Baubles of the Mind

Sutras and the Void

The philosophers of the early centuries of this era who put their sutras into the mouth of the Buddha seem to us to have rendered them as incomprehensible as words could make them. If they did it in order to confuse the likes of us - they succeeded magisterially.

In the Diamond Sutra they speak of Samsara and Nirvana as being identical. In the Heart Sutra they go further; they speak of form, and the other disparate skandhas, then the Chain of Causation, and finally the Four Holy Truths, in fact all dharmas, and declare them to be identical with Emptiness, and Emptiness to be identical with them, and in every possible way and from every possible point of view. In short they point out that all dharmas are void.

But these dharmas are all concepts, baubles of the mind, and they treat them solemnly as though they existed in their own right and were 'things' solidly and indubitably existing. Then they proceed to state the contrary, and finally, with a double somersault, the contrary of the contrary. At first sight this looks like a precursor of the ko-an technique that developed some five centuries later in Japan.

Yet without all these gymnastics the doctrine appears to be quite clear and simple and obvious, and I think it must appear so in the light of the later T'ang masters whose teaching was largely based upon these sutras and the Lanka. All these dharmas are just concepts, perfectly inexistent, and are interpretations by divided mind of that which whole-mind knows as what we call a void. The one perceives the world of multiplicity and phenomena in space and time; the other knows emptiness (though it is divided mind that so calls it) and noumenon. Evidently they are the same - but their identity lies in the mind, not in the contrary interpretations that are 'perceived', for the apparent difference depends on which eye is looking at them.

What advantage can there be, one may ask, in trying to see contraries as identical, with the eye that can only see contraries? One can only suppose that it was a technique devised in order to prise open the other eye so that both contraries could be seen and recognised as one whole, and the contraries of contraries and their contraries, and so on ad infinitum.

I wonder if all this is necessary for us, and whether it could possibly be efficacious - for contraries cannot be seen as identical by the reasoning mind whose modus operandi is a function if its inherent duality, so that it is not possible, whatever anyone may think or pretend, to 'see' Samsara and Nirvana as identical, for no two separate thoughts can ever occur simultaneously. Such 'identity' as can be apprehended by reasoning is not such, but only a reasoned assimilation of two different things that are seen to resemble one another. Identity is quite other. It is an act of direct vision on the part of whole-mind.

(© RKP, 1963)

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