Friday, July 26, 2013

The illusion of difference. The substance of non-difference.


In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha says his Dharma is no Dharma thus it is called the Dharma. The first time I read this Sutra I thought there must be a textual error. If there ever seemed to be a twisted piece of logic this appeared as the prime example. But as I matured I have continued to read this Sutra, which the Buddha called the Perfection of Wisdom. I figured if the Buddha called it that, he probably had good reason. And every time I read it the wisdom began to seep into my conscious awareness. The Sutra is one of the most brilliant strokes of insight ever conceived. It shines like a Diamond.

Then one day it all became clear. First let’s understand a few important details. For example the word “Dharma.” That word has a variety of meanings. It can mean truth as in the case of Dharmakaya—truth body. It can mean a teaching. In this case a teaching beyond words. Dharma can also mean to grasp or understand something which is transcendent or eternal, in other words to understand something not conditional or dependent upon time, space or culture. And these concepts are related. If something is genuinely true then it isn’t going to flip about from moment to moment, or change from culture to culture but instead will remain the same today, yesterday and tomorrow, wherever it appears. The Buddhas Dharma is transcendent to all time, space and culture. And the condition that makes it a real teaching is that it must be wordless; beyond bias.

This understanding is important in grasping the message of the Perfection of Wisdom. What all of us desire is being able to count on some stability and not be subject to continual chaos. But this desire seems to be at odds with the Three Dharma seals: impermanence, no-self and suffering. So what gives? There are two parts to the Dharma (or so it seems). On the one side is this matter of constant change. And a substantial number of Buddhists have a practice based on letting go; releasing themselves from this ever-eroding flux. And that practice works, to an extent. That’s the mechanical side, the side that is graspable because it is reasonable.

But there is another side that the Buddha addresses in this Diamond Sutra. The conversation, which ensues, is between Sabhuti and Gautama. Sabhuti asks a question and Gautama answers. Apparently Sabhuti was an advanced arhat and was well versed in understanding the principle of emptiness with all of its implications. Sabhuit understood that nothing existed as an independent matter and he was schooled in the Three Dharma seals. But Gautama knew that Sabhuti needed a final push for him to become enlightened. What was the final frontier?

What Subhuti needed to understand was that emptiness is not emptiness, thus it is called emptiness. Emptiness, along with everything else is empty. It is therefore both real and not real at the same time. It too is dependent but what it is dependent upon is unconditionality. What the heck does that mean? It simply means that there is a dimension of life that is constantly moving and a dimension that is not moving and these two aspects are really only one single thing, non-thing. In truth (which is not truth, but called truth) duality is an illusion that only exists conceptually. In our minds we see objective configurations, which we call thoughts. These thoughts are illusive in nature. But our real mind does not move. It is silent and unseen. The same is true of our perceptible world: it moves. Things are different and not different, at the same time, thus the illusion of difference and the substance of non-difference. But the ultimate question must be, Why does this matter? The answer is that duality is, and has always been, the driving force that leads to inevitable conflict and suffering. The illusion of difference is what causes suffering in the first place. And it doesn’t matter whether this illusion is internal (our thoughts) or external (our perceptible world). If any of it is perceptible, it is not real, in spite of the fact that illusions appear to be real. Only our silent, unconditional, unseen mind,  (that never changes) is substantial and real. And this mind is our universal connection with all life. In truth all people are united in this mind where discrimination doesnt exist.

When we approach life from an either/or perspective it seems like the two are separate and irreconcilable. Wrong is wrong, and right is right. But this is not any more true than imagining that we can separate up from down. Right and wrong are glued together as a single indivisible package just as up and down are. It is impossible to divide these two sides since they are not actually two. It is like two sides of a roof on a house. We can see the outside but not the underneath side, or the reverse, but never is it possible to keep them as separate and divided entities. It matters because it shows us all that living with the illusion of separateness and independence creates unending strife. And who needs that?

The teaching of the Buddha, contained in this Diamond Sutra, is exceedingly deep and profound yet it is the secret to harmonious living. Here Gautama is teaching us, beyond time, space and culture, that all of life is united and emanates from our mind, which by the way IS the Buddha but not the Buddha thus we call it the Buddha!
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