The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12
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,
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
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.
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.
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:
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,
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.
The Five Skandas or the Five Aggregates
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.
VEDANA (Thọ) - Sensations, Feelings.
SANJNA (Tưởng) - Perceptions,
SAMSKARAS (Hành) - Psychic
Constructions, including both conscious and unconscious activity.
Volition. Impressions. It englobes, then, all our mental activity.
VIJNANA (Thức) - Thought, Knowledge:
All knowledge coming from our senses, and our mind.
Aggregates are then:
(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
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.
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.
Avidya (Vô Minh), Ignorance or
Samskara (Hành), Activity.
Vijnana (Thức), Consciousness.
(Danh Sắc), Name and Form.
Sadayatana (Lục Nhập), the Six Sense
Organs i.e. Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body and Mind.
Sparsa (Xúc), Contact, Touch.
Vedana (Thọ), Sensation, Feeling.
Trsna (Ái), Thirst, Desire, Craving.
Upadana (Thủ), Laying Hold of,
Bhava (Hữu), Being, Existing.
Jati (Sinh), Birth
Jaramarana (Lão, Tử), Old Age,
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)
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:
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,
(Chính Tư Duy), Right Thought, Right Purpose or Aspiration.
translate it as Right Thought, some as Right Purpose, I prefer Right
Purpose, or Aspiration.
(Chính Ngữ), Correct Speech, Avoidance of False and Idle Talk.
(Chính Nghiệp), Correct Deed, or Conduct, getting rid of all improper
action so as to dwell in purity.
(Chính Mệnh), Correct Livelihood or Occupation.
(Chính Tinh Tiến), Correct Zeal, or Energy, in uninterrupted progress in
the way of Nirvana.
(Chính Niệm), Correct Remembrance, or Memory, which retains the true and
excludes the false.
(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
BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHICAL SCHOOL
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.
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
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."
In the time of
Buddha, these kinds of questions were considered ineffable, or avyakata,
or avyakrtavastuni in Sanskrit.
ASPECTS OF THE WORLD: PERMANENCE (NIRVANA), IMPERMANENCE (SAMSARA)
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).
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.
MAN'S TWO SELVES: GREATER SELF (ATMAN),
AND LESSER SELF (ILLUSORY EGO).
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
"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
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.
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"
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
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.
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
BUDDHISM AND THE MONISTIC THEORY
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
We have also this
slogan: Everything is produced by the Tathagata-garba, or by the
Bhutatatatha-Mind, or the permanent Mind.
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.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE BHUTATATATHA (Chân Như)
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
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 OR SAMSARA?
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
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 True Mind
The All, The
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.
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
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
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...
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.
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
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:
special transmission from master to disciple outside the Scripture,
dependence upon the authority of words and letters,
pointing to the soul of man
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.
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."
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.
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'.
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.
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:
is the Bodhi-Tree;
is like the mirror bright.
heed to keep it always clean,
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:
(True Wisdom) is not a tree,
is not a mirror shining.
is nothing from the first,
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
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
No emphasis on
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
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
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."
The monk Dan He (Đan Hà), on one cold
night, has chopped off one wooden Buddha, and used it as fire-wood.
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".
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
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.
T.R.V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, the Mandala
Books, Unwin Paperbacks, London, Boston, Sydney, 1980, pp. 47, 48.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. III, p. 383, under Buddhism
Preface | Chapters:
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