Round Trip to Dunhuang

800px-Dunhuang_airport_9573 Approximately one hundred years before Guru Padmasambhava began his sojourn in Tibet, a small and insignificant kingdom at the southeastern end of the Korean peninsula accomplished an extraordinary victory.  The result was the momentous unification of the entire Korean peninsula which had been divided into three bitterly conflicted kingdoms for a thousand years.  Some political historians credit Buddhism as one of the pivotal elements of that victory. 

There are many fascinating aspects to this story, beginning with the fact that the process of unification was initiated by an extraordinarily charismatic and evil woman.  Her resume included many positions of power such as commander of the royal Hwarang guard, court priestess and concubine to three successive kings.  Among other devious tactics, she used her considerable knowledge of astrology/astronomy and meteorology to deceive the common populace into believing that she could communicate and secure favors from the gods.  Of course, she could then likewise summon their wrath.  This woman became so notorious that even emissaries from Imperial China attempted diplomatic relations with her.  Basically, her main trick was to carefully calculate the occurrences of major cosmological and geocosmic events such as eclipses, meteor showers, storms and floods.  She then “prophesied” these events as proof that her agenda had divine approval, or, as indicators of the people’s error when she didn’t get her way.  One night, however, an unanticipated and very unusual cosmic event occurred.  In addition to the seven normally visible seven stars of the Big Dipper, one of the two invisible “attendant” stars also became visible.  This extremely rare phenomenon had been foretold hundreds of years earlier and is mentioned in the Haedong Kosung-jon (biographies of high monks) which also recounts other miraculous occurrences associated with the spread of Buddhism in Korea.  The appearance of an eighth star in the Big Dipper had been prophesied as the sign that a new age of truth would unite the three kingdoms through the leadership of a young Buddhist girl.  This girl did emerge.  She outwitted the evil priestess, became the second supreme sovereign female in all of East Asian history, secured the unification of the three kingdoms, passively converted the nation to Buddhism, and accomplished all of this by simply telling the truth.

We should be quick to understand and acknowledge that telling the truth is rarely simple.  It is routinely confounded in our own minds with the universally more common practice of serving up truth-flavored bullshit.  It would seem that one of our most creative talents as humans is our ability to come up with infinite, seemingly righteous justifications for our own bullshit buffet.  In the world of politics we have come to expect expedient deceptions, half-truths, subterfuge and outright lies.  These have become so prevalent and pervasive that it’s hard to say whether they are condiments, side dishes or the bloody main course.  But is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that politics and religion are humanity’s Chang and Eng ?

If we recognize society as a microcosmic map of our own minds then, like dream analysis, we can easily monitor what’s going on inside by observing what’s going on outside.  Our experience of the world is an analog of the level of integrity that is present in our own inner pentagon.  This is the significance of understanding the five aggregates (skandhas) as ultra-low signal-to-noise modulations of primordial light.  Accordingly, the realization and experience of the totally pure signal-energy is represented as the five Dhyani Buddhas:  Vairocana as the pure signal of form, Ratnasambhava as the pure signal of feeling, Amitabha as the pure signal of perception, Amoghasiddhi as the pure signal of identification, and Akshobhya as the pure signal of consciousness.  Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, once noted that “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement.  But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”  This is an example of something in quantum mechanics called dimensional truths.  If we borrow this notion momentarily, it’s possible to understand something important about the genuinely unique spiritual teachings of Guru Padmasambhava as his teachings constitute a kind of unified field theory of spiritual praxis.

There is much exciting discussion among Tibetan scholars regarding the cache of ancient books found in a cave at Dunhuang, China.  It seems somewhat like a Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Similarly, there’s much emphasis being focused on verifying not only the truth of historical events but also on the truth of spiritual teachings such as Chinese Chan and Tibetan Dzogchen.  In the case of Dzogchen, where the distinction between using the word to name a mode of praxis is explicitly contrasted by the alternate use of the word to refer to primordial truth, not much seems different.  That is to say, unsurprisingly, the Dunhuang documents don’t shed any additional light on the issue of primordial truth.  The documents do however show certain politico-spiritual events in a new light, notably, the famous so-called Samye debate between the doctrine of Chinese Chan Buddhism and classical Indian Buddhism.  The Samye debate is a good metaphoric example of how dimensional truth applies to our own personal histories.  What became true for Tibet in the context of the Samye debate may not have been the same truth as what was true for the debate itself.  Certain scholars even consider the debate to have been a political hoax.  We humans, confused about the nature of our manifest energies, manipulate our own personal histories and truths in much the same way with similar effects.  In other words, in spite of our manipulations, there is a truth that not only underpins but also permeates, sustains and “legitimizes” even our darkest and most confused states of mind.  Understanding this truth is like understanding the truth of the inherent solvability of a Rubik’s Cube – even if we haven’t yet figured out how to do it.

There is a teaching given by Padmasambhava that shows specifically how to realize all levels and dimensions of truth as collectively and universally coherent.  In the officially sanctioned categories of Tibetan Buddhist literature these unique teachings about the truth of “original energy” are listed as a subdivision of Dzogchen literature.  However appropriate that categorization may be, the style and content of the teachings are unique to Padmasambhava himself.  The practicality of its profoundly open architecture is especially relevant for us because we (as was Padmasambhava) have been meaningfully exposed to a multitude of spiritual traditions and idioms.  The truth addressed in these pith teachings of Padmasambhava is completely devoid of the telltale flickering that discloses the slight stutter associated with dimensional truths’ inherent tension.  Having the potential to unify the three kaya/kingdoms of our own ontological motherland, Padmasambhava’s telling of the truth is told by his teaching of truth’s own language.  He called this language “The language of the Chi-ti (spyi-ti) experience”.  By this language the trueness of truth finds its voice and we are able to hear it, not as subjective-objective waveforms of varying frequency and amplitude, but as an invariant (‘gyur-med) and forever whirling vortex of energy’s energy.  Fortunate indeed are those who learn this sooner than later.

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