The Monistic Theory

by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19

Chapter 17

Buddhism and the Monistic Theory 


In my attempt to present Buddhism in a new way, I shall disengage its philosophical assumptions, and I will examine it under the aspect of Monistic Theory, and Mysticism.


Buddha's life can gives us an insight into his basic philosophy. Before 1952, his birthday varies, but since the second world Buddhism meeting in Tokyo, in 1952, one codifies his birthday on the 15th of April, 623 B.C. His full name was Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas. Siddhartha was his given name, Gautama his surname, and Sakya the name of the clan to which his family belongs. His father was a King. One called him Buddha, because Buddha means the "Enlightened One', or the "Awakened 0ne". This means illumination, enlightenment, or awakening in regard to the real in contrast to the seeming. At sixteen he married a neighboring princess named Yasodhara, and had with her a son, called Rahula. Even his king father tried to shield him from contact with sickness, decrepitude, and death; one day, however, he encountered a decrepit man, broken-toothed, gray-haired, crooked and bent of body, leaning on the staff, and trembling. He learned then the fact of old age. On another occasion, he met a body racked with disease, lying by the road, and on his third journey, a corpse. Finally, on a fourth occasion, he saw a monk with shaven head, ochre robe, and bowl; on that day he learned the possibility of withdrawal from the world. These Four Passing Sights obsessed him forever, until, one night when he was 29, he escaped from his royal palace, and plunged into the forest in search of enlightenment.

Seven years followed, during which he devoted himself to this end. He had many Brahmans for teachers: Alara Kalama, and Uddaka Ramaputta.

He had also five comrades, with whom he practiced asceticism for five years. Their names are: Ajnata Kaundinya, Asvajit, Bradrika, Dasabala Kasyapa, Maha Naman. Buddha almost died from his severe asceticism, but was saved by Sujata, a girl, who gave him some milk mixed with honey. Buddha soon recognized the futility of asceticism. And soon he took a regular diet, and gained weight. His comrades left him, when seeing him abandoning asceticism.

Siddhartha devoted himself to mystical concentration, and sat beneath a fig tree, known popularly as the Bo tree (short for Bodhi or enlightenment). He sat there in deep thought for 49 days, and became enlightened at the end of this period.

After his illumination, he joined the five comrades that had left him, at Benares, and became their master. Then Buddha began his teaching carrier. BUDDHA'S TEACHINGS. He taught:

The Four Noble Truths (Tứ Diệu Đế, Aaryasatya)

(1) Everything is suffering (Khổ Đế, Duhka)

(2) The origin of suffering (Tập Đế, Duhkasamudaya) is desire (trsna)

(3) There exists Nirvana, an end to suffering (Diệt Đế, Duhkanirodha)

(4) A Path, defined by Buddha, leads to Nirvana (Đạo Đế, Dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada). 

Everything is suffering, because of its transiency. Nirvana, because of its permanency, is the realm of bliss.

Garma C.C. Chang explains The Four Noble Truths as follows:

The four basic principles of Buddhism preached by Buddha in his first sermon: 1. that, in the final analysis, life is suffering; 2. that the causes of suffering are passion-desires; 3. that there is a state of peace and joy called Nirvana which is beyond all sufferings and passions; and 4. that the way (the Path) which leads to Nirvana includes the practice of discipline, meditation and intuitive wisdom. [1]

The Five Skandas or the Five Aggregates (Ngũ Uẩn)

(1) RUPAS (Sắc) - Forms or Corporeality: These are phenomena consisting of the Four Great Elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and of the Five Roots, i.e. the five organs of senses: Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, and Body, and of the five objects of the five senses, i.e. Color, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch. So Rupas englobes the external environment and our body.

(2) VEDANA (Thọ) - Sensations, Feelings.

(3) SANJNA (Tưởng) - Perceptions, Cognitive Phenomena.

(4) SAMSKARAS (Hành) - Psychic Constructions, including both conscious and unconscious activity. Volition. Impressions. It englobes, then, all our mental activity.

(5) VIJNANA (Thức) - Thought, Knowledge: All knowledge coming from our senses, and our mind.

The Five Aggregates are then:

(1) Our environment.

(2) Our body.

(3) Our mind.

(4) Our feelings.

(5) Our ways to deal with external environment. 

All of these factors have three characteristics: transiency, no-self, and suffering. Thus, the Five Aggregates are our Lesser Self and the depot of all sufferings.

Mircea Eliade writes: "As we shall see, the Buddha reduces the "self" to a combination of five aggregates (shandhas) of the physical and psychic forces. And he states that dukkha is, in the last analysis, the five aggregates. [2]

The Twelve Nidanas (Thập Nhị Nhân Duyên). This is the doctrine of Dependent Origination, which stressed the conditionality, relativity and interdependence of all factors that we call Man. It explained why we are linked to the chain of existence, why we have Decrepitude, and Death.

(1) Avidya (Vô Minh), Ignorance or Unenlightenment.

(2) Samskara (Hành), Activity.

(3) Vijnana (Thức), Consciousness.

(4) Nama-Rupa (Danh Sắc), Name and Form.

(5) Sadayatana (Lục Nhập), the Six Sense Organs i.e. Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body and Mind.

(6) Sparsa (Xúc), Contact, Touch.

(7) Vedana (Thọ), Sensation, Feeling.

(8) Trsna (Ái), Thirst, Desire, Craving.

(9) Upadana (Thủ), Laying Hold of, Grasping.

(10) Bhava (Hữu), Being, Existing.

(11) Jati (Sinh), Birth

(12) Jaramarana (Lão, Tử), Old Age, Death. 

Under this category, we see that Buddha is discussing our actual world, the world of phenomena, the world of different causes that are linked together to produce changes, birth and death. This is our world including the environment, our body, our mind and our affections. This world, in sum, is transient, and is the world of Samsara. In that case, we have to find the world of permanency: i.e. Nirvana.

The Eightfold Path (Bát Chính Đạo)

The Eightfold Path is a course of treatment, but it is not external treatment passively accepted by the patient as coming from without. It is treatment by training for life. Instead of a random, irreflexive life, pushed and pulled by circumstances, Buddha taught us a way of intentional living. By long and patient discipline, the Eightfold Path intends to mold the total man, and changes us into a different being. The Eightfold Path is the way leading to Nirvana and is:

(1) SAMYAG-DRSTI (Chính Kiến), Correct Views in regard to the Four Noble Truths, and freedom from the common delusion typical of laity. Buddhism lays much stress on Enlightenment, on Awakening. If we consider this world as transient and contingent, as of no-self and of pain, and besides that, we have nothing permanent, nothing immortal, we can conclude that in our life, we should seek for pleasure, because at death, we have nothing left. But, if we see that besides changes, birth and death, we have also immortality, besides the superficial changing man, we can have also an immortal man, besides Samsara we can have Nirvana, then our life, at least, has a meaning. Now, what is the Buddhist meaning of Nirvana? Nirvana is supreme happiness (param sukha). It is secure from birth, disease, old age and death. Nirvana is unconditioned. It is free from arising, disappearing, enduring and changing. It is not aggregates that arise, disappear, endure and change. Early Buddhism accepted the reality of conditioned things and hence deduced the reality of the unconditioned, especially Nirvana, which led to the saying: "There is an unborn, unarisen, uncreated, unconditioned; if there were no unborn, there would be no release for what is born, arisen, created, conditioned, [3]

(2) SAMYAK-SAMKALPA (Chính Tư Duy), Right Thought, Right Purpose or Aspiration.

Some scholars translate it as Right Thought, some as Right Purpose, I prefer Right Purpose, or Aspiration.

(3) SAMYAC-VAC (Chính Ngữ), Correct Speech, Avoidance of False and Idle Talk.

(4) SAMYAC-KARMANTA (Chính Nghiệp), Correct Deed, or Conduct, getting rid of all improper action so as to dwell in purity.

(5) SAMYAG-AJIVA (Chính Mệnh), Correct Livelihood or Occupation.

(6) SAMYAG-VYAYAMA (Chính Tinh Tiến), Correct Zeal, or Energy, in uninterrupted progress in the way of Nirvana.

(7) SAMYAC-SMRTI (Chính Niệm), Correct Remembrance, or Memory, which retains the true and excludes the false.

(8) SAMYAK-SAMADHI (Chính Định), Correct Meditation, Absorption, or Abstraction.

In brief, Buddha teaches that we must find our way to Nirvana, that we should aspire to become Buddha even in this life, that we must always keep our body, our mouth, our intentions, in perfect condition, that we must endeavor to reach the summit, that we must always think about our emancipation, and keep our mind serene. In so doing, we can reach Nirvana, even in this life.


After his death, Buddhism soon became divided into many sects. We have the Hinayana or Theravada school, or Small Vehicle (Tiểu Thừa) with 18 sects, and the Mahayana or Great Vehicle (Đại Thừa). Hinayana spread to Ceylon, Thailand, and Burma, Cambodia and Laos. The Mahayana school spread to Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

The three characteristic marks of Hinayana are: The impermanence of phenomena, the unreality of the ego, and Nirvana. The Hinayana is described as self-benefiting. Its aim is personal salvation. The Mahayana, on the contrary, tries to lead all people to Buddhahood. Its objective is the salvation of all the living, for all are Buddha and will attain bodhi. It has a conception of an eternal Buddha, or Buddhahood as Eternal (Adi- Buddha), but its special doctrines are, inter alia,(a) the boddhisattvas, i.e. beings who deny themselves final Nirvana until, according to their own vows, they have first saved all the livings; (b) Lesser Self or Phenomenal Self, or Self in the realm of Samsara, and Greater Self, which is the Noumenal or Nirvana Self. It refers, specially, to the Great Ego, The Buddha, or to any Buddha. Mahayana is described as self-benefit to the benefit of others, unlimited altruism and pity.

Buddha avoided answering during his life, all philosophical questions such as: This world is unlimited or limited; Buddha still exists, after entering Nirvana or not; Man has Self or not

In fact, "Buddha did not doubt the reality of Nirvana (Absolute); only he would not allow us to characterize and clothe it in empirical terms as being, non-being etc. His silence can only be interpreted as meaning the consciousness of the indescribable nature of the Unconditioned Reality. Professor Radhakhrisnan wrote: "If the Buddha declined to define the nature of the Absolute or if he contented himself with negative definitions, it is only to indicate that Absolute being is above all determination. Why then, did Buddha not admit in expressed terms the reality of the Absolute. Buddha refused to describe the Absolute, for that would be to take a step out of the world of relativity, the legitimacy of which he was the first to contest in other. The Absolute is not a matter of empirical observation. The world of experience does not reveal the Absolute anywhere within its limits." [4]

In the time of Buddha, these kinds of questions were considered ineffable, or avyakata, or avyakrtavastuni in Sanskrit.


We know that Buddha is born on the 15th of April of 623 B.C. when the Upanishads are already well established (8th century- 5th century B.C.). We know also that Buddha had accepted many ideas from Hinduism, such as, Nirvana, Metempsychosis, Karma, Dharma (natural law), Avidya (nescience), Samsara. Before, Western scholars thought that Buddha didn't accept the notion of Atman (Anatman). They thought that Buddhism has three clear conceptions: (1) All is impermanent (anita); 2) all is sorrowful (duhkha); (3) all is devoid of a self (anatman). [5]

I try to demonstrate that Buddha always accepts the idea that there is something permanent in this world. For him, birth, illness, old age, death are in the realm of transiency. In that case, Nirvana must be something permanent. In "A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms", page 328, Nirvana is defined as "Liberation, Eternal Bliss". It says also that the Nirvana Sutra claims for Nirvana the ideas of permanence, bliss, personality (Self), purity in the transcendental realm. In Mahayana, final Nirvana is transcendental, and is also used as Absolute... Nirvana has eight flavors or characteristics: permanence, peace, no aging, no mortality, purity, transcendence, unperturbedness, and joy. [6]


As for Atman, or the real Self, denied by Hinayana, or Theravada sects, Mrs. Rhys Davids, a leading Pali scholar in the West, and a life student of Theravada, sustained that Buddha never rejected it. According to her, "Buddha begins his mission by advising man to seek thoroughly for the Atma, and ended by bidding men lives as having Atma for their lamp and refuge. The Buddha concern, she said, was with the wayfarer upon the way. "How to wayfare from this to That; here was life's problem." And this was a long journey... [7]

"Gautama was both teaching and expanding the Immanent cult of his day." Accepting the Upanishads ideal of the self as the ultimate value, Buddha taught how to realize it, how to become that. He insisted on conduct (sila), works, concentration (samadhi) and insight (panna) and dependence on oneself rather than on rituals or knowledge... Mrs. Rhys Davids quotes... the mahaparinibbana passage "attadipa attasarana" etc and translates it: "Live as they who have the Self for a lamp, the Self for a refuge, and none other." [8]

Mr. Humphreys, one of the associates of Mrs. Rhys Davids, is of the same opinion. "If, said he, the Buddha, then taught Atta, as his brilliant predecessors in the field of Indian thought, what did he say was not-self An-Atta? He is quite specific. It is the five Skhandas, the constituents of personality in which there is no permanent Self to be found...But the monks would not leave this statement alone. Attacking the concept of Atman as degraded in the Buddha's day to a thing...the size of a thumb, in the human heart, they swung too far. "No self, no self, they cry, and in the time produced the joyless, cramping doctrine, a drearily proclaimed today," especially in Theravada Buddhism.

Elsewhere, Humphreys concedes that the attack of the Theravada monks, or Bhikkus, is legitimately "directed against the concept of an unchanging individuality, a separate self, distinct from the vast totality of Life and its illimitable forms. "However, he adds, "the Bhikkus ignore the 'Unborn, Unoriginated, Unformed' of their Scriptures, as inherent in every manifested thing. "Clearly, the phenomenal self, whether called ego, shadow, or the evolving soul, is changing all the time" "but this does not mean "no soul, no self at all" [9]

In the celebrated Udana passage, Buddha says: If 'There is a not- born, a not-become, a not-created, a not-formed, if there were not this not- born, not-become...there would not be the escape, the ways out of this bondage (Samsara). [10]

So there is something permanent in our self. This is called Nirvana, or Great Self, or True Mind, or the essential Bhutatatatha, or the Bhutatatatha mind. This is the Real, the Eternal, or the Reality. It is the eternal, impersonal, unchangeable reality behind all phenomena. Butha is substance, that which exists; tatatha is suchness, thusness, i.e. such is its nature. Bhutatatha implies then the absolute, the ultimate source and character of all phenomena, it is the All. This is the noumenal. This can be compared with the Atman, in Hinduism.

Everything in us belonging to the realm of transiency, or arising from the influences of unenlightenment (Avidya), is untrue. They are called phenomena, and as such, they are constantly changing (Samsara).They constitute also our Lesser Self, or our False or Illusive Mind. "Are there then two types of self in the Pali Canon? Ms I. B. Horner, a pupil of Mrs. Rhys Davids and the present President of the Pali Text Society, shows that it is so. In the famous article reprinted in "The Middle Way" (Vol. 27, p. 76), she lists some seventeen passages from the Pali Canon, which make this clear. The "lesser Self" and the "greater Self" are clearly distinguished, and the "great Self" is described as "a dweller in the incommensurable." But the Dhammapada, the most famous text in the Canon, will itself suffice. "Self is the lord of self, what other lord could there be?" and again, "Self is the lord of self and self's "bourn". i.e. the very goal of all endeavor. If it is possible to lift the Buddha teaching nearer still to the Hindu original, look at: "the Self in thee knows what is true and what is false." Every mystic since the world began would agree. [11]

Instead of distinguishing our self into Greater and Lesser Self, we can call our Moral Conscience, Greater Self, and our phenomenal ego, Lesser Self.

We see that Buddha has nothing to do with Brahman, and Brahma. He disregards the Hindu's equation: Atman = Brahman, and the famous saying Tat Tvam Asi, That Art Thou of the Chadyogya Upanishads. We see that his way to find out the truth is introspection. We also now know why people call Buddha an atheist.


I am deeply convinced that Buddhism, especially, the Mahayana sect, adopts the Monistic Theory, as the main frame to build the world. One of the most famous of their assertions is: "One is all and all is one" expressing the unity of all things, a tenet of the Hwa-Yen and T'ien-T'ai Schools.

There is also the famous slogan: The Phenomenal is the Absolute, the Absolute is the Phenomenal.

We have also this slogan: Everything is produced by the Tathagata-garba, or by the Bhutatatatha-Mind, or the permanent Mind.

Buddhism then declares: ADVAYA, no second, non-duality, the one and non-divided, the unity of all things, the one reality, the universal Buddha-Nature. The sect proclaiming Advaya, is called the Monistic Doctrine. [12]


Bhuta is substance, that which exists. Tatatha is suchness, thusness, i.e. such is its nature. It is the Real, as thus always, or eternally so. It is Reality in contrast with unreality, or appearance; and unchanging or immutable as contrasted with form and phenomena. It resembles the ocean in contrast with the waves. It is the eternal, impersonal, unchanging reality behind all phenomena... The word is fundamental to Mahayana philosophy implying the absolute, the ultimate source and character of all phenomena, it is the All. It is also called Self-existent pure Mind, Buddha-Nature, Dharmakaya, Tathagata-garba, or Buddha-treasury, Reality, Dharma-realm; Dharma-nature; The Complete and perfect real nature, or reality. It can be called also the Undifferentiated whole; The Unconditioned; The Void, Static, Abstract, and Noumenal; The Pure and Undefiled; The Free and The Inexpressible. It is Formless, Uncreated, without characteristics or qualities, and absolute in itself. We can also say that the Bhutatatatha has twelve aspects: (1) It is the Void or Immaterial, the Inactive or Nirvana-like. (2) It is the medium of all things. (3) It is the nature of all things. (4) It is the Reality contra the unreality of phenomena. (5) It is immutable contra mortality and phenomenal variation. (6) It is universal or undifferentiated. (7) It is immortal, or apart from birth and death, or creation and destruction. (8) It is eternal, its nature being ever sure. (9) It is the abode of all things. (10) It is the bound of all reality. (11) It is the realm of space, the void, or immateriality. (12) It is the realm beyond thought and expression.

Many Buddhists Schools declare that the Bhutatatha is beyond all description. The San Lun Zong defines it as the formless which contains all forms, the essence of being.


The Phenomenal is then unreality or appearance, and form. It is like waves on the surface of the ocean of being. It is the conditioned, dynamic, affected or infected, defiled, and expressible in words. It is in bonds, and not free. It has characteristics and qualities. It is the contrary of the Absolute.

The Absolute, and the Phenomenal can be considered as separate, the Absolute being the Reality, or Being, The Phenomenal being manifestation, or phenomena. The absolute can be compared with the Natura Naturans, and the Phenomena being the Natura Naturata. We can have these pairs of opposites: 



The One

The One

The Autonomous

The Absolute

The Infinite

Greater Self

The Non-Existent

Unattached, Unfettered





The True Mind

The Ocean

The Real

Avidya, or Ignorance


The All, The Distinct.

The Multiple

The Dependent.

The Phenomenal

The Finite

Lesser Self

The Existing.

Clinging to the unreal.



Not self


The False Mind

The Waves

The Unreal

So we can say that Buddhist philosophers conceived nature like Spinoza, under a double aspect: as active and vital process, which Spinoza calls natura naturans-nature begetting, and as a passive product of this process, which he calls natura naturata- nature begotten.

But this distinction is only fictitious for Buddhist philosophers. We distinguish only to see reality better, to know our way back home, to be united with the One. But after knowing that Reality is always behind all phenomena, we can say that: Bhutatatatha is all things, or Substance is Manifestations, or Mortality is Nibbana, or Rupas are the Void, et cetera.

There are some Mahayanist Schools that openly teach The Monistic Theory, such as Hwa Yen (Hoa Nghiêm) and T'ien T'ai (Thiên Thai) Schools. The Hwa Yen School has a famous Sutra, called The Garland Sutra (The Gandavyuha or Avatamsaka, Hoa Nghiêm Kinh)). It is so called because everything in this world is like different flowers, constituting the garland. The string that unite all the flowers are the Absolute, the Bhutatatatha. Apparently there are many flowers, but essentially they are One. If we move one flower, the whole garland is also moved. It means that All is One. Buddha and sentient beings are identical. When we are awakened, we are called Buddha, when we are ignorant we are called the living. The living and the Buddha are one, i.e. all are the undivided whole, or absolute: they are of the same substance; all are Buddha, and of the same dharmakaya, or spiritual nature; all are of the same infinity. The living and the Buddha are but temporary names, borrowed or derived for temporal indication.

The realm of Totality can also be explained by The Hall of Mirrors devised by Fa Tsang (Pháp Tạng). The Empress Wu Tsei T'ien (Vũ Tắc Thiên) has initiated the question, and Fa-tsang has fond out the device.

One day, in the year of A.D. 699, The Empress Wu Tsei-T'ien asked Fa Tsang the following question: "...You have explained the Hwa yen Doctrine to me with great clarity and ingenuity; sometimes I can almost see the vast Dharmadhatu in my mind's eye, and touch a few spots here and there in the great Totality. But all this, I realize, is merely indirect conjecture or guesswork. One cannot really understand Totality in an immediate sense before reaching Enlightenment. With your genius however, I wonder whether you can give me a demonstration that will reveal the mystery of the Dharmadhatu (Pháp Giới, the Infinite Universe))- including such wonders as "all in one" and the "one in all," the simultaneous arising of all realms, the interpenetration and containment of all dharmas, the Non-Obstruction of space and time, and the like? After taking thought for a while, Fa Tsang said, "I shall try, your Majesty. The demonstration will be prepared very soon."

A few days later Fa Tsang came to the Empress and said, "Your Majesty, I am now ready. Please come with me to a place where the demonstration will be given." He then led the Empress into a room lined with mirrors. On the ceiling and floor, on all four walls, and even in the four corners of the room were fixed huge mirrors - all facing one another. Then Fa Tsang produced an image of Buddha and placed it in the center of the room with a burning torch beside it. "Oh, how fantastic! How marvelous!" cried the Empress as she gazed at this awe inspiring panorama of infinite interreflections. Slowly and calmly, Fa Tsang addressed her: "Your Majesty, this is a demonstration of Totality in the Dharmadhatu. In each and every mirror within this room you will find the reflection of all the other mirrors with the Buddha's image in them. And in each and every reflection of any mirror you will find all the reflections of all the other mirrors, together with the specific Buddha image in each, without omission or misplacement. The principle of interpenetration and containment is clearly shown by this demonstration. Right here, we see an example of one in all and all in one - the mystery of realm embracing realm at infinitum is thus revealed. The principle of the simultaneous arising of different realms is so obvious here that no explanation is necessary. These infinite reflections of different realms now simultaneously arise without the slightest effort; they just naturally do so in a perfectly harmonious way..."

As for the principle of the non-obstruction of space, it can be demonstrated in this manner...(saying which, he took a crystal ball from his sleeve and placed it in the palm of his hand)." Your Majesty, now we see all the mirrors and their reflections within this small crystal ball. Here we have an example of the small containing the large as well as the large containing the small." This is a demonstration of the non-obstruction of "sizes," or space... [13]

We can also say that the parable of Indra's net is parallel to the demonstration of the interpenetration of realm-embracing-realm through the exhibition of inter-mirror reflections given by Fa Tsang to Empress Wu. It is said in the Hwa Yen Sutra that high above in heaven, on the roof of the palace of the God Indra, there hang innumerable ornaments in the form of small crystal marbles. They are interlaced in various patterns forming a great complex network. Because of the reflection of light, not only does each and every one of these marbles reflect the entire cosmos, including the continents and oceans of the human world down below, but at the same time they reflect one another, including all the reflected images in each and every marble, without omission. [14]

Fa Tsiang has also written a famous essay, called On The Golden Lion, to explain that "all of the elements arise simultaneously, that the whole of things creates itself, further, that ultimate principles and concrete manifestations are interfused, and that the manifestations are mutually identical. Thus, in Fa-Tsang's example of the golden lion in the Imperial palace, gold is the essential nature or principle (li), and lion is the particular manifestation or form (shih); moreover, as gold, each part or particle, expresses the whole lion and is identical with every other part or particle. Applied to the universe, this model means that all phenomena are the expressions of absolute reality, the ultimate suchness or voidness, while still retaining their phenomenal character; each is both "all" and "one." All the constituents of the world (the dharmas) are interdependent, cannot exist independently and each possesses a sixfold nature: universality, speciality, similarity, diversity, integration, differentiation.

The ideal is a harmonious totality of things encountered in the perfectly enlightened Buddha. The Buddha-nature is present potentially in all things. There are an infinite number of Buddhas and Buddha realms. There are myriads of Buddhas in every grain of sand and a Buddha-realm at the tip of a hair. [15]

The Monistic theory is also professed by the T'ien T'ai (Thiên Thai) School. Tcheu-K'ai (Trí Khải), the founder of this school, is essentially monistic. He said that Everything is One with the Ultimate Reality, which is the Essence of the universe. He called The uncreated Dharmakaya (Pháp Thân) or the Absolute, the Ocean or the Buddha, and all other phenomena Waves. These phenomena have No-Self, are transient, and are ever-changing. All things are then changing, but the Ultimate Essence are unchanging, and not devoid of Self. The Ultimate Essence is then Nirvana, and phenomena are things that are born and die. They belong to the realm of Samsara. In brief, we have on one side, The Tchenn-jou (Chân Như), or Comical Reality, that is One, infinite, autonomous, and indivisive, like Water; on the other side, we have the worldly phantasmagoria, that are relative, distinct, finite, dependent, and multiple. They are like waves on the surface of the water. To know this Cosmic Reality, to be one with this is entering the Nirvana, not to know this is to be in the realm of Samsara, in the realm of mortality. Getting out of the impermanence, and entering into the permanence, is to enter in the Nirvana. That is to say, all livings have in themselves the same Buddha-Nature, and can become Buddha. Buddha means only Awake; living things are ignorant of their destiny. A Buddha and an ordinary man are like two khakis: one ripe, and one still green. The Buddha-Nature is fully developed in one, while in the other, it is still latent. That is to say, it is not hard to become a Buddha.

Because all is One, Buddhism professes the love of all living things, and stresses on vegetarianism. Zen Buddhism is known also for its love of nature.

Buddhism as Mysticism

In every Buddhist School we can find some mystical tendency, but in Ch'an or Zen Buddhism, we can say that it is developed at the utmost. Ch'an, or Zen Buddhism, flourished in China. It was founded there, by Bodhidharma, an Indian scholar and teacher. He came in China on the twenty first of September, 520. His teaching was:

A special transmission from master to disciple outside the Scripture,

No dependence upon the authority of words and letters,

Direct pointing to the soul of man

Seeing into one's own nature and attaining Buddhahood. 

We can see that Ch'an or Zen aim only to help people find his own Buddhahood inside oneself. It emphasizes the direct, intuitive awareness of one's own Buddha-nature. According to Bhodidharma, " knowledge gleaned from reading is worthless; no merits flows from good works; only meditation that admits one to direct insight, into the Great Emptiness of the Buddha-reality, only truth revealed to one's thought when one turned inward to actualize the Buddha in one heart, is of any value. [16]

"Ch'an teaches that the Buddha-Nature is inherent in every one but lies dormant because of ignorance. It is best awakened not by the study of scriptures, the practice of good deeds, rites and ceremonies, or worship of images, but by a sudden breaking through of common, everyday, logical thought." [17]

Ch'an or Zen School began first with just simple living, and stern self- discipline as the preparation for meditation and inward vision. Ch'an or Zen is an introvertive mysticism. Some one calls it 'inward way', or 'mysticism of introspection', or 'introversion'. The introvertive looks inward into the mind. It culminates in the perception of the Ultimate Unity - what Plotinus called the One - with which the perceiver realizes his own union or identity.

A Zen monk, when he was still ignorant, knows only his 'lesser self'. This Self is The Phenomenal Ego in us. It is then the Samsara. In our ignorance, we act, and think accordingly to its injunction.

Under the guidance of a good master, the monk realizes step by step, that in his body, there is also 'the Greater Self', which receives many names such as Anouttara-Samyas-Sambody, which means Supreme Enlightenment Mind, or Prajna Paramita Mind. Instead of presenting all these synonyms, let us say that "the Greater Self" is the Absolute or Nirvana. Our goal is only to get rid of the 'Lesser Self', and become one with the 'Greater Self'. The Awakening is the acknowledging of the 'Greater Self'.

The early Buddhists in India absorbed the tradition of Yoga, and, like Yoga, took it for granted that meditation and moral discipline were prerequisites for the attainment of transcendental wisdom (prajna). The emphasis of Zen, as it was systematized in China from the 6th century and further developed in Japan from the 12th century is on the awakening of prajna from the depths of unconsciousness where it ordinary lies dormant.[18]

After the Awakening, one should proceed to the dissolution of the 'Lesser Self.' This is very logical, because the 'Lesser Self' is considered only as phenomena, while the 'Greater Self is the Absolute. The Awakening does not depend on instruction; it can happen suddenly. We recall the story of the Ch'an sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng. Hui-neng was an illiterate fellow. He was advised, and given some money, when he was only a seller of firewood, to go to Tung-Tsan monastery, in Wongmui, to meet the fifth Patriarch, Hwang-yen. Hwang-yen had, at this time, about a thousand disciples. After meeting the Patriarch, Hui-neng was admitted in the Pagoda as a worker. His job was to decorticate rice, to take off the chaff from the kernel. One day, everyone is asked to make a poem, expressing his knowledge in Ch'an. The one with the best poem, was to be nominated as the sixth Patriarch. The leader of all the disciples in the pagoda, named Shen-Hsiu, a very learned man, was the first to write a poem, as follows:

The body is the Bodhi-Tree;

The mind is like the mirror bright.

Take heed to keep it always clean,

And let no dust collect upon it. 

Every one in the pagoda praised this stanza, and was sure that Shen-Hsiu would become the Sixth Patriarch. Hui-Neng, getting out of the kitchen, had someone read the preceding poem. He then asked someone to write, for him, his own quatrain, based on the poem of Shen-Hsiu:

Bodhi (True Wisdom) is not a tree,

The mind is not a mirror shining.

As there is nothing from the first,

Why talk of wiping off the dust? 

When the fifth Patriarch went to make inquiry about all the poems, he singled out immediately the two preceding stanzas, and asked for their ownership. Before the public, he seemed to praise the first one, and was against the second one. But later on, he called for Shen-Hsiu and scolded him severely for his poem, saying that he has not yet attained the Buddha-Nature in man. He went also to the kitchen to seek Hui-neng, and gave him a sign to meet him at midnight. When Hui-neng came, he was welcomed as Sixth Patriarch. He was praised as having attained the Buddha-Nature in man.

We see now, that Shen-Hsiu's poem dealt only with the 'Lesser Self'; he talked about wiping daily the 'Lesser Self" to become Buddha, while Hui-neng sustained that in the 'Greater Self' we have no dust to wipe off. He denied all the comparisons on Shen-Hsiu, saying that the Self is not a tree, nor a mirror, the Self cannot collect dust, etc all this means that he talked only about the "Greater Self". Hui-Neng became one of the most famous of all the Ch'an Patriarchs in China. After becoming the sixth Patriarch, he continued to teach of the need to find Buddha in our self.

In sum, in Zen Buddhism we find that Buddhism has been simplified to the utmost:

No praise, no worship for any external Buddha.

No dependency on Scriptures.

No emphasis on external ceremonies. 

Emphasis only on the value of all men. We do not depend on any Buddha to be saved, but we are saved by our proper means.

If we have any masters, we depend on them only when we are still ignorant. Once awakened, we are free to do what we like.

We are not depending on any posture, or on rhythmic respiration. The only thing we are required to do is to tame our False Mind, and to realize our True Mind.

We do not depend on any external Buddha. "It was reasoned that if all things contain the Buddha-nature, then the Buddha could rightfully be equated with a dung-heap". [19] Someone asked Chao Zhu (Triệu Châu): "I will go to the South, please give me some advice". Chao answered, "If you go to the south, where there is Buddha, pass by calmly; where there is no Buddha, don't stop either." [20] The monk Dan He (Đan Hà), on one cold night, has chopped off one wooden Buddha, and used it as fire-wood.[21]

Buddhism so conceived is only Psychology or Psychology in profundity. And we are invited by Siddhartha Gautama to come and see for ourselves. The "come and see for yourself" attitude of the original Great Teacher, Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha, The Enlightened One, his pragmatic insistence on "Don't take my word for it, try it yourself" the unswerving challenge of his famous aphorism, "Look within, thou art the Buddha, are very specific. No other teacher has said it".[22]

We know also his aphorism: "Live as they who have the Self for a lamp, the Self for a refuge; as they who have Dharma for a lamp, Dharma for a refuge, and none other".[23]

[1] Garma C.C.Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, The Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London, 1989, p. 254.

[2] Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, Vol. 2:From Gautama to the Triumph of Christianity, pp. 93-94.

[3] Cf. The World of Buddhism, ed. by Heinz Bechert and Richard Gombrich, Facts on File Publications, New York, 1984, p. 52.

[4] T.R.V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, The Mandala Books, Unwins Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sydney, 1980, pp. 47-48.

[5] Ibidem, p. 66b.

[6] Ibidem, p. 328b.

[7] Joseph Head & S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation, The Phoenix Fire Mystery, Julian Press, New York, 1957, p. 63; 73-75).

[8] T.R.V. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, Mandala books, Unwin Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sidney, 1969, p. 21 & note 1, p. 23. 9. Joseph Head & S.L. Cranston, Reincarnation, the Phoenix Fire Mystery, Julian Press, New York, 1977, p. 63 and 75, 76.

[9] Joseph Head & S.L. Cranston, Reincarnation, the Phoenix Fire Mystery, Julian Press, New York, 1977, p. 63 and 75,76.T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, the Mandala Books, Unwin Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sydney, 1980, pp. 47, 48.

And Udana pp. 80-81.

[10] T.R.V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, the Mandala Books, Unwin Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sydney, 1980, pp. 47, 48.

And Udana pp. 80-81.

[11] Joseph Head & S.L. Cranston, Reincarnation, The Phoenix Fire Mystery, Julian Press, New York, 1977, pp. 63, 75-76)

[12] A dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms, Buddhist Culture Service, 16 Ta-Tung South Road, San Chung Shih, Taipei, Taiwan, China, compiled by William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous, p. 103.

[13] Garma C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Reality, The Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London, 1989, pp. 23-24.

[14] Ibidem, p. 165.

[15] Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. III, p. 383, under Buddhism Article.

Garma C.C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, pp. 166, 168.

[16] Man's religions, John B. Noss, The Macmillan Company, Collier-Macmillan limited, London, 1970,p. 172.

[17] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979, Vol. II, p. 726, under Ch'an.

[18] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. X, page 872, under Zen article.

[19] Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. III, p. 386, under Buddhism article.

[20] Thiền Luận của Suzuki, Bản dịch của Tuệ Sĩ, An Tiêm Xuất bản Saigon, 1971, notes 2 & 3, p. 80.

[21] Ib. p. 485.

[22] Nancy Wilson Ross, Buddhism, A Way of Life and Thought, Alfred A. Knopt New York, 1980, p. 4.

[23] T.R.V. Murti, the Central Philosophy of Buddhism, Mandala Books, Unwin Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sydney, 1989 p. 21 & note 1, p. 23.

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19