Thursday, August 7, 2014

Surrendering from absolute truth.

Wise as a serpent.
“Man speak with forked tongue” ordinarily means someone is deliberately saying one thing and meaning another. In the longstanding tradition of many Native American tribes, speaking with a forked tongue has meant lying. This, however, may not have applied in ancient India where the serpent was often considered one of the wisest animals, being close to the divine. Naga means snake and was perhaps an allusive reference to the entheogenic nature of Nāgārjuna one of the most revered figures in Zen and other sects of Buddhism. He is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers after the historical Buddha.

The relevant question in this post is whether or not there is such a thing as Independent Absolute Truth and perspectives established by Nāgārjuna can help us give thorough consideration to this matter. If there is such a thing then just maybe no human can have access to, or speak the absolute truth. Lao Tzu was persuaded that the truth cannot be told (absolute or otherwise).

To start the ball rolling let’s begin with the notion of the truth of salvation. On the surface it seems to be true that either we are in need of salvation or we aren’t. A key piece of Christian scripture says yes, we are in need of salvation. You find this referenced scripture in Philippians 2:12 and it says, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

From the Prajnaparamita Sutra (Diamond Sutra) allegedly the Buddha said, “O Subhuti, no one is to be called a Bodhisattva, for whom there should exist the idea of a being or non-being, the idea of any form of living entity, or the idea of a person, thus there are no sentient beings to be liberated and even no being-ness who attains Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi,”—the latter meaning in Sanskrit: supreme, unexcelled, perfect and equal enlightenment. The perfect wisdom which comprehends truth that is attained only by a Buddha. 

So from an orthodox Christian perspective we are to believe the truth that we are in need of salvation and from the Buddhist perspective there are no beings to be saved (liberated). So what gives? And is there any way to have both of these be true? And here is where Nāgārjuna brings the solution, which as it turns out is a matter of relativity and dependent origination. He taught the idea of relativity; in the Ratnāvalī, and gives the example that shortness exists only in relation to the idea of length. Elsewhere he said, “That which is the element of light is seen to exist in relation to darkness; that which is the element of good is seen to exist on account of bad; that which is the element of space is seen to exist on account of form.” He was also instrumental in the development of the two-truths doctrine, which claims that there are two levels of truth or reality in Buddhist teaching: the ultimate reality (paramārtha satya) and the conventionally or superficial reality (saṃvṛtisatya). He said that neither the conventional nor the ultimate could exist alone; that both came and went together: they dependently originated each other.

It is quite likely that the Apostle Paul was referring to that part of us that is unreal that must cease to exist in order for “…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” And of course the unreal part of us is that which moves, changes and is the source of all woe: the idea or image of ourselves (ego). The ego has every right to fear and tremble when it faces the truth of our real, unchanging Self. It is also equally likely that the Buddha was speaking from the perspective of unexcelled, perfect and equal enlightenment. In that realm there truly are no beings to save since they are already whole and unified (in spite of what they may think, albeit imperceptible).

Nāgārjuna would point out that both of these statements are true together and neither is true independently yet only when someone awakens to their own true Self nature does such a one realize that from the ultimate, unconditional perspective salvation is unnecessary and from the conventional, conditional perspective there is a necessity for salvation: the ego must be removed (or integrated) before, or concomitant to, awakening to happen.

There is a valid American Indian expression that goes beyond the forked tongue idiom. It is “Before walking in another man’s moccasins you must take off your own.”
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