Saturday, February 13, 2021

Nirvana is Unnameable - Sengzhao - 086

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Nirvana is Unnameable - Sengzhao

Source of the text: Three Short Treatises By Vasubandhu, Sengzhao, And Zongmi
https://bdkamerica.org/download/1960 

(From the Translator’s Introduction:
The Text: … “Sengzhao wrote his final and longest essay, “Nirvana is Unnameable,” after Kumārajīva’s death, around 413–414. According to his own “Memorial to the King” placed at the beginning of the text, this essay is Sengzhao’s attempt to adjudicate on an exchange between King Yao Xing and his younger brother, Yao Song, regarding the nature of nirvana, and, in a related thread, on the character of sagehood, a topic important to the royal family for both religious and political reasons. Sengzhao sides with the Yao Xing but also offers important modifications to the king’s positions. The essay contains crucial evidence regarding the earliest formulations of a Sinitic Buddhist doctrine of subitism, the idea that if awakening is possible at all it must be sudden and complete, and, in some formulations, not dependent on prior study or effort. Sengzhao argues against this idea (subitism). Some scholars have doubted the authenticity of at least parts of this essay”.)

[0. Introduction]

Memorial to the Lord of Qin, Yao Xing, by Sengzhao

I have heard it said that by attaining the One (i.e. Directly perceiving / realising the inconceivable Union of opposites, the Union of the Two Truths) the heavens become clear, the earth peaceful, and the lords of the land bring order to the world. 99

Now I stand humbly before you, your Highness, you whose wisdom is profound and resplendent, you whose spirit accords with the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.), you who are wondrously in line with the center of the wheel, 100 who encompasses all principles, who effortlessly plays with the blade 101 amid the myriad affairs of state while tirelessly propagating the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.); you whose charisma shields beings like a cloak, and whose every written word becomes a standard for them to follow. Truly, four are the greats in the universe—the king is one of them. 102

Nirvana is the final destination of the three vehicles, the treasury of the universal [Mahayana] sutras. Vast like the ocean, beyond the realm of the visible and audible, tenebrous mystery—it is, I fear, not something that ordinary people can fathom. (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.)

Unworthy though I am, thanks to the boundless generosity of the king I was able to lead a tranquil scholarly life in the academy and to study under Master Kumārajīva for over a decade. While the myriad sutras vary in their subjects, each with its own central tenet, we inquired first and foremost about the problem of nirvana. 103

Yet my inferior intellect hampered my understanding, and though I was blessed with the finest instruction my mind remained shrouded in a thick fog of doubt. However, I worked tirelessly, exerting my meagre intellect, and at last, it seemed, I began to comprehend a little. However, without an authority to lead me in my understanding I dared not decide on my own. Alas, Master Kumārajīva had passed away and I had no one of whom to inquire. Therein was my boundless sorrow.

Yet, as it is said, O King, “Sagely virtue does not dwell alone.” You and Kumārajīva found spiritual kinship, “at first look you recognized the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.)” 104 present in each other, and took great delight in this newfound intimacy. 105

You fanned the transformative wind of his profound teaching and so brought understanding to beings in this time of decline.

Your Highness, some time ago I had the honor of reading your response to a letter from Yao Song, 106 the Marquis of Ancheng, who inquired about the final principle, the unconditioned. You wrote, “The reason beings wander on and on through the cycle of life and death is their attachment, their desires. If the desires in their minds were to stop, they would no longer be confined to life and death. No longer in life and death, their spirits would delve into recondite silence, their virtue would harmonize with the vacuous. This is nirvana (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.). Nirvana being thus, how could it accept any name?”

This, I say, is the quintessence of the subtle teachings, words that reach the apex beyond images. Who else [but you], whose understanding equals that of Mañjuśrī and whose virtue matches that of Maitreya, could thus propagate the mysterious Dao, be the wall and moat for the Dharma, and again unroll the scroll of the great teaching so as to make manifest its once-forgotten recondite purport?107 Your letter, filled with insight and delight, arrested my attention as I studied it intently, unable to put it down. The superior course it charts out—is it fit for our present age alone? No! It is a bridge across samsara for countless eons to come.

Yet, your sagely doctrine is abstruse, its principle subtle, its words precise, you are a master craftsman for the high monks, a conduit of liberation for erudite gentlemen—those who cling to verbal designations will, I fear, fail to fully comprehend it.

[For this reason,] and following the model of the “Ten Wings” 108 of the Yijing, I have undertaken to compose this essay, “Nirvana is Unnameable.” Mere proliferation of embellished words is not my intention; instead, my goal is to open up and propagate the profound purport of your teaching.

The essay consists of nine critical passages and ten responses. I quote broadly from the scriptures for evidence and illustration.

Your Highness, as I reverently take up for discussion your thesis of “namelessness,” I dare not pretend that I have been admitted for an audience with your spirit-mind or mastered the profundities of your teaching. At best, I can attempt a distant intimation of this gate of mystery, in the hope that my words might be of use to fellow students of the Way

In concluding your letter you wrote, “When various exegetes speak of supreme truth, they all call it ‘vast, vacuous, and still,’ and claim ‘therein is no sage.’ Such views have always struck me as too extreme, too far removed from the aspirations of ordinary people. 

  • Moreover, if there was no sage, who would be there to know nothingness?” 

  • How true, how true are Your Majesty’s words! 

  • Indeed, while this Dao is obscure and unfathomable, the “vital essence resides therein.”109 

  • If there were no sage, who would be there to wander in harmony with the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.)?

Previously scholars flocked outside the gate of this Dao, disoriented, distressed, ridden with doubt, unable to see correctly. How fortunate they are now! Your lofty instruction has arrived and the doctrine is all at once made clear. Those who stood outside the gate are now admitted into the mysterious chamber and find peace. Indeed, with your teaching the wheel of Dharma turns again in Jambudvīpa, 110 and the light of the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) shines once more, as it will on a thousand generations to come.

In the present essay I discuss in depth nirvana’s nameless nature
and put to rest the claim that, in its vastness, it is disengaged from the world.
(i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.)

Your Highness, I humbly present to you the following passages. If my essay succeeds in expressing but a fraction of your sagely teaching, I beg that you order it placed in the records. Should it fail to do so, I implore you to provide your generous corrections.

-- Sengzhao

(Three readings [for the term “nirvana”] are in use: niyue, nihuan, and niepan. This is because [the term] was translated at different times, reflecting differences [in pronunciation] between the central kingdoms and the peripheries. Niepan is the standard reading.)111


Essay - Sengzhao

1. Main Doctrine

Author: What is spoken of in the sutras as nirvana—“nirvana with remainder” and “nirvana without remainder”—in the idiom of the Qin is called “the unconditioned” or “cessation-passing across.” 

  • “The unconditioned” refers to the vacuous silence that defines nirvana, that wondrous freedom from all conditioned things. 

  • “Cessation-passing across” points to where “the great tribulation has completely ceased” and where the four streams 112 have been crossed over and left behind.

Indeed, [nirvana] is the place to which the images in the mirror all return, that recondite abode beyond words. 

  • “With remainder” and “without remainder” are mere conventional designations (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) for the divergent modes in which the sage responds to things: 

    • reaching out to them and 

    • withdrawing from them.

I would like to discuss this in more detail. 

Nirvana: (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.) 

  • silent, vacuous, it cannot be captured in forms or names; 

  • subtle, markless, it cannot be known with a deliberate mind. 

  • Beyond all existents, it rises mysteriously above them; 

  • vast like the great void, it abides forever. 

  • Follow it, you will not find its traces; 

  • approach it, you will not see its face. 

  • Its existence is not contained in the six realms of rebirth, (spaceless)

  • its substance is impervious to [time], that strongarmed thief. 113 (timeless)

  • Vast and nebulous, it seems to effulge in and out of presence. 

  • The five types of vision 114 cannot see its shape; 

  • the two types of hearing115 cannot hear its sound. 

  • Dark, inscrutablecould it ever it be seen? 

  • Could it ever be known? 

  • Nirvana is all-encompassing, omnipresent, yet it rises up solitarily beyond being and nonbeing (Union). 

  • Therefore those who try to name it miss its reality; 

  • those who try to know it contradict its simplicity. 

  • They who say it exists oppose its nature, 

  • while those who say it does not exist violate its body. 

  • This is why Śākyamuni shut himself off in a room in Magadha, 

  • why Vimalakīrti refused to speak in Vaiśālī, 

  • why Subhūti preached without speaking and so made manifest the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.), 

  • and why Indra and the gods rained down flowers [in gratitude for the Dharma] even though they had heard nothing. 

  • The sages remained silent; this was because their spirit was driven by the Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence). 

  • But did they not preach at all? 

  • They preached a sermon on the inexpressible. 

It is said in a sutra, 

  • “Ultimate liberation is freedom from the realm of nameable things (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality)

  • It is cessation, eternal peace, 

  • without beginning or end, 

  • neither dark nor bright, 

  • neither cold nor hot, 

  • deep like space, 

  • beyond description.”116 

And in a śāstra, 

  • “In nirvana things are neither existent nor nonexistent; 

  • here words have no access, 

  • the mind’s activity is extinguished.”117 

If we consider their foundation, the sutras and śāstras are surely not mere idle talk.

Indeed, 

  • under one aspect [nirvana] does not exist—it cannot be called simply existent; 

  • under another it is not nonexistent—it cannot be called simply nonexistent. 

How so? 

  • One may try to establish it in the realm of being but [in nirvana] the five aggregates are forever extinguished (2nd truth). 

  • One may search for it in the village of nonbeing but [in nirvana] the recondite numen is never depleted of its power (1st truth). 

  • With the recondite numen never depleted of its power, deep and still (1st truth), [nirvana] embraces the One (Union of the Two Truths). 

  • With the five aggregates forever extinguished (2nd truth), the myriad afflictions are no more. 

  • With afflictions no more, it is merged through and through with the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.). 

  • Deep and still, embracing the One, even though the spirit is active therein (1st truth), it produces no karma (2nd truth). 

  • Active (1st truth), yet producing no karma (2nd truth), perfect karman abides in it forever. 

  • Merged through and through with the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.), it permeates all and yet remains unchanged. 

  • All Pervading yet unchanging, it cannot be considered existent. 

  • Perfect karman abiding in it forever, it cannot be considered nonexistent.

Thus it follows that 

  • considered from within, nirvana is neither existent nor nonexistent; 

  • viewed from without, language fails to approach it. 

  • Seeing and hearing do not reach it, 

  • and the four kinds of emptiness 118 obscure it even further. 

  • It is tranquil yet awesome, 

  • plain yet grand. 

  • All nine classes of beings 119 return to it, 

  • all sages mysteriously congregate in it. 

  • This is the realm of the Invisible and Inaudible and the village of great mystery.

To try to discuss this spiritual Dao by labeling it as either “being” or “nonbeing,” by marking off its boundaries—is this not preposterous?

2. Analyzing the Essence - Opponent: proposing a dualistic perspective

Opponent: Now, names do not arise in a vacuum, designations do not arise by themselves. The designations found in the sutras, “nirvana with remainder” and “nirvana without remainder,” must be, respectively, the true name for the return to the root and the wondrous designation for the way of spirit. Allow me to speak of these in turn.

2.1 [Nirvana] with Remainder

When the Tathāgata attained great awakening and his Dharma body was established, he bathed in the pure waters of the eight kinds of liberation and found repose in the verdant grove of the seven members of awakening. 120 After cultivating wholesome deeds for innumerable eons, he at last shook off the dust accumulated over time immemorial. The three illuminations 121 mirrored within him, his spiritual glow illuminated without. Having at first armed himself with the bodhisattva’s resolve, 122 finally, in universal compassion, he delved into the world of human distress.

  • Above, he held on to the root of mysteries; 

  • below, he reached out to lift the weak and the forlorn. 

  • He strode beyond the threefold world; 

  • he trod alone into the Great Square. 

  • He opened up the eightfold path, a road for the multitude, broad and gentle. 

  • He mounted the spirit-steed of the six supernatural powers 123 and rode the royal carriage comprised of the five vehicles. 124 

  • At will he crossed the border between life and death, joining with beings as they wandered [in samsara], his Dao harmonized with all (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.), his virtue reaching everywhere. 

  • He plunged to where the mother of transformations gives origin to beings, and fully activated the wondrous function of the mysterious mechanism. 

  • He draped the firmament of vacuity beyond all borders, and stoked the fire ofsarvajñatā 125 to illumine the darkness. 

  • He was ready to erase his traces from the nine abodes of being 126 and immerse himself forever in great vacuity (2nd truth), yet there remained in him a residue of karmic conditions (1st truth), traces not yet effaced. 

  • This residue lingered on like a cloud-soul, and his sagely wisdom endured.

This is nirvana with remainder.

In the words of scripture, “Myriad afflictions are no more, as though transmuted into pure gold, yet his numinous cognition alone abides.” 127

2.2 [Nirvana] without Remainder

When the Perfected Person (the Buddha) had taught what had to be taught, he extinguished forever his numinous illumination and vanished into the boundless and non-manifest: this is nirvana without remainder.

  • Of all forms of disease, none is greater than that of having a bodyhe extinguished the body and returned to nothingness. 

  • Of all forms of torment, none is more severe than that of having a calculating mindhe erased it and submerged in the vacuous. 128 

  • The mind is taxed by the body; the body is burdened by the intellect. The two pull each other, turning like a wheel on the endless road of misery. It is said in a sutra, “The intellect is poison, the body is shackles. Because of them the abysmal silence of liberation remains beyond reach; they are the cause of all tribulations.”129

The Perfected Person turned his body into ashes and extinguished his intellect, he relinquished his form and discarded his reason. Within, he abandoned the stirrings of illumination; without, he put to rest the basis of Misery. 130 Transcendent, perfectly free from all existents; boundless, he merged with the great vacuous. Tranquil, inaudible, bland, non-manifest, mysteriously gone forever into a destination unknown. When a lamp goes out its flame is extinguished, the oil and the flame gone all at once.

This is nirvana without remainder. In the words of a sutra, “The five aggregates are no more, like a flame extinguished.”131

2.3 Critique

This being so, 

  • nirvana with remainder can indeed be called “the nameable,” (1st truth)

  • while nirvana without remainder may be called “the nameless.” (2nd truth)

  • With non name ability asserted, partisans of emptiness will be gratified to find sanction for their belief in that all-pervading silence

  • with name ability affirmed, those concerned about virtue and morals will have the Sage’s actions to look up to as their model. 

Such are the teachings imparted to us in the authoritative scriptures, the tracks laid down by the sages of old.

And yet you say, 

  • “Considered from within, neither is it existent nor nonexistent; (i.e. Union of opposites)

  • viewed from without, language fails to approach it. (inconceivable)

  • Seeing and hearing do not reach it, the four kinds of formlessness obscure it even further.”

  • When lovers of virtue hear this doctrine they will despair; 

  • when proponents of emptiness hear it they will be left without a refuge. 

You describe a state no different from that of someone who, even though his eyes and ears are as obtuse as when he was still in the womb, and for whom the heavenly bodies are obscured beyond the most distant clouds, nevertheless attempts to pronounce on fine distinctions in musical notation and to discuss the diverse appearances [of astral phenomena]. 

You, sir, know only to banish the Perfected Person outside of being and nonbeing, to sing lofty praises of what is beyond forms and names. Yet all the while your words lead nowhere and block the recondite path, instead of revealing it. Though I ponder on them intently, they do not bring me peace. Are they really the light in the dark chamber, the wondrous sound that restores hearing to the deaf?

3. Essence Established - Answer: we need to go beyond mere conceptual dualistic descriptions of Nirvana / Ground / Dao

Author: The terms “with remainder” and “without remainder” are only external appellations for nirvana, conventional designations (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) for the divergent modes of [the sage’s] responding to things. 

Those who cling to concepts will be bound by concepts; those who are attached to forms and images will be constrained by forms and images. Names reach no further than the definable; forms stop at the square and the round. But there are things that “square” and “round” cannot capture, and things that concepts cannot convey. How could names express the unnameable, how could forms truly capture the formless?

You are correct to say that the terms “with remainder” and “without remainder” describe the two modes establishing the teaching, through skillful [action] and through quiescence, or the two modes of the Tathāgata’s supreme activity, the manifest and the hidden. But they do not refer to, on the one hand, any dark mysteriously quiescent principle beyond words, or, on the other, to some wondrous workings of the Perfected Person in the center of the circle

Have you never heard of “correct contemplation”

  • Vimalakīrti said, “The way I see the Buddha is as one with no beginning or end, one who has transcended the six senses, who has left the triple world behind, one who is neither somewhere nor nowhere, who neither acts nor does not act, one who can neither be cognized with consciousness nor known with knowledge, one beyond language, one whose mental operations are extinguished. To view in this manner is called to contemplate correctly; to view otherwise is to not see the Buddha.”132 

  • And the Radiance says, “The Buddha is like empty space. He neither comes nor goes. He manifests in response to conditions (1st truth), he dwells in no definite location (2nd truth).”133

  • (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.) 

As for the sage’s position in the world: 

  • silent, vacuous, 

  • he does not grasp, 

  • he does not contend, 

  • he leads without asserting himself, 

  • he responds to each stimulus without fail, like an echo in a dark valley or images in a clear mirror. 

  • Face him, no one knows from where he came; 

  • follow him, no one knows where he goes. 

  • He emerges suddenly into being, suddenly he disappears. 

  • The more active he is, the more quiescent; 

  • the more hidden, the more manifest. 

  • From the darkness he emerges, to the darkness he returns; 

  • his transformations follow no predefined pattern.

As for these appellations

  • they are established to indicate the various modes of [sagely] response. 

  • When [the sage] manifests traces, we call this “arising”; (1st truth)

  • when he makes them vanish, we call this “cessation.” (2nd truth)

  • His “arising” is referred to as nirvana “with remainder,” (1st truth)

  • his “cessation” as nirvana “without remainder.” (2nd truth)

  • All along both appellations—“with” and “without remainder”— remain rooted in the nameless. (2nd truth)

  • Surely the nameless Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) will take any name?

Thus, 

  • the Perfected Person becomes a square when he inhabits a square, 

  • a circle when he stops in a circle, 

  • a heavenly being when among devas (gods), 

  • a human being when among humans. 

  • To become a deva or a human being in accordance with circumstance is surely not something that devas or humans could do. 

  • It is precisely because he is neither a deva nor a human that he can become one or the other. (i.e. Union of the Two Truths. Union of opposites.)

As for his transformative rule

  • he merely responds, he does not act deliberately; 

  • he follows the causes, he is not being charitable. 

  • Not being charitable, his charity is perfect; 

  • not acting deliberately, his action is unsurpassed. 

  • He is unsurpassed in his action, yet he goes back to ordinary accomplishments. (1st truth)

  • He is perfect in his charity, yet in the end he returns to the nameless. (2nd truth)

It is said in scripture, “The Dao of bodhi (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) cannot be measured; it has no top, no bottom, it is expansive, and deep without limit. Great, it envelops Heaven and Earth; miniscule, it penetrates into that which has no openings. Thus it is called ‘Dao.’”134 Clearly “being” or “nonbeing” cannot capture the Dao of nirvana. (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.)

  • Yet when the deluded consider [the Buddha’s] extraordinary feats 135 in the world they assert his existence, (1st truth)

  • and when they reflect on his passing into cessation they assert his nonexistence. (2nd truth)

  • Yet how could one, from within this realm of being and nonbeing, from this domain of delusive thought, adequately express his abstruse Dao and adjudicate on the sagely mind? (i.e. Union of opposites, Union of the Two Truths.)

I say that the Perfected Person is quiescent, imperceptible, without any external form. The hidden and the manifest aspects of his being originate in one source. Although present, he does not “exist”; gone, he does not “nonexist.” (i.e. being without being, coming without coming, going without going)

How so? 

  • The Buddha said, “There is no birth realm where I am not born, but I am never born

  • There is no form that I do not take on, but even while embodied I do not have a body.”136 

  • This means that though present, he does not “exist.” 

  • It is also said in a sutra, “The Bodhisattva entered limitless samādhi and saw all the buddhas of the past who had passed into cessation.”137 

  • Also, “He entered nirvana, yet did not [enter] parinirvāṇa.”138 

  • From this we know that, while vanishing, the Tathāgata does not simply nonexist. 

  • Not nonexistent: while nonexistent, he exists. 

  • Not existent: while existing, he does not exist. 

  • Existing, he is nonexistent: therefore “being” cannot be attributed to him. 

  • Nonexistent, he exists: thus “nonbeing” likewise does not apply.

Hence, we can conclude that nirvana transcends the domain of being and nonbeing, and leaves the path of names and images far behind.

Yet you say that 

  • the Sage saw the body as the source of the greatest distress, so he extinguished the body and returned to nothingness. 

  • He saw the unawakened mind as the source of the greatest torment, so he eradicated it to submerge in the vacuous. 

  • Is this not a violation of the Sage’s spiritual perfection, an injustice to his profound teaching?

It is said in a sutra, 

  • “The Dharma body is formless, in responding to things it takes on particular shapes. 

  • Prajñā has no knowledge, it just illuminates in response to objects.”139

  • As [the Sage] hastens to engage the myriad events, his spirit stays unperturbed

  • as he responds to each of a thousand exigencies, his mind remains unruffled. 

  • In movement, he is like wandering clouds; 

  • in repose [stillness], he is like the valley spirit. 140 

  • Would he tangle his mind in discriminations between “this” and “that,” or his emotions in the distinction between “movement” and “repose [stillness]”?

  • Since he does not bring a deliberate mind to his movement or stillness, he does not show discrete forms in his coming and going. 

  • Since he does not impute a discrete form to his coming and going, there are no shapes that he cannot assume. 

  • Since he does not bring a deliberate mind to his movement or stillness, there are no stimuli to which he fails to respond.

  • What I mean is that [the Sage’s] “mind” arises in response to the deliberate mind [of beings]; 

  • his “forms” emerge in response to the existing forms [in the world]. 

  • Since his forms do not emerge from his self, even if he were to tread on molten rock and metal he would not be burned. 141 

  • Since his mind arises not from his self, even though he delves into everyday affairs he remains Unperturbed. 142 

  • Could the tangles of [conventional distinctions (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) like that between] self and other constrain his self?

  • Thus the Sage’s wisdom embraces all things yet it is never belabored; 

  • his bodily form fills the eight directions but this brings him no distress. 

  • If you add to him, he will not overflow; 

  • if you subtract from him, he will not be lessened. 143 

  • How could anyone take literally the story that he contracted dysentery on the way [to Kuśinagara],
    that his life ended under the twin trees,
    that his spirit ceased in the regal casket,
    and that his body was cremated on a pyre?144

Yet all the while the deluded, investigating the traces of his extraordinary responsiveness, cling to the evidence of their eyes and ears. Carpenter’s square and ruler in hand, they go about trying to measure the Great Square: they want to find the Perfected Person belabored by knowledge and distressed by bodily form. “He discarded being to delve into nonbeing,” they claim, and then assign to him corresponding names.

Surely what they do is not picking words of subtlety from the realm beyond speech, or pulling the root of mystery from the vacuous field.

4. [Question:] Examining Transcendence - Opponent: 

Opponent: As the Primordial Chaos began to differentiate, the myriad existents divided among the triad [of Heaven, Earth, and humanity]. Then, in the wake of being, nonbeing ineludibly followed. Nonbeing is not selfcaused; it depends on being, as is expressed in the saying, “High and low fulfill each other.”145 This is a universal law, the pinnacle of all laws.

Thus, at the beginning, all that the mother of transformation gave birth to and nurtured, whether manifest or hidden, however strange or uncanny— all that was being. Subsequently, as beings began to transform out of existence, nonbeing ensued—all that was nonbeing. These two realms of being and nonbeing completely encompass all principles.

It is said in scripture that the two dharmas of being and nonbeing subsume the entirety of dharmas. 146 Also spoken of are the three unconditioned dharmas: empty space, extinguishing of afflictions by means of analytic meditation, and extinguishing without analytic meditation. The extinguishing of afflictions by means of analytic meditation is nirvana. 147

Yet you say, “beyond being and nonbeing there is a wondrous Dao, more wondrous yet than either being or nonbeing—nirvana.” I should like to get to the root of this “wondrous Dao.”

If it does exist, then, however wondrous, it cannot be called nonbeing; if, however wondrous, it cannot be called nonbeing, then it must belong to the realm of being. If it does not exist, then, as nonbeing, it is devoid of any distinctions; if, as nonbeing, it is devoid of any distinctions, then it belongs to the realm of nonbeing.

In sum, there cannot be anything that while other than being would not amount to nonbeing, or anything that while other than nonbeing would not amount to being.

Still you say, “beyond being and nonbeing there is a wondrous Dao, neither being nor nonbeing—nirvana.” Your words reach my ears but they do not enter my heart.

5. Above the Realm - Answer: 

Author: Indeed, the categories of being and nonbeing do encapsulate all dharmas, comprise all principles. However, that which they encompass is merely conventional truth (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality). It is said in a sutra, 

  • “What is ultimate truth (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence)? The Dao of nirvana. (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) 

  • What is conventional truth (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality)? The dharmas of being and nonbeing.”148 

Let me elucidate.

Being is possible only in relation to nonbeing, nonbeing only in relation to being. “Being” comes about by an assertion of nonbeing, and “nonbeing” by a negation of being. In this way, being is born of nonbeing and nonbeing is born of being: what is called “being” is the being of nonbeing, and what is called “nonbeing” is the nonbeing of being. Apart from being there is no nonbeing; apart from nonbeing there is no being. Being and nonbeing depend on each other, just as do high and low, for where there is high, there is low, and where there is low, there must be high. 149 Thus, even though being and nonbeing are distinct, they never escape the domain of being. Out of this [duality] words and images emerge and affirmation and negation arise. Could they capture the recondite apex, represent the spiritual Dao? (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.)

Accordingly, the reason I speak of nirvana as “transcendent”—beyond the realm of being and nonbeing—is indeed that the dharmas of being and nonbeing are confined to the realm of the six sense objects, and the realm of the six sense objects is not the abode of nirvana. 150 With “transcendence” I free nirvana from [these confines].

Seekers of the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.), this subtle recondite path,should vest their minds in that transcendent domain, capture the meaning and discard the words, and realize its essence as neither being nor nonbeing. How could anyone claim that beyond being and nonbeing there exists yet another existent that could be named?

When the sutras speak of the three unconditioned dharmas [it is for this reason]: the endless tangles that bind the multitude are all produced by severe affliction, and of all the types of affliction none is more severe than [attachment to] being. Since no concept is farther from “being” than that of “nonbeing,” [the sutras] use it as an expedient to elucidate  [nirvana’s] not being a being. They merely indicate that [nirvana] is not a being, they do not assert that it is a nonbeing.

6. Inquiring into Mystery - Opponent: 

Opponent: You yourself say that nirvana exists neither beyond the realm of being and nonbeing, nor within it. If it does not exist within it, it cannot be found within. If it does not exist beyond it, neither can it be sought beyond. If there is thus nowhere that it can be found, there is altogether no such thing. Yet it cannot be that this Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) simply does not exist. Since it cannot be nonexistent, this recondite path can surely be found: the thousand sages followed it and did not return empty-handed. It must exist—yet you insist it is neither beyond the realm of being and nonbeing nor within it. Your assertion is extraordinary. I implore you to elucidate.

7. Wondrous Presence - Answer: 

Author: Now, speech is an expression of names, names arise in response to marks, marks depend on that which can be marked. The markless cannot be named. Without names there can be no speech, without speech there is nothing to hear. It is said in a sutra, “Nirvana is neither a dharma nor a non-dharma. Inaudible and inexpressible, it cannot be known by the [ordinary] mind.”151 How could I dare speak of it? And you, sir, how could you desire to hear about it? Yet Subhūti once said, “If the assembly can receive without a deliberate mind and hear without hearing, I am ready to speak without words.”152 Now you ask me to speak, so I will.

Vimalakīrti said, “To attain nirvana without leaving the realm of afflictions: this is correct meditation.”153 The goddess said, “Enter the buddha field without leaving the realm of Māra.”154

This is because the mysterious Dao resides in wondrous insight. Wondrous insight is unification with the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence). To unite with the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) is to view being and nonbeing as equal (i.e. Union existence / being <==> non-existence / non-being). In this equalizing vision, self and other are no longer two. Of this it is said, “I am of one root with Heaven and Earth, the myriad things and I are one body.” In this unity between self [and things] there is no longer any [duality between] being and nonbeing, but as long as [things and] self are separate perfect comprehension is impossible. Thus, [nirvana] is neither beyond nor within the realm of being and nonbeing— the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) resides in the spaces between. 155

The Perfected Person’s illumination is dim, his mind vacuous, yet there is nothing he does not encompass. He takes into his breast the entire world in the six directions, yet his numinous mirroring is never depleted of its power. In the square inch of the heart he mirrors all existents, yet his spirit remains vacuous. Indeed, he plucks the root of mysteries from the time before all time; he unites with all movement with an unmoving mind. Tranquil, bland, silent like an abyss, wondrously he tallies with the self-so nature of things.

This is because even though he dwells in being, he is not of it; even though he resides in nonbeing, he is not of it. Not part of nonbeing, he does not substantialize it as nonbeing; not part of being, he does notsubstantialize it as being. In this way he can be not apart from the world, even as he is not a part of it.

Further, just as dharmas have no marks of being and nonbeing, so does the sage have no knowledge of being and nonbeing. That he has no knowledge of being and nonbeing is because he has no deliberate mentation within. That dharmas have no marks of being and nonbeing is because there are no discrete phenomena without. No discrete phenomena without, no deliberate mentation within; “this” and “that” mutually quiescent, extinguished, things and “I” darkly unified, nebulous, without traces—this is nirvana.

Nirvana being thus, all attempts to measure and define it must fail. How could you seek for it within the realm of being and nonbeing? How could you pursue it without?


8. Questioning the Distinctions - Opponent: 

Opponent: You say that nirvana is not bound to the realm of the measurable and definable, hence it transcends the sphere of the six senses; it is neither within nor without, yet here the recondite Dao is singularly present. This is the ultimate Dao, the consummation of Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) and of Nature (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality), wondrously unified, undivided. (i.e. Union of the Two Truths: Union essence <==> nature.) This may be true.

However, in the Radiance it is said, “The three vehicles differ with regard to the unconditioned.”156 Also, the Buddha said, “In the past, when I was a bodhisattva by the name of Sumedha, I entered nirvana in the presence of Dipaṃkara Buddha.”157 Sumedha Bodhisattva first attained the forbearance in the face of the nonarising of dharmas on the seventh stage, and continued to practice into three more stages.

Now, if nirvana is one and undivided, it should not allow for three more stages. If it does allow for three stages, it cannot be the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence). An ultimate Dao that allows of gradations? The sutras disagree. 158 Where can we look for a resolution?

9. Distinctions Defended - Answer: 

Author: You are correct, the ultimate Dao in principle is undivided. (i.e. Union of the Two Truths, Union of opposites.) The Lotus Sutra says, “The supreme great Dao cannot be twofold, but for the benefit of the indolent, where there is One Vehicle I teach that there are three.”159 This is just as [in the parable of] the three carts [that the father uses to prompt his children] to leave the burning house. Since all [three vehicles] [get beings] out of life and death, in all cases can we speak of the “unconditioned.” It is just that what is used as the vehicle differs [among the three cases], so we use three distinct names. 160 All the while the final destination is certainly one and the same.

Further, in your question you say, [quoting scripture,] “The three vehicles differ with regard to the unconditioned.” This only means that since beings are of three types, there must be three ways of realizing the unconditioned, not that the unconditioned itself is of three different types.

Accordingly, it is said in the Radiance, “Is nirvana differentiated? It is not. It is just that in the Tathāgata’s case karmic defilements have all been extinguished, while in the śrāvaka they have not.”161

Allow me to elucidate this abstruse point with an ordinary example. Suppose a man is cutting a log of wood. If he cuts off a foot-long piece, that foot-long piece is now no more. If he cuts off an inch, an inch [is no more]. The differences in the length [of the remaining material] are determined by how much has been cut off, not by the nonexistence [of the severed pieces] itself. Nirvana is like this. Beings, in their immense plurality of forms, differ in their spiritual potential, in the depth of their wisdom’s mirroring, in their propensity for virtuous conduct. Thus, though they all arrive at the other shore, there are between them differences of level. Could the other shore itself be differentiated? It is only the seekers that differ. Thus, while the scriptures contain different doctrines, what they all lead to is one.

10. Scrutinizing the Difference - Opponent: 

Opponent: Since all [the children] leave the burning house, the freedom from suffering [they attain] is [in all cases] one. Since all [beings] leave life-and-death, the unconditioned they reach is [in all cases] one. Yet you say that the other shore is itself not differentiated and that differentiation pertains only to the “selves” of beings.

The “other shore” is the shore of the unconditioned. The “self” is that which realizes the unconditioned. Dare I ask, what is the relation between the “self” and the “other shore”? Are they one? Are they different?

If the self is one with the unconditioned, the unconditioned is also identical with the self, and thus we cannot say that while the unconditioned is not differentiated, there is differentiation that pertains to selves.

If the self is distinct from the unconditioned, then the self is simply not the unconditioned: the unconditioned always remains just the unconditioned, the self always remains just the conditioned, and the passage to their dark union is forever shut.

Therefore, if we see the self and the unconditioned as one, the doctrine of the three [vehicles] cannot hold. If we see them as distinct, the doctrine of the three [vehicles] cannot hold. Why speak of “three vehicles” at all?

11. Differences Unified - Answer: 

Author: If you stay on this side, you are of this side; once you reach the other side, you are of the other side. “If you accord with gain, gain makes you into gain; if you accord with loss, loss makes you into loss.”162 When the self reaches the unconditioned it is one with the unconditioned. However, although the unconditioned is one, this is no reason to object to the diversity [of the selves].

For example, [imagine that] three birds escape from a net and fly off into a place free from suffering. The freedom they gain is the same for all, yet each bird is different. That the birds differ does not imply that the freedom itself is differentiated; neither does the freedom’s sameness imply that the birds are the same. In short, the birds are one with freedom, freedom is one with the birds, but how could this mean that freedom itself is differentiated? Any differentiation pertains only to the birds.

By analogy, beings in the three vehicles all flee the cage of delusive thought, and they all reach the realm of the unconditioned. Although the unconditioned they reach is the same [for all], the vehicles [that brought them here] vary. That the vehicles vary does not mean that the unconditioned itself is differentiated; neither does the unity of the unconditioned mean a unity among the three vehicles. In short, the selves are one with the unconditioned, the unconditioned is one with the selves, but how could this mean that the unconditioned itself is differentiated? Any differentiation pertains only to the selves.

In sum, just as[the birds] differ in how far they fly into the open, even while the freedom [they attain] is the same, likewise, although the unconditioned is one, the [three types of beings] differ in the depth of dark mirroring they attain. The unconditioned is one with the vehicles; the vehicles are one with the unconditioned. It is not that the selves are distinct from the unconditioned, only that not all realize it completely. Hence the doctrine of three vehicles.

12. Critique of Gradualism - Opponent: 

Opponent: The tangles of affliction grow profusely163 from the root that is delusion. As soon as delusion is severed, afflictions cease. Beings of the two vehicles attain the wisdom of eradication. 164 Bodhisattvas attain the wisdom of nonarising. 165 In that moment, [in both cases] delusion is completely eliminated, afflictions are wholly uprooted. When afflictions cease, the mind reaches the unconditioned. As the mind attains the unconditioned, the principle of nirvana stands in full view, without any leftover obstructions.

It is said in a sutra, “The various forms of sagely wisdom do not conflict with each other: they all neither depart nor dwell in the world of being and nonbeing, and are all in reality empty.”166 Also, “The great Dao of the unconditioned is even, equal, not two.”167

If it is indeed “without two,” then [if beings realize it] they cannot have different minds. If they do not realize it, let us stop the discussion here and now, but if you insist that beings can realize it, then they must all reach fully to the depths of that subtle wondrous Dao. Yet you say that even though they realize it, not all do so completely. I do not understand this.

13. Gradualism Demonstrated - Answer: 

Author: The unconditioned is without two, this much has been established. What has not been demonstrated is whether one can eliminate the afflictions, the accumulated karmic hindrances, suddenly and all at once.

It is said in scripture, “All three arrows hit the target; all three animals succeed in crossing the river.”168 “Hitting the target” and “crossing the river” are in all cases the same, but there do remain differences of depth, resulting from the varying capacities [of those involved]. Likewise, beings in the three vehicles all cross the river of dependent origination, all attain insight into the “target” of the Four [Noble] Truths; they leave the relative (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) behind, identify with the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence), and rise up into the unconditioned (i.e. Union of the Two Truths, Union of opposites.). And yet, all the while what is used as the vehicle differs, because the beings possess different capacities for understanding.

Many are the things in this world, but their number has a limit. Yet, even if one were as wise as Śāriputra or as eloquent as Maitrāyaṇīputra,169 even though one may fully exert one’s skill and wit, one will not be able to behold  that limit. How much more so with regard to that vacuous dharma, the domain of twofold mystery: it is limitless! Do you insist that one can eradicate all afflictions and so realize it completely in an instant?

Is it not written in the book, “To study is to daily accrue; to practice the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) is to daily diminish”?170 “Practice of the Dao” is practice toward the unconditioned. Since progress toward the unconditioned consists in “daily diminishing,” how could it be called “sudden attainment”? Diminish diligently, diminish again, until you have reached what can no longer be diminished. The allegory of the firefly and the sun, 171 as found in scripture, captures well the [different grades of] wisdom.

14. Against Movement - Opponent: 

Opponent: The sutras teach that after [Sumedha] attained the Dharma body and entered the realm of the unconditioned, his mind became unknowable to ordinary knowledge, his form unfathomable through ordinary perception. His body was purged of the aggregates and sense fields, and his mental functions were extinguished. But it is also said that “He continued on to progress through three more stages, accumulating stores of merit.”172 Now, such further progress could only be the result of harboring aspirations, such accumulation of merit can only arise from the activation of desires. Aspirations cause clinging and aversion, desires trigger gain and loss.

[The Bodhisattva’s] mind was thus defined by clinging and aversion, his body shaped by gain and loss, yet it is also said that his body was purged of the aggregates and sense fields and his mental functions were extinguished. Two inconsistent descriptions, two conflicting ideas, all directed at one person. A wayward traveler asks for the road, you point to the south and call it the north!173

15. Movement and Stillness

Author:Asutra says, “The sage does not act, yet he leaves nothing undone.” He does not act: although in motion, he is constantly still. He leaves nothing undone: although quiescent, he is constantly in motion. Still yet constantly in motion, he never perceives things as one. In motion yet constantly still, he never Perceives them as dual. Nondual: the more active he is, the more still. Not one: the more quiescent he is, the more active. Thus[for the sage] activity is identical with non-action, and non-action is identical with activity. While movement and stillness are distinguished [in words], [in reality] they are not distinct.

In the Dao Practice it is written, “His mind neither exists nor does it not exist.”174 To say it does not exist means that it is not a deliberate mind. To say it does not nonexist means it is not simply a lack of mind. How so? The deliberate mind is [limited to] the manifold beings; a lack of mind is a vast hollow space. The realm of beings is confined by delusive thought; the vast hollow cancels out numinous mirroring. How can you speak of the spiritual Dao, of the sagely mind, as limited by delusive thought and canceling out numinous mirroring?

Sagely mind does not exist, yet it cannot be called nonexistent. It does not nonexist, yet it cannot be called existent. As it does not exist, within it thought has completely ceased. As it does not nonexist, it tallies unfailingly with each individual principle. Since it tallies unfailingly with each principle, it greatly amplifies the power of myriad things. Since thought has completely ceased within it, even though it completes actions, they are not of the “I.” Thus [the sage’s] responsiveness to beings is unlimited, yet he never acts; he is still, motionless, though never without action. In the words of a sutra, “He engages his mind in no deliberate activity, yet there is nothing he does not act upon.”175

Sumedha said, “In the past, eon after eon, I gave away to innumerable people the wealth of my kingdom and my life. But since I gave with a mind marred by delusive thought, it was not true giving. Now I offer to the Buddha these five flowers in full comprehension of the birthlessness [of dharmas]. Only this can be truly called ‘giving.’”176 Also, after entering the gate of liberation through the realization of emptiness, Empty Practice Bodhisattva said, “My practice continues, this is not final realization.”177

Hence, the more vacuous the sagely mind, the more expansive his action; he acts constantly but this never obstructs his non-action. Therefore the Fortunate Eon describes giving without there being anything to surrender, 178 the Perfect Realization praises activity without action, 179 the Dhyāna Canon extols objectless compassion; 180 and the Viśeṣacinti expounds on knowledgeless knowing. 181

Mysterious is the sagely teaching: its formulations are diverse, while the reality behind them is one. It is just that descriptions of the sage’s “action” cannot be taken to mean that he engages in deliberate activity, nor can speaking of his “non-action” be taken to mean that he simply does not act. [As is said in scripture,] “the bodhisattva establishes himself in the universal nondiscriminating dharma gate of both eradication and non-eradication of afflictions”: 182 neither does he eradicate activity, nor does he dwell in non-action. This explains our case. Your claim that [I confuse] north and south shows, I fear, that you do not quite understand.

16. Tracing the Source - Opponent: 

Opponent: If not for beings, there would be no one to ride the three vehicles. Without the three vehicles, the attainment of nirvana would be impossible. It follows that beings must precede nirvana. This in turn means that nirvana must have a beginning in time—and whatever has a beginning must also have an end.

Yet a sutra says, “Nirvana has no beginning, no end, it is peaceful, akin to empty space.”183 If nirvana exists previously, then it cannot be something to be attained later, after a period of study.

17. The Perennial - Answer: 

Author: 

  • The Perfected Person is empty (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence), devoid of all images, 

  • yet it is through his “self” (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) that all things are established, and it is through his according with things that his own identity is perfected. Such is the Sage, none other.

How so? 

  • Without the Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) sagacity (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) is impossible; 

  • without sagacity (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) the Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) cannot be. 

  • When through [insight into] Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) one has become a sage, the sage is no different from Principle (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence). 184

Thus, when the Ruler of Gods asked, “Where should one seek prajñā?”, Subhūti answered, 

  • “One should not seek prajñā within form (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality), 

  • nor should one seek it outside of form. (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence)”185 

  • Elsewhere it is said, “To see dependent origination is to see the Dharma; to see the Dharma is to see the Buddha.”186 

  • These passages confirm that [for the Sage] things and self are not distinct. (i.e. Union self / subject <==> things / objects)

So the Perfected Person 

  • collects the mysterious mechanism [of his mind] in what is prior to all manifestation, and vests its recondite workings among things already transformed. 

  • He gathers together all [things present in the] six directions, and reflects them in the mirror of his mind. 

  • He unifies past and future, thus establishing his body. 

  • Past and present interpenetrate, beginning and end are one. (i.e. Union of the three times.)

  • In perfect mastery of both root and branches, he never imputes any duality. (i.e. Union of opposites.)

  • Vast, expansive, perfectly equal—this is nirvana.  (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.)

It is said in a sutra, 

  • “Attain nirvana without discarding dharmas.” (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.)187 

  • And “Dharmas being boundless, bodhi is boundless.”188 

These passages show that 

  • the way to nirvana leads through wondrous tallying; 

  • the gist of wondrous tallying is in recondite unity. 

  • Things are not distinct from the self, the self is not distinct from things; 

  • things and self mysteriously converge and together they return to the limitless. 

  • Seek its front, you will not find it; seek its back, it is not there. 

  • Ideas of “beginning” or “end” have no place here. 

  • The goddess said, “How much time has elapsed since the Elder attained liberation?”189

18. Investigating Attainment - Opponent: 

Opponent: 

  • It is said in scripture that the nature of sentient beings is defined entirely by the five aggregates. (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) 190 

  • It is also said that the attainment of nirvana is the eradication of the five aggregates, like extinguishing a lamp. (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence)

So [with the attainment of nirvana] the nature of beings is completely eradicated along with the five aggregates, the Dao of nirvana is established solitarily beyond the triple world of being. These two domains are separated by a chasm so vast that it should be impossible for beings to attain nirvana.

If you do insist that such attainment is possible, 

  • this can only be if the nature of beings is not defined by the five aggregates. 

  • Or, if it is so defined, then the five aggregates cannot be completely eradicated, for if they were completely eradicated who would be present to attain nirvana?

19. Attainment in Mystery - Answer: 

Author: Now, 

  • the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) arises from detachment; 

  • the relative (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) is born of attachment. 

  • Attachment leads to “something attained”; 

  • detachment opens up to the nameless. (i.e. Inconceivable Ground / Suchness / Buddha-nature / Genuine-emptiness, Inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle, Inconceivable Union of opposites.)

Thus, 

  • one who models himself after the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) will unite with the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence); 

  • one who follows the limited (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) will end up defined by the limited (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality). 

  • You, sir, take attachment as “something attained,” and so you seek [for nirvana] among attainable things. 

  • I view attainment as “nothing attained”
    and so I speak of nirvana as attainable within nonattainment. (i.e. attaining without attaining)

When setting out an argument it is necessary to first establish its basic premise. If we want to speak of nirvana we need not do so from outside of it. Yet if we were to try to speak of nirvana from within it, would there be any being left outside of nirvana wishing to attain it?

How is this so? 

  • Nirvana wondrously stops all conventional calculation (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality), it fuses the Two Principles, 191 

  • it purges the myriad existents, 

  • it equalizes gods and humans, and 

  • it unifies the one and the many. (i.e. Union of opposites) 

  • Look within it and you will see no “self”; 

  • listen inwardly and you will hear no “me.” 

  • It is neither something attained nor something non-attained. (i.e. attaining without attaining) 

It is said in scripture that nirvana is neither identical with nor distinct from Beings (samsara). (i.e. Union samsara <==> nirvana) 192 Vimalakīrti said, “If Maitreya is able to attain liberation, all beings should also be able to attain it. Why? Because by nature all beings are always already in cessation, they do not need to attain cessation anew.”193
This shows that cessation is attained in the cessationless. (i.e. cessation without cessation)

  • Also, beings are not “beings,” so who could be the attainer (subject)? 

  • Nirvana is not “nirvana,” so what could be attained (object)? 

The Radiance says, 

  • “‘Is bodhi attained from being?’‘No.’

  • ‘Is it attained from nonbeing?’‘No.’

  • ‘Is it attained from both being an nonbeing?’ ‘No.’ 

  • ‘Is it attained from neither being nor nonbeing?’ ‘No.’ 

  • ‘So is it not attained at all?’ ‘Not true. 

  • How so? To be without anything attained is attainment; (i.e. attaining without attaining)

  • one attains being without anything attained.”194 

  • Since to be without anything attained is attainment, could there be anyone unable to attain nirvana?

  • The recondite Dao resides in the transcendent realm: it is attained in not attaining. (i.e. attaining without attaining)

  • Wondrous wisdom is present beyond things: it is known in not knowing. (i.e. knowing without knowing)

  • The Great Image is concealed in the shapeless: it is seen in not seeing. (i.e. seeing without seeing)

  • The Great Sound195 is hidden in the soundless: it is heard in not hearing. (i.e. hearing without hearing)

Thus nirvana (i.e. Nirvana: The purification / self-liberation / transcendence / transmutation of all appearances, of all conditioning / karma, of the whole samsara, through the direct wisdom of awareness of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Reality as it is here & now, as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the tetralemma, the Middle Way free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual proliferations -- nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth --, the equality / purity / perfection / divinity of everything here & now. Nirvana is being able to live in the ordinary life, helping others, using conventional relative tools / fabrications / truths / methods / goals / concepts / dualities, without being fooled by their illusory nature, without grasping at them, without getting attached to them, without becoming slaves to them. Using them while being fully aware of the true & dynamic nature of the three spheres -- subject / actor, relation / action, object / result --.)

  • embraces all eternity, 

  • guides beings from all directions, 

  • cures them of their poison, 

  • it is “loosely woven, yet nothing slips by,”196 

  • vast, expansive like the ocean, there is nothing that does not proceed from it. 

  • The brahmacārin said, “I have heard that the Buddha’s teaching is vast, deep, boundless like the ocean, not a single being is not perfected by it, and not a single being is not delivered by it.”197

With this, now, the roads of the three vehicles stand open, the ultimate (2nd truth / ultimate truth / essence / emptiness of inherent existence) and the relative (1st truth / conventional relative truth / nature / dependent origination & relative functionality) are demarcated, the Dao (i.e. Dao: the Way of Nature as a whole / the self-arisen unconditioned unalterable timeless spaceless limitless pristine Ground / the inconceivable true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now / the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths free from all extremes & middle.) of the sages is secured, and the unnameability of nirvana is demonstrated (i.e. inconceivable Union of the Two Truths, Union of opposites.). 198



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Quotes

Titre 3

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