Here’s one more picture from Bill Porter’s new book, Yellow River Odyssey, which should be released soon by Chin Music Press, a small publisher of elegant books based in Washington state. The caption reads: ”After another hour among the dunes, we headed back to Shapotou, where I cooled my heels in the Yellow River mud and talked with several men who were inflating goat skins and lashing them to wooden frames to use as rafts. Sheepskins, they said, were useless. Goatskins were the only the skins that held air long enough, and they had to be coated on their insides with sesame oil to keep them from cracking and to maintain their flexibility.”
– From A Zen Forest, Sayings of the Masters
I’ll explain in detail
came to China:
Listen to the evening
bell’s sound. Watch
the setting sun.
– From A Zen Forest: Zen
A photo and caption from Bill Porter’s “Yellow River Odyssey,” now scheduled to be released in May 2014:
“I was on my way from Hong Kong to follow the Yellow River from its mouth to its source and couldn’t resist the temptation to stop in Shanghai for the China Coast Ball. This annual bacchanal was organized by and for the Hong Kong expatriate community, and it was normally held in March at the Belle Vista in Macao. But in 1991 the Belle Vista was being renovated, and the organizers turned to the Peace Hotel in Shanghai as a suitable replacement. The Peace had been boarded up during the Cultural Revolution, and the splendor of its art-deco interior had survived intact.”
Red Pine’s probing and understanding of the major Buddhist sutras: The Heart Sutra, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, The Diamond Sutra and, the latest, The Lankavatara Sutra, in addition to his earlier translation and commentary on The Tao Te Ching continue to deepen. With each translation his commentaries have grown more profound, especially on how all the sutras, taken together, form a whole, offering an approach to the difficult metaphysics that bewitch people looking for the answer to life’s riddles.
Red Pine’s latest commentary on the Lankavatara Sutra is a good example of how he draws all the sutras together. For instance:
“Buddhism is concerned with suffering, which is the inevitable result of desire. But the real issue is the self, which is the cause of the desire, which is the cause of the suffering. In the centuries following the Buddha’s Nirvana, instructions centered around a trio of concepts designed to focus attention in such a way that the nonexistence of the self would become evident and the liberation from suffering would follow. These included the five skandas (form, sensation, perception, memory and consciousness), the twelve ayatanas (six powers and six domains of sensations), and the eighteen dhatus (the ayatanas with the addition of six forms of consciousness). These were three views of the same thing: our mind.
The were simply different ways of dividing any given moment of awareness into a manageable matrix to demonstrate to anyone willing to wander around these matrices that they contained the universe of our awareness, its inside and its outside, and yet they contained no self. This was their function: to show practitioners that there was no self.
While these three schemes dealt with the problem of the self, they didn’t help explain how we become attached to a self in the first place, and how we go from attachment to detachment to liberation. Hence, to these were added three more schemes, all of which play a much larger role in the Lankavatara Sutra than the previous trio. The three new schemes are the five dharmas, the three modes of reality, and the eight forms of consciousness.
The five dharmas divide our world into name, appearance, projection, correction knowledge and suchness. The three modes of reality do the same thing with imagined reality, dependent reality, and perfected reality; and the eight forms of consciousness include the five forms of sensory consciousness, conceptual consciousness, the will or self-consciousness, and an eighth form known as repository consciousness, where the seeds from our previous thoughts, words and deeds are stored and from which they sprout and grow.
As with earlier trios of concepts, these were designed to account for our awareness without introducing the self. But they had the advantage of also providing a look at how our worlds of self-delusion and self-liberation come about, how enlightenment works, how we go from projection of name and appearance to correct knowledge of suchness, how we go from an imagined reality to a perfected reality, how we transform our eightfold consciousness into Buddhahood.
….But then the Lankavatara Sutra sets all these schemes aside in the interest of urging us to taste the tea for ourselves….Cup of tea or not, no one said it was going to be easy…”
He goes on to explain how the Lankavatara confounded his understanding for 35 years. Everyone’s approach may differ, but a good step would be to try the sutras in a sequence such as this: the Tao Te Ching, The Heart Sutra, The Platform Sutra, The Diamond Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra.
Good advice from someone whose life has been devoted to translating these sutras to deepen his own understanding and wisdom.
Also, as his wisdom – and his humor – ripen, he becomes more humble. The mark of a good teacher…
Bill Porter, aka Red Pine, has a new book scheduled to be released in February 2014, titled Yellow River Odyssey. It’s a collection of photographs and recollections of a trip along the river when China was just beginning to open up in small ways. The book is published by a great, small publisher called Chin Music Press based in Seattle. It is a bestseller in China, where it was first published.
I’ve also just come across a fan Facebook page for Porter, which you can see here.
Here’s the Amazon blurb on the book: “Bill Porter follows the Yellow River, the world’s sixth longest river, from its mouth to its source high in the Tibetan Plateau, a journey of more than three thousand miles through nine Chinese provinces. The trip takes the master translator into what was once the cradle of Chinese civilization and to the hometowns and graves of key historical figures such as Confucius, Mencius, Lao-tzu, and Chuang-tzu. Porter’s depth of knowledge of Chinese history and culture is unparalleled. Yellow River Odyssey, already a bestseller in China, reveals a complex, fascinating, contradictory country. Porter masterfully digs beneath China’s present-day materialism and the deep wounds of the Cultural Revolution to get at the roots of Chinese culture.”
I looked for Roxy Gordon’s website today, and couldn’t find it. I’ve written his wife, Judy, for more information. I still can’t write about Roxy, who’s dead and buried outside of Talpa, Texas, near his “house up” home/campsite in West Texas. It’s one of those small, flat-top hills with the mesquite-desert spaces in between. Roxy was a writer-artist-musician-poet. Even more important, he had what Indians call medicine. People in Asia would say he was a man of The Way. He knew some things.
Here’s a link to Smaller Circles, his poem/talking word song (also the title for a book of poetry).
Here’s a poem/talking word song Indians.
Here’s a story written upon his death by a Dallas friend.
Well, yes – exactly – that is the problem.
All travelers experience it
at each step on the Way. Is it
here, there, up, down,
backwards, forwards, all around,
or somewhere else? How are we to know,
if it doesn’t tell us so?
We all have our maps, but they are the
artifacts rubbing our noses in it.
My worn map I drew myself. I traced
a line from Birchman Street in Fort Worth
through dark caves as a Boy Scout, to Saigon
(and flowing dresses) to Ubon and
Thailand’s temples to Third Street in Denton –
a college town – to Dallas (there’s the dead president)
to Arlington to Thailand again and Laddawan – to Denton
(the college town again) to Waco – a crazy town –
to Alpine and the airy Big Bend where I met and lost
so many friends, to here and now in Chiang Mai.
Ok, just breathe deep and let go.
That’s as close as I can get to it.