Method”
Ethnomusicology, Vol 29, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985), 448-473.

Goertzen, Chris and Alan Jabbour, “George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels and Fiddling in
the Antebellum South” American Music, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), 121-144.

Hay, Fred J., “Black Musicians in Appalachia: An Introduction to Affrilachian Music”
Black MusicResearch Journal, Vol. 23, No. ½, (Spring-Autumn, 2003), 1-19.

Small, Christopher. Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-
American Music. London: John Caldor, 1987.

Southern, Eileen and Josephine Wright. Images: Iconography of Music in African-
American Culture, 1770s-1920s. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 2000.

Wells, Paul F. “Fiddling as an Avenue of Black-White Interchange,” Black Music
Research Journal Spring/Fall (2003) 135-147.

Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: a History of Multicultural America. New York: Back Bay
Books, 2008.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Śāntideva: A Look at Two Translations of the Bodhicharyāvatāra

Mason Brown
Professor Jobson
REL150 Research Paper

Śāntideva was an Indian monk who likely lived in the Early 8th century in the university/monastery of Nālānda. The great work attributed to him is the Bodhicharyāvatāra, or “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” which has been a central, inspirational scripture in Tibetan Buddhism for over twelve hundred years, and has been translated, copied, and commented upon constantly over that period, resulting in a great body of literary, pedagogical, and practical knowledge, which leads to the rich pool of modern work on the subject. This paper will examine two English translations of Śāntideva’s masterpiece, both of which are recent and readily available, and it will also attempt to give a general introduction to Śāntideva and his most important work.

The first of the two translations, which is by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton, with a general introduction by Paul Williams, and published by Oxford University Press in 1995, is based on a somewhat fragmentary Sanskrit text known as “Prajñākaramati’s commentary on the Bodhicharyāvatāra, the Bodhicharyāvatāra-pañjikā,” and, as the translators are both British—from Oxford University and the University of Bristol—the style is “standard British English.” (Crosby xxxv) The second, by the Padmakara Translation Group, Published by Shambala in a revised edition in 2006, is based on the Tibetan, with special attention paid to the commentary of Nyingma master Khenpo Kunzang Pelden. It was translated by Wulstan Fletcher and seems to favor American English.

The Padmakara group, after acknowledging the importance and utility of Crosby and Skilton’s translation to themselves and to scholarship in general, claim that their Tibetan-based translation, with its reliance on living tradition, might be more useful to the practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism:

we would argue that for those who are interested in practicing the Bodhisattva path, the Tibetan translation of the Bodhicharyāvatāra occupies a position of greater significance than a modern rendering, be it never so scholarly and accurate, of a Sanskrit manuscript that by chance escaped the destruction of the Buddhist libraries in India. The accidents of history have determined that the textual and commentarial transmission of the Bodhicharyāvatāra stretching back to Śāntideva—the human connection, so to speak—lies in the Tibetan and not in the Sanskrit. (Padmakara Translation Group, xv)

Crosby and Skilton are very concerned with textual questions, such as the arrangement of the chapters, since they are confronted with the fact that verses from Śāntideva’s other work, the Śikṣā Samuccaya, appear in the canonical Sanskrit text of the Bodhicharyāvatāra, and that the number of chapters varies in the received versions. Their Translator’s introduction, as well as the general introduction by Buddhist practitioner and scholar Paul Williams invaluable reading for understanding some of the problems involved with reaching a perfect translation, as well as providing a connection to present-day practice, belying the Padmakara Group's implication that their translation might be too scholarly to be of use to actual practitioners.

Nālandā University and the context of the Madhyamaka
When Śāntideva was at Nālandā around the turn of the 8th century, The monastery, university, and world-renowned center of learning had been there, in northern India, in the modern-day state of Bihar, for over 300 years (Crosby xxviii). It was a major educational center, with a Buddhist orientation, but was by no means exclusively Buddhist. Hindu studies, as well as “logic, grammar, medicine, magic, Sāṃkhya philosophy, and a number of other subsidiary subjects, such as art” were taught there. In this intellectual environment, with its open and cosmopolitan style, the Buddhist dialectical school known as Madhyamaka came to predominate. The founder of this school, the name of which means “Middle way,” was Nāgārjuna, “who lived sometime during the first few hundred years after Christ,” (Huntington, 32) and coined the term, “Madhyamika.” The philosophy of the Madhyamaka, which was conceived as a refutation of the “Yogacara,” or “mind-only” school, is that attachment to either the extreme of innate existence or the extreme of complete and literal non-existence are both in error, and that any rational postulation contains the seeds of its own refutation. In other words, though something may be true in terms of “relative truth,” rational constructs are insufficient for describing the “absolute truth” of phenomena. Another important exponent of Madhyamaka, Chandrakīrti, was associated with the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka, which held that “ one must either be led toward a gradual realization of emptiness solely by means of a critique against one’s own prejudices and presuppositions about so-called empirical experience and the arguments consciously or unconsciously posited to support these preconceived ideas,” (Huntington 34) or “one need only to observe patiently, with extreme care and devotion, the appearance of reality on which our commonsense assumptions are based, and in so doing the emptiness of all ontological and epistemological categories will reveal itself in these everyday appearances.” (35) Madhyamaka is, in short, a dialectical system in which, through reductio ad absurdum, all conventional views, indeed, all positions are refuted.

Śāntideva is solidly within Nāgārjuna’s and Chandrakīrti’s tradition, and the chapter entitled “The Perfection of Understanding,” (Crosby) or simply, “Wisdom,” (Padmakara) is famous for summarizing the many arguments that went on among different schools of thought at Nālandā, and for refuting all those opposed to Madhyamaka. That chapter is notoriously difficult, and is often problematic for scholars and writers, and describing its meaning is beyond the scope of this paper, and the abilities of this author. My main concern will be with a comparison of the prose of the two translations, with reference to commentaries including one by the Dalai Lama. According to him, the Bodhicharyāvatāra “condenses the three turnings of the wheel of the Buddha’s teaching.” (Tenzin Gyatso 8) According to the Padmakara Group:
It is a frequent practice to divide The Way of the Bodhisattva into three main sections, along the lines of a famous prayer, perhaps traceable to Nāgārjuna:

May bodhicitta, precious and sublime,
Arise where it has not yet come to be;
And where it has arisen may it never fail
But grow and flourish ever more and more.” (2)
Turning the Mind Toward Bodhichitta
The word Bodhichitta means, “awakening mind” according to Crosby and Skilton. Padmakara leaves the term untranslated, as it is widely used and understood by English-speaking Buddhists to mean “mind of enlightenment.” (2) Kobun Chino Otogawa translated it as “wayseeking mind,” and it is at the heart of Śāntideva’s method. The first three chapters of Bodhicharyāvatāra are called “Praise of the Awakening Mind,” “Confession of Faults,” and
“Adopting the Awakening Mind” by Crosby and Skilton, and their thrust is to rouse us from complacency; to inspire us to follow the still-small voice of our own innate enlightenment to live for the benefit of beings:
To those who go in bliss, the dharmakaya they posses, and all their heirs,
To all those worthy of respect, I reverently bow.
According to the scriptures, I shall now in brief describe
The practice of the Bodhisattva discipline. (Padmakara 31)


In adoration I make obeisance to the Sugatas and their sons, and to their bodies of Dharma, and to all those worthy of praise. In brief, and in accordance with scripture, I shall describe the undertaking of the sons of the Sugatas. (Crosby 5)
After this opening verse, with strikingly different wording in our two translations, the first three chapters take us through many verses of humility; of reflections on the pointlessness of samsara; of pointing out the preciousness of bodhichitta, and the rarity of human birth; of full confession of Śāntideva’s past misdeeds, supplication for aid from powerful Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and promises of extravagant offerings. We witness Śāntideva’s vows of Refuge in the Three Jewels, and hear his inspired homage to enlightenment: an acknowledgment of the beginning of theBodhisattva path.

Reading either of these translations, we might be inspired to join Śāntideva in his renunciation and aspiration to service. The Padmakara version, however, seems to roll a little easier off the tongue, while the Crosby version is a little more cerebral and makes one wonder about the literal meaning. Consider the following verse:
All that I posses and use
Is like the fleeting vision of a dream.
It fades into the realms of memory,
And fading, will be seen no more. (Padmakara 42)


Everything experienced fades into memory. Everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and not seen again. (Crosby 37)
While the Crosby/Skilton version is relatively terse, though still with a certain beauty, the Padmakara version is simply more poetic and euphonious. Through these three chapters, Śāntideva is working to arouse and inflame; to inspire bodhichitta. Bodhichitta, according to the Dalai Lama, is “a double wish: to attain enlightenment in itself, and to do so for the sake of all beings.” (Gyatso 12)

Maintaining the Aspiration to Help Others
The fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters, called “Carefulness,” Vigilant Introspection,” and “Patience” by the Padmakara Group, are concerned with nurturing our newfound bodhichitta, and sustaining the necessary level of effort required to see the Mahayana path through. The Dalai Lama says “the thought of bodhichitta has now been generated in our minds. Next we come to three chapters devoted to protecting it from deterioration.” (Gyatso 35) Śāntideva is telling us that if we want to follow the Bodhisattva path, we must guard against backsliding with unwavering zealotry, and that, having come so far, we shouldn’t waste the one chance of thisprecious human life:
The appearance of the Buddhas in the world,
True faith and the attainment of human form,
An aptitude for good: all these are rare.
When will they come to me again?

Today, indeed, I’m hale and well,
I have enough to eat and I am not in danger.
But this life is fleeting, unreliable,
My body is like something briefly lent.

And yet the way I act is such
that I shall not regain a human life!
And losing this, my precious human form,
My evils will be many, virtues none. (Padmakara 55)


When shall I find such rare circumstances again: the arising of a Tathāgata, faith,the human state itself, the capacity to practise skilful deeds,

Health, on this day,with food and freedom from disaster? In a moment life breaks its word. The body is like an object on loan.

The human state is never achieved again by such acts as mine. When the human state is lost there is only evil. How could there be good? (Crosby 26)
Both translations are quite beautiful here, I especially like “life breaks its word,” from Crosby and Skilton. Over the course of many verses in these three chapters, Śāntideva slowly builds an ironclad case for continuing on our course of Bodhisattvahood. If he fails even one being, he tells us, he will “work the ruin” (Padmakara 54) of himself, being born in the lower realms of hungry ghosts and demons. He tells us that a human birth is “as likely as a turtle poking its neck through the hole of a yoke floating on a mighty ocean.” (Crosby 26)
Śāntideva’s case is not only ironclad and irrefutable, it is emotionally rousing and inspiring. Reading the middle three chapters is like hearing the most charismatic southern preacher. His small examples and statements slowly build into a torrent, and we are swept into the mainstream, ready to give our lives. How can we sit idly by
When fishers, butchers, farmers, and the like,
Intending just to gain their livelihood,
Will suffer all the miseries of heat and cold,
Why, for being’s happiness, should those like me not bear the same? (Padmakara


Their minds set only on their own livelihood, fisherman, caṇḍālas, ploughmen, and the like, withstand such distress as extreme heat and cold. Why have I no endurance though it is for the advantage and well-being of the universe? (Crosby

Śāntideva warns us to protect our newly aspirational mind like we would protect our own broken arm in an “unruly crowd.” (Padmakara 64) After all the difficulty of arriving at our current situation, with all its potential to do good and help beings, we can lose it all instantly:
All the good works gathered in a thousand ages,
Such as deeds of generosity,
And offerings to the Blissful Ones—
A single flash of anger shatters them. (Padmakara 77)


The worship of the Sugatas, generosity, and good conduct performed throughout thousands of aeons—hatred destroys it all. (Crosby 50)
After I read these chapters, I am thoroughly convinced and converted: I am ready to take the next step.
Deepening Bodhichitta and Realization
The next three chapters are about learning to develop bodhichitta continuously (Gyatso 75). Crosby and Skilton translate them as the perfections of “Vigour,” “Meditative absorption,” and “Understanding,” which are the last three paramitas, or “perfections,” of the bodhisattva path. Diligence is recommended, and is defined as taking “joy in virtuous ways,” (Padmakara 97) and we are asked again what we did not understand:
Don’t you see how, one by one,
Death has come for all your kind?
And yet you slumber on so soundly,
Like a buffalo beside its butcher. (Padmakara 98)


You do not see those of your own herd as they are killed one by one? You even go to sleep like a buffalo at the butcher. (Crosby 67)
Śāntideva gives us yet another chance to understand the gravity of the situation. He enjoins us to make sure everything we do is in furtherance of our bodhisattva path, culminating in the practice of meditation. He encourages us to contemplate the transitory nature of our lover’s body, and to seek the “lovely, gleaming woods,” where “mental wandering will cease.” Always Śāntideva brings us back to mindfulness of the inevitable consequences of evil deeds, backsliding, and forsaking our vows. He gives us instructions for shamata and vipashyana, and for exchanging self with others. (Gyatso 88)

In the ninth chapter, “Wisdom,” Śāntideva turns to an explication of the Buddhist
doctrine of emptiness: the idea that “things have no true, objective existence.” (Gyatso 117) Śāntideva talks about the “two truths,” which is an essential idea in the Madhyamaka:
Relative and ultimate,These the two truths are declared to be.
The ultimate is not within reach of intellect,
For intellect is said to be relative. (Padmakara 137)


It is agreed that there are these two truths: the conventional and the ultimate. Reality is beyond the scope of intellection. Intellection is said to be conventional (Crosby 115)

According to Crosby and Skilton, the idea of emptiness began to be asserted in the
Prajñā-pāramitā sutra as a reaction to the reification of prototypical ideas of emptiness contained in the Abhidharma: The truths described therein were being treated as absolutes, and that understanding had to be refuted:
The chapter on the perfection of understanding in the Bodhicharyāvatāra is a deluge of such refutation. A number of opponents are lined up, each to be rebutted in turn as their views become relevant to Śāntideva’s line of argument. It is in the nature of such works as this that one knows the winner from the outset. For the audience it is just a matter of watching how skilfully each opponent is rebutted, how smooth the turn to the next. No opponent is taken all the way through the argument. Each is dismissed once he has served Śāntideva’s purpose. Opponents are refuted on their own grounds, their theories shown to be flawed and often made laughable; or they are taken under the wing of the author and shown that, did they but understand their own theories properly,they would realize they were in agreement with the Madhyamaka in what is really relevant. (Crosby 106)

Śāntideva gives us a large dose of absolute truth in the ninth chapter:
The mind that has not realized voidness,
May be halted, but will once again arise,
Just as from non-perceptual absorption.
Therefore one must train in emptiness. (Padmakara 144)

Without emptiness a mind is fettered and arises again, as in the meditative attainment of non-perception. Therefore one should meditate on emptiness. (Crosby 120)

In typical Mahayana fashion, Śāntideva concludes his song with a dedication. With sober
and humble awareness that his poem will benefit many countless beings for unknown time, he casts away the merit accrued; the karmic energy for good, to all beings, rather than keep it for himself. He then articulates the bodhisattva’s vow:
And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world. (Padmakara 171)


As long as space abides and as long as the world abides, so long may I abide, destroying the sufferings of the world. (Crosby 143)

He ends the dedication with a bow to Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, who is a kind of “patron” bodhisattva for the Madhyamaka and for the sects of Buddhism in Tibet and Japan that derive from it.

As a serious student of Śāntideva; one who would aspire to follow his path, I would keep both of these translations near. Crosby and Skilton have obviously chosen to represent Śāntideva”s Sanskrit verse in prosaic English, delivering a very precise and sharp language, with economy of words, and occasionally jarring, stark phrases that stick in the mind. The Padmakara Group has attempted a more poetic rendering in four-line free verse which they hoped would be similar in feeling to the Tibetan source. To my ear, this is a little easier to take in. In spite of it being longer, in number of words, than Crosby and Skilton, its rhythm is entrancing; its melody engaging, and its content is revolutionary. Though it is not quite for the reason the Padmakara Group claims, I think their translation just might be superior—for the practitioner—to Crosby and Skilton’s: because it is easier to sing.

Work Cited

Crosby, Kate, and Andrew Skilton. The Bodhicharyāvatāra. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Gyatso, Tenzin. A flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Boston: Shambala, 1994.

Padmakara Translation Group. The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyāvatāra. Boston: Shambala, 2006.

Huntington, C. W., Jr., and Geshé Namgyal Wangchen. The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamaka. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Readings on Pluralism: a Response

Mason Brown
Professor Miller
Contemplative Learning Seminar, Sec. F
Preparation Paper 6

I found all the readings from “Speaking in Silence,” very interesting and instructive. I didn’t have a strong response to Chogyam Trungpa’s chapter, having read it repeatedly and being in complete agreement with it. This is my tradition: internalized from my youth—but, as always—Trungpa’s words remain fresh and inspiring. He delivers another concise, elegant description of the practice and process of meditation in absolutely ordinary language: mindfulness and awareness join together (200), aggression subsides (201), and we are able to help others (201). Of course, it’s not always so simple in the real world, or “on the ground” as the current phrase goes. This process seems to have a lot of ebb and flow to it; it has the inevitable backsliding. The kind of insights Trungpa describes have happened for me as flashes of perception which, if anything, have slowly grown closer together in frequency over the years, but still sustain me through long intervals of ignorance. I don’t see any real discussion in the text itself of “exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, diversity, relativism and/or syncretism,” But I can relate my own feeling that I do have a twinge of exclusivism in myself when I read these teachings: so much more correct than any others I have encountered. I don’t necessarily buy into the twinge, and it soon fades. I do think that the process Trungpa describes, if followed completely, will unavoidably lead to inclusivism and pluralism, and honest acceptance of the diversity which surrounds us, without reliance on the dubious compromises of relativism and syncretism.

I have always loved and respected the Quaker tradition. With its uncannily Buddhistic silent meditation, justice-based social activism, and community values of respect for the individual as a part of the whole, it strikes me as one of the most beneficial forms of Christianity. I have even visited the oldest continually used Quaker church in the United States, said to be America’s oldest frame building, in Easton, Maryland, and seen its rough wooden benches; its spare interior, devoid of an alter of any kind. Quakers I have known have been very inclusive and embracing of diversity—often to the point of putting their bodies in harm’s way to stand in solidarity with people of other faiths and cultures—but I suspect that, like many Buddhists, they harbor unspoken feelings of exclusivism. The relative superiority of their spiritual tradition almost demands it. However, They probably also go through those feelings and do not rest on them. They have too much to do, and that doing includes not-doing. I think that the problem with Quaker contemplative practice is its lack of any real methodology or pedagogy of consciousness. There is no concrete description in this text of how to do it [Quaker scholars were even persecuted for trying to syncretize such methodologies (Yungblut 203)]. Practitioners are simply told to “wait upon the Lord in silence (202).” It would take a true spiritual genius to reach the highest levels of understanding through this system—which is strikingly like Zen—and I imagine that it was founded by such geniuses.

I have long been acquainted with the contemplative traditions within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and I have great respect for Tessa Bielecki, David Stendl-Rast, and George Timko. It is not surprising that the meditative techniques developed by the Church are the some of the most thorough, subtle, and refined in the European culture. In spite of this, I feel my exclusivism: Their contemplative practices are somewhat advanced, but their explanation of reality is utterly fanciful. This fact makes pluralism problematic, especially when one considers that the contemplative Christians featured in these readings, although representing a spiritual elite within Christianity, and holding some of the religion’s oldest and deepest forms, are a tiny minority of Christians in the world. Most adherents of Christianity take inflexible-belief-in-the-Bible-as-literal-Truth, and “faith in Jesus” as comprising the “practice” of Christianity, with nothing but a telephone call with God for their prayer (215), and disdain for true internal investigation. Bielecki describes a process of syncretization of her own (209), and I think it’s a good thing. She is taking knowledge which was discovered and transmitted by Buddhists to enrich her Christian practice, which is obviously deep and penetrating, but she is not giving up her Christianity; on the contrary, it seems to be strengthened.

How do I, who have acknowledged strong opinions about the shortcomings of other religions, and expressed visceral exclusivist tendencies also claim to be a pluralist? Because while I do hold those opinions and, on occasion, defend them, I do not really believe them. I know that my understanding is imperfect, and that inasmuch as my belief system does not perfectly depict reality, it is just as flawed as any other, no matter how primitive or outrageous that other might seem to me. Judith Simmer-Brown says that “in learning lessons of openness, the great yogis failed again and again (Simmer-Brown, n.p.).” This gets to the heart of the issue: “They were willing to risk, willing to fail, and willing to learn (Simmer-Brown, n.p.).” If we open to others as no different from ourselves, we will eventually realize the truth of that condition experientially, and, in the words of the Baptist hymn, there will “be no distinction there.”

Work Cited:
Simmer-Brown, Judith. “Chapter 6/Commitment and Openness: A Contemplative Approach to Pluralism,” in Glazer, The Heart of Learning, pp. 97-112.

“Natural Dharma,” “Corporate Mysticism,” Long, Loving Look at the Real,” and “Letting Go if Thoughts,” in Speaking of Silence:Christians and Buddhists in Dialogue, First Edition. 200-203;206-221.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spiritual Materialism

Mason Brown
Professor Miller
Preparation Paper 5

Reading the introduction to “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” I can almost mouth the words. I have read this material at least a dozen times, starting when I was about ten years old. The contours of the prose are familiar; utterly known to me. I feel I could find my way through this text in the dark. It’s like returning to my own home at night and walking through the unlit halls with complete confidence—no matter how long I have been away. At the same time, the words are absolutely fresh and current. They are amazingly relevant to my life right now. I am reminded what a genius Trungpa Rinpoche was. He was able to put the Buddhist teachings into words—in a foreign language—with total efficiency, moving beauty, and crystalline clarity.

Spiritual Materialism is a very useful term coined by Trungpa to describe the phenomenon of the use of spiritual practices, forms, or traditions to enrich one’s own ego; to do the exact opposite of what these forms were intended to be used for. Trungpa generously allows that all spiritual traditions are aimed at the same target: ego. He says that the “differences between the ways are a matter of emphasis and method”(4), and that the “basic problems of spiritual materialism are common to all spiritual disciplines”(4). I would argue here that many of our dominant traditions (Christianity and the other theistic religions) are simply wrong—their descriptions of reality are patently untrue—but that would be nitpicking and is beside the point. The point is that these traditions are supposed to teach us to think and act for some purpose greater than ourselves, and that the very processes they initiate can be hijacked by ego for its own selfish ends. Trungpa has put his finger on the main problem of spirituality throughout history. Despite the good intentions that lead us to seek out and cultivate spiritual practices, ego’s Trojan horse is inevitably brought in with us, sabotaging our efforts to escape its hold. Trungpa reminds us to be ever on our guard against the pernicious vampire of ego, which will feed on anything, wholesome or profane, to satisfy its insatiable hunger to be.

Jack Kornfield’s chapter, “No Boundaries to the Sacred,” is insightful and well-written. He approaches the topic of Spiritual Materialism from another angle. He talks about our tendency to create different spaces and separate aspects of our lives for sacred and profane activities, cutting our prayer or meditation off from our indulgences like sex or drugs. He calls this process “compartmentalization” (184). Kornfield cites Trungpa, correlating the concept of Spiritual Materialism with the “Golden Chain,” an Indian concept that defines “the notion of attaining a pure and divine abode” which

fits unfortunately well with whatever neurotic, fearful, or idealistic tendencies we may have. To the extent that we see ourselves to be impure, shameful, or unworthy, we may use spiritual practices and notions of purity to escape from ourselves. By rigidly following spiritual precepts and forms, we may hope to create a pure spiritual identity. (186)

Kornfield gives several moving anecdotes of people in various stages of spiritual paths—some of them quite advanced—who nevertheless run in to trouble in their lives which he traces back to this compartmentalization. I can’t disagree with anything Kornfield says—he seems to be a powerful and inspired teacher—but I find myself a little suspicious of him. It seems a little too easy in his world. He talks of “an opposite shadow, an area that is dark or hidden from us because we focus so strongly somewhere else” (193), but I wonder what Kornfield’s “dark shadows” are? He says “periods of holiness and spiritual fervor can later alternate with opposite extremes—binging on food, sex, and other things—becoming a kind of spiritual bulimia.” Something in Kornfield rings puritanical—the Thai monk he speaks of who was a dedicated activist and teacher; who fell in love with a student and tortured himself to the point of contemplating suicide, is redeemed by breaking off the relationship and rededicating himself to his vows—and one wonders where Kornfield is coming from. Who am I to say what this monk should have done? Apparently, it all worked out out alright, but somehow I suspect Kornfield of a little Spiritual Materialism of his own. It seems to me that Kornfield is on dangerous ground when he worries about “drinking, promiscuity and other unconscious conduct” (193), since I know from my teachers that those kinds of superficial value judgments of behavior are some of the most insidious traps of Spiritual Materialism waiting to snare us. I do agree with Kornfield, however, that

we must bring a deep attention to the stories we tell about these shadows, to see what is the underlying truth. Then, as we willingly enter each place of fear, each place of deficiency and insecurity in ourselves, we will discover that its walls are made of untruths. Of old images of ourselves, of ancient fears, of false ideas of what is pure and what is not. We will see that each is made from a lack of trust in ourselves, our hearts, and the world. As we see through them, our world expands. As the light of awareness illuminates these stories and ideas and the pain, fear, or emptiness that underlies them, a deeper truth can show itself. By accepting and feeling each of these areas, a genuine wholeness, sense of well-being, and strength can be discovered. (194)

For my own part, I have struggled with Spiritual Materialism for many years, and continue to pay attention to it; to look for those blind spots where it hides. My relationship to my robes and vows as a priest are a sensitive area. The accouterments of a Zen priest are costly, fine, and beautiful, and easy to either get attached to or develop feelings of aversion to. I have sometimes embraced them wholeheartedly, sometimes shied away from them and sometimes felt conflicted, embarrassed or ashamed of them. It's easy to see these vestments as a separating wall between me and other people who either practice Buddhism or don’t. It's tempting to project their perceptions for myself: what do they think of me, a white American, in this funny-looking Indo-Sino-Japanese costume?
After all this time, I no longer care. The attitude I have arrived at in recent years is one of gratitude to my teachers. They went to a lot of trouble to give me these robes; to hand this lineage to me, and it is my duty and obligation to carry that forward, However, I can’t be attached to the external properties of that obligation, and I am fully willing, at any moment, should it become necessary, to throw these robes into the fire and completely give them up, never looking back. In the same way, I am prepared to say goodbye to my very life, friends, family, and most of all, to music, to which I am most deeply attached. I am reminded, however, By Kornfield and especially by Trungpa, to examine those stories I so easily tell myself and to make sure I am not deluding myself: building up my ego with the mortar of Spiritual Materialism.

Work Cited
Kornfield, Jack. “No Boundaries to the Sacred”, Chapter 13 from Path With Heart. n.d, n.p.
Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambala, 1987.