Seven: No Attainment, No Teaching
The Lord Buddha addressed Subhuti, saying : ” What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Tathagata really attained to supreme spiritual wisdom? Or has he a system of doctrine which can be specifically formulated?”
Subhuti replied, saying : “As I understand the meaning of the Tathagata, he has no system of doctrine which can be specifically formulated; nor can the Tathagata express, in explicit terms, a form of knowledge which can be described as supreme spiritual wisdom. And why? Because, what the Tathagata adumbrated in terms of the Law, is transcendental and inexpressible. Being of Pure-Bodhi, it is neither consonant with Dharma, nor synonymous with anything apart from the Dharma. Thus is exemplified the manner by which wise disciples and holy Buddhas, regarding intuition as the Law of their minds, severally attained to different planes of spiritual wisdom.”
What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Tathagata really attained to supreme spiritual wisdom?: Subhuti is asked whether or not the Tathagatas themselves have attained Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi. A Tathagata having to attain something is like an oxymoron. It is a completely contradictory question since the Tathagatas have never “attained” anything, but rather have transcended all dualistic categories since their essential nature is reflective of perfect Tathata (suchness) itself. It just IS without being dependent on any outside qualifiers that, in effect, would detract its essential ISness. In this sense their perfect Wisdom is indeed unexcelled and is only Self-realized within Tathagatahood. Subhuti rightly responds by stating that this Tathagatahood cannot even be outlined in any formal Dharmatic sense since it is totally transcendental and thus inexpressible—indeed, reflective of Dharmatā Itself. It is perfect-unexcelled “Bodhi” that eclipses any sentiently-known dharmas or adharmas. Thus, the prajnaparamita is a Wisdom beyond words and even conventional wisdom itself. A Buddha never teaches a self-contained “doctrine”; the Buddhadharma will never be an isolated “object” of knowledge that is stringently conveyed in any way, shape, or manner. It is a totally “wordless” affair and is thus never dependent upon language. In Theistic systems there is a declaration that they have an “exclusive truth”; the Buddha rejects any such formulation of “They who must be obeyed!” The Way of the Buddhadharma is that of ehipassiko, the Buddha’s greatest axiom which states that one “in oneself” needs to “come and see” without being dependent upon any outside agency that is purportedly and exclusively “in the know.” It’s all about direct-experience rather than blindly accepting any dogmatic statements of others. The Kalama Sutra from the Pali canon expresses it best:
“Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic and inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight of speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up and when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept and follow them.” (F.L. Woodward, The Book Of Kindred Sayings, vol. 5, pp.173-75)
This realization also encompasses one’s own refined self-realizations; indeed, these too, at some point need to be abandoned lest they become some form of self-ideology.
Thus is exemplified the manner by which wise disciples and holy Buddhas, regarding intuition as the Law of their minds, severally awakening to different planes of spiritual wisdom: this is all about the gradual path to Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi—from the sage to the Shining Ones. One needs to come away from this particular section with the realization that it’s all conveyed through direct-intuition alone, sans any form of outside knowledge agencies.