Today Prasada and I attended a discussion of the Hsin Hsin Ming, an early medieval Ch'an text. The discussion took place at Lotus Lake Dharma Center in Talahassee where we are visiting. I had not read this text for a while and it was interesting to come at it after an interval. The author of the text, Seng Ts'an (d.606), an older contemporary of Pureland master Tao Cho (562-645), attempts to strike directly to the essential point of what religion is about and this is what makes the text popular, fertile and intriquing to many. This central point, it is easy to see from a Pureland perspective as what we call faith. The author says as much in the section of the text we examined, but this is by no means apparent to the average reader who encounters the text in a Western framework. Two of the issues that came up in our discussion were:
1. Is faith a state of mind? No, faith is an existential commitment. States of mind rise and fall: now sleep, now alertness, now dullness, now in altered consciousness - but if there is genuine faith it persists through all alike. Faith does not alter according to the state of mind one is in nor does the cultivation of a particular state of mind add or subtract much if anything to faith. Some kinds of mindfulness may flow from faith, but they are not centrally relevant to its arising. Faith, once etablished, is more part of he background of life than the foreground, partaking of what is taken for granted more than what is sustained by effort. Indeed, if faith requires effort to be sustained, it becomes somewhat suspect.
2. The question of irreversibility (avaivartika): does the ubiquity of impermanence mean that enlightenment is reversible? This led to a useful clarification of the difference between change and reversibility. A Buddha goes on changing but does not become unenlightened in the process. "Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds" and yet love continues to adapt, meeting each alteration in its own sweet fashion. This consideration deepens our appreciation of the sense of faith as commitment. Commitment goes on and on - "always going on beyond" - yet never going back.