Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The core of you and me.

Our core of emptiness

A tiny seed when planted in good soil, given proper nutrients, sunshine and protected from adverse conditions can grow into a massive oak tree. An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid (e.g. not compatible with water) containing volatile aromatic compounds from plants. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation. In other words the essential scent has been derived from a source plant but the plant is no longer needed for the aroma to exist. In a certain way the aroma is independent and can permeate various media.

There is a curious correspondence between the oak tree, an essential oil and us. We too contain an essence that has been extracted from a source and this essence contains the aroma of the source, which is infused in all sentient beings. Neither an essential oil nor our essence can be further distilled and neither essence is subject to changing conditions. Once we arrive at essence, the aroma can be infused in various media and the aroma persists.

What is the essence of essence—of all essences? Bodhidharma, the father of Zen, called the essential essence “our true mind”—The Buddha. Nothing, he said is more essential than that. It is the void that is void of any limiting characteristics: the essential essence. Out of this apparent nothingness comes everything. This is the realm of the unconditional absolute, beyond discriminate conditions of this or that.

That may or may not sound esoteric, lacking usefulness but I’ll offer you two frames of reference: One from Lao Tzu and the other from contemporary physicist Lawrence Krauss. LaoTzu said this about usefulness:

“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.”

And this from Lawrence Krauss, who has proven mathematically that everything that exists emanates from nothingness. We are mesmerized by what moves but never consider what makes it move.

Through Buddhism we have learned that contrary to popular opinion, everything has two sides that define each other. “In” and “out” originate simultaneously, just as everything else does. The principle is known as dependent origination and the most essential dimension of that principle is the seen vs. the unseen. All form depends on emptiness (and vice versa), just as Lawrence Krauss has demonstrated. What everyone will discover if pursued, is that we exist and don’t exist at the same time. The “walker” only comes along with walking. The thinker only emerges with thinking, digestion only with eating and the self with and through living. The question is, what or who sparks the process of all?

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): a house and the inner space determine each other. There have been numerous terms used as alternates for noumena ranging from Buddha-Nature, Dharmakāya, the Void, Ground of being, spirit 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. Space is space regardless of location.

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.”

Nagarjuna, considered by many as the equivalent to the Apostle Paul in Christianity, was the master of delineating the connection between the unseen essence and perceptible manifestations. He said this:

1. Essence arising from
Causes and conditions makes no sense.
If essence came from causes and conditions,
Then it would be fabricated.

2. How could it be appropriate
For fabricated essence to come to be?
Essence itself is not artificial
And does not depend on another.

3. If there is no essence,
How can there be differences in entities?
The essence of difference in entities
Is what is called the entity of difference.

4. Without having essence or otherness-essence,
How can there be entities?
If there are essences and entities
Entities are established.

5. If the entity is not established,
A nonentity is not established.
An entity that has become different
Is a nonentity, people say.

6. Those who see essence and essential difference
And entities and nonentities,
They do not see
The truth taught by the Buddha.

7. The Victorious One, through knowledge
Of reality and unreality,
Refuted both “it is” and “it is not.”

8. If existence were through essence,
Then there would be no nonexistence.
A change in essence
Could never be tenable.

9. If there is no essence,
What could become other?
If there is essence,
What could become other?

10. To say “it is” is to grasp for permanence.
To say “it is not” is to adopt the view of nihilism.
Therefore a wise person
Does not say “exists” or “does not exist.”

11. “Whatever exists through its essence
Cannot be nonexistent” is eternalism.
“It existed before but doesn’t now”
Entails the error of nihilism.

Putting this into less abstruse terms, essence and non-essence are integrated into an irrevocable bond and to extract one part extracts the other just as by removing “in,” “out” is eliminated. This is the standard of dependent origination at work, which lead the Buddha to state in the Heart Sutra that detectable form is the same thing as undetectable emptiness. And the significance to us all is that our essential nature (which is lacking all definable characteristics, is pure and indiscriminate) lies at our core, while our temporal nature, perceived as an ego, has infinite defining characteristics. And furthermore, the quality of our essence is exactly opposite from the quality of our non-essence: ego (seen) and true Self (unseen) are polar opposites.

Master Hsuan Hua writes about this matter in the opening section of The Shurangama Sutra. He points out two aspects of our mind: one aspect superficial but unreal, the other hidden but real. He says that the hidden part is like an internal gold mine, which must be excavated in order to be of value. This gold mine is everywhere but not seen. The superficial part is also everywhere but seen and it is this superficial part that lies at the root of suffering. He said,

“The Buddha-nature is found within our afflictions. Everyone has afflictions and everyone has a Buddha-nature. In an ordinary person it is the afflictions, rather than the Buddha-nature, that are apparent...Genuine wisdom arises out of genuine stupidity. When ice (afflictions) turns to water, there is wisdom; when water (wisdom) freezes into ice, there is stupidity. Afflictions are nothing but stupidity.”

We have all had conversations about the essential nature of people. Some say that we are rotten to the core—that there is no essential good there. Such people have given up on their own human family. This voice is split between those who believe in God and those who don’t. On the one hand if there is to be any essence of good it is purely the result of that good coming from an external God. The “non-believers” hold no hope at all—Just rotten to the core. Neither of these voices acknowledges intrinsic worth. To one, the worth is infused, to the other there is none.

The eternal presence of Buddha-nature is a contrary voice of faith: the recognition of intrinsic, essential worth, present in all of life and it is this gold mine, which when accepted in faith that manifests in wisdom in the midst of affliction and turns ice into water.

The common coin understanding is that Buddhism is a Godless religion and the reason for this view is that the Buddha didn’t focus on a concept of God but instead focused on understanding and overcoming suffering. It’s worth the time and energy to thoroughly investigate this matter.

First is the notion that God can be understood conceptually. The Buddha’s perspective was that such a thing was not possible and when thoughtfully considered this is of course true. God” (pure consciousness) is transcendent to all considerations and can’t be enclosed within any conceptual framework. To even attach a name such as “God” is to be lost in delusion.

Sokei-an Shigetsu Sasaki used the name “Great Nature” and “Great Self.” There are many names to point to the nameless creator of the heavens 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.” As a result Gautama addressed only what can be controlled and didn’t participate in fostering further delusion.

So the question is whether or not ‘IT’ can be defined, even marginally. What are the characteristics of ‘IT’ and how does ‘IT’ function? Whatever name is chosen, whether Christian, Buddhist, or any other group or people, the nature of God is understood to inhabit the entirety of creation. The creator can’t be severed from what is created, which is the point of the Buddhist understanding that all form is the same thing as emptiness. Rather than using the name “God” (in vain) the name “Buddha” is used and “Buddha” means awakened to the true essence of oneself. Such a person is said to enjoy the mind of enlightenment. If you read Buddhist literature extensively you’ll find a laundry list of sorts, which speaks to this mind of enlightenment. It includes the following qualities: complete, ubiquitous, full of bliss, independent, transcendent, full of wisdom, never changes, the ground of all being, creative force of everything, devoid of distinctive nature (ineffable) yet all form endowed with this nature.

When you take all of this in and digest it, a duck begins to emerge that walks, talks and looks like a duck. In the final analysis a name is fleeting but the substance remains forever. Here is what Jesus is recorded as having said about where God lives: “If your leaders say, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the Heavens,’ then the birds will be before you. If they say, ‘It is in the ocean,’ then the fish will be before you. But the Kingdom is inside of you and the Kingdom is outside of you. When you know yourself, then you will know that you are of the flesh of the living Father. But if you know yourself not, then you live in poverty and that poverty is you.”—Gospel of Thomas 3.

The problem is that we think. The solution is not thinking. I know that sounds puzzling but here is the Rosetta Stone answer: our true mind is always at peace and enlightened and our thinking mind is always restless and unenlightened. I dont think Voltaire was a Zenist, but here is how he defined meditation: “Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity. What we “think” is our mind is not our mind because our mind is the source of thinking and not thinking but is itself neither. Our true mind is transcendent and can’t possibly be one or the other since it is the source of both. There is no discrimination in our true mind so it cant be one thing or another thing. And our true mind contains nothing yet everything comes from there. It is an “everything nothing”: on the one hand empty yet full at the same time.

Around 700 years ago in Germany a Christian theologian, philosopher and mystic by the name of Meister Eckhart said this...

“The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out, for if you want the kernel you must break the shell. And therefore if you want to discover nature’s nakedness you must destroy its symbols, and the farther you get in, the nearer you come to its essence. When you come to the One that gathers all things up into itself, there you must stay.”

However this quintessence might be described is limited to the linguistic symbols we must employ when we communicate. The danger of any communication, however, is to participate in a fraud, leading those still locked in suffering, to mistake the symbols of communication for the essence, which are inadequately being described. That is the danger but it is a risk, which must be accepted. The surrogate of words can never take the place of tasting the sweet divine nectar. And to so taste, requires a personal in-the-mouth experience. My words will not give anyone the taste.

It would be impossible to separate rain from water or a child from a mother. This is easy to understand. What is not so easy to understand is that all forms are paired with emptiness. Buddhism teaches that all phenomena are impermanent and simple reflection affirms this. No-thing lasts and to cling or resist the impermanence of form creates suffering, thus bliss is not to be found in phenomenal life. So where is there a source of hope? Our hope lies imperceptibly beneath impermanence at the heart of decay.

From Huang Po’s perspective there is a bonded connection between phenomena and this One Mind—They too are the same thing. Neither can exist apart from the other. Hear what he said about his connection...To the ancients, to find the true essence of life, it was necessary to cast off body and mind. When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha.”

In an unexplainable way Mind is no-Mind, which is of course the teaching of the Heart Sutra—Form is emptiness. This Void/Emptiness is the ground out of which impermanent forms arise. It is Buddha-nature (Buddha dhatu—womb of the Buddha: our essential nature). And the pearl of hope contained in this understanding is that while phenomenal life blows away like dust in the wind, our true nature never passes away. Our intrinsic nature is both natural (phenomenal and finite) and transcendent (noumenal and infinite). We are both form and emptiness. To savor just the impermanence aspect of Zen without transcendence is to suck on an empty clamshell and imagine a full stomach.

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.

In the Western world we were reared under the rule of law that says that if something is one way it can’t be another way. The world is black or white. If it is black then by definition it is not white (and the reverse). Nagarjuna—father of Mahayana Buddhism destroyed that comfort zone. We want things to be independent, discrete, separate and tidy. If I am right then you must be wrong. Our entire Western world functions as a sub-set of that logical premise, established by Aristotle with his “Principle of noncontradiction” (PNC)...the assertion that if something is “B” it can’t be “A.” That principle underscores our sense of justice, ethics, legal system and everything else. It defines the contemporary problems that lead to vast irresponsibility and abuse all the way from interpersonal relations to environmental destruction. The PNC is inconsistent with the interconnectedness of life.

The fact of the matter is that nothing fits with the desire of “is” or “is not.” Buddhism teaches The Middle Way—that nothing is independent, discrete and separate. Rather everything arises interdependently. One side (in order to exist) requires another side. This notion of co-dependent origination is the natural manifestation of emptiness (Sunyata), which states that nothing contains intrinsic substance, which is to say that reality exists in two, inseparable dimensions at once, which Nagarjuna labels “Conventional” and “Ultimate” or in his teaching on Essence as “Essence” and “Non-essence.” Importantly he did not say that Essence does not exist. Nor did he say that Non-essence exists. What he did say is that these two exist co-dependently. They are mirror images of one another and neither can exist without the other (much less be fathomed). These are just alternative names we use to represent form and emptiness, which The Heart Sutra says is a single, indivisible reality.

Orthodox Buddhism denies the existence of Atman—SELF, claiming that everything is null and void, arguing one side but denying the other, which Nagarjuna nails as nihilism. This argument is exactly counter to the premise of dependent origination, which is foundational to Buddhism as well as the teachings of the Buddha himself. The obvious point missed in this argument is that emptiness is itself empty (non-empty). Does SELF exist? Nagarjuna would answer “yes” and “no”—the Middle Way. If the essence of SELF exists then nobody, except SELF, would know without the counter weight.

Science is a marvelous tool but is limited to measurability. Yet no one has ever been able to measure mind, (much less even find it) which according to numerous Buddhist texts is the Buddha. We have come a long way over the centuries and can measure things today not even previously imagined. Does that mean that reality comes and goes according to the capacity of tools? Truth stands alone and is not conditioned by progress, however marvelous.

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