Thursday, August 8, 2013

The illusion of you and me.

The shadow of self or the reality casting the shadow?

The tenet of “no self” has been a fundamental, defining the loadstone of Buddhism since the very beginning. The term originally used for self/ego was “atman” and the contention surrounding this matter was divided between those who argued for self vs. those who argued the opposite anatman (self vs. no-self). It boiled down to the issue of any phenomenal thing possessing an independent nature. Closely aligned with this argument was the understanding that all things were empty (of independent essence). In other words everything could only exist dependently, thus the principle of dependent origination.

This argument stood for a long time until Nagarjuna came along with his Two Truth Doctrine in which he laid out his understanding of what the Buddha had taught, culminating with the Middle Way which expressed the Buddha’s conclusion of, “Not this (atman). Not that (anatman). Neither not (atman). Neither not (anatman).” The importance of this conclusion is significant and profound but unfortunately seems to be a broadly unresolved matter. What Nagarjuna said in his Two Truth Doctrine was that there is a difference between the conventional, discriminate view (the common sense one) and the sublime, indiscriminate view (ultimate truth) and that no one could be set free unless they experienced the sublime.

In the 8th-century an Indian Buddhist philosopher by the name of Śāntideva said that in order to be able to deny something, we first have to know what it is we’re denying. The logic of that is peerless. He went on to say, “Without contacting the entity that is imputed. You will not apprehend the absence of that entity.” In a similar manner the Lankavatara Sutra (a Mahayana favorite of Bodhidharma) addressed the issue of one vs. another with this: “In this world whose nature is like a dream, there is place for praise and blame, but in the ultimate Reality of Dharmakāya (our true primordial mind of wisdom) which is far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind, what is there to praise?”

The wisdom of emptiness and dependent origination ultimately reduces down to there being no difference between form and emptiness. They are one and the same thing: two sides of the same coin. One side perceptible (phenomena); the other side beyond perception (noumena). There have been numerous terms used as alternates for noumena ranging from Buddha-Nature, Dharmakāya, the Void, Ground of being and the preference by Zen and Yogācāra was Mind—primordial mind (not the illusion of mind nor the illusion of self vs. no self). In this state of mind there is no discrimination—all is unified, whole and complete, so there can be no difference between one thing and another thing.

Huang Po (Japanese—Obaku; 9th century China) was particularly lucid in his teaching about these terms. In the Chün Chou Record he said this:

“To say that the real Dharmakāya (the Absolute) of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya...they are one and the same thing...When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha...the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning...this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

The Yogācārians took this to the logical conclusion and stated that everything was mind. You are mind. I am mind. The entire universe is nothing but mind. This, however, did not resolve the matter and 2,500 years later the issue of atman vs. anatman vs. The Middle Way remains a matter of contention. Consequently there exist today three kinds of Buddhist practice: the kind that dogmatically clings to self, a second that dogmatically clings to no self and a third that says, “Not atman. Not anatman. Neither not atman. Neither not anatman.” In the end you will only know when you experience the sublime. Then the argument will come to an end and you’ll never be able to convey your answer. That is the ultimate test, “…far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind, what is there to praise (or blame)?”
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