Understanding MAdhyamaka - 4

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 23 16:27:53 CDT 2000


So if everything is empty, then what's the use of understanding the
four noble truths and practicing virtue?

NAgArjuna says such a reading of shUnya is erroneous and will cause
harm than good. The Buddhas have preached shUnyatA in order to
enable us to rise above all the entangling categories of the
intellect. Those who take shUnyatA in the sense of a category of
intellect, in the sense of affirmation or negation or both or
neither are incorrigible, hopeless and are destined to doom.

The phenomenal world where things exist in dependence on one another
(pratItya samutpAda) is the relative truth  - samvritti satyam (in
the ultimate sense even pratItya samutpAda is empty for it is
not fully intelligible). The ultimate truth is the paramArtha

So what's paramArtha or nirvAna?

NirvAna cannot be equated with existence, for what existence do we know
of, other than the phenomenal one? SamsAra cannot be non-existence, for
that itself cannot be without existence and hence is caused and dependent.
It cannot be both existence and non-existence, for that would be like
light and darkness together. It cannot be neither existence nor
non-existence, for that would make it beyond our reach.

In this sense since it is beyond the reach of our intellect, like
samsAra, nirvAna too is shUnya. (But this is only in the epistemologial
sense and should not be confused as NAgArjuna's ontological position).

So what's nirvAna in its ontological sense?

"aparapratyayam shAntam prapanchairaprapanchitam nirvikalpam anAnArtham
etat tattvasya lakshanam" - the Real is that which can only be directly
realized, that which is calm and blissful, where all plurality is merged,
that where all the cries of the intellect are satisfied, that which is
the non-dual Absolute".

"What is called the phenomenal world or the cycle of birth and death
from the empirical standpoint, viewed through the glasses of causation
and relativity, that very world is called nirvAna or the absolute,
from the ultimate standpoint viewed without causation and relativity".
It is due to avidhya or ignorance in the form of our conceptual
tendency that we view the world through the lenses of causality and
relativity. When this ignorance is destroyed the twelve linked wheel
of causation beginning with ignorance and ending with decay and death
will cease to revolve. So samsAra is but nirvAna viewed through
conceptions - the veil which covers us from the truth.

Neither the individual eternal self of the brahmanical schools nor the
no-self of the early bauddhas are true. By clinging to the concepts
of Self and no-Self, the truth is obscured. When we let go of the notion
of the Self, the notions of "I" and "mine" also cease. With the erasure
of subjectivity and individuality arises the transcendental truth - which
is quiesence of plurality.

To show that my reading of NAgArjuna is true I'm also quoting NirvAna as per
the MahAyAna SUtras. The MahAyAna SUtras are to the MAdhyamikas what the
Upanishads are to Advaitins.

Saddharma Pundarika : This is reality which is calm, deep and pure
knowledge of the Buddha which transcends the intellect and which is to
be directly realized through pure knowledge. It is the most excellent
and final enlightenment (uttama agra bodhi) by which we become one
with the Buddha.

AshtasAhasrika PrajnApAramita : There are six perfections (pAramitas) of
which the last and the highest is the Supreme or Perfect knowledge
(prAjnApAramita). It is clear and transparent like the sky, devoid of
plurality, to be beyond finite thought, indescribable, divine mother,
one with the Buddha, terrible to the fools, but affectionate to the
wise. It is unthinkable in the sense the intellect fails to describe
it adequately. Here the cries of the intellect are satisfied and its
contradictions reconciled. It is subtler than the subtle, profounder
than the profound. It transcends phenomena and is non-dual, independent,
real and absolute.

The real is at once immanent and transcendent. The suchness of
all dharmas is the suchness of reality. The phenomenal is the noumenal
and the noumenal is the phenomenal. Appearances are reality. They are
grounded in the real, the Brahman which atonce transcends the duality
of the relative and the absolute. They are two reals set against each
other, which are not diverse and do not form a duality.

To transcend the phenomenal we shall have to take the help of the
fully mature intellect itself. Those who deny it will themselves
be destroyed and will destroy others.

LankAvatAra SUtra : Reality is a spiritual experience which is beyond
the categories of the intellect, beyond discrimination and dualism and
which can be realized by pure knowledge. Buddhas become enlightened by
transcending the dualism of the intellect, by realizing the ultimate
reality of all objects and of empirical subjects, by removing the screen
of suffering and of ignorance in the form of objects covering the Real.
The Real is silence.

The absolute is preached through the phenomenal, but the phenomenal should
not be mistaken for the absolute. Ultimately even this distinction is
transcended. Appearances are reality. Reality is not to be sought for apart
from phenomenal. Like samsAra and nirvAna, all things are non-dual.

ShUnyata should not be understood in the sense of utter negation. It only
means that all things are unoriginated and are indescribable because they
can be described neither as existent nor as non-existent nor as both. They
are merely relative and unreal in the ultimate sense.

SamAdhirAja SUtra describing the levels of spiritual experience : In the
fourth and final state the intellect becomes one with experience. Pain and
pleasure are transcended and this yields a sort of unique bliss.
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