Because It Is Not...

Authority is comforting: let us seek it. In Chapter 13 of the Diamond Sutra the Buddha takes a series of five examples - transcendental wisdom, his own teaching, particles of dust, the world-system, and the thirty-two marks of a superman. Of each of these it is said that they are, that they are not, and that therefore they are. For instance, 'Because what was taught as particles of dust by the Tathagata, as no particles that was taught by the Tathagata. Therefore they are called 'particles of dust'. And this world-system the Tathagata has taught as no world-system. Therefore is it called a world-system.' And so on for each.

This is followed by one of the elaborate hyperbolic metaphors used to emphasise the supreme importance of this teaching. And indeed the Venerable Subhuti is moved to tears thereby, and according to Mr. A. F. Price's translation from the Chinese, had 'an interior realisation' of its meaning. One might read this many times without understanding the tremendous importance attached to it, for neither translator draws attention to it or offers an explanation.

Nevertheless its supreme importance is evident enough when one understands that each of these contradictions is just an example of the formula 'It is: because it is not, therefore it is', or, as I give it, 'I (apparently) am: because I am not, therefore I am', or 'Because Reality is Non-reality, therefore it is Reality', 'Since Being is Non-being, therefore it is Being.'

The importance of this understanding of the precedence of the negative element to the positive, of the Void to the Plenum, of Non-being to Being, of I am not to I am, is sufficiently great to justify any degree of hyperbole - for it requires a reversal of our habitual way of regarding these matters, and a transvaluation of our established values according to which, as I have pointed out, we assume positive Reality or Being and then look for their negatives. That is, we imagine the Void as an emptiness in a pre-existing fullness, a nothing in an assumed Something, whereas we are urgently required to apprehend the ubiquitous pre-existence of Nothing out of which something may appear, or out of Non-manifestation manifestation.

In the following chapter, 14, Subhuti, full of enthusiasm, says, 'Through it cognition has been produced in me. Not have I ever before heard such a discourse on Dharma. Most wonderfully blest will be those who, when this sutra is being taught, will produce a true perception. And that which is true perception, that indeed is no perception. Therefore the Tathagata teaches true perception'. And again, in the same chapter, 'This perception of a being, Subhuti, that is just a non-perception. Those all-beings of whom the Tathagata has spoken, they are indeed no-beings.' And why? Because the Tathagata speaks in accordance with reality.' (Dr. Edward Conze, 'The Diamond Sutra'.)

'In accordance with reality' means in our vocabulary - since the term 'reality' is so variously understood - 'in accordance with whole-mind.'

It might not be too much to say that this, together with its counterpart the inexistence of any kind of self, is the lietmotiv of this sutra, capital in gnostic Buddhism, and constitutes perhaps its essential message. Subsequently indeed a considerably greater number of other 'dharmas' are treated according to the same formula, one of the most direct of which is, ''Beings, beings', Subhuti, the Tathagata has taught that they are all no-beings. Therefore has he spoken of 'all beings'.' (Ch. 21)

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It might be thought that what is meant is 'I am and I am not, and only in that sense I am', but the words of the Buddha are very definite and are reiterated ad nauseam in the Hindu manner. He taught that things and concepts (dharmas) are, then he taught that things and concepts (dharmas) are not, and that is why things and concepts (dharmas) are.

But Vedanta Advaita teaches 'I am', and the Buddhist doctrine of the Void teaches 'I am not'. The Buddha makes it clear, again and again, that it is on account of this latter teaching that in a sense I can be.

It therefore seems apparent that there are three stages on this path. The pilgrim learns to understand that he is, after having understood that as an I-concept he is not. Then, and only then, he comes to know that nevertheless he is not, for nothing is, not even he. And finally he realises that in consequence of that and in a sense inconceivable before, he is.

Hence the formula: I am: I am not, therefore I am.

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The essential doctrine of the Diamond Sutra is that no sort or kind of self is to be considered as existing. Having disposed of the I-concept, the Buddha proceeds to dispose of the elements that serve as a basis for it, i.e. the five skandhas, and, finally, of all 'dharmas' from the supreme doctrine of enlightenment, via all perceptions and the Four Holy Truths (the Heart Sutra here) down to his own physical body.

In short, as Hui Neng realised so early in life, nothing at all exists, which is the Void. But the Buddha always adds that therefore everything exists in some manner. The translations are unsatisfactory here, for some say 'are said to exist' or 'are called such and such', whereas others are less evasive. One may suspect that none quite gives the sense.

(© RKP, 1963)

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