Coming Soon: The Bhagavad Gita

bhagavad-gita

Why begin a series on a Hindu Scripture in Unborn Mind Zen? Firstly, the inspiration presented itself to me while reading a dialog between Methexis and N. Yeti sparked by their mention of the Gita on the Zennist’s blog. Secondly, because it’s a colossal and classic epic, one that transcends any sectarian boundaries; its theme encompasses both Transcendent and Immanent elements that take place on the Cosmic Battlefield of one’s own Consciousness as one seeks to aspire beyond the confines of the broken human condition. The Gita expands upon the Yogic Enterprise that we just covered in our series on Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras and completes it as only an ageless epic can:

The Epic is in fact the meeting-place of countless ascetic and popular traditions, each equipped with“yoga”—that is, a “mystic” technique—that is peculiar to itself. [Mircea Eliade, Patanjali and Yoga, pg 142]

Also, certain parallels can be found between the Gita and Buddhism, as Kashi Nath Upadhyaya expounds in Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgītā:

…it is evident that both in the B.G. and Buddhism higher knowledge is conceived as extraordinary direct perception. Such direct vision or insight attained through the divine eye or the eye of wisdom, as a result of cleansing the mind of impurities and attaining concentration, is claimed to be more penetrating than the ordinary vision of normal eyes…

One can now see the significance of the use of knowing as a synonym of seeing in Buddhism and the B.G. Buddha frequently uses the word “seeing” along with “knowing” (MI. 329) “The Knowing and seeing One” (jānata passatā, M.II.111) is, indeed, a characteristic description of Buddha. The central truths of Buddhism are seen…In the B.G. also, higher knowledge is conceived as “seeing”. The final truth about ‘sat’ and ‘asat (real and unreal) is said to have been seen (drstah) by the seers of Reality (tattva darsibbih). The reality as it is in itself (tattva) is to be known and seen (B.G. XI.54). Now this knowledge which is thus obtained through direct vision is considered both by the B.G. and Buddhism as objective, not dependent on or determined by the subjective mode of perception. That is why it is called ‘tattvajñāna’ by the B.G. and ‘yathābhūta-ñāṇa’ by Buddhism.

Now, what is the ground on which the claim of clarity and objectivity is made by the B.G. and Buddhism? This claim is made because this knowledge is said to arise in a state when the mind is purged of all impurities and defilements, and is made free from all biases and prejudices which distort the vision and impede clear and objective knowledge. Unlike ordinary sensory knowledge, this higher knowledge is said to be attained only when one has gone a long way in the practice of concentration (samādhi). [Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgītā, pgs, 169-172]

Of course there are many variables that conflict in Early Buddhism and the Gita, most notably that in the former empirical and rational means are employed for transcending the human lot, whereas in the Gita many metaphysical formulations are employed. However, Mystical Buddhism, the Buddhism that is reinforced through many variables in the Mahayana path, have characteristics that are in league with the Gita. This is especially true within the nature of the Tathagatagarbha-School of Buddhism:

With the rise of Mahayana and its doctrine of Dharmakaya, Buddha’s vast connection to the world became more metaphysical. The concept of Tathagata in Mahayana Buddhism is not merely man, but a cosmic principle. As the Tathagata is really ‘devoid of nature’ (svabhava-±sunya), he cannot be said to exist or become non-existent after death. Tathsgata is Reality personalized. When Buddha is called Tathagata, his individual personality is ignored and he is treated as a ‘type,’ for he is the embodiment of Tathata, the word used for the Absolute in Mahayana philosophy. The concept of Tathagata is constituted by different metaphysical principles. This fact is presented in the theory of the three bodies (tri-kaya) of Buddha namely, Svabhava-kaya, which is also called Dharma-kaya (Body of the Essence of Things or the ‘Truth Body’) ,Sambhoga-kaya (Body of Bliss), and Nirmana-kaya (Apparitional Body). 

In Mahayana tradition, the relationship between the unconditioned and conditioned aspects of Buddha, as well as the transcendent and immanent dimensions of Buddha, would be understood in terms of the Trikaya doctrine.

Dharmakaya, is the ultimate reality and it is identical with the Absolute. It is called Dharmakaya, being the dharmata, (essence) of the things. Dharmakaya literally means Truth body, or Reality body. As it has been said, Dharma-kaya is the ‘Truth Body,’ which functions as the ground for the other two bodies or aspects, namely the Sambhoga-kaya and the Nirmana-kaya. In early Buddhism, it was only the posthumous appearance of the presence of Buddha in the form of his teachings (Dharma), which had been authoritative. However, when it comes to the Mahayana tradition, Dharma-kaya becomes synonymous with perfect enlightenment or samyak-sambodhi, primordially existent, transcending all perceptual forms or animitta…[C.D. Sebastian, DHARMAKAYA: The Expression of the Numinous in Mahayana Buddhism, Crossroads.Vol V Issue 1 2010]

One needs to keep in mind that ‘metaphysical’ means “beyond the physical senses”—beyond the limited confines of the defiled body consciousness. Soon we will be taking that classic and epic journey through the Dharma-fields of the Bhagavad Gita, observing the salvific Yogic Themes that present themselves on that Universal Battleground of Consciousness itself.

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5 Responses to Coming Soon: The Bhagavad Gita

  1. N. Yeti says:

    Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!

    To explore the strata of Buddhism I also feel it is helpful (if not necessary) to also understand Hinduism, which was recently referred to by HH the Dalai Lama as a “sister religion”.

    The differences which arise are not always reconciled, but I think what Vajragoni has presented here is an extremely insightful overview of a complex topic. Many Buddhists are put off by the martial character of the Gita and such aspects of practice as the notion of gods and so on, which don’t trouble me because I see the gods as an archetypal aspect of the self, or an embodiment of a way, rather than specific beings. My view is probably heretical for many Hindus.

    I have mentioned it before but in Hinduism there are four primary phrases which present the essence of the teachings, culminating in the phrase “you are that” (tat avam asi), and also “it is that” (tat avat asi). This is the “seeing” and “knowing” referred to so eloquently in the original post.

    The word tattva, meaning reality or also, as I prefer to read it, “truth”, comes from the same roots — tat = that, tva = you, or “you-that”. Seeing, when stripped of illusion, is the embodiment of truth which sees both self and all as indivisible and one. The word “tva”, when used as a suffix to a noun, confers the quality of “being”. Thus tattva “truth” also denotes, literally, “being that”. There is no separate truth from consciousness.

    I say this not to be pedantic but because it was with this recognition that I realized there exists a “bridge” between Hinduism and Buddhism, which despite all the doctrinal differences opens new avenues of thinking which can be quite helpful when seeking, for example, to penetrate a sutra. It can be like saying the same thing in a different language: the character and nuance of meaning shifts, different contexts exist, but the understanding of truth is the same. How could it be otherwise?

    To again refer to the Dalai Lama (and I am not particularly familiar with the Tibetan lineages) I think it’s worth pointing out what he said about Buddhism and religion itself, which is about _embodying_ the teachings, not just looking at them on the page. Tattva, “truth”, or “reality”, is an element or aspect of being which is recognized and embodied and is for some schools, an aspect of divinity. Can there be any other quality of divinity but the very truth of being, the animative principle which permeates all existence?

    The dharmakaya is this embodiment of wisdom and truth, i.e. the “truth body”. But this dharmakaya is also “inconceivable” (sanskrit: acintya) of itself, being that which gives rise to soteriological wisdom, but since it is absolute, it cannot itself be distinguished. Thus the dharmakaya is not something or in any way divisible, being neither knowable nor unknowable but existing at the level of absolute truth, where there is neither knowing nor not-knowing, but merely the universal, absolute truth of being.

  2. N. Yeti says:

    By the way this is somewhat of a tangent but in the past few days I been looking into the Theravada school from Thailand of the Dhammakaya Movement, which I am not well informed about but it seems superficially to have very much in common with the Tathagatagarbha school. For example it does not deny the self (atman) but views the dhammakaya (dharmakaya) as the atman itself.

    I am very curious about this school and was wondering if anyone knows about the life of master Phra Mongkonthepmuni (also known by the Buddhist name Sodh Candasaro), who reportedly in meditation penetrated the very Dharmakaya itself.

    It would be very interesting to hear from anyone who has practiced this form of meditation which seems to my layman’s eye to have some similarities with the mystical practices engaged by this blog.

    • Vajragoni says:

      Thank-you for the encouragement and excellent insights on this series; while my spiritual camp is rooted within Unborn Mind Zen, I’ve never been afraid to venture-forth and eclectically investigate parallel narratives that exist in neighboring camps.

      In reference to your “Dhammakaya” question, I believe that Tozen is more familiar with the original founder of this Theravadin sect; although I am wary whenever politics is mixed with Dharmakaya, as seems to be the case with the recent history of this particular camp.

  3. N. Yeti says:

    Yes, good observation. I am aware of some controversies but think this gets more into the question of lineages than penetration to the dharmakaya (dhammakaya) which appears to be authentic. Your observation is precisely why I am so cautious about adhering to any one school; to achieve the flexibility of mind praised in the Lanka and elsewhere, it is helpful to know all doctrines.

  4. Methexis says:

    I’ll skip this one; not out of disrespect for you or the BG, but there’s so much Buddhist scripture out there available to us, that the value of exploring another tradition in such detail is questionable. I hoped your next pick would be my own suggestion (The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra) !

    I’m just a student of the Dharma at the beginner’s level, so I don’t want to question you who are more seasoned and your choice here, but wouldn’t it be more fruitful to use your sharp intelligence and innate talents for dissecting wisdom-texts on something like the Lotus Sutra? Wouldn’t one post on the BG suffice?

    I’ll leave a few scriptural passages below, for our reflection before you start – perhaps it will be useful as a reminder:

    “There are ninety-six kinds of paths; only the single path of the Buddha is the right path. The other ninety-five are all nonbuddhists paths.” (Larger Nirvana Sutra)

    “One never again takes refuge in nonbuddhist paths.” (Nirvana Sutra)

    “Take refuge in the Buddha yourself, take refuge in the dharma, take refuge in the sangha. Do not serve other teachings … ” (Sutra of the Samadhi of Buddha Presence)

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