Saturday, January 09, 2010

Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 2, Section XXXIV and XXXV

Disclaimer: I didn't get any authority to teach anything.

As usual, I'm using the translation at this link.

Section XXXIV summarizes itself, since it is a summary of what went before.

In all things there is no self-nature, words too are devoid of reality; as the ignorant understand not what is meant by emptiness, yes, by emptiness, they wander about.

In all things there is no self-nature, they are mere words of people; that which is discriminated has no reality; [even] Nirvana is like a dream; nothing is seen to be in transmigration, nor does anything ever enter into Nirvana.

As a king or a wealthy householder, giving his children various clay-made animals, pleases them and makes them play [with the toys], but later gives them real ones; . So, I, making use of various forms and images of things, instruct my sons; but the limit of reality (bhūtakoṭi) can [only] be realised within oneself.

And the king who later gives the real ones is you who realize yourself, after fumbling with these word-toys.

And I'll quote a key passage from XXXV:

The Blessed One said this to him: Mahāmati, since the ignorant and the simple-minded, not knowing that the world is what is seen of Mind itself, cling to the multitudinousness of external objects, cling to the notions of being and non-being, oneness and otherness, bothness and not-bothness, existence and non-existence, eternity and non-eternity, as being characterised by self-nature which rises from discrimination based on habit-energy, they are addicted to false imaginings. Mahāmati, it is like a mirage in which the springs are seen as if they were real. They are imagined so by the animals who, thirsty from the heat of the season, would run after them. Not knowing that the springs are their own mental hallucinations, the animals do not realise that there are no such springs. In the same way, Mahāmati, the ignorant and simple-minded with their minds impressed by various erroneous speculations and discriminations since beginningless time; with their minds burning with the fire of greed, anger, and folly; delighted in a world of multitudinous forms; with their thoughts saturated with the ideas of birth, destruction, and subsistence; not understanding well what is meant by existent and non-existent, by inner and outer; the ignorant and simple-minded fall into the way of grasping at oneness and otherness, being and non-being.


From the standpoint of the observation of phenomena, of course phenomena appear real, and they are and as far as we've been able to observe and predict, will be consistently real. The sun will vaporize what's left of the earth's inhabitants in a billion years, if we don't go Venus first.

That said, you're going to be dead, so how "real" is that? Moreover, all the categories and opinions and perceptions we have of things are indeed distorted, unreal, reproductions of what we take to be reality for the sake of convention, because that's how we've configured ourselves.

And yes, this text even is referring to itself, as well as my own comments here:

[T]he ignorant and simple-minded with their minds impressed by various erroneous speculations and discriminations since beginningless time; with their minds burning with the fire of greed, anger, and folly; delighted in a world of multitudinous forms; with their thoughts saturated with the ideas of birth, destruction, and subsistence; not understanding well what is meant by existent and non-existent, by inner and outer; the ignorant and simple-minded fall into the way of grasping at oneness and otherness, being and non-being.

"What is meant" by these theings and categories is Mind.

In the same way the ignorant and simple-minded who are bitten by erroneous views and are inclined toward the philosophers, do not recognise that things seen of the Mind itself are like a dream, and are held fast by the notions of oneness and otherness, of being and non-being. Mahāmati, it is like the painter's canvas on which there is no depression nor elevation as imagined by the ignorant. In the same way, Mahāmati, there may be in the future some people brought up in the habit-energy, mentality, and imagination based on the philosophers' erroneous views; clinging to the ideas of oneness and otherness, of bothness and not-bothness, they may bring themselves and others to ruin; they may declare those people nihilists who hold the doctrine of no-birth apart from the alternatives of being and non-being. They [argue against] cause and effect, they are followers of the wicked views whereby they uproot meritorious causes of unstained purity.

Finally, there's a note in the text that says the following paragraph should be "separately treated," most likely because it breaks with the metaphorical style of the rest of this section.

Further, Mahāmati, by setting up the three forms of measure and the [five] members of a syllogism, [the philosophers] make the discrimination that there is a reality existing by itself, which is attained by the realisation of noble wisdom, and devoid of the two Svabhāvas. [This discrimination however is] not right. [The Buddhist doctrine is this:] Mahāmati, when a [psychological] revulsion takes place in the Yogins [by the transcendence of] the Citta, Manas, and Vijñāna [Mumon's note:i.e., all mental processes], they cast off the [dualistic] discrimination of grasped and grasping in what is seen of Mind itself, and entering the Tathagata-stage attain the realisation of noble wisdom; and in this there is no thought of existence and non-existence. Again, Mahāmati, if there is the grasping of existence and non-existence in the realm attained by the Yogins, there will be in them the grasping of an ego, a nourisher, a supreme soul, or a person. Again, Mahāmati, the teaching pointing to self-nature, individuality and generality of things, is that of the Transformation Buddha and not that of the Dharmatā Buddha. Again, Mahāmati, such teaching is meant for the ignorant, being in conformity with their mentality, their way of thinking and viewing things; any establishment that favours the way of self-nature, fails to reveal the truth of self-realisation to be attained by noble wisdom and the blissful abode of the Samādhi.


Revulsion, as a result of transcendance, at all mental processes is quite a statement. Dharmatā Buddha is the one we are talking about, "Transformation Buddha" is "meant for the ignorant," in conformity with their way of thinking.

Now this can be read 2 ways, consistently:

1. It was a marginalized view when this was written, or, if you like, a new teaching. I'd said similar things about how the Lotus Sutra has statements about this, and this can't be ruled out at all from a purely skeptical standpoint, or, if you like, from the standpoint of the practicality of folks trying to sell a new religious teaching. Maybe those Big Mind folks in Utah need to write a few new sutras...but I digress.

2. Let's face it, this is not "Coke is it!" These are subtle concepts which have resisted pity interpretation, no matter which culture has examined them.

It does however explain the prevalence of Asian popular Buddhism differing in ways from what Westerners have learned based on exposure to elegant concepts such as these.

Ah, forget that; stick to "revulsion, as a result of transcendance, at all mental processes."

2 comments:

Petteri Sulonen said...

Ah, forget that; stick to "revulsion, as a result of transcendance, at all mental processes."

Sometimes when I'm sitting, I get utterly bored of all the shit that my mind keeps bringing up -- and often what happens immediately afterward is that it quiets down enough that I'm able to concentrate on the practice without, as it were, concentrating on concentrating on the practice.

I dunno about "transcendence," but "revulsion at all mental processes" is a pretty good description of the experience. D'you think the sutra may be describing something like this, or am I just reading my own experiences into it?

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