Lojong Practice Journal: Seeing confusion as the four kayas…
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
Time for dharma buzzword bingo! “Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection” is a slogan with a lot of words to unpack for it to be understood. A lot of words. So many, in fact, that as I publish this, I still don’t really understand what this slogan is about. But I decided to challenge myself to just write the commentary already, as it’s been at the top of my list for several months now. So here we go, a first attempt, because honestly, one is never finished studying and revisiting Lojong Slogans.
I have come to appreciate it when an original Pali or Sanskrit word is maintained in a dharma teaching; often the words from the original language in which something was written are kept because there really aren’t equivalent translations in other languages. Much of understanding these words comes from getting in touch with the qualities they represent, rather than an intellectualised concept, and it helps us to not hold onto the definitions too tightly. This can also make getting to the heart of a slogan’s practice instruction challenging since there is so much to unpack. Each word could easily birth a whole new text unto itself.
I’m going to go with simple explanations of terms, primarily as a method for not overthinking the words too much, so we can get to the essence of the teaching. We begin with the four kayas, which are the: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya and svabhavikakaya. Each kaya is one part of realization about the nature of reality, building from one to the next, until the fourth, which is the realization of the ultimate truth in its entirety. They could be thought of as stages, but they are also a collective — four aspects of one clear view of reality as it is, free of obscuration.
Shunyata is often translated as ‘emptiness’, which is the teaching that nothing has an inherent existence and all things are relational. The term ‘emptiness’ is an excellent example of how an English word isn’t quite up to the task, as it has often been misunderstood as nothingness, and why Buddhism is sometimes seen a nihilistic belief system (which it isn’t). A more recent translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi, uses the term ‘boundlessness’ instead, which many (myself included) find far more accurate than emptiness.
And thus, we come to ‘confusion’. Confusion is rarely seen as something positive, at least from a colonialist, white dominant perspective. It is defined as uncertainty or a lack of understanding. But uncertainty, as it is taught in Buddhism, is a great place to be, because it’s a place of being open and receptive. It’s a place of ‘not knowing’, which should not be conflated with ignorance. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge, or refusal to integrate new information into our understanding. It is one of the three poisons that prevent us from connecting with wisdom.
‘Not knowing’, however, is about not thinking we have all the answers or the ‘right’ answer. ‘Not knowing mind’ is willing to integrate new information, because we appreciate that we are always learning. And when we have found an answer, it’s about holding that lightly, not clinging to it or becoming identified with it, so we can let it go when it no longer serves. This creates a willingness to admit when we are wrong and change our minds when faced with new information which may, at first, be confusing.
And so, this slogan could also be written to say: ‘Not knowing is the path to wisdom. It protects your mind from the trap of delusion.’ This is how we connect with the four kayas, grow our wisdom, and do the work of waking up, all the time, in any situation.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my practice.
Patronage helps sustain my work in the world and is greatly appreciated if it’s something you can offer.
Toodle on over to www.KaitlynSCHatch.com to find out more about what I do.