Some of my friends know that I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism and trying to meditate* daily. There is a whole universe of texts and practices out there, of course, and I have just begun to navigate around a few of the edges. For someone like me, who has had a life-long beef with the Christian God and with monotheism in general, Buddhism (at least in some of its aspects) presents an attractive non-theistic alternative to the alienated materialism sponsored by my culture’s dominant scientism. When I get interested in a subject, I buy books and I already have a short shelf of books about Buddhism, along with some key Buddhist texts. I’ll probably write something about some of those in the future, but for the moment I just want to make note of a couple of translations by the American scholar Red Pine.
Bodhidharma was a fourth century Indian and is said to have brought Buddhism to China, though in fact we know there were monks in China by the first century of the current era. He is also said to have cut off his eyelids so he would not fall asleep while meditating–where his eyelids fell, tea bushes grew, the stimulant of choice for monks ever since. Bodhidharma meditated for nine years in a cave, staring at the back wall. Stonehouse [Ch’ing-hung] was an 11th century Chinese Zen master, abbot, and sometime hermit. What I like about both of these old Zen coots is their anti-dogmatic, pluralistic, down-to-earth approach to enlightenment. Since I don’t read Chinese, I am dependent on translators: these translations by Red Pine produce a tone that sounds authentic to my ear and a clarity of meaning that makes these texts–so distant in time and culture–useful to both readers who have an academic interest in them and to those who are in one way or another seeking enlightenment, though that term seems far too grand for the sort of thing I’m attempting when I sit down on the cushion to meditate.
*The teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that when one begins to meditate one not tell anyone “for five or ten years,” an injunction I am clearly breaking here, but only briefly and in passing.