Main Categories Buddha and Buddhism Caveat Lector

Caveat Lector

Caveat Lector


"Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains what was not said or spoken by the Tathagata as said or spoken by the Tathagata. And he who explains what was said or spoken by the Tathagata as not said or spoken by the Tathagata. These are two who slander the Tathagata."

    ~Abhasita Sutta: What Was Not Said     (Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

 

The 2nd c. Indian sage Nagarjuna founded Mahayana Buddhism by establishing the archetype of the Bodhisattva—whose selflessness and compassion surpassed the Hinayana Arhat—but misconstrued the historical Buddha's highly ambiguous teachings on sunyata (emptiness), inextricably tying the salvational Vehicle to a deadly doctrine of nihilism or nothingness.1  Influenced by Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu school of non-duality, Nagarjuna's gross misperception of Buddhism further "refined" the primary tenets of maya (illusion) to claim that even Brahman—and its Logos, the Supreme Being, Lord Ishvara (i.e., a Buddha or Tathagata)—was a misnomer.2 
 
Composing the seminal Prajnaparamita Sutra in 8,000 Lines to reflect his own complete denial of any true Reality, Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka (Middle Way) teachings of absolute sunyata—a precursor to Nietzsche's nihilism—infected the very core of the noble new philosophy, Mahayana. Thus one should be clear that however upright and righteous the multitudinous Mahayana teachings of both Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools,3 they are redacted upon, or an exegesis to, the original discourses of the Tathagata recorded some seven centuries prior to the slithering slanderer, preserved wholly extant in the august Pali Canon, the Tipitaka.

 

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1 In the Cula-suññata Sutta: The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness, Siddhartha delineates sunyata's hierarchical levels of relative Reality that ultimately lead to the quagmire of absolute Reality: "There is only this non-emptiness: the singleness based on the perception of the dimension of nothingness. Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: 'There is this.' And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure—superior and unsurpassed."

A Hindu contemporary of Nagarjuna, Asvaghosa correctly understood that the Buddha was neither denying existence nor affirming it, since any conceptualization of the Absolute was heresy. This this-ness or thus-ness (tathata) that remains is inconceivable, unknowable—neither empty nor full, it is an ineffable Singularity (the Higher Self, Mind or Father). Avoiding the semantic pitfall of Nagarjuna, Asvaghosa focused on the essential element of the conundrum, tathata (suchness), to clarify the Tathagata's highest teachings on the slippery slope of sunyata.

"The Mind in terms of the Absolute is the one World of Reality (Dharmadhatu) and the essence of all phases of existence in their totality. That which is called 'the essential nature of the Mind' is unborn and is imperishable. It is only through illusions that all things come to be differentiated. If one is freed from illusions, then to him there will be no appearances (lakshana) of objects regarded as absolutely independent existences; therefore all things from the beginning transcend all forms of verbalization, description, and conceptualization and are, in the final analysis, undifferentiated, free from alteration, and indestructible.

They are only of the One Mind; hence the name Suchness. All explanations by words are provisional and without validity, for they are merely used in accordance with illusions and are incapable of denoting Suchness. The term Suchness likewise has no attributes, which can be verbally specified. The term Suchness is, so to speak, the limit of verbalization wherein a word is used to put an end to words. But the essence of Suchness itself cannot be put an end to, for all things in their Absolute aspect are real; nor is there anything which needs to be pointed out as real, for all things are equally in the state of Suchness."       ~The Awakening of Faith (Mahāyāna Śraddhotpāda Śāstra)

 

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2 "Gods: Beings that are like a magical illusion, are they not just an illusion?

Subhuti: Like a magical illusion are those beings, like a dream. For not two different things are magical illusion and beings, are dreams and beings. All objective facts also are like a magical illusion, like a dream. The various classes of saints, from Streamwinner to Buddhahood, also are like a magical illusion, like a dream.

Gods: A fully enlightened Buddha also, you say, is like a magical illusion, is like a dream? Buddhahood also, you say, is like a magical illusion, is like a dream?

Subhuti: Even Nirvana, I say, is like a magical illusion, is like a dream. How much more so anything else!"

~Prajnaparamita Sutra in 8,000 Lines, Chapter 3. The Saints And Their Goal Are Illusions

 

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3 A Dharmic intervention to the misguided Madhyamaka soon arose in the form of the Yogacara (Mind Only) school. The Indian saint Asanga recognized Nagarjuna's neologistic nuancing of the Pali epithet—Bodhisattva—as a sublime revelation skillfully obscured, and foreshadowed by, the Buddha Himself. The compassion that arises naturally in the Worthy One (Arhat) is the inevitable result of dedication to the narrow eightfold path. The moment he realizes that Nirvana must be postponed, the Arhat is transformed from a Pratyekabuddha into a Bodhisattva. The Buddha's merciful silence at this critical juncture intimated that He too had "many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."

Yet the astute Asanga also recognized the insidious, ontological ramifications imputed by the impudent Middle Way school...

"According to them, the bare [real] substance that is the [underlying] basis of a designation does not exist, [it must also be the case that] the designation itself does not exist at all. On the basis of this method [of reasoning], these [individuals] have repudiated both [ultimate] reality and [nominal] designations. And because of this repudiation of both [nominal] designations and [ultimate] reality, it should be understood that this is [the position of] a preeminent nihilist. Those intelligent persons who are pursuing a pure, spiritual life should not converse or associate with such a nihilist. Doing so not only brings ruin upon oneself, misfortune will also befall any region where the views of such a person are looked upon with approval.

How, then, does emptiness become correctly grasped?

One realizes both of the following things as they truly are: (1) the bare substance and (2) the mere [nominal] designation that exists in relation to that bare substance...

There is a true realization of the genuine suchness [of things] and the ineffable essential nature [of things]."

~The Bodhisattva Path to Unsurpassed Enlightenment (Bodhisattvabhumi) by Asanga, translated by Artemus B. Engle (2016)