Monday, October 26, 2009

Buddhism's Two Realms

Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr
As Buddhism becomes known in the west, an unfortunate development is occurring as a reflection of our preoccupation with science. Objectivity is the cornerstone of science since it begins and ends with the ability to measure phenomena. Anything beyond that constraint has no scientific validity and is consequently seen of no value. There is much of value about Buddhism from that limited perspective just as there is much of value in the study of anatomy, but neither anatomy nor phenomenal Buddhism has very much to say about the sublime source of both and neither could exist without it.

Many centuries ago Nagarjuna established his “Two Truth Doctrine” in which he stated that we live within a two realm world—The phenomenal realm of measurable convention and the noumenal realm of the sublime. And he said that without intuiting the sublime we remain in bondage. Advance the clock to current time and what has begun to emerge is an attempt to create a quasi-science based on just the measurable realm, leaving the essential core behind. The result is form with no emptiness; a sort of paint-by-the-numbers Buddhism to be administered by unenlightened therapists schooled and knowledgeable of the conventional realm but completely lacking on the sublime side.

There is little argument that rational logic is helpful in constructing a vast web of contemporary usefulness but none of this solves the crisis of the spirit so prevalent today. A solution for that will always take us to the sublime. “When knowledge and views are established, knowing is the root of ignorance. When knowledge and views do not exist, seeing itself is nirvana.” (Chan Master Shangfang Yu-an)

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