Library: Member Essays
First Principles of Buddha Dharma
Strictly speaking, Buddha Dharma is not a 'religion,' not a form of worship, not the worship or adulation of an invisible supernatural 'being' imagined to reside in another dimension somewhere, or in a place called Heaven, but rather, Buddha Dharma is a practical Way of Life, a philosophy and a mode of self-development, with a very straightforward "work out your own salvation" rule of conduct, in which salvation (or 'refuge,' as it is called – refuge from suffering and ignorance) can only be attained by and through oneself alone. We believe there is no other means.
According to the Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), Buddha Dharma is strictly nontheist in its approach, and it is important to understand this from the beginning. In other words, refuge is not sought in supernatural 'entities,' separate and outside from oneself. To attain salvation by and through one's own self alone, means not to look to an imaginary or invisible god, or some external 'savior,' some 'being' existing apart from your self, to do the work for you. It means to seek instead salvation through your own deeds, your own actions, your own feelings, will and insight.
Indeed, the Buddha's final teaching, when he was dying, is said to have been:
"Therefore, Ananda, be ye islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dharma as your island, the Dharma as your refuge, seek ye no refuge apart from yourself."
This 'inner' refuge that is sought within oneself by every Buddhist seeker is further known as the Tri-ratnam, the triple Jewel, consisting of (1) the 'Buddha,' as pure unbounded awareness, the essence of one's own mind, (2) the 'Dharma,' as existential reality, the reality of existence and the natural laws of life, and (3) the 'Sangha,' as the universal community or 'communion' of all sentient beings on the path of Awakening.
In ancient Sanskrit, 'Dharma' in this context means not only the Law of the natural world, but also the 'teaching,' the doctrine taught by the historical Sage, the man who we say fully embodied the Buddha, concerning the world and the suffering we experience in the world, and the way of overcoming that suffering. It means the teachings that the sage, who is historical called the Buddha, gave to us all, gleaned through his personal inspiration or enlightenment. But it also means "the facts as we perceive them," the reality of the world, insofar as we can understand that. So if we study Dharma, this means we are studying and examining the way that things are – the way that the world operates. In that sense Dharma embodies the 'facts' of existence – the corpus of what science calls the 'laws of nature,' the laws of physics and metaphysics. Hence, Dharma is intended to be scientific philosophy – it is our analysis of the way that Life works, comprehended as best we can, and then lived out according to what we believe will ultimately result in a state of Nirvana, or transcendent freedom (moksha, liberation) from suffering.
'Nirvana' is interpreted as the extinction of suffering, the end of becoming, and the end of ignorance; the pacification of every disturbance and agitation. Nirvana is the complete stilling of the ceaseless struggle and the activity that runs through worldly existence, the hungry striving of all living beings caught up in the worldly round, and is therefore that ultimate calm or peace which, in the words of St. Paul (Philippians 4:7) "surpasses all ordinary understanding." Nirvana is the timeless peace that is at last attained once the seeker makes it across the raging current of the tempestuous river of inevitable aging, disease and mortality that wraps this world in its thick, skeletal embrace. Only then, bone weary from the fight, does that seeker gain the farther shore of eternal tranquility. Here is bliss and light.
Nirvana is the goal of Buddhism, and of all Buddhist practice (carya), our raison d'etre. Awakening from the sleep of unconsciously driven desire and ignorance, the confusing biologic impulses of blind habitual instinct, breaking free from the dense shell of finite being and the formation of still evolving, crude animal brains, into pure consciousness – this is what Buddhists call 'Enlightenment,' and it is by means of this awakening that Nirvana ultimately may be acquired, along with all the joy, bliss, illumination and peace that follows upon such an attainment. There is no other route through the slimy mud of darkness, the dense smoke of confusion, and the thick, black fog of materialism that so engulfs us all. As the Buddha said, there is solely one way, the Ek-yana, one Path out of the world's twisted tangle, the way of Awakening.
Awakening is the escape pod to release us from this world, from the terrestrial planet of struggling organisms amongst whom we find ourselves in unmitigated competition; a telescopic cosmic tunnel between dimensions, or a quickfire lightning rod shattering the world-matrix, so to speak, capable of collapsing consciousness to that state where mind reverts back upon itself, beyond the confines of cosmic timespace and matter.
As said by the Dharma-teacher Doug Duncan, "Awakening isn't about finding a better culture or religion. In fact, it isn't even about meditation. It's about waking up; its about becoming free from being subject to suffering. It's about learning to look at our experience directly, with honesty and integrity. In the final analysis, it's about freedom, and anything that gets in the way of that goal is counter-productive, however great its potential."
The Buddha Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, form the veritable 'map' how to get there – a map outlining the way to attain awakening, or the Path of Enlightenment, by which ultimately a seeker may be liberated into Nirvana. This classical Buddha Dharma, this simple mapping of higher self-directed spiritual evolution, may be briefly presented in words under the rudimentary heading of certain quite simple first principles. These primary principles originally enunciated by the Buddha some two thousand five hundred years ago, are as follows:
First Principle: The Four Noble Truths – Chatvari-Aryasatyani
The primary doctrines are said to approximate the form of a medical diagnosis. They define the problem, namely 'suffering,' and the way to its cure.
Some people suffer more than others. For some, life seems easy; for others, it can be gruelingly painful and frightening. And there doesn't appear to be a reason why. Why one person gets so much suffering, and another escapes, scot-free?
The different religions of the world all exist in some way as an attempt by man to explain what is ultimately unexplainable – why suffering exists, why life is such a difficult struggle, why there is disease and death, even for those of us who are comparatively well off? And certainly a really appalling struggle for those not well off! Why? Why does evil and suffering exist in this world – why do some suffer so much, and others very little? Why is there suffering in the first place?
Everyone suffers at some point in life, for which there is no rational explanation. One of the most common sources of such misery is of course disease, which can take away the lives of a loved one, sometimes in an instant, and sometimes very slowly in the most appalling way.
The different religions of mankind have come up with various theoretical solutions to the problem – what in Western theology is called "the problem of evil," – none of which are, we must admit, at all satisfactory. It is karma, some religions say; or God is testing you, say others, or punishing you for your supposed sins; or this suffering is intended to eventually make you stronger, etc. (ya, sure, if it doesn't kill you first), or something along those lines. And then there are those who attribute all bad things, the suffering and the evil which one encounters in this world, to another invisible entity or supernatural being called the Devil – and in that way they take the 'blame' off of their supposed God, who they say must be all-good, all-wise, all-powerful, and Who could never have created the appalling horrors that occur in this world (such as deformed babies born in terrible pain, or people felled by ghastly cancers, or the existence of predators seeking to eat you, or disease-carrying mosquitoes, or repellant insects, snakes and worms, or man-made wars and murder, terrestrial earthquakes, fires, floods and so on, and so on – the list of the agents of suffering is endless), and they place all the blame on this imaginary Evil Principle, as on a scapegoat; but in doing so, they avoid the obvious question, which is, "who then created the Devil in the first place, if not the same so-called all-good Creator of Everything-Existing?" None of what religion preaches is therefore ultimately satisfactory. It is all an unconscious pretense, intended to put an end to our incessant doubt and questioning.
I apologize, because the intention is not to offend you, or put down any particular religion, by pointing out this problem. It is just to present the true matter in a realistic perspective. Religion has done and does a lot of good in the world. In fact, while criticizing the limitations that religion obtains in the life of man, let us also remember and applaud all the civilizing force that religion has imposed positively upon brute humanity! Our global human civilization has for centuries been uplifted by religious ideals, and this is as true for any of the main world religions, whether Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Mazdaism, Confucianism, Taoism, and the Sikh religion, as for any other. Human betterment is one of religion's finer points.
But let us not at the same time disregard the fact that the main purpose of religion in the world today is, if we base our analysis on the well founded Jesus-principle "by their works shall ye know them," chiefly concerned with upholding an established status quo; in other words, on holding together and maintaining in strict adherence to age old customs a given social order, for the good of the people over whom that religion intends to rule. Viewed therefore from this social perspective, we certainly cannot say that the religions – any of the World Religions – have for their aim the goal of individual Awakening. Religion, whatever its name, is not for the purpose of making people question their enslavement to the norm.
However, the question why suffering is so indigenous to all living beings on this planet, and why some suffer so terribly while others escape the pain, - this question, if fully asked and not repressed and not kept out of mind by social convention or societal imperative, or whitewashed by words of priestly consolation, is a question of immense fundamental importance, since it is actually the necessary beginning of an individual's private path of Awakening; the beginning, that is, of your search for the meaning in life, if you but face the fact openly and squarely.
It is for this reason that the first truth of Dharma is simply to acknowledge that suffering exists, and to accept this as a prevalent condition of life on earth. The first step for an alcoholic in AA is to admit who and what they are – only then can the path of sobriety begin. The first step for a creature bound into this world, is to admit that, however delightful life may be, however strongly we cling to life, or sensational the adventure of embodied existence is, there nevertheless exists suffering, we are bound, and worldly life is somehow incomplete. Yes, the world of sentient life is pervaded by suffering – if not the physical suffering of pain, then at the least the suffering of ignorance, the suffering of not knowing. Simply go and watch global news on radio or the TV. Suffering exists – it is everywhere. It is all around us.
The second truth says that we need to acknowledge the forces that drive this suffering; particularly the 'life-force' of beings, the self-centered 'thirst' that drives us, the instinctual program built into our DNA, for we are all creatures of this planet – we all crave to exist, and we all suffer in consequence of that. It is this inherent thirst called 'desire' that is responsible for the suffering experienced by sentient beings. We need to get to the root of this condition. To know it, find it, experience it – to bring this 'thirst' that drives us, out into the open, out into consciousness. In Buddhism have labelled the inherent thirst for life by the term 'desire,' we bring it into consciousness by means of contemplative 'insight.'
The term 'desire' (trishna) used here means something much more and far bigger than what the word generally means in English. It speaks to the whole force of creation – the desire to exist, to be, just as much as the desire not to be. It is the impulse running through every atom, every cell, every entity of universal existence. In the human being this desire manifests as the insatiable hunger of habitual instinct, that which drives us incessantly into needy depression (lobha), energized aggression (dvesa), and at other times, into dull or withdrawn confusion (moha) – one or other of the three main auto-reaction-patterns prevalent in the conflicted human psyche.
The third truth deals with the means of cessation. It is the truth which exclaims, that with the cessation of desire, there comes an end to suffering within our selves. This is absolutely true. In desirelessness, when that desirelessness is coincident with the absolute core of the psyche, there is peace. A thorough going, utterly complete peace; an unspeakable tranquility, like none other. For through the cessation of appetite, the ending of desire, we come to a state of calm, and hence serenity, and in that calming of every fluctuation there is liberation. We find that in 'no desire' there lies an absolute freedom. Not wanting or needing anything, we are set completely free.
The power of the whole world is in the hands of one who is free of want. Here is a mystery; a mystery sagely alluded to by Jesus on many occasions, for example in the words of the gospel (Mark 4:25): "With the same measure you use, shall it be measured to you; those who comprehend, to them an abundance will be given. For whoever has, to him an abundance will be given; while whoever has not, even what he has will be taken away from him." This is the third truth of Dharma; also called the truth of cessation, the end of desire and want.
The fourth truth enunciated by the Buddha tells us how cessation is to be attained. It tells us how the state of 'desirelessness' may be ultimately come by. This, the Buddha said, is by means of the Eightfold Spiritual Path, the path of Awakening. By means of this path, a human being can reach the end of suffering; can in fact become a Buddha, a being centered in clear unbounded Awareness. Here the Dharma describes the final goal of human evolution – the Omega-point. Attaining this ultimate goal, this Omega-point, the individual realizes the meaning of life.
Second Principle: The Eightfold Spiritual Path – Ashtanga-Aryamarga
This may be called the Buddha's prescription for all the ills of the world. The eightfold spiritual path means to adopt the following program of personal optimization:
Now what do these headings mean? There are, in the commentarial literature, descriptions of each one of these eight items, from which we can draw a comprehensive understanding of the Buddha's intention. This amounts to what is called the study of the Dharma, or the study – in other words – of the Buddha's explanation of the path, which can be analyzed in quite microscopic detail, depending on one's level of commitment. The aim of the path is to escape the imprisonment of karma and thereby attain maximum freedom, not just for oneself alone but eventually for all sentient beings. If humanity were to pursue this path, even in a very small way, the entire world could be made into a far better place.
We can think of the Eightfold Spiritual Path as a program of consciously directed Yoga that leads, if studiously followed and practiced, to Nirvana.
Third Principle: The Five Complexes of Personality – Panca Skandha
This says that the human person consists of five components or five complexes, each of which is in turn made up of an innumerable number of lesser components. The term 'skandha' derives from an old word meaning 'heap,' as in a heap of rice. A heap, or skandha, therefore implies a collection of things grouped together. The human being is made up of just such 'groups,' under five main headings, which are:
So far as these five complexes function together, either in harmony with one another or not so, there is present what we call a 'human being.' But when they decay and break up, then we say that death has intervened and the 'person' is no longer there. The coming together or origin of a person starts with conception, enters the world at birth, and eventually ages, decays and dies. None of the above five elements of personality are believed to persist after death.
Although this doctrine is highly scientific and surprisingly modern in its approach, it rarely meets the emotional needs of religious people, who want to believe in some kind of invisible entity hidden within a person, which they would call a 'self' (ego) or a 'soul (anima).' The idea is that this soul animates the living person, and after death transmigrates either to another life or to some other dimension, such as heaven or hell. This is the common belief pretty much of all the world religions; nevertheless it does not correspond to what the Buddha taught. The Buddha actually denied the existence of any kind of a distinct 'self' resident inside of a person – a self that would, upon death, fly away to live in some other form of existence.
The animist belief, being very strong and fairly much universal amongst primitive societies, remains pervasive to this day. The Buddha defined an animist belief system as follows:
"He adopts the following view: 'This is my Self, which can think and feel, and which now here, now there, experiences the fruit of good and evil deeds (karma): this my Self is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, and will thus forever remain existent."
Animist belief systems were pervasive in the Buddha's time, and we have an account of at least one man, a follower of the Buddha, criticized for mistaking the fifth complex, namely Consciousness (vijnana-skandha), as being just such a transmigratory principle, in more or less the same manner that the 'soul' is imagined amongst animists. This the Buddha strongly denied. "The assertion that mental-consciousness (mano-vijnana) in some way constitutes a 'self,' said the Buddha, "must be seen as a belief without any foundation in fact."
From the perspective of Dharma, there is no 'self' apart from the five complexes. Just as a house is made up of walls, floor, ceiling, roof, doors and windows, and no such thing as a 'house' is present after those things are torn down or taken away, so too is the 'self' made up of bodily form, feelings, ideas, impulses and consciousness, and there is no self when those five things break apart. This doctrine of the Buddha, which today we find very much in tune with modern findings of neuroscience, is known as the doctrine of Anatma, the metaphysics of 'no-self.' It is a classical theme in Buddhism.
I think that the Anatma-doctrine is a hard matter for people to accept. Nevertheless everything in modern science points to the truth of this argument. There is no single, central part of the brain in charge or directing what is going on – no 'ego' as in Freudian psychodynamics. Instead the brain is an assemblage of neural networks and interdependent control centers, working not necessarily in harmony but certainly in mutual sync with each other, to produce the illusion that "I" am somehow in control. This goes against the grain of how we would like things to be. It seems counter-intuitive. However science suggests we have no choice other than to accept this as a fact.
The Anatma (Pali: Anatta) doctrine in Buddhism, pre-supposes two other features inherent to life as we know it – these are the condition known as Dukkha, or suffering described above; and that called Anitya (Pali: Anicca), impermenance. As stated by Rear Admiral E. H. Shattock, Buddhist belief rests on three foundations of fact about our human existence. These are, Dukkha, the universality of suffering; Anicca, the constancy of change, everything is transient; and Anatta, the lack of any permanent principle or entity in the human being, all things are without a 'self.'…." (see Shattock, An Experiment in Mindfulness, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York 1960).
Fourth Principle: Interdependent Co-creation – Pratitya-samutpada
The teaching of interdependent co-creation is based on an understanding of the twelve causal links (davadasa nidana) producing what is called the cycle or the wheel of existence (bhavacakra). What this means is that there are twelve causal steps in the arising and passing away of phenomena in general, and understanding these steps helps the seeker to free themselves from the bonds of worldly karma. The Buddha presented the chain of Interdependent Co-creation as a subject for meditation.
Fifth Principle: The Law of Action – Karma-vipaka
There are certain problems with explaining 'Karma' from the Buddhist perspective, because the term has become so popularized in the West in recent years, that people have automatically gained an obscured view as to what the term means. In the West it is now common to treat Karma as a form of punishment – when suffering occurs, someone says, "that is your karma." This implies that the victim somehow deserved the misfortune.
In the sense described above, Karma has become a sort of 'divine punishment' for sins committed. But this is not a correct understanding of Karma.
Karma is the Law of Action. In Buddhism, Karma is of paramount significance. It refers to the principle of ethical causation with its inevitable affectivity. The human psyche (citta) exists as a continuum (citta-santana). Karma is the law which defines reciprocal activity in the continuum of the psyche.
In physics, Newton's third law of motion states: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." This means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. The direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. Forces always come in pairs - equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs. This essentially is what is meant by the Law of Karma, with the only differences being that in Buddhism the law is applied as an ethical principle.
The re-birth consciousness is one connection of cause and effect, and the animation of sentient beings is the direct result of past action. The resultant effect of their present action or Karma will, in turn, govern their future lives, in a concatenation of rebirths.
Every living being, whether human or not, in this world or in other worlds, takes birth by virtue of the causative power of Karma. There is a fundamental identity between every individual 'psyche' and the common universal consciousness (alaya-vijnana) of the whole, the latter being a root intelligence (mula-citta), the mind of the Universe. Karma is the engine or the 'energy' that drives continuous proliferation within the schema of cosmic existence. The fact of Karma implies and gives weight to the concept of an obligatory pilgrimage necessary for every psyche – sparks of the alaya-consciousness – to undergo within the Cycle of Incarnation (or 'Wheel of Life,' bhavacakra); that is, within the infinite continuum of the psyche itself.
The principle of Karma is neither a moral nor a moralistic one. It is simply that 'activity' generates further activity, usually of a like nature, which proliferates endlessly. The human psyche is caught up in this round of this activity, which only elaborates more and more activity as time unfolds. According to Dharma-teachings there are five types of activity which unfold in this manner. These are:
The Dharma teachings state that every form of Action or Karma possesses these five characteristics. This means that a human being, or any sentient being, possesses these five types of Karma. The whole Wheel of Life is kept in motion by Karma. It is said that it has its shadow, the Karma-shadow, which dogs one's steps like a shadow.
From this it is taught that the performance of good actions (kusala-karma) will produce states of happiness and wellbeing – bad actions (akusala-karma) states of unhappiness and suffering. Through good action one can enter into bliss. But salvation, or in other words the attainment of Nirvana, is not won through good action. Karma is the inexorable law that binds the world, i.e., Samsara. Nirvana, on the other hand, is beyond karma altogether. It is freeing oneself from Karma, or freeing oneself from reciprocal activity, that is the true aim of the seeker on the path of Awakening.
Sixth Principle: Meditation Practice – Citta-bhavana Karmasthana
In the words of Edward Conze (Buddhist Meditation, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London 1956), "meditational practices constitute the very core of the Buddhist approach to life… As prayer in Christianity, so meditation is here the very heartbeat of the religion."
Citta-bhavana means to cultivate or develop the mind (citta), while Karmasthana is interpreted as the condition in which the mind is maintained in meditation. Citta-bhavana Karmasthana is the common term used in Buddhism for what in the West is called 'meditation' or 'mystic contemplation.' It refers to those practices in general – whether we speak of reflection, concentration or meditation – by which the mind may be gradually trained and eventually illuminated.
In Buddha Dharma, meditation is an act aimed at developing concentration and calm for the purpose of gaining insight into the truth, and to get rid of mistaken understanding or delusion concerning the nature of Reality. Thus, in respect to meditation practice, mental cultivation (citta-bhavana, consciously directed psychic evolution) takes on two aspects:
In general practice, there are three methods of establishing calm-abiding:
For awakening intuitive insight, the practitioner needs to practice gradual development of the four stages involved in establishing mindfulness (catur-smrtyupasthana), a practice that needs to be done in correct order. These four stages for establishing mindfulness consist of:
Generally, meditation is a practice to calm or settle the mind, and to attain an internal state of serene imperturbability, free from external or sensory sensations. When one does attain this, the state is called Samadhi, which is a term that can be translated as 'trance,' but with the all important provisio that here we are speaking about a super-conscious state, and not some form of unconscious trance like that frequented by spirit mediums, pentecostals, and some subjective channellers.
Samadhi is an integrative state of being. Entering into Samadhi through the practice of meditation will purify the heart, free one from malevolent affections including disease infections, give rise to discernment, awaken one's psychic faculties, and ultimately lead to an elevated state of consciousness.
Practical modes of meditation are as follows.
First, the manner of sitting:
Second, the annihilation of anxiety:
Third, setting free the mind:
Fourth, attention to the breathing:
Fifth, normal sensorial effects that may occur:
These instructions are best followed under the guidance of a teacher. It can be very difficult, and for some quite impossible, to train in meditation merely on one's own, without the helpful instruction that the teacher gives. Therefore it is good to seek out and find a teacher of meditation, if one wishes to pursue this practice.
Now these are the five most basic principles of what we call Dharma. This is, of course, only a bare bones outline of the subject. The full intricacy of the Dharma is very complex and can take years of study to understand.
The Seventh Principle: The Absolute in its absoluteness – Paramartha
This is the principle which states that awareness (vidya) is the inherent condition of Being itself. There is no 'Being' beyond the awareness of that Being. This means that awakening (or 'enlightenment') is already a done deal. Nothing 'in Being' needs be awakened, or cleaned up, or changed – made more spiritual, more aware – for it must already Be. Which means that the world of Samsara, just as it is, already is Nirvana, and vice versa. Mundane existence is simultaneously absolute transcendence. Ignorance dawns as Gnosis.
If awareness is the inherent condition of Being, it means that the whole totality (mahasamdhi, the worldly and the transcendent together, Samsara and Nirvana as one) is complete and perfect in and of itself. Has always been so. And will remain thus. This is what is meant by the Absolute (paramartha) in its absoluteness.
The very fact that any particular bit of phenomena, whether an object such as a rock, or a cow, a planet, or you and me, EXISTS at all, means that it is a part of Being, a part of the absolute totality that does exist. The whole totality – this is what is meant by the term 'the Absolute,' and there is nothing beyond that. This is Reality, this is IT – whether we call it Enlightenment, the Awakened state, or Nirvana, or by any other name. Reality IS. Awareness simply IS, because there is no way of getting rid of it. Anything else is like selling water to fish. This is what we mean by 'Being.'
And Being is innately aware. This is called Sahaja – co-emergence.
This is the principle of absoluteness. The term 'paramartha' – Absolute – refers to an omnipresent, eternal, boundless and immutable condition, about which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends words and concepts. This principle is expressed in the Teachings in two ways. On the one hand, as abstract Emptiness (sunyata), the non-existence of any phenomenon at all, an Emptiness that is bare subjectivity. And on the other, as dynamic Awareness (vidya), unconditioned and utterly unlimited. It should be noted that as such, this is an absolute presence that no human mind can either exclude from any conception, nor conceive of in and of itself. In other words, it is neither existent nor non-existent, neither conceivable nor non-conceivable (naivasamjnanasamjna). Neither this nor that.
Phenomena such as we experience around us, and of which we are a part, comes in two forms: either as something that is Created (samskrita, compounded), or as an Uncreate (asamskrita). The Arya-Samdhinirmocana-sutra states: "Created phenomena is actually not created, nor is it Uncreate. Likewise the uncreate is not uncreate, nor it is created." How so? Because these merely come down to conventional terms, and are not expressions of absolute truth. They designate a duality – while in relation to an Absolute, no such duality, or separateness, or distinction, exists.
Since a conventional expression derived from mental construction is merely conventional, it cannot be established as ultimately real. Therefore the Uncreated cannot be designated uncreated. Likewise if the term 'Created' (compounded) is conventional and not established as ultimately real, then it's opposite, i.e., the Uncreate (uncompounded), must likewise be merely a convention. If both terms and their application as designators of the nature of phenomena do not express the Absolute, other than in a conventional sense, then Reality (tathata) must be inexpressible. Hence it is said, the Absolute in its absoluteness, the Paramartha, is not to be cognized, is not to be referenced. But this does not mean that everything existing is not wholly dependent thereon. Everything existing is dependent absolutely on the Absolute for its existence. It could not be otherwise.
When those who have attained to the truth of Reality – those saints (arhatva) who have recognized the inexpressible basis of phenomena – see and hear the Dharma concerning the Absolute, they think: "Both the Created and the Uncreate are beyond existent and non-existent phenomena." In that way they consider all compositional signs arising from mental construction as a condition manifesting in the manner of a magician's illusion. The illusion appears, and yet we know it isn't there. That realization is enormously liberating.
The Buddha said: "The created world and the Absolute both have the characteristic of being devoid from sameness and differentiation. Those who impute sameness and differentiation focus improperly. By cultivating calm-abiding (shamatha) meditation and intuitive insight (vipasyana), these sentient beings can then become liberated, free from the bonds of errant tendencies and free from holding onto signs."
The Buddha also said: "O Subhuti, the Absolute, the selflessness of phenomena, is not produced from causation and is not created. It is not necessary to seek for an absolute other than the Absolute, and that then cannot be anything other than absolute. Whether a Buddha arises or does not arise, because phenomena abides in permanent, permanent Time, and in eternal, eternal Time, the sphere of Reality of all phenomena alone abides. Therefore, Subhuti, know by this explanation that whatever has the character of One Taste throughout, that is the Absolute."
As an eternal abstraction the Absolute is ever-present. Yet it can have nothing to do with the karmic or causal relations of the phenomenal world, which is a world not absolute, but to the contrary, infinitely finite. The Absolute remains unknown to ordinary worldly beings, in the same way that the Ocean remains unknown to the sea living in it, and that are dependent upon it.
The Absolute is source (dhatu), but not Creator, of everything existing. It is improper to attribute an act of "creation," an act that is finite in timespace, to such an Infinite Principle as is the Absolute; absoluteness precluding any idea of attribute or conditioned form connected to it.
In the sense that the Absolute is not, nor could not be, "a being" per se, an "existent," it has to be understood only in terms of transcendent Non-Being. However, insofar as the Absolute IS, and this IS-ness is undeniable, then this basic is-ness of the Absolute designates its inherent Beingness (sattva) – which is therefore the absolute ground (mula-prakriti) of all Being, as of all beings.
Such then is the principle of the Absolute in its absoluteness. The Sutra assures us that those who meditate thus – meditating on the Absolute in its absoluteness – they shall most certainly attain the goal, they shall awaken to the nature of Reality, and shall then know the Truth firsthand. For them, there shall be no need henceforth to take birth again.
In the sense of Dharma being the 'teachings' of the Buddha, the teachings that explain the Path of Awakening, we find them composed in twelve types of scripture: (1) Sutra, the fundamental 'sermons' or talks of the historical Buddha; (2) Geya, works of praise, thanksgiving and pious fervor, in modulated language; (3) Vyakarana, narrative works, such as those containing histories of Sakyamuni, and sundry actions of others who by their lives have illustrated Buddhism; (4) Gathas, or works in verse and prose containing moral and religious tales, elucidating the discipline and doctrine; (5) Udana, works that treat of the nature and attributes of the Buddha, in the form of dialogue between a teacher and student; (6) Nidana, treatises wherein the cause of events is shown; (7) Ityuka, whatever is spoken with reference to a prior discourse; (8) Jataka, these are tales concerning previous lives of a being, to illustrate the nature of reincarnation; (9) Vaipulya (mahayana-sutra), texts that treat of Dharma and Artha, that is, extended or enlarged sutras dealing with the higher teaching and mundane aims of life; (10) Adbhuta-dharma, or preternatural events; (11) Avadana, concerning the result of actions, according to the central Buddhist doctrine of cause and effect; (12) Upadesa, concerning esoteric doctrines, the equivalent to Tantra ('tradition'), in which the Buddha appears in various archetypal forms, for the illumination of beings. These tantrika works are quite numerous, but not readily comprehensible except for those who have the correct key to their meaning.
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