AG: The next one [of the Bodhisattva vows] is a little more fishy (and) difficult. Something sticks in the craw with that, which is often translated as “Passions are endless, I vow to cut them all down” – Well, that’s pretty tough! It means you’ve got to cut off your balls – or what?
Student: (Are you talking about (Walt) Whitman?)
AG: Now, wait a minute, wait a minute, I’m not talking about Whitman yet. I’m just talking about laying out a general theory (Whitman does it, actually. At a certain point, yes. He does. He has to stand back from himself and say, “Now, wait a minute, I’ve fallen to the usual mistake”). I’m not talking about Whitman (though). I’m going to use Whitman as a text after, but I want to lay down some ground rules and some ground understandings.
Actually, it’s not so much that passions are numberless, it’s that attachments to passions are numberless. It ain’t the passions that are so bad, it’s our obsessive attachment to them. In other words, like in (William) Blake – “He who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise” – He who binds to himself a joy/ Does the winged life destroy”. It’s better translated, I’m told by Gary Snyder, as “Obscurations”, or “coverings”, or “illusions”, or “delusions”, are numberless, I vow to cut through them all”.
As Reggie (Ray) might have suggested to you, the Vajrayana style is actually plunging into the passions and using them, without attachment. Riding the passions. Just as you might say you have your thoughts – you ride your thoughts – “Thoughts are numberless, I vow to cut them all down” doesn’t mean you stop thinking. It means you recognize them all. So, in the same way, “Passions are numberless. I vow to cut through them all” doesn’t mean that you stop the passions with a dam or a wall, puritanical, but, rather, by recognizing and riding them, they become more transparent, less obsessive, less of a nightmare-dream in which you’re trapped. So, (the) second Bodhisattvavow – “Passions” (or “obscurations”, or…actually, I think the literal translation is “coverings” – coverings-over of awareness) – are infinite, I vow to cut then all down”.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in and continuing to approximately twenty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in]