A 1st look: Red Pine’s Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra as Jasmine Tea
First Sniff. - The Brisk Advertisement Copy:
Before beginning I will let Mr. Red Pine introduce his own characterization of the Laṅkāvatāra:
“Think of the Laṅkāvatāra as Zen tea in a Yogācāra cup.”, (Page 15).
I received Red Pine’s translation of the Laṅkāvatāra yesterday and did an unwise thing with this epic tome of wisdom, I inhaled like a frog's snapping a fly out of the air with its tongue. This is obviously a book that is intended to be slowly melted like that 1st pat of butter you put on the pan while it's warming up for pancakes.
3 things struck me right off. And some due diligence in presenting myself as necessary. I have no academic qualifications whatsoever. And I have no meditation experience worth mentioning.
1. - Steeps Quickly
On the very same page as the self characterization of the text by the translator is this statement:
“These include the 5 Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, memory, and consciousness)”, (page 15).
That rendering into English of “samskāra” as “memory” immediately struck me as suggesting the same kind of treatment of a complex term as would be the translation of Nāmarūpa as “name and form” followed by an explanation which indicated that it was simply a the conceptual process of labeling rather than a dynamic process by which the 7th consciousness expressed its assertion of the self and then imposed its agenda by yanking something out of its context in our experience to make it a moon of the planet of our fictional self and in turn creates of it an object to which we would constantly be responding by “seeing it” and being triggered into egocentric outflows of behavior.
Memory itself has been defined before in the sense of “non-losing” and “sustaining”, or “reminding” and “paying attention to details” within the context of mindfulness. In Paul L. Griffith’s essay “memory and classical Indian Yogācāra” in the Mirror of Memory edited by Janet Gyatso, Prof. Griffiths quotes the Triṃśikābhyāṣya as saying
“Smṛti is the minds nondeprivation of an object with which it is directly acquainted.... [It is an object] which which is directly equated by means of the previous experience [object].” (Page 111)
In other words memory is seen as a factor operating within mindfulness. It is not that deep contributor of contour or responsiveness within experience that is like a coral reef built-up changing the flow of waves coming in to a beach that I usually think of what I think of when I think of the word samskāra.
2. - Naturally Sweet
In his notes on page 116, in chapter 2, note 323, he discusses if word “hostility” is short for “hostility and kindness” or not, but he goes with “hostility”. He interprets this saying
“however, the place of “hostility” here is clear when it is understood that is based on the 7th form of consciousness, or ego consciousness. And wherever the ego is involved, hostility, and not kindness is the operant emotion.”
Now, I really am going to go a little bit out on the limb here. But if you think of a parallel it might help. The translation of the word dukkha in the context of “The truth of dukkha” is generally understood to be coming under the category of Yul Brynner, (as the man in black), in The magnificent 7 saying “don't understand me so fast”.
“The truth of dukkha” in the Yogācārabhumi, Section Four, page 414, Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol VIII (T130-132), is explained as having 10 aspects, “change” through “being dependent”. The Tibetan teacher of the ancient school with whom I took refuge is a Buddhist would always explain that in the background there lay a kind of “pervasive suffering” that is just the nature of samsara to “fall short” even in all sorts of really good things do go on here right along with what Lisbeth Salandar referred to as “all the evil”.
I would think that just as there is a background characteristic insufficiency going on always behind the 10 aspects of suffering there is also a background hostility going on all the time that is actually distinctly different than any of its aspects or expressions as what we would call “anger”. This “ground hostility” is closer to a universal principle of cognizance which is to tear things apart by analysis, to divide things against each other, to yank things out of their context and make them submissive to our hierarchy of projected expectation. This is not “anger” hostility but it is more like the existential paranoia that creates dualistic thought.
I would really like to make a wild jump here and say that when you use the word hostility with the 7th consciousness you were using the word hostility to mean the way antagonism could be used to described any process that turns things against each other, even if it is simply to identify an object moving against the background, like seeing a bird flying in the sky. It is not the emotional overtone hostility or anger but a simple divisiveness of our nature of consciousness that turns on that pivot of the 7th consciousness which is like a magnet that reorient set everything out of its original orientation to be directed towards the central star of ego like a huge star that overturns the spin on the axis of all of its planets so they all have one face turned towards the sun the way our moon always has the same face turned towards the earth... But I'm really going on on a limb here - yet I kind of think I'm right in this particular case.
3. - Spicy
The original 1st section of the text, the so-called “108 questions and answers” has all along been a daunting section because it is hard to find any order in it. On page 44 Red Pine says
“I'm of the opinion it is merely an example of the way the repository consciousness works: you never know what seed is going to sprout next.”
On one hand that is a really functional way of looking at it, on the other hand it's a little bit too cute. I think it's not so helpful because he himself earlier on said that he thought that this presentation represented a kind of “yoga practitioner’s sense of priorities” rather than an academic organization of the material. But he never described what that presentation would look like itself in distinction to a scholarly presentation. And in this one case in which were talking about a famous problem of the book, at least a sentence of orientation would seem proper to expect, rather than throwing aside that original assertion of a alternative form of organization in the 108 questions and answers and offering up a simple surrender, the kind of secret knowledge that is implied but not demonstrated when someone, even a Buddha, responds to a question by just smiling slyly in silence.
I have been waiting for this book so long and I am so grateful to get it that I just thought I'd make these 3 points as a way to get a conversation going about it because a meal enjoyed alone really isn't the same as a meal with friends.
Red Pine, Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Counterpoint, 2012
Leo Rivers http://www.madimi.com