And the Truth shall set you free

After inundating the Blessed One (Buddha), as well as the reader, with an incessantly long litany (108 questions) concerning literally everything under the Buddhist sun, Red Pine states that the Buddha “mercifully” (for both Mahamati and the reader) attempts to put to rest the obsessive workings of the meandering mind. It’s all “mind-stuff”—projections of an overly active cognitive apparatus (conceptual consciousness) trying to appease its voracious habit-energy since beginningless time. Rather than pursuing this futile and inadequate mind-game, one should focus on the highest reality—or paramartha: “It is by means of this…higher truth that the transcendental teachings of tathagatas are formed…by means of their wisdom eye…” This wisdom eye—the Eye of Tathata—transcends all phenomena by remaining “detached” from it; it sees Reality As It Is—Yathabhutam. In light of this, the Buddha is not concerned with “philosophical arguments as he is putting an end to suffering, which arises from projection and which ceases upon understanding the true nature of one’s perceptions.” The main cause of all dukkha (suffering) is that people, through avidya (ignorance) are constantly being led by their own “disordered beliefs”. As the Lanka states: “once the perceptions of their own minds are free of projections, they are able to dwell in the perfection of wisdom and to let go of their life and their practice and to enter the Diamond Samadhi that accompanies a tathagata’s body and that accompanies the transformation of suchness…thus transcending the mind, the will, and conceptual consciousness, these bodhisattvas gradually transform their body into the body of a tathagata.”

This leads us to perhaps the most central motif in the entire Lanka, section VIII in the Second Chapter—it is the very foundation of the Lankavatarian Path: “Who sees that the habit-energy of projections of the beginningless past is the cause of the three realms and who understands that the tathagata stage is free from projections or anything that arises, attains the personal realization of Buddha knowledge and effortless mastery over their own minds. And like gems capable of reflecting every color, they enter the subtlest thoughts of other beings and in their apparition bodies teach them “nothing but mind” while establishing them in the sequence of stages. Therefore, Mahamati, you should devote yourself to the cultivation of personal attainment.” It is worth contrasting this with Suzuki’s own translation: “Perceiving that the triple existence is by reason of the habit-energy of erroneous discrimination and false reasoning that has been going on since beginningless time, and also thinking of the state of Buddhahood which is imageless and unborn, the Bodhisattva will become thoroughly conversant with the noble truth of self-realization, will become a perfect master of one’s own mind, will conduct oneself without effort, will be like a gem reflecting a variety of colours, will be able to assume the body of transformation, will be able to enter into the subtle minds of all beings, and, because of one’s firm belief in the truth of Mind-only, will, by gradually ascending the stages, become established in Buddhahood. Therefore, Mahamati, let the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva be well disciplined in self-realization.” I prefer Suzuki here, in that he translates this as a truly Noble (Arya) Path of self-realization, not a “personal attainment”; also, Red Pine translates the “transformation body” of a Bodhisattva as an “apparition”—poor choice, as it is indicative of something “ghostly”, vs. the true transformation body that occurs inwardly (pavavriti) within the developing gotra (bodhichild) of the Bodhisattva.

The beauty of this awakening is that one does not make this journey alone, but rather, practitioners are drawn “near to buddhas and spiritual friends”. These spiritual friends awaken you to an essential truth. Think of it…a realm without projections, unknown to the worldlings, but one that the compassionate Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach—the inner-realm of Noble self-realization. [{paraphrased} Lanka, Chapt 2, 26. pg 79, Red Pine]

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14 Responses to And the Truth shall set you free

  1. Mau says:

    Very grateful for this blog and this series, just started tuning in recently. I am very interested in the difference you see between the Suzuki’s “Noble” path of self-realization and Red Pine’s self-attainment. Could you please elaborate on this? Or if there is a post that might illuminate on this important term, please let me know.

    Thank you

    • Vajragoni says:


      Am glad you are enjoying the Lanka Series. I must admit that it was disappointing that Red Pine took an apparent modernist approach with certain sections of the Lanka, like the one you reference. The Noble Wisdom of which the Lanka expounds upon has nothing to do with some form of personal attainment for a skandhic-self, but rather a profound awakening in the deepest recesses of an inner-consciousness that is attuned with the prior-gnosis agencies of the Tathagatas. I would encourage you to follow-through with the remainder of the series for further clarification. Red Pine mostly likely chose this option in order to reach a wider audience, and there is merit in that, but only as a primer to a more thorough treatment given by Suzuki. Also, if you do a search on Noble-Wisdom here on the site, you will discover a wide variety of blogs that focus further on Noble Wisdom itself.

      • Mahasidhra says:

        I tried to look up the Sanskrit word for “self-realization” and I found svapratyatmagati. Interestingly, it was feautred on the Zennist blog, too:

        “… our very self as it stands (svapratyatmagati) according to the Lankavatara Sutra. This state (gati), in addtion, puts us elsewhere preceptually than in the body or with the world. To be sure, it is a unique experience. We are at once disembodied—and not of this world or any other.”

        It seems to be composed of “sva” (self; auto; …), then “pratyatma” (solitary, “for each”, “for every”); and “gati” (state). If I understand this correctly, the Zennist opted for a more etymological rendering of the term, by dissecting each part: we then get “the state of the very self” which sounds a bit artificial; we can modify it a little to get Zennists’ elegant rendering: “very self as it stands” instead of “self-realization” or “self-attainment”.

        That’s my uneducated guess using a Sanskrit dictionary anyway. If it’s correct, then the Zennist’s more “ontological” translation is more exact and direct than Suzuki/Pine’s which both suffer from mental / subjective / psychological connotations.

        • Mahasidhra says:

          (Footnote: by “Zennist’s” I mean the translation Zennist was using; not sure where he got it, or if it was original his. It doesn’t really matter either way.)

        • Vajragoni says:

          You needn’t have thrown Suzuki under the bus so rashly. His rendering of svapratyatmagati has to do with “the self-realization of the Highest Truth of Noble Wisdom.” If you misconstrue svapratyatmagati as being some form of ontological-gain then you are indeed far from the Truth of Noble Wisdom. There is no being or non-being here, for indeed what “Self” is recollecting this highest principle?

          • Mahasidhra says:

            “There is no being or non-being here, for indeed what “Self” is recollecting this highest principle?” Well my answer is that the whole point of the expression is that it is the highest principle that recollects itself. There is not a separate self that recollects a principle. There is a principle that recollects itself. Or, rather, it is the recollecting of itself that is itself the principle. – That’s the essence of the Tathagatagarbha.

            The question of “Who realizes the principle?” is posed in a subject-object framework of reality; in the perfected form of reality, the parinishpanna-svabhava, which is the abolition of the subject-object split, there is no “X realizes Y”; there is just the self-unfolding, self-realizing of the Principle, of itself. You can use the words “self-realization”, “self-attainment” or “very self as it stands” it doesn’t really matter I think,

            The word “self” in “self-attainment” or “self-realization” doesn’t imply a skandhic self or a personality (pudgala); the word sva- is like the Greek auto-; it denotes reflexivity. I think Red Pine knows this well. You say I throw Suzuki under the bus too rashly, but weren’t you the first one to do it, with our good old Red Pine? Overall I have an ambivalent attitude towards Suzuki. On the one hand, he’s a towering figure in the history of Buddhism, an indisputable authority, etc. and I have tremendous respect in that sense. But on the other hand, I think his translation and scholarship are outdated. Moreover, his obsession with Japanese culture, Bushido, and his militaristic texts clearly show he wasn’t enlightened. In the old age, he turned to Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) and wrote books about Shinran. I read one of those late works and I must say he didn’t even understand Pure Land Buddhism. (He completely misses the point of what Shinran is all about.)

  2. Mahasidhra says:

    (The PL comment was just a personal anecdote. There was an episode where I studied Shinran intensively, as you perhaps remember. Upon reading his book on Pure Land and seeing how he failed to understand Shinran, completely, I thought to myself: if he doesn’t understand Shinran, then perhaps there are more things this man doesn’t understand? I started doubting how reliable he is! This was before discovering he was basically a fascist. He was a flawed man, unenlightened, but nevertheless a towering figure in history of Buddhism, and a genius in many aspects. A giant of Buddhist scholarship.)

    • Vajragoni says:

      Tossing-in Suzuki’s “personal politics” with his stance on the Lanka is merely a diversionary antic. You always somehow throw-in your own “personal biases” in your critiques. Also, what are you inferring in terms of my throwing-him under the bus in some form of favoritism of Red Pine? At the time, Red Pine’s translation was freshly published and was chosen as the vehicle for the study. You know full well that there is another exegesis available in the library that utilizes the Suzuki translation of the Lanka. Also the fact that Red Pine wrote in this particular instance, “Therefore, Mahamati, you should devote yourself to the cultivation of personal attainment,” clearly indicates a skandhic-form of attachment bearing the title “personal”. My referencing of “Self” has nothing to do with some form of separate entity. In point of fact, you’re referencing some kind of “external-principle” that somehow needs to recollect its own function is also far from the True Self-Recollection of Noble Wisdom. Try a little-less personalizing the issue and staying focused on the true import of what the Lanka teaches.

      • Mahasidhra says:

        I think the problem is that you don’t accept the existence of PERSONAL enlightenment.

        • Vajragoni says:

          I’ve responded to your Enlightenment thing ad nauseum in these blogs and will not proceed to do so again.

          • Mahasidhra says:

            Fair enough. BTW I used to teach an old lady how to work with a computer. She would have me repeat the same thing over and over, every time. “Where do I click?” At first you get annoyed but then you think: “what for? why not repeat this again? It’s easier to just repeat it than to get annoyed!” So I’m the old lady now, trying to figure out how to work on the Dharma Operating System. Do you get annoyed at the thought of explaining to me something again? If you do, where does the feeling of annoyance come from? From the land of neither being nor not-being, or from another place?

            The reason why I care if Ebola and DT were fascists is that I believe that personal realization must manifest in all aspects, not just in being able to philosophize about the Dharma. It has to manifest in all areas of one’s existence. At least that’s my ideal.

  3. Tozen says:

    In the Ultimate realm of Pure Suchness, there is something ordinary worldlings would call a “spiritual elite” of arya-sravaka´s (perfected beings).

    What differs such a spiritual being to an ordinary being? Its vantage point, its superlateral ability to penetrate any temporal point in the mindfield it creates for lesser beings. Fields of pure essence and will, as to turn them away from the gross and towards the sublime light of their true nature, which contributes to the appearance and dynamics of the field?

    – It is like an Aboriginal Shaman teaching his adept to control his own dreams and when able to do so , and the dreamscape is calm as a lake, and the backgroundnoise of countless desires and fears and yearnings are gone, entering the dream, and there before the adept teaching him directly how to discover the vast wisdom its own Mind can offer it in its own created “mindfield”.

    – A perfected being enjoys the incomparable spiritual Light that permeates all ten directions freely for all to use, where ordinary being turn it into discord, intellectual arbitrage and temporal personal views of no real value.

    – A perfected being uses the spiritual light to mend and heal a fragmented and confused spirit, where ordinary beings use the very same light in its inverted form as to divide, giving rise to endless fractals of kleshas.

    – A perfected being, sees no value in any illusion whatsoever hence any position for or against is impossible if not used as mere expedient means to awake one too drunk with dreams of being this or that.

    – Where ordinary beings spend time to gain worldly treasures, a perfected being merely seeks shelter and food for its worldly apparition (what treasure could be greater than what radiates within it at all times?).

    – Where ordinary being spend time to suffer endless fates of hunger, sickness, pain and social fates of a low cast on the social ladder, a spiritual being is already on the highest, above even the devas and brahmas, because it reckognizes and identifies only with the Absolute and nothing else.

    -Where ordinary beings by their own desire and ignorance have chosen to DIVIDE their will in accordance with current ongoing conditions, a perfected being dwells securely beyond the reach of evil in the UNDIVIDED LIGHT of the UNBORN, to which no entarnce is possible with a divided Spirit. This is known as “Sraddha” or one pointedness, the very spiritual evidence of a Perfected being.

    I could go on, but I believe this is a sufficient contribution to the ongoing commentary

  4. Mau says:

    The amalgamation of the responses from everyone has clarified in part my initial confusion. Both translators obviously took pains to be as faithful as possible to the text, inevitably supplying their own understanding as well in the attempt. The world is only mind; words are only mind. Perhaps each translator had different “projections/ideas” of what it is that svapratyatmagati is pointing to, perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because having the “real” definition in hand wouldn’t/shouldn’t actually help me with the the coming about of realization. Whichever words selected by anybody is ultimately just mind-stuff that will in every way fail to represent what it is that it is trying to point to, the “thing” that is so inexplicably beyond characterization. I am saying this under the assumption that definitions and words would be left far behind by the time anything close to realization is being actualized.

    “I make distinctions for beginners, for practitioners I teach the truth, the truth they realize themselves, free from knowing and the known. This I teach bodhisattvas, a broader view to fools, all manner of illusions, but nothing I reveal is real.” (Red Pine)

    I’m still quite new to all this, so I’m still very much drawn to texts; the Lankavatara, especially at this point in time, a sutra that never stops reminding us to stop clinging to the words.

    Thanks for all your efforts. I will continue with the series, keeping in mind that:

    “…if bodhisattvas wish to understand the realm of projection in which what grasps and what is grasped are nothing but perceptions of their own minds, they should avoid social intercourse and sleep and cultivate the discipline of mindfulness during the three periods of the night.”


    • Tozen says:

      You display one of the most important virtues needed for a Mind imbued with spiritual realization [Bodhi], which is “spiritual balance” and the burning desire for Paramartha.

      To most students of the way, especially in this mind-fragmenting era, this is but a dream, and one at best extremely hard to reach. Imagine then how much more to ad the other qualities of great endurance and Sraddha (BiGuan) as to finsih to the top of their first amount of enlightenment.

      Trust that you have cultivated these quality with not only the painful effort of your struggles and doubts, but also faith and devotion to the dharma. Treasure this gem and use it wisely until you stand at the gateless gate of the Ineffable, only barred by your own personal consciousness that struggles to survive its soon death, as something profound in you is ready and able to break through this seemingly inpenetrable barrier to the other shore of Nirvana.

      Let me finsih my comment with an proper answer to your last quote, from a great Mind Master, few today bother to even study closer; 大滿弘忍 Daman Hongren (601-674) was asked by one of his students; “Why don’t we study the way of awakening in cities where there are many people, instead of at places deep in the mountains?”

      Hongren answered, “The timbers needed to make a great building originally came from secluded mountain valleys. They can’t be grown where many people are congregated. Since they are far from crowds of people, they can’t be chopped down or harmed by axes, and are able to grow into great trees, which later can be used to make central beams and pillars. So in studying the teaching, one should find refuge for the spirit in remote mountain valleys, escaping far from the troubles of the dusty world. People should nourish their nature in deep mountains, keeping away from worldly affairs for a long time. When not always confronting common affairs the mind will naturally become at ease. Studying Zen in this way is like planting a tree, with the result that later it can bear fruit.”

      Master Ren taught Zen orally and through the grace of the IMPERCEPTIBLE LIGHT in his Liberated Mind to his personal disciples, quietly passing on the teaching to many others, of which the most known was The Great Teacher Dajian 大鑒大師’ 惠能 (Huineng).

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