Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seeing the Unseen


In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha is having a conversation with Subhuti, one of his esteemed disciples. In the course of their conversation the Buddha mentions five different kinds of vision. These same five are reflected in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

The five ways of seeing are:

1. The mundane human eye—Our fleshly eye; the normal organ of sight with which we see an object with limitation, for instance in darkness, with obstruction. There is a viewer (subject) and what is viewed (object) and thus duality.
2. The Heavenly eye —It can see in darkness and in distance, attainable in Zazen.
3. The Wisdom eye —The eye of an Arhat (an advanced monk) and two others: the sound-hearers (Sravaka: One who hears the Dharma as a disciple) and the (Praetykabuddha: A lone Buddha who gains enlightenment without a teacher by reflecting on dependent origination). These can see the false and empty nature of all phenomena.
4. The Dharma eye —The eye of a Bodhisattva who can see all the dharmas in the world and beyond. With this eye the Bodhisattva sees the interconnectedness of all, and experiences non-duality. He then embraces genuine compassion seeing no difference between himself and every other aspect of Buddha-Nature. He is in undifferentiated bliss. This is what Sokai-An says is the Great Self—“‘Self-awakening’ is awakening to one’s own self. But this self is a Great Self. Not this self called Mr. Smith, but the Self that has no name, which is everywhere. Everyone can be this Self that is the Great Self, but you cannot awaken to this Self through your own notions.”
5. The Buddha eye —The eye of omniscience. It can see all that four previous eyes can see.

Complete and thorough enlightenment is to see with the eye of Buddha, which according to Buddhist scripture may take a very long time (many lifetimes) so we should not be dismayed because we don’t leap to the end of the line over night. What none of us knows is where we enter this stream of in-sight. We only know by virtue of what we see. For all any of us knows we may have been on the Path for a kalpa already.

Manjushri is the Bodhisattva who represents wisdom. He holds a sword in his right hand—symbolizing his ability to cut through the delusions of the non-Self. In his left hand, by his heart, he holds a book—the Perfection of Wisdom teaching on Prajnaparamita which grows from the lotus: the symbol of enlightenment. On his head is a crown with five eyes—The eyes spoken of above.

Manjushri symbolizes prajnaparamita: the perfection of wisdom. His wisdom is transcendent meaning that it is divinely rooted and takes shape circumstantially. Rules, in the normal sense, are discriminate and governed by duality, which are administered in a fixed fashion and rarely reflect justice. Life is fluid and ever-changing. To apply fixed rules in the fluid dimension of mundane life insures conflict. Precepts are both the letter and the spirit of the law. The letter defines within the framework of form and spirit undergirds the form with essence/emptiness.

Nagarjuna referred to these as two aspects of a common reality which he labeled as conventional and the sublime. The Buddha said in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that while his true nature is eternal and unchanging (e.g sublime) he takes form and adapts his shape (e.g. conventionally) according to specific circumstances as needed “In order to pass beings to the other shore.” In one case he may take the form of a beggar or a prostitute. In another he emerges as a King. Whatever specific circumstances exist, the Buddha transforms to meet particular needs in order to emancipate those in spiritual need. It is the Buddha who implants the seed of inquiry which compels those spiritually ill to seek the Dharma. This explains the motive to action which many experience. It is an itch which seeks scratching and nags us until we resolve our illnesses. Manjushri is the moderator of the fused realities of form and emptiness. His wisdom comes from beyond but is applied materially just as Bodhidharma’s Mind determines motion. The throne upon which he sits is the lotus depicting the source of his power.

That explanation accounts for the metaphysics of seeing the unseen. The depth of that seeing is a function of advancing capacity which is a measure of our success in eliminating delusions. The URNA (a concave circular dot—an auspicious mark manifested by a whorl of white hair on the forehead between the eyebrows, often found on the 2nd and 3rd Century sculptures of the Buddha) symbolizes spiritual insight. The practical “working out” is managed through the Noble Eight Fold path. As the name indicates, there are eight functions and these are divided into three basic categories as follows:

Wisdom—The seed from which the next two categories grow. This seed is rooted in transcendent Buddha-Nature not the self, symbolized by the lotus seat upon which Manjushri sits—the foundation; ground for his wisdom.


1. Right views
2. Right intentions


Ethical conduct—These are forms of wisdom expression; the structure for how wisdom takes shape.


3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood


Mental discipline—These are means for refining capacity and depth. As capacity advances, sight increases.


6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration (Zen)

These eight are not necessarily sequential functions although wisdom must infuse the other functions. In truth prajna—wisdom, is omnipresent; transcendent. The eight functions are not designed to acquire or create prajna. Our lack of awareness occurs not because prajna is absent but rather due to illusive mind. These eight functions are designed to reveal prajna by removing those dimensions of life which contribute to and fuel illusive mind. They are the “dust cloths” we use to remove obscurations. Rightly, they arise together but this may mean that some aspects are lacking or weak.


Before concluding this introduction on seeing the unseen, a key point must be made: these eight steps along the Path are form expressions of emptiness. Some technical terms may help here. There are three aspects mentioned in Buddhist metaphysics to refer to the totality of Buddha-Nature. The three are the dharmakaya, the nirmanakaya and the sambhogakaya. All three “kaya”aspects are already embodied within each sentient being, and fruition is a matter of coming to that realization. The first—dharmanakaya, is the formless, indescribable unseen essence that we have been speaking of here and the aspect which we have referred to metaphorically as “The Wall.” This aspect of Buddha-Nature is called emptiness or the Void. The second aspect— the nirmanakaya, is the enfleshed form of Buddha-Nature that we see when we look out upon life. This aspect is form. When we see as Sokai-An says, “man, woman, tree, animal, flower—extensions of the source.” When we see one another we are seeing what the Buddha looks like in each of us. And the third aspect—the sambhogakaya, has to do with mental powers; with the ability of one’s mind to manifest in relation to the five means of seeing. It is connected with communication, both on the verbal and nonverbal levels, and it is also associated with the idea of relating, so that speech here means not just the capacity to use words but the ability to communicate on all levels. Wisdom transmitted and received through dreams, visions and mystical experience comes via sambhogakaya. An awakening experience is modulated through sambhogakaya. This aspect contains elements of both The Wall and The Ladder—Emptiness and Form. Actually this is a mis-statement since it seems to imply that the three aspects are somehow separate, which they are not.

To see these as separate is a matter of convenience only. The problem of this view is that it carves Buddha-Nature up into separate pieces. Buddha-Nature is non-dual—a single unbroken reality. The “sambhogakaya” fuses these apparent pieces into a single aspect thus removing the apparent duality. This is what the Buddha calls the Void-Void—Not This; Not That yet also not-not This and not-not That. In other words it is Not emptiness (alone) nor Form (alone) but instead both emptiness and form fused into an inseparable bond. All three aspects are manifestations which are linked interdependently to transcendence/Buddha-Nature.

For lack of a better way of understanding these three, think “sambhogakaya” when the term “mind-essence” is encountered—the fusion of both emptiness and form but accessible to mind. In other words “mind-essence” is our doorway to transcendence using form. The dharmakaya is the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha-womb), the ultimate, non-differentiated source spoken of in the Heart Sutra where no eye, nor ear, nor any other form exists (yet all forms exist). You may want to re-read our posts on The Wall—Essence to get a firmer picture about the dharmakaya. This is the engine which provides motion to form, without which form could not move and the bridge between form and emptiness is the sambhogakaya—“mind essence.” What we do with wisdom transmitted from the source becomes a matter of transformation into form. When we pledge to emancipate all sentient beings, it is a matter of using the integrated power of the dharmakaya, conveyed and received through the sambhogakaya and actualized through the nirmanakaya. There is no power for emancipation without employing all three aspects. In the end we must do something. If that “doing” is a matter of independence, cut off from our source, the “doing” will be ego-centric instead of Buddha-centric.

The Buddha is ever-present and is seen in every dimension. We see the Buddha when we use our fleshly eyes and look out upon mundane life forms. We see the Buddha when we see through visions, dreams, mystical experiences using different eyes. And we see the Buddha in the Ultimate Realm of the dharmakaya where prajnaparamita resides. The way of seeing reflects the degree to which we succeed in removing delusions which obstruct vision. All vision moves along the spectrum defined by the limits of the mundane and the supra-mundane. This is a continuum which floats on the surface of mind. The more delusions, the more clouded our vision. The less delusions, the clearer our vision.

Prajnaparamita is ever present—it doesn’t come and go. What does come and go are delusions which block and mask it. The Noble Eightfold Path is not a sort of Buddhist version of a Jack LaLanne “spiritual self improvement” program. Delusions which arise from the “self/nonSelf/ego” lay at the heart of the very clouds which obscure truth and to start down the Path with the presumption of building ego strength or using the “tools” of the Path for personal gain is a prescription for certain failure.

Functions—including the eight of the Noble Path— are “isness”—with definable properties but they are connected to the “is” of “isness”—the divine spark which drives the engine of “isness.” This “is” of “isness” goes by many names but as Lao Tzu said “The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” Bodhidharma called this namelessness “The mind of Buddha and the Tao,” a nameless name which Lao Tzu first established. The Buddha himself referred to this namelessness as the Tathagatagarbha and the Dharmata. Dogen spoke of the indivisible, non-dual union of essence and appearance as “mind essence.” Huineng used the same expression. Sokei-An used the name “Great Nature” and “Great Self.” There are many names to point to the nameless mother of heaven and earth but Sokei-An perhaps said it best. He said “If you really experience ‘IT’ with your positive shining soul, you really find freedom. No one will be able to control you with names or memory of words—Socrates, Christ, Buddha. Those teachers were talking about consciousness. Consciousness is common to everyone. When you find your true consciousness, you will not need the names or words of any teacher.” (The Zen Eye—page 103) In the days to come we plan to share more about prajna which will lay the groundwork for further discussion. Then in the eight days following we’ll take these eight one at a time.
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