Soul and Spirit in Buddhism



Soul and Spirit in Buddhism

Notes on a Talk by John Tarrant, May 23, 1998

Meredy Amyx

This talk was part of the second conference on Buddhism in America, held in San Diego on May 22, 23, and 24, 1998. My notes were taken during the talk and were transcribed, unembellished and uninterpreted, on September 29, 2002. “Reflections on a Guided Meditation,” written in journal form that evening, is a description of the thoughts I had while the guided-meditation portion of the talk was taking place, which appear here as sketchy notes made during the group discussion that followed.

Kierkegaard (“Sickness unto Death”)
      Worst thing about despair is that you’re unconscious of it
      Have to play the music backward and come back through
      consciousness to bring the despair up and out

We love because we get taken out of ourselves
Fall in love with meditation

The small and the disregarded

The life that we die of
This life—not the eternal life
This life is good
Soul is the part of us that touches the world

When you follow a spiritual path, you should really follow the rules, unless you don’t—unless it’s bad for you.

“Soul”and “spirit” are fictional, metaphorical ideas useful for talking/thinking about life

Working harder at meditation—moment comes when you move from the engineering model to the artistic—surrender to it

Psyche is one of the great Western interests
Mediterranean concept


Jesus as bodhisattva
Willing to suffer
Incompleteness is how they connect with us
Redemption through suffering guides Christian motif

Keats—about Shakespeare
“negative capability”
entertaining uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason

If we go down and in, the up and out will just appear
If we embrace whatever we can’t stand about ourselves, we see that it comes out of something human

Getting softer on the outside,
stronger on the inside

Light is nothing, but it’s also everything

Humble about extent to which we can understand another culture
Our psyche is Western
Kuan-Yin looks suspiciously like Isis or Mary

graceful strength

Zen very helpful at beginning of practice—striving
Vipassana in the middle where Zen does not have much to offer
At advanced stage again Zen is very rich
He is trying to bring some of the middle into Zen

We are the imagination of the universe

Zen doesn’t give engineering instrux because later you just have to get rid of them
Vipassana gives lots of instrux because otherwise people will never learn them
Both are right
We could let go of the martial aspect of Zen, which was rooted in the culture

Zen gives so much help with its silence & cushions that you can get really advanced in meditation and yet still be a jerk. Good Buddhists s/b interested in the arts of life.

Meditation hall is a laboratory
When you take something from the lab to the outside, you have to learn different skills


This very heart-mind is Buddha

Each branch of coral holds up the moon

What is Zen?
     snow in a silver bowl
What is — [text missing; see note 1]
     The clearly enlightened person falls into a well.
What is the sharpest sword?
     Each branch of coral holds up the moon.

Catalysts: enlightenment triggered by something in the world
For spring to occur, something has to appear

[Personal reactions to guided meditation on the two koans]
Can’t do without qualification
Insisting on the exception
Let the koan fill me except the part that is thinking about it
The part that is thinking about it won’t be still
And so I want to accept every part but the part that is thinking about it and interfering with the meditation
Don’t seem to be capable of making a true statement about myself
Resist the seduction of the very thing that promises to take me out of that
And so I want to deal with that by thinking about it—as if that were a way of defeating it
A punishing complexity that I also treasure

1. From this site, found on Google, 9/29/2002: “The Master List of Masters: A Biographical Concordance” (current as of January, 2001); compiled by Ven. Jinmyo Fleming ino from the Teachings of Zen Master Anzan Hoshin (http://www.wwzc.org/translations/masterList.htm):

Baling Haoqian (Pa-ling Hao-chien, Haryo Kokan), 10th C. A Dharma heir of Yunmen Wenyen, He appears in Blue Cliff Records 13 and 100. See Rhythm and Song: Commentaries on Dongshan Liangjie’s Jewel Mirror Samadhi, WWZC Archives 1996. He had three turning words that he used to sum up the transmission: “What is the Path? A clear-eyed man falls into a well. What is the sword so sharp it can split hairs? Each branch of coral holds up the moon. What is the House of Kanadeva? Snow in a silver bowl.” For further on the first phrase, see the Himitsu Shobogenzo, case 16, involving Sogaku Hakukaze and Anzan Daiko.