Monday, September 24, 2012

The Xin-Xin Ming I: Responses

Scott Bradley


I have previously written a series of posts on the Hsin-Hsin Ming, a work which continues to inspire me and one to which I often return. I propose to do so again now. I have chosen to use the Pinyin transliteration of the title primarily to differentiate this series from the previous one. (The Pinyin system, as opposed to the Wade-Giles system, is the one most favored by modern scholarship and is responsible for the Tao/Dao, Chuang-tzu/Zhuangzi, and other changes which sometimes confuse us.)

I have subtitled this post "Responses" because this will not be a scholarly effort, nor one much informed by scholarship. For this reason it will most likely sometimes be incompatible with the original intent of the author, traditionally believed to be the Third Zen Patriarch, Seng-Ts'an (d. 606), though this is much disputed. I have, however, taken a look at some serious commentary on the work, but have found it less than helpful. For me, the beauty of the work is its stunning and razor-sharp simplicity; and this is easily destroyed by being cast into the seemingly endless sea of Buddhist speculative philosophy. Indeed, the name Buddha does not once appear in the work and I am more than happy to leave it so.

One thing that scholarship does make clear, and one which I find especially interesting, is the obvious Daoist influence on the work. Ch'an (Zen) is, as we know, a result of the meeting of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Daoism. Some have wondered why I speak so much about Zen on a blog dedicated to philosophical Daoism; this is why.

The title has been variously translated, but the essential idea is that it is a treatise on faith, or trust, in the heart-mind. Some would have this be an absolute "Heart-Mind", rather than this everyday mind of which we are all aware. I prefer the latter. There is no other point of entry into transcendent experience than this ordinary human experience. I also prefer "trust" because, for me, faith suggests something objective in which to believe. Trust, on the other hand, suggests simple agreement with workings of things as they are. Life, as I so often say, is implicit trust. All that we do is predicated on trust. We rise in the morning, put our feet to the floor, and trust that the floor is there and that our legs will hold us up. We trust that our first words to another have meaning and that our day will somehow be worth living.

Daoist spirituality, to my thinking, begins here: In a deep and primal affirmation of the life experience, out of which thankfulness cannot help but arise.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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