The Principle of Thusness


Chapter Six: The True Nature of the Void

Then Sariputra addressed the Buddha: “Lord! The cultivation of the bodhisattva path is free of both signs and characteristics. The three moral precepts (abandoning all evils, doing all good and liberating all sentient beings) are also beyond observance. How should we maintain and observe [the precepts] so that we can transmit them to sentient beings? May the Buddha proclaim this for us, out of his mercy and compassion.”

The Buddha replied, “Good man! You listen with full attention. I will proclaim this for you. “Good man, all wholesome and unwholesome dharmas are illusory projections of the mind. All the sense-realms are the discriminations and differentiations of mentation and speech. Fix (tether) them on one spot and all the co-originating factors will cease to exist. Why? Good man! The one [primordial Enlightenment] basically is beyond generation. Thus, the functioning of the three outflows [via the body, speech and mind] becomes inoperative. By abiding within the principle of thusness, the gates leading to the six roads (sense-organs) are shut and the four co-originating factors which are in accord with thusness become replete with the three moral precepts.”

Śāriputra, as we know from past blogs, is representative of the śrāvaka tradition. Although coming around to the Great Vehicle, he is slow in learning the True Nature of Thusness as embraced by Maha-Bodisattvas. Thusness (tathata) is the Real Nature behind things—being free as it is from all extrinsic conceptualities being imposed upon it. Thusness is ‘the Unborn Void’ in the highest sense of the term, IT is beyond all conditionality. Sallie B. King in her seminal work, Buddha Nature, states, “Realization of the Principle of Thusness, then, recalls us to the pāramitā of purity: the world is not inherently flawed, as the Śrāvaka believes. With the realization of Thusness, one can see the lotus in the mud.” She goes further in delineating its relationship with Plenary Thusness, which represents Its fullness in all dharmatas—something that Śāriputra is interested in here in terms of accessing dharmatic precepts:

To realize dharmakāya, then, one cultivates two kinds of knowledge, of the Principle of Thusness and of Plenary Thusness. Knowledge of the Principle of Thusness is knowledge of Thusness as such: the positive realization of’ the true nature of all things, by way of śūnyatā’s negating conventional views. Knowledge of Plenary Thusness takes this fundamental realization and extends it by probing its contents vis-à-vis the entire universe, the dharmadhātu. Thus to know the Principle of Thatness is to honor the fundamental principle; knowledge of Plenary Thusness is the application of that principle to all things, or the infinite particularization of the general. [Sallie B. King, Buddha Nature, pg. 134]

The Blessed One wishes to impart upon Śāriputra that All is subsumed in the principle of unitary thusness.

Sariputra asked, “How do the four co-originating factors that accord with thusness become replete with the three moral precepts?” 

The Buddha replied, “The four co-originating factors are: Firstly, the power of Nirvana in bringing about the cessation of these factors [that otherwise require the observance of the precepts] maintains both the discipline and the deportments of the moral code. Secondly, the power of Self-Benediction

Generated from the pure bases [of the five roots (comprising faith, courage, thought, concentration and wisdom) and their five respective strengths], is the moral code that culminates in wholesome Dharmas. Thirdly, the power of the great compassion inherent within the Self-Wisdom is the moral code that incorporates the vow to save all sentient beings. Fourthly, the power of the penetrative wisdom of the One-Enlightenment is in accord with abidance in thusness [which embraces all the spiritual powers and wisdom through the working of co-origination]. These are the four co-originating factors.

“Good man, thus the power of the four great factors does not linger over the substance as well as the characteristics of its work, nor lacking in the scope or efficiency in its functioning (although absolutely quiet in its work, it impartially helps transcend all sentient beings). As it does not have any abode, it cannot be sought (being free of abiding, its six roots cease to attach to the six dusts). “Good man, the One-Enlightenment of thusness completely embraces all the six practices. It is the buddhas’ sea of bodhi and wisdom.”

The Buddhas’ “sea of Bodhi and wisdom” is replete with transcendental co-originating factors (like Nirvana, Self-Benediction) that impartially effects enlightenment in sentient beings—yet Buddhas and all Bodhisattvas seek refuge in this imperial sea as well. It is the wellspring from which all transcendental graces flow.

Sariputra remarked, “[The Lord said that] ‘The power [of the four great factors] does not linger over the substance as well as the characteristics of its work, nor lacking in the scope or efficiency in its functioning.’ This Dharma is on the True void permanent, blissful, [with] selfhood, and pure. Transcending the two types of selfhood (the selfhood of the ego and dharmas), it is the great parinirvana.

Such a mind has no bonds (non-abiding). It is a powerful contemplation (direct awareness of the mind by itself). All the thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment must be within this contemplation.”

The Buddha said, “Indeed it does. It is inclusive of the Thirty-Seven Requisites of Enlightenment. How? Because it includes the four applications of mindfulness, the four right effort, the four bases of spiritual power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment and the noble eightfold path; or whatever name/title it is being called. Although they are many classifications (titles and names), they have but one essence [that they all lead to enlightenment]. They are neither one [although they are of the same transcendental essence], nor different [although they are under different names].

“Despite their manifold names, such names are merely names and letters. [As they are ultimately void in nature, therefore, beyond differentiation], the dharmas [relating to the respective names] are beyond grasp. A dharma that is beyond grasp has only a single essence and is free from [all] descriptions. The characteristic of being free from description is the nature of the Absolute void. The essence of that void nature is in accord with the Reality of thusness. The principle of thusness [therefore] embraces all dharmas.

“Good man, a person who abides by (accesses) this principle [of thusness] crosses (transcends) the sea of the three sufferings (pain, decay and unnecessary deviated practice).”

The manifold things are constitutive of mere names and letters. Yet in terms of the Absolute void they are in full accord with the ‘Reality of Thusness.’ John J. Makransky writes:

The ultimate nature of thingsthusness (tathata) or emptiness (sunyata) is hidden from the view of ordinary beings by their own mental obstructions (avarana). Thusness, as the real, ultimate nature of things, has always been there. But beings have not seen it because the impurity of their own minds obstructs it from view. According to Yogacara texts, the Mahayana yogic path cultivates an awareness, a gnosis, that directly realizes thusness. Gradually it removes all the mental obstructions until, at full enlightenment, it realizes thusness in an inseparable, uninterrupted way. A Buddha, as dharmakaya, takes appearance in the world in many ways to teach beings; but a Buddha’s mind never wavers from undistracted concentration on thusness. [Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied : Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, pg.43]

Sariputra asked, “All the myriads of dharmas are but [the expressions of] speeches and writings. Anything characterized through speech and writing has no essence. Essence that accords with Reality is beyond [the images conveyed via] language and disputation. How does the Tathagata now proclaim the Dharma?”

The Buddha replied, “I proclaim the Dharma for the sake of you sentient beings. I proclaim that which cannot be spoken about (beyond words). [As the Dharma, being void in nature, is beyond description,] this is why I expound [the Dharma for the sake of communication with sentient beings]. What I speak of is the language of [transcendental] essence, not merely words. [But] the speeches of sentient beings are mere words and languages, without [transcendental] essence. Non [transcendental] essence and words must be understood to be all empty (devoid of essence) and delusory. Empty and delusory words convey nothing relating to the [transcendental] essence, and anything that does not convey this essence is false speech.

“Speech that is in accordance with essence is truly void and yet not void [for] the void is real and yet unreal. [Such speech] is beyond all dualistic characteristics and is also not centred between [characteristics]. The dharma that is not so centred is beyond the three characteristics [of creation, abidance, and related cessation]. It has no abode to be found.

“Speech [that is beyond the three characteristics] is made according to thusness. Thusness is non-existent and yet not non-existent. Thusness [being a non-abiding Dharma] is beyond both existence and no-existence. [Being void of nature,] its existence cannot exist within existence. There is nowhere that thusness does not exist. As one should not be attached to [the mere wordings] of speech, one should not even abide by thusness. [As the Dharma of] thusness neither exists nor does not exist, it can only be thusly said.”

The True Buddhadharma that is devoid of words still needs to be proclaimed [for the sake of (secondary, words) communication]. Yet, Its Essential Stature is never lessened in the “translation” of Bodhi. Hence, Thusness is non-existent and yet non-existent. Wŏnhyo:

“Thusness does not make nonexistence existent, for how in existence would nonexistence be made to exist”: although the principle of true thusness is not nonexistent, nevertheless the original nonexistence of thusness causes its nonexistence to exist; that is to say, it causes nonexistent dharmas within those existent dharmas to exist. The reason for this is that thusness is originally not nonexistent; so from what state of nonexistence would existence fall into existence? Hence, this is a statement that synthesizes the reality and unreality of voidness. [ibid, pg. 224]

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