Saturday, April 20, 2013

Treatise on the Golden Lion, Critique and Overview

In the Treatiseon the Golden Lion, Fa Tsang uses a lion statue, made of gold, as a metaphor to convey a concise outline of his teachings to the Empress Wu TsĂȘ-T'ien. Upon hearing the teachings in this way, she was able to completely understand them. I was not quite as lucky; it took a bit more work for me to understand. The Treatiseconsists of ten sections, using the golden lion in each.

The gold represents emptiness. The shape of the lion represents form. The material of gold allows the lion to have shape. The gold is really freely mailable substance. Without an idea of the lion, the gold would still be, it would just have no shape. Emptiness here has a similar relationship with form. Form is imposed upon emptiness, which freely allows this. Without form, there is still emptiness, though it is without form and basically imperceptible.1This is the basic idea of how the golden lion is related to Buddhist metaphysics.

The Treatisegoes on to talk about various familiar Buddhist concepts. One of the “five doctrines” in section six, however, stuck me as very Daoist. It is called the Instantaneous Doctrine, and is supposed to represent the Zen idea of “direct and instantaneous realization of one's own Buddha mind.” To summarize the doctrine, it describes a state which sounds somewhat similar to nirvana, though I think if it was describing nirvana particularly, it would have explicitly said so. In this state there is no idea of emptiness, no idea of form, no idea being nor non-being. It sounds a lot like Nagarjuna. The text says, “Here the mind rests without any attachment.” This is also Buddhist; attachment or grasping is described to be the main problem of humans, but as well, it is stated in the first chapter of the Daodejing.2Right before this though, the text says, It is a realm that speech and names cannot reach. The first chapter of the Daodejingalso parallels this selection, when it denounces names as acceptable with the Dao. Names are often criticized by Laozi, including in chapter 32 with the words, The Way is forever nameless. In chapter 56, the Daodejingparallels the Instantaneous Doctrineagain with, Those who know do not talk about it; Those who talk about it do not know. Here speech is described as unacceptable to the Dao.
These few Buddhist words touch on two very important Daoist ideals. It is likely to conclude that, after this much time in China, Buddhism has assimilated some Daoism, particularly because Daoism was not really an organized spiritual movement. It really, as I understand it, was more of a group of loosely similar teachings about a well known Chinese concept of the Dao. Thus, its ideas would be easily assimilated or seen within Buddhism by Chinese culture.

1Sect. 2, “the form of the lion is unreal; what is real is the gold...the body of the gold is nonexistent...Furthermore, emptiness does not have any mark of its own; it is through forms that [Emptiness] is revealed.”
2Chapter One of the Daodejing, “Always eliminate desires in order to observe its [The Dao's] mysteries.”

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