Red Pine’s Canny Commentaries on Buddhist Sutras

Red Pine hitching a ride in China. Photograph by Ted Burger.

Red Pine hitching a ride in China. Photograph by Ted Burger

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.

Red Pine always offers good advice. His 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 real teacher

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