The Buddha Taught

(also pub. The Middle Way, November 1966)


The familiar statement that every object is empty (k'ung in Chinese, sunyu in Sanscrit), that no object has any nature of its own, 'own-being' or 'self-nature' in English, implies that it lacks objective existence. This means that all it is is the perceiving of it, that it is nothing in itself, but only what is apparently perceived. This has been known from the earliest times, and this understanding is common to the esoteric aspect of all the great religions, being fundamental in Buddhism, Vedanta, and Sufism.

Everyone who studies any of these doctrines must be familiar with it, but its application to daily living, which surely must be the essential application, is rarely more than tentative.

What, then, does it imply when applied to ourselves? It not only implies, it states, that there can be no such factuality as an entity anywhere in our space-time universe, and that we ourselves do not, and could not, exist at all as such. This, also, is axiomatic, has often been stated, but is rarely faced as a fact.

When we apply it we find that a sentient-being in space-time is nothing but an image in mind, has no existence of its own whatever, but is only an appearance perceived and conceived by the 'subject' of each such perception and conception, each such 'subject' being also an object similarly perceived and conceived by other apparent conceived percepts.

This requires that a single source of perceiving perceives via multiple percepts, each and every such percept being conceived as an entity via which each and every other percept is in turn perceived and conceived, no example of which has any kind of personal existence of its own or in its own right.

That this is so we need have no doubt whatever. Probably every established sage in each of the great religions has known it, and has made it clear, each in his own way, that so it is; and if we have understood what they have told us, we must have reached this apprehension ourselves and should be satisfied that it is the truth and that no other interpretation of the facts could be possible.

Each of 'us', then, is only, can only be, whatever is perceived, and is conceptually interpreted as being. Ourselves, we are nothing whatever; as such we simply are not, as autonomous entities we do not exist at all. It is not we who perceive and conceive one another or ourself, for there is no 'we'; we and they are perceived, conceived, and interpreted via one another, one such so-rendered-apparent and supposed 'other' being each of 'ourselves'.


Is this a shock? If so, it proves the depth of our conditioning in the illusion of autonomous individuality, which also constitutes our so-called 'bondage'. Incidentally this is why 'bondage' is known to be an illusion also - for the sufficient reason that there has never been any entity to be 'bound'.

What, then, does this imply in practice, in space-time 'living'? It implies that objectively you are only what is perceived, conceived, and interpreted via other sentient-beings, one of whom is what you are conditioned to regard as 'myself'; as an object you have a variable appearance, relatively unfavourable when interpreted via your 'enemies', favourable when interpreted via your 'friends', and usually a pretty fine guy, or a grand girl, when interpreted via 'yourself'. In fact, however, you are exactly no thing whatsoever, k'ung, sunya, totally devoid of objective existence, and merely an appearance, a phenomenon in 'mind' or 'consciousness', of absolutely no fixed identity, quality, or attributes.

Subjectively, on the other hand, you are also totally devoid of identity, quality, or attributes, and you merely represent phenomenally the subjective faculty which produces all phenomenality and 'manifestation'. As such you are 'I', as I am 'I', as every sentient-being, human, animal, insectival and vegetable is 'I', and I can have no objective existence whatever, for the accusative of 'I' is not 'me', as currently misunderstood, but always and only 'you'.


One may well ask why it is considered necessary to go on hinting at this, pointing to it, saying it obscurely, partially, making a holy mystery of it? Nearly all the greater scriptures and recorded sayings of the Masters and Prophets, and many poets, are bursting at the seams with it. Indeed it constitutes in itself the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in so far as such a thing as 'truth' there can be, and its complete apprehension leaves little that could be regarded as essential to be understood, for nearly all that remains unsaid follows from it or is forever unsayable. In bygone days and in other lands, where there were Masters almost everywhere available, as in India and China, it may indeed have been desirable to reserve this essential understanding for those who were mature and ripe to receive it, and so to instruct them that each apperceived it for himself only at the moment when its apprehension should be most efficacious. But such conditions do not obtain to-day in the West, and what does obtain is confusion universal and confounded. It is read and re-read, hinted at or obscurely stated, but rarely if ever understood.

We have no Masters, the Guru is always within anyhow; if we state it in plain words the Guru will reveal its absolute and ultimate verity to those who are able to receive it.

Perhaps, so-stated, you reject it absolutely, perhaps laugh at it, dismiss it with scorn? That some readers may do so does not seem improbable at all. All are not likely to be ready for it. But why are such readers not ready for it? One may suggest that the reason is that they have been led astray into by-paths of illusion and nonsense, based on their own precious supposedly-autonomous individual entities, that they are ironclad and impervious to the esoteric facts, and deaf to the essential truth that all the great Masters so patiently, so pertinaciously, so deviously sought to reveal to them.


Perhaps you are confused because I seem to be writing here about ourselves as entities just as we all do? I have to do that because I am as we all are, and I could not possibly do otherwise. Apparent and suppositious entities 'we' are, and 'living' at all entails the apparent living of this double life. But we recognise its dual character, and that is what is required.

That we are apparent entities is obvious and undeniable, and that superficially we all appear to act like entities is evident also. All this is due to the fact that our dualist universe is a phenomenal creation of divided mind, perceived objectively by pseudo-subjects which are objectivised as 'selves', and our living in that universe, including our thought and its expression, is based on relativity, which is the comparison of opposing concepts.

Moreover, understanding 'what-we-are-not' merely indicates to us what we are, for split-mind cannot cognise its own wholeness, and the wholeness of mind cannot reason by division, and cannot use words which depend upon relativity which it knows not. Living, we have to accept our dualist limitations, which means that although we can apprehend the truth about what we are, it is not within our power to think or speak directly as whole-mind, and anyhow no conceivable speech could convey it. Speaking as apparent entities in order to demonstrate that we are not such, illogical as it seems, is a limitation inherent in our phenomenal duality.

As an object, no doubt, I am only an imaginary dummy on which observers hang clothing, each of his own choice, or, if you prefer the simile, I am a mirror in which each sees his pseudo-self reflected without being aware of it. As an apparent entity in time-space, all that I can pretend to be is an apparently re-agent mechanism that finds expression in conation, which is the apparent activity of what is called 'an ego'. But are you asking me to believe in the factuality of all this? Could that really be what I am, what each of us is, what we are?

I am endeavouring to point out to you that it could not, that what we are, what we all are as 'I', is what all the sages of all the ages have seen, understood, and tried to explain to us is what we are, always were, and will be forever. Since the 'space' and 'time' on which all these phenomenal notions depend are only the conceptual framework of their own conceptual existence, may we not say simply and frankly that no such question can be said to arise?


Is someone thinking about Napoleon or Plato, Shakespeare or Mozart? If so, he is just entifying as usual, and has not understood. Has he forgotten that 'the Buddha taught for forty-nine years, but no word was spoken'? Unless that is understood it is difficult to see how the rest could be: it is a kind of key, universal, to the unlocked door.

Transposed, we can say that many battles were won by Napoleon, many plays were written by Shakespeare, concertos composed by Mozart, but no 'Napoleon' ever fought a battle, no 'Shakespeare ever wrote a line, nor did any 'Mozart' ever play a note of music.

Do we ever go far enough back, make the final negation of the negator of negating, take 'the jump off the top of the hundred-foot pole'?

Do we exist or do we not exist?
There has never been anyone either to exist or not to exist.

There has never been 'anyone' to answer such a question.

Note: Who made the final negation (of the negator of negating)? I did. In negating my ultimate objectivity I negated my 'self'. So doing I abolished the notion of 'myself' as an object. Then nothing was left, for I am no thing. Objectively I remain represented by all phenomenality soever.

When negating negates the objectivised 'negator' I negate an (objective) 'self'. Then no object remains, nor - therefore - any subject. Phenomena in their totality are manifested, but their noumenon as such has no objective existence.

Only that which is extended in space and time can have perceptual existence, so that apparent existence depends upon percepts. What we are is not what is conceived, but its conceiving, and 'conceiving' cannot be its own object. It follows that what-we-are cannot be extended in time-space, and so cannot be conceived.

That is all that needed saying? Quite so.

(© T.J. Gray, 1968)
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