The Lanka and the no-soul

In order to have the best overall comprehension of Unborn Mind Zen’s notion of a soul, one first needs to turn to the best foundational source, the Lankavatara Sutra. As we do so keep in mind this question: Does a Buddha have a soul?

Firstly, the Lanka employs one word that encapsulates this question: pudgala.

Pudgala: Skt. (Pali, puggala), roughly “person”; the ego soul, or “personal soul”; the “substance” that is the bearer of the cycle of rebirth.

Chapter II verse 139: the personal soul, continuity, the Skandhas, causation, atoms, the supreme spirit, the ruler, the creator, – [they are] discriminations in the Mind-only. The triple world of existence is no more than thought-construction, which is discriminated by the two-fold Svabhava [of imagination and relative knowledge]; but when [within the mind] a turning-away from the course of the sense-objects (dharma) and the ego-soul (pudgala) takes place, then we have [the truth of] suchness (tathata). [Hence, outside of the Unborn Mind, no-thing comes into existence or experiences nonexistence.]

Again, Mahamti, there are others who, believing in such things as ego, being, vital principle, nourisher, supreme spirit, or personal soul, will seek Nirvana in them. Again, Mahamati, there are still others who, seeing that all things exist by depending upon causes, will recognize in this the way to Nirvana.  But, Mahamati, as they have no insight into the egolessness of things, there is no emancipation for them. This, Mahamati, is where those of the Sravaka-vehicle and the philosophers make the mistake in their insight by regarding non-deliverance as deliverance. Therefore, Mahamati, you ought to discipline yourself in order to escape this wrong view. (XX)

According to the philosophers, there is a triple concordance of an ego-soul, sense-organs, and an objective world, but such is not mine. (LXXII) As we can observe, for the Buddha, there is nothing in the world but the Mind itself; and all that is of duality has its rise from the Mind and is seen as perceived and perceiving; an ego-soul and what belongs to it—they exist not. (LXXIX) The Buddha pins this all down through the notion of the two-fold egolessness:

Mahamati, what is this twofold egolessness? It is the egolessness of persons and the egolessness of things. What is meant by egolessness of persons? It means that in the collection of the Skandhas, Dhatus, and Ayatanas there is no ego-substance, nor anything belonging to it; the Vijnana is originated by ignorance, deed, and desire, and keeps up its function by grasping objects by means of the sense-organs, such as the eye, ect., and by clinging to them as real; while a world of objects and bodies is manifested owing to the discrimination that takes place in the world which is of Mind itself, that is, in the Alaya-vijnana. By reason of the habit-energy stored up by false imagination since beginningless time, this world (vishaya) is subject to change and destruction from moment to moment…

Now, Mahamati, what is meant by the egolessness of things? It is to realize that the Skandhas, Dhatus, and Ayatanas are characterized with the nature of false discrimination. Mahamati, since the Skandhas, Dhatus, and Ayatanas are destitute of an ego-substance, being no more than an aggregation of the Skandhas, and subject to the conditions of mutual origination which are causally bound up with the string of desire and deed; and since thus there is no creating agent in them, Mahamati, the Skandhas are even destitute of the marks of individuality and generality; and the ignorant, owing to their erroneous discrimination, imagine here the multiplicity of phenomena; the wise, however, do not. Recognizing, Mahamati, that all things are devoid of the Citta, Manas, Manovijnana, the five Dharmas, and the three Svabhavas, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva will well understand what is meant by the egolessness of things.

[Next, the Buddha expounds on the absolute significance of this from the Dharmakaya-Principle]

Again, Mahamati, when the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva has a good understanding as regards the egolessness of things, before long one will attain the first stage of Bodhisattva-hood when one gets a definite cognition of the imageless. When a definite acquisition is obtained regarding the aspect of the stages of Bodhisattva-hood, the Bodhisattva will experience joy, and, gradually and successfully going up the scale, will reach the ninth stage where one’s insight is perfected, and finally the tenth stage known as Great Dharmamegha. Establishing oneself here, one will be seated in the great jewel palace known as “Great Lotus Throne” which is in the shape of a lotus and is adorned with various sorts of jewels and pearls; one will then acquire and complete a world of Maya-nature; surrounded by Bodhisattvas of the same character and anointed like the son of the Cakravarti by the hands of the Buddhas coming from all the Buddhalands, one will go beyond the last stage of Bodhisattvahood, attain the noble truth of self-realization, and become a Tathagata endowed with the perfect freedom of the Dharmakaya, because of his insight into the egolessness of things. This, Mahamati, is what is meant by the egolessness of all things, and in this, you and other Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas should well exercise yourselves. (XXIV)

Henceforth, there is nothing apart from the Absolute, no-separate soul or any other observable entity. With regard to our opening question, then, does a Buddha have a soul?

Number 752 from the closing Sagathakam portion of the Lanka states: The Buddha is neither a soul nor the Skandhas, he is knowledge free from evil outflows; clearly perceiving him to be eternally serene, I take my refuge in him.

And in taking refuge in him we certainly do not mean a [personal] soul as described by the philosophers. But there is [soulness], by this we mean Buddha-nature, THAT ultimate body of the Mind which cannot be discerned by the senses. So, within Unborn Mind Zen, Soulness is synonymous with Self and Mind and really speaks to the flowering quintessence (likened to the opening of a lotus) of the unnamable and unknowable Primordial-Monistic Negativa—in essence, the via-positiva emerging from the via-negativa. It is what swells up inside you when struck by something profound (De Profundis: when the Original Recognition turns back upon Itself); in a sense, celebrating this Self-realization; it is what occurs within the Garbha-dhatu, or the realm of the bodhi-womb. The Lanka posits this thusly:

The Blessed One replied: No, Mahamati, my Tathagata-garbha is not the same as the ego as taught by the philosophers; for what the Tathagatas teach is the Tathagata-garbha in the sense, Mahamati, that it is emptiness, reality-limit, Nirvana, being unborn, unqualified, and devoid of will-effort; the reason why the Tathagatas who are Arhats and Fully-Enlightened Ones, teach the doctrine pointing to the Tathagata-garbha is to make the ignorant cast aside their fear while they listen to the teaching of egolessness and to have them realize the state of non-discrimination and imagelessness. (XXVIII)

Soulness is an imageless affair, let it forever be thusly so.

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