Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Trapped" within Emptiness

I was studying the LRCM yesterday, particularly the chapter on dependent arising and emptiness. From this chapter, I realized that it is because things are empty of inherent existence, that there is so much suffering in this world. In other words, it is due to emptiness, everything in this world arise. How do things arise? From causes and conditions, i.e. dependent upon its parts and sub-parts that come together. That’s why it’s called “dependent arising”. It depends on other factors and conditions to arise. Otherwise, nothing can arise, from aggregates, self, and all inner and outer phenomena. Our bodies arise, for example, due to the union of our fathers and mothers. Our minds arise due to the five aggregates. From these, we create the causes of suffering. Then when the time comes, we suffer from its result - i.e. pain. And it is also because of causes and conditions that it is possible for suffering to end and uproot the causes, and finally attaining nirvana. It, then dawns on me, that if this is the case, then it will be difficult for us to get out of “emptiness”, i.e. duality of samsara and nirvana. Wouldn’t it?

It is only from here that I understand why the monotheistic religions are so appealing. It’s because they create in their minds a self-existing, or inherently existing Eternal God, that creates everything else, except itself. If there is such an entity, then it would mean, there will not be any suffering. The only ones who suffer will be the subjects that he had created and willed to suffer. However, these subjects cannot and will never become God, but they could become souls “in the image of God” because God breathe its spirit into the soul. Some variants of these religions talk about possibility of union with God. All these are based on the belief in existence of a “self”. Buddhism is the only one talking about non-self and emptiness. Does that mean we are hopelessly “trapped” in emptiness? It is like trapped in the Tai Chi circle of Yin-Yang. That was what I thought when I went to sleep last night.

Then this morning, something came to my mind. The Lotus Sutra and other sutras do talk about the Eternal Life Tathagata. This concept is also mirrored in the concept of “Amitayus” – translated as Buddha of Infinite Life. It is said in one of the books I have read that this “Eternal Life Tathagata” is so important that it is the central message of the Mahayana tradition, and it is the primary message of the Lotus Sutra. Is it similar to the God-concept, then? Hmm, let’s think about it. The eternal life tathagata is the Dharmakaya. I think it means it lives within the body of knowledge. It is referring to the Buddha living within Dharma. Remember that the Buddha said, “He who sees the Dharma sees me”? And in the Sanghata Sutra, it is mentioned that, “The Sanghata Sutra is the Tathagata”. And since dharma is knowledge, i.e. nothing compounded. Things that are not compounded, like space, are not subject to impermanence and suffering. Hence, it is beyond existence and non-existence. As mentioned in the Heart Sutra – “…beyond Nirvana!” , others translate as "...beyond error, end point of Nirvana", another translate as "...beyond the bounds of sorrow". It is like the shatterring of the Tai-Chi of Ying and Yang. Then we are no longer controlled by it. The Arhats may have attained Nirvana but they are not beyond Nirvana yet. That is why attaining Arhatship is not the end of the journey yet according to the Mahayanists. Do you understand now? The Eternal Life Tathagata gives hope to Buddhists of being free from all dualistic trappings, and yet it is not the same as the inherently existing God-concept of other religions. The Eternal Life Tathagata is the Dharmakaya aspect of the Buddha.

The word – beyond – is so important, yet I have missed it all the time until lately. I am sure many other Buddhists have missed that word, and just read as “attaining Nirvana”. So, there is yet hope for sentient beings. Great! Now I don’t have to convert to other religions. He! He! He! …I am just joking. I have never thought of doing so. Do all these make any sense to anyone? If it does not, please ignore. :)

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