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.