Our next chapter clarifies the nature of ultimate meaning (paramārtha) in the panache of the Prajñāpāramitā. This method shreds all conceptionalities since they are mere inventions that are self-empty and thus lack any Real Substance [Core-Essence] or svabhāva.
Chapter Two: Clarification of Ultimate Truth
(JK) At that time the Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka questioned the Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana in the presence of the Buddha, and said: “Son of the Victor, it is said that all things are not dual. What does ‘all things’ mean? And why are they not dual?”
At the beginning of this chapter questions are not directly put to the Blessed One but to a Bodhisattva: Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana. Samdhinirmocana signifies unlocking the implicit intent of the Dharma and Gambhīrārtha designates deep meaning. Addressing him is another Bodhisattva, Vidhivatpariprcchaka, whose name is translated by Cleary as “Logical Questioner”, or one who expounds with Logical Reasoning. The first thing to be exposed here is the nature of duality.
The Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana answered the Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka and said: “Good son, in sum, all things are of two kinds, conditioned and unconditioned. Herein conditioned things are neither conditioned nor unconditioned, and unconditioned things are neither unconditioned nor conditioned.”
The Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka again questioned the Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana and said: “Son of the Victor, what does it mean to say that conditioned things are neither conditioned nor unconditioned or that unconditioned things are neither unconditioned nor conditioned?”
Conditionality connotes that something is dependently co-arisen. Thus Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana expounds that in actuality nothing is really conditioned (being a state that depends upon some other object) or unconditioned (indicating that something is independent of anything else).
Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana addressed the Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka and said: “Good son, the term ‘conditioned’ is a provisional word invented by the First Teacher. Now, if it is a provisional word invented by the First Teacher, then it is a verbal expression apprehended by imagination. And if it is a verbal expression apprehended by imagination, then, in the final analysis, such an imagined description does not validate a real thing. Therefore, the conditioned does not exist. Good son, the term ‘unconditioned’ is also invented from language [and it also validates nothing real].
The First Teacher indicates here The Buddha. Imagination, or mind constructions, forms things provisionally, or conventionally. It cannot validate something as being real since they are artificially induced via accustomed patterns of convention.
“Besides ‘the unconditioned’ and ‘the conditioned,’ any other expression that exists in language is the same. But [some may object], is it not true that there are no expressions without some [corresponding] reality? What then is that reality here? I would reply that it is that reality apart from language and realized in the perfect awakening of the saints through their wisdom and insight apart from all names and words. It is because they desire to lead others to realize perfect awakening that they establish [such expressions] as ‘the unconditioned’ as verbal descriptions.”
The pointed question to keep in mind here is just what is the Real? Only the Shining Ones, or the Noble Ariyans, are privy to THAT which transcends language. Yet in their compassion they use conventions as catalysts that [point to] the Beyond.
Then the Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka again questioned the Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana and said: “Son of the Victor, why is it that those saints, being freed from language through holy wisdom and insight, realizing perfect awakening in that ineffable nature of reality, and desiring to lead others to realize perfect awakening, provisionally establish verbal descriptions, such as ‘conditioned’ and ‘unconditioned’?”
The Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana addressed the Bodhisattva Vidhivatpariprcchaka and said: “Good son, one can liken [those saints] to skillful magicians or apprentices, who, setting themselves up at a crossroads, make things like broken tiles, grass, leaves, pieces of wood, etc., appear to be magical things, [such as] herds of elephants, horses, chariots, soldiers, gems, pearls, cat’s-eyes, conches, crystal, coral, treasure, grain, storehouses, etc.
Some people, dull and slow-witted, of perverse understanding and lacking acumen, see and hear those magical things and think that they really are elephants, horses, etc. They tenaciously cling to the verbal expressions that are engendered from what they themselves have seen and heard, [thinking] only that is true and real and everything else is false. It is only later that they are forced to change their opinions.
Today’s overly charged political scene with all its political correctness can be represented here as the dull and slow witted who cling to conventionalized abnormalities.
Other people, not dull nor slow-witted, of good understanding and having acumen, see and hear those magical things and understand that what they see are not really elephants, horses, etc., but rather magical tricks that confuse the eye and cause it to engender the concept of a herd of elephants, the imagined concept of a herd of horses, the many imagined concepts of grain, storehouses, or other magical illusions. They do not tenaciously cling to verbal expressions that are engendered from what they have seen and heard. With them it is not the case that only that is true and real and everything else is false. But, in order to express objects [seen and heard], they also follow the accepted language. Afterwards they do not have to reconsider.
The Noble Ariya can discern that what is apparently there corresponds to just imagery, ergo they don’t get caught up in the images.
At that time the Bodhisattva Gambhīrārthasamdhinirmocana recited these verses to emphasize his meaning:
Buddha speech is apart from language and is nondual. Its
depths are beyond the sphere of fools. In their idiotic confusion,
fools delight in duality and rely upon verbal fabrications.
Whether without understanding or with perverse
understanding, they will revolve in the suffering of transmigration
for a great length of time. They are indeed far from the discourse of
true wisdom and will certainly be reborn as cows, sheep, and so forth.
* Living in a fabricated reality (prapañca) gives host to incessant constructed mental planes, which mistakenly assumes that these constructs are an image of reality itself; the inevitable outcome is an endless cycle of transmigration through countless desire realms.
This next Bodhisattva addresses the Buddha directly; Dharmodgata, also known as “Offspring of the Teaching”, begins by describing that he originates from a distant World-System:
At that time the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata addressed the Buddha and said: “World-honored One, at a distance from this eastern sector equal to the sands of seventy-two Ganges, there is a world realm named Viśālakīrti, whose Tathagata is named Viśālakīrti Tathagata. I used to live there before I came here. In that Buddha land I once saw seventy-seven thousand heretics together with their teachers gathered in one place to consider the descriptive marks of the ultimate meaning of all things. But although they thought, pondered, investigated, and thoroughly examined these marks of the ultimate meaning of all things, in the end they were unable to reach any conclusion. They went no further than to exclude certain interpretations, delineating and modifying their own interpretations. They confronted one another and argued fiercely. Their mouths emitted barbed comments, pointed, captious, angry, vicious; and then each went his separate way. I then thought to myself, The appearance of a Tathagata in the world is indeed a rare occurrence. But, because of his appearance, it becomes possible to understand the marks of ultimate meaning, which transcend the sphere of any reasoning.
The description here of the antics of the heretics demonstrate the limitations of reasoning itself. The Blessed One then teaches how Tathagatas transcend the sphere of rationalities which just turn inward upon themselves:
Then the World-honored One addressed the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata and said: “Good son, it is just as you have expressed it. I am perfectly awakened to the marks of the truth of ultimate meaning, which transcend any reasoning. Being already perfectly awakened, I declare, preach, explain, teach, and illumine [those marks] for others. Why do I do this? Because I have preached that ultimate meaning is realized internally by each saint, while reasoning is attained in the give and take [of joint discussion] among common worldlings. Dharmodgata, from this principle you should understand that ultimate meaning transcends the descriptions of reasoned meaning. Furthermore, Dharmodgata, I have preached that ultimate meaning does not function through images, but the functioning of reason does move within the realm of images. From this principle, Dharmodgata, you should understand that ultimate meaning transcends the descriptions of reasoned meaning. Furthermore, Dharmodgata, I preach that ultimate meaning is ineffable, but the functioning of reason moves within the realm of language. From this principle, Dharmodgata, you should understand that ultimate meaning transcends the descriptions of reasoned meaning. Furthermore, Dharmodgata, I teach that ultimate meaning severs all expression, but the functioning of reason moves within the realm of expression. From this principle, Dharmodgata, you should understand that ultimate meaning transcends the descriptions of reasoned meaning. Furthermore, Dharmodgata, I preach that ultimate meaning severs all disputation, but the functioning of reason does move within the realm of disputation about meaning. From this principle, Dharmodgata, you should understand that ultimate meaning transcends the descriptions of reasoned meaning.
The Buddha always speaks from the Principle of Ultimate Truth—Paramārtha. Cleary translates as “Based on this principle, you should know that ultimate truth transcends all objects of thought and deliberation.” This is not to say that reason needs to forget its function, it’s just that it needs to point towards THAT which is greater than all of its deliberations.
(TC) Then, to restate this point, Buddha said in verse:
The inwardly realized signless sphere
Cannot be verbalized, having no expression.
The ultimate truth that stops dl argument
Transcends all aspects of thought and deliberation.
Soon afterwards, the Blessed One turns to a disciple (sravaka) who is no stranger to Prajñāpāramitā texts, and that is non-other than Subhūti who appears as the questioner in many of them.
(JP) Then the Bhagavan spoke to the venerable Subhūti:
“Subhūti, in the realms of sentient beings, how many sentient beings do you think there are who communicate their understanding under the influence of conceit? In the realms of sentient beings, how many sentient beings do you think there are who communicate their understanding without conceit?”
Subhūti replied: “Bhagavan, I think that in the realms of sentient beings, those sentient beings who communicate their understanding without conceit are few. Bhagavan, I think that in the realms of sentient beings, sentient beings who communicate their understanding under the influence of conceit are immeasurable, countless, and inexpressible [in number].
Within Buddhism, conceit connotes an intense form of pride. Conceit clouds the minds of the unawakened into believing that they are experiencing some form of universal truths, when in reality they are not. Whereas the Noble Ariyans are not held captive to these forms of conceit. They know (through Buddhagnosis) these Prime Truths AS THEY ARE, unstained and un-adulterated.
Subhūti describes numerous occasions when this conceit occurs.
(TC) Seeing these mendicants, I thought to myself ‘These elders expound various teachings based on the contemplations they have realized, and approve their understanding. Obviously these elders are all conceited. Because they are possessed by conceit, furthermore, they are unable to understand the unity of the ultimate truth that pervades all’.
(JP) “Bhagavan, regarding what the Bhagavan formerly said:
‘The ultimate is profound and subtle, very difficult to realize, supremely difficult to realize, and it is of a character that is all of one taste.’ What the Bhagavan said so eloquently in this way is wondrous.
The Bhagavan replied: “So it is! Subhūti, so it is! I have perfectly and completely realized the ultimate having a character that is all of one taste, which is subtle, supremely subtle, profound, supremely profound, difficult to realize, supremely difficult to realize. Having perfectly and manifestly realized this, I have proclaimed it and made it clear, opened it up and systematized it, and taught it comprehensively.
Once again, reflective of the single-taste of the True Dharma.
(TC) “Subhuti, once practitioners of contemplation have penetrated the selflessness of phenomena in the absolute sense in true thusness in one cluster, they do not further seek the selflessness of phenomena in the absolute sense in true thusness individually in the other clusters, the sense media, conditional origination, nourishment, the truths, the points of mindfulness, the right efforts, the bases of occult powers, the religious faculties and powers, the branches of enlightenment and the branches of the path. Simply by following this nondual knowledge of ultimate truth of true thusness as the touchstone, they closely observe and proceed to realization of the uniform ultimate truth pervading all. Based on this principle, you should know that ultimate truth is everywhere one.
This is in reference to avoid becoming involved in the clusters of the aggregates. It doesn’t pay (in remaining close to the Buddhadharma) to become immersed in any formal mind-conbobulations such as occult means to decipher hidden truths as the Dominant Truth of the One Taste is sufficient for all leading to the Self-realization of the Such.
(TC) “Therefore, the selflessness of phenomena in the ultimate sense in true thusness is not said to have a cause, is not causally produced, is not created. This is ultimate truth. Having realized this ultimate truth, one no longer seeks any other ultimate truth. There is only the stability of the true nature of things, the abiding of the realm of reality, which is constant and perpetual whether or not Buddhas appear in the world.
Indicative of the Dharmadhatu, or the Truth-Realm.
Hence, in conclusion of this chapter:
(JK) Encompassing all marks with one taste, ultimate meaning
is taught by all Buddhas to be undifferentiated. If one were
to discriminate it in those differentiations, one should assuredly
be foolish and prideful.