Thursday, January 10, 2008

Does the Buddha Exist?

Not according to the Diamond Sutra (or Vajra Cutter Sutra as it's now being named), if I'm reading it correctly. (And that's not certain by any means...)

The early lines of the sutra are taken up with the Buddha discussing with his disciple Subhuti how a bodhisattva should practise. The essence described here is non-discrimination. (But even that's not accurate.)

I'd better quote:
...those bodhisattva mahasattvas will not engage in discriminating a self and will not discriminate a sentient being, will not discriminate a living being, will not engage in discriminating a person.

Subhuti, those bodhisattva mahasattvas will not engage in discriminating phenomena nor discriminating non-phenomena; nor will they engage in discrimination or non-discrimination. Why is that? Subhuti, because if those bodhisattva mahasattvas engage in discriminating phenomena, that itself would be of them grasping a self and grasping a sentient being, grasping a living being, grasping a person. Because even if they engage in discriminating phenomena as non-existent, that would be of them grasping a self and grasping a sentient being, grasping a living being, grasping a person. (Italics added)
Whoa! Neither discrimination nor non-discrimination. Here is the difficulty of trying to use words to signify the dharmakaya, or the buddha, or phenomena, or anything at all. Better to remain silent! Even the use of the word signify is fraught with difficulty, since one of the "characteristics" of the dharmakaya is signlessness, that is, a state without characteristics.

But to get back to the existence or non of the Buddha...A few stanzas later, the Buddha compares the bodhisattvas' giving of vast gifts (completely filling this billionfold world system with the seven types of precious things...) with the merit of reciting, explaining and thoroughly teaching even four lines of the Vajra Cutter sutra. The merit produced by that would be incalculably greater.

Quoting again:
Why is that? Subhuti, because the unsurpassed perfectly completed enlightenment of the tathagata arhat perfectly completed buddhas arises from it; the buddha bhagavans also are produced from it.
I put the word arises in italics. Why? Because that's the key. The Buddha clearly indicates that buddhahood is a dependent arising. In other words, it is in the nature of emptiness or voidness. It neither exists nor does not exist. It arises from a conjunction of causes and conditions.

It is not only the Vajra Cutter that asserts this, now that I think of it. It is a basic teaching of the Mahayana that our ability to develop bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment, the heart of great compassion, depends on other sentient beings, on the people around us. It's an odd way of phrasing it, but we can't practise in a void. We have to practise with others. We can't become Buddhas without the wing of bodhichitta, and we can't generate bodhichitta without other sentient beings. Therefore, our buddhahood is dependent. In the nature of emptiness.

So all we can say is, it neither exists nor does not exist.

At least, that's the way I see it. And in a future post, I'll contemplate whether I see anything at all.

Digg! diigo it


Anonymous said...

Is it more or less the same problem as the matter of seeing colours. Is what we see really there? Do we, because we see it and experience it, try to ground it? Make it solid? Nothing is solid. We're no more than a mess of dancing atoms, never touching anything. Do we have to learn to look through matter, to see what really is? For the dance to complete its purpose all parts, all particles, all atoms need to be there in relation to each other. No particle can do it alone. Being depends on being. Ego is putting to much importance to your own being to the decrement of other being. "There is more to life than the eye can see." "No man is an island unto himself."

Wild thing hopes but is not sure that she got those quotes correct.

Anonymous said...

How can one correct a typo in a comment when missed?

Larry Keiler said...

Re comment 2: I think once you publish the comment you're done. You can't change it. I can't change it...except to delete the whole comment.

But you can preview it before you publish it by clicking on the blue "Preview" button at the bottom of the comment page.

Also, Wild Thing, have you tried the "Nickname" category? If you click on that and fill in Wild Thing, it should keep you from being anonymous anymore.

Re Comment 1: Your description is pretty accurate from a Buddhist perspective. It's not just that we try to ground it and make it solid, but that because of long, countless repetitions, it's automatic. We don't even realize that we're doing it. This is part of the fundamental "ignorance" Buddhists talk about. I think that responses we classify as "instincts" are included in that.

As for ego giving too much importance to your own being, the Dalai Lama describes a meditation to counteract that. Basically you visualize yourself on one side, then your family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, even enemies on the other side. Everybody has the same be happy and not to suffer...and you compare the size of the two groups. "I am only one...they are so many...who is more important?"

Anonymous said...

Just for demonstration purposes, to see how it works, Larry clicks on the Nickname button and types out the name Lurbie.

Anonymous said...

Wild thing hadn't seen nickname button. You turned on light in her brain, and she saw. Thank you lurbie...


Anonymous said...

I don't think I need to meditate on me on one side of the line and everyone else on other side. Pretty clear that me too lonely there. Not even a Simon and a Yona to cuddle with... How important can that be?

Anonymous said...

I think the Buddha exists. I think Jesus is alive. To me that is true because there is truth in the concepts. Concepts that live inside the human brain. Concepts that are perceived within the human heart.

I think the idea that when we meet Buddha on the road we should kill him means to not hang on to one way of thinking about him. Not set him in stone, (oh, oh, what about all those statues?)not build our own ideas and perceptions around him and enprison the concept of deeper truth and open mindedness.

Jesus is crucified over and over again by not allowing him to live in everyone,unconditionally.

Searching for Buddha, searching for Jesus, should be searching for balance in our world, in our universe, and more over within ourselves.

Let the stories be. Do not condemn them. Do not try to proof or disproof them. Listen to the heart of the stories. Forgive the tellers of the stories their shortcomings in the telling. They also can only see part of the picture. Try to see through manipulation by the fearful who strive for power, and their own 'chosen'place in the world. Fighting them they grow in magnificence. Ignoring them they loose power.

Larry Keiler said...

Oh, the Buddha exists all right. Just not the way we think he does. Same with Christ. One of the main goals of the Vajra Cutter Sutra is to impress upon us that the Buddha, his teaching, the self, all phenomena are really beyond concepts, completely outside of any idea of "is" or "is-not". As soon as we try to conceptualize, then we're also dualizing, and we've gone wrong.

I can't think of any other way to put it. The solution is to have it strike at your heart -- this realization -- like lightning, like the diamond bolt, the thunderbolt (which is the vajra). That's why one of the names of the sutra is The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion.

This is how we get that balance. By cutting through the illusion of self and others, my idea and your idea, my right and your wrong, by accepting that things are not just the way they seem...and to go back to your original comment, Wild Thing, that someone's green may be someone else's red.

Anonymous said...

I think maybe math is the closest we can get to statements of what is, is.

0, 1

Nothingness, something.

Maybe words do the same thing.

In the beginning was the word. Therefore, before the beginning (or outside of the beginning) was no word.

Anonymous said...

So nothingness is something and something is nothing?

We need words. Words to pass on thoughts. It is the human way.

Language is not a thing in itself. It is a tool. A tool to convey how we perceive life. Understanding is the goal. Words spoken or written point to a concept.

With concept I mean that what we perceive within and beyond our grasp. It may be as large as the universe. No words can do it fully justice, but we have to try.

Music is likely the most universal language. It is said music is mathematical. My dad was musicion and mathematician in one.

Poetry is a form of using words to point to something we feel but have a hard time getting words around. Poetry & music are closely related, I think. Is poetry also mathematical? Maybe the old forms, like sonnets and so. Before free style?

I have a Zen album with bamboo flute, played, free style, no formula.The player just stands by the river and follows his soul's impressions.

I guess original Haiku may be mathematical, following a set formula.

When Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field," describing how they just are beautiful without toil or strain, and how stiving after more, and power, and greater greatness is like trying to capture the wind, he used words to point at a universal truth. To ones that did not hear those words were inadequate, and useless.

Duality. I read today that by the sixth century b.c. Zoroaster founded a religion based on light- and the dark, truth and falsehood, good and evil. To Greek philosophers that was a new concept. Later religions were all influenced by that duality.

Long before Zoroaster, before the invention of writing or the discovery of agriculture or the birth of the first human being, the beauty of light shaped our world and began the long, long process that led to life, to vision, to the human race.

I think humans are duality. Do we have to free ourselves of being human? Or do we have to get duality in perspective, in balance?

The diamond that cuts through illusion, brought this Persian proverb to my mind: "The stone is cut a hundred times. Only then it becomes a jewel." Not easy,eh?, to create the diamond that cuts through illusion.

I had written all this, and it got wiped out. So I had to start over. I summed it up as best I could, not sure if it got better or worse. I'm too tired to break my brain over it. LOL

John said...

Perhaps it is a little like trying to describe silence using words—as soon as you make a sound, the silence disappears.

Likewise, when you try to describe the Buddha, you attempt the capture and limit that which is impossible to capture or limit. Discrimination, or use of the reasoning mind, is completely the wrong tool for the job.

You can become the Buddha, by leaving the limitations of the human mind finally behind, but not the other way around, by bringing the Buddha down to our own level of limitation.

A few thoughts from a very bad philosopher ;-)

Help! I've written and I can't get up!