IMPLICATIONS OF BUDDHIST CONCEPT OF REALITY

The unity of experience, the being in becoming has alway been an enigma for all. However, its solution does not need introduction of a Platonic demiurge to tie up things. Buddha’s supreme enlightenment gave a new twist to the whole matter and was the beginning of a radical ontology of experience, one which turned our ordinary understanding of substance-oriented ontologies into a new phenomenon of unencumbered existence through conception of Buddhist reality based on the central doctrine of dependent origination (pratiitya-samutpaada) and its implications.
The compounded term ‘dependent origination’ has the dependent nature expressed in Sanskrit by ‘pratiitya’, which breaks down etymologically to prati + ii, which means ‘to go toward’ and ‘to go to meet’ but also means ‘to come back’ and ‘to return’.(26) Thus, the meaning here is inclusive of both the ‘going toward something’ and ‘returning with that something’. In the momentary existence, each moment can be taken to be a singular ‘act’ or movement i.e. a phenomenon of ‘going-returning’ or ‘reaching out-bringing in’. From the initial or incipient condition of dependence (pratiitya), there is a total arising of the moment of existence (samutpaada). This is experiential becoming at its most fundamental level. Our one- or two-dimensional bias in the perception of things would normally assign a single movement, either ‘to go’ or ‘to return’, without being mindful of the nature of continuity. The two movements, furthermore, cannot be conceived together because one movement has to cease before the other takes over. In this way, the continuum of existence is broken off or vitiated but this is a very common understanding issuing forth from the empirically oriented realm. In a way, it shows up the Humean dilemma on giving up on causal connection.
The rise of the moment in its incipient dependent stage (asymmetric nature) shows up the reflexive character, without which the doctrine of dependent origination will lose any sense of continuity in the nature of becoming. Thus, dependent origination is a multidimensional phenomenon which depicts the asymmetric-symmetric nature in the growth of the moment but each currently appearing moment is a vital part of the continuum of existence. The exact nature of the moment or the territory that it occupies cannot be really known. Such knowledge relies on perceptual memory of past events in order to derive some semblance of the characteristics of those events. But how do we intimate with any of the characteristics? The answer to this question was found by early thinkers in the concept of ‘suunyatva’ (emptiness).This concept is neutral in the sense that it does not participate with the elements in the empirical realm. It is pervasive in the sense that it permits the elements to be what they are but at the same time serves as a kind of universal ground for momentary existence.
‘Emptiness’, ‘voidness’, ‘nothingnes’ and so forth are weak translations for the original term, ‘suunyataa’. It does not, mean nonentity in the literal sense. It means empty of content i.e. non-substantive nature but at the same time it connotes the swelling of the locus of reality. Taken in this dual sense, non-substantive nature and swelling, it refers to the fullness of existence. Moreover, both connotations reveal the potency and pregnancy of the moment of existence. The role and function of emptiness are inestimable.(27) It has opened up the floodgates to an understanding of human existence in all its aspects. With its later refinement, it only confirmed the radical ontology ushered in by the Buddha’s momentous experience.
In Mahaayaana Buddhism, the liberal or ‘radical’ wing of Buddhism, the implications of emptiness fostered the development of different schools of thought. However, in all phases of the development, the focus remained rooted in the momentary nature of things, and any of the basic doctrines of early Buddhism was never forsaken. Respective novel doctrines of diverse systems such as Tantrism, Pure Land, Ch’an (Zen), Hua-yen, and so forth, brought their ideas together in the basic context of dependent origination. In time, Mahaayaana Buddhism identified four types of dependent origination. In a way, the four types give a sweeping view of the whole of Mahaayaana development.
1. Dependent origination by karma (action or volitional force). This is the basic type seen in the twelve-linked dependent origination of early Buddhism. In each linking process, there is a karmic effect, which causes the linkage. For example, based on ignorance (avijjaa) the dispositions (sa^nkhaara) arise, and so forth in either a forward or a backward cycle. Mahaayaana Buddhism kept this basic dynamics of becoming.
2. Dependent origination by aalayavij~naana (storehouse consciousness). All phenomena originate from the interplay between the aalayavij~naana and manas (discriminative consciousness). The aalayavij~naana contains the potential or seeds for the manifestation of phenomena (experiential) and the manas provides fresh seeds by perfuming them into the aalayavij~naana. The original impressions for the seeds come to the manas by way of the five sense-consciousnesses and the integrative consciousness (manovij~naana). Vij~naanavaada (Consciousness-only School) subscribes to this type of dependent origination.
3. Dependent origination by tathaagatagarbha (matrix of thus-come). All phenomena originate, regardless of the unenlightened status of mundane beings, from the involvement of the realm of thus-ness that is the enlightened pure realm. In brief, this means that the Buddha-nature is ubiquitous, residing even in insentient beings. This type is expounded, for example, in the Awakening of Truth in the Mahaayaan (Mahaayaana sraddhotpaadasaastra). The Pure Land School makes optimum use of this conception.
4. Dependent origination by dharmadhaatu (realm of factors or elements of existence). All phenomena arise based on the interdependent, interrelated, and interpenetrative natures of the factors of being. In this sense, all phenomena mutually identify each other. This conception was crystallized in the Chinese Hua-yen School, although its rudiments are already found in Indian Buddhism, even in the Buddha’s teachings. Ch’an (Zen) makes liberal use of this idea in its teachings as well as in awakening the devotee to the reality of things.
Despite these four types appearing separate and distinct, are actually expounding on the selfsame reality of dependent origination that is the dynamic cocreative momentary process. The concept of emptiness is the common thread running through them. Emptiness may have various uses in the four types, but all variant forms have the distinct Buddhist quality of leading to or aiming at the nirvaa.nic realm. The T’ien T’ai School in China, for example, uses the emptiness of phenomenal existence in the unique sense of provisional conception and then the emptying of emptiness itself to bring forth the middle way. All three conceptions viz. emptiness, provisionality, middle way are in the final analysis interpenetrative of one another. The variant forms of emptiness only make obvious the extent to which the implications of Buddhist reality or ontology has ranged. With a focus on dependent origination, the Mahaayaana development can generally be seen in terms of two strains: (a) self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence and (b) self-realization through other-realization.
The first (a) is basic to the Buddhist conception of relity. The second (b) is a new perspective on the total nature of things and gives a distinctive Mahaayaana flavor to the conceptulization of reaity.
The nature of dependent origination becomes expanded or more extensive based on the reflexive character. The realm of the wheel of becoming has been widened to include everything on earth. This is the genuine use of the words Mahaa (great) and yaana (wheel). The term Tathaagata is used in a distinctive sense to refer to the Buddha himself. With the reflexive nature, the Mahaayaana has brought forth a new dimension, a greater cosmological extension and effect. That is, the term can be seen in two dimensions, Tathaa + gata (Thus-gone) and Tathaa + aagata (Thus-come). Buddha’s life is then interpreted as one that has gone forth to the nirvaa.nic realm and at once returned to the sa.msaaric realm to save sentient beings. This reflexive interpretation has opened up the realm of existence to include sentients as well as insentients and has given a new meaning to the concept of compassion (karu.naa). In essence, the Mahaayaana not only has moved toward more inclusive philosophic implications for the acts of man and nature, but has provided man a new sense of belonging to the community or of understanding the social nature of things. It has fired up the spirit of community action in terms of the universal dimensions of all actions.
Pure Land Buddhism expands on this reflexive nature of existence by speaking of the Other Power of Amida Buddha manifesting by virtue of the Original Vow to save all sentients. All of this seems mythical, beyond comprehension and is of the nature of faith (`sraddhaa). However, returning to self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence, Self-realization or self-power is inherent in all Mahaayaana Buddhism, except that some schools will not bring it out into the open as a central issue as may be the case in Pure Land Buddhist practice. But it is fundamental and attractive precisely because it does not deviate from the basic teachings of the Buddha. It entails the discipline necessary to realize the truth of existence. Thus, the Mahaayaana tradition emphasizes meditation, dhyaana or praj~naapaaramitaa, as central thrust for the perfection of personhood.
In Far Eastern Buddhism, the pursuit of life has somehow brought about an amalgamation of self-and other-power elements. In the field of aesthetics, finally, the implications of Buddhist reality (ontology) have propelled Far Eastern art collectively into the status of one of the wonders of the world. In all of this, the role and function of emptiness, couched in the basic, dependently originating nature of things, have played no small part in this development. Thus, however slowly or quickly the wheel of becoming may be turning, the goal is the selfsame realization of the Buddhist Dharma. NOTES:
26. Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963), p. 673. In the Prasannapadaa (The Clearworded), Chandrakiirti comments on Naagaarjuna’s meaning of pratiitya-samutpaada thus: The first part of the term consists of the gerund of the root ‘i’ and the preposition ‘prati’. The root ‘i’ means motion, the preposition ‘prati’ means ‘reaching’. But the preposition (when added to a verbal root) modifies its meaning. It has been said that ”the meaning of the verbal root is changed by the preposition as if it were violently dragged into another place just as the sweet waters of the Ganges (change their savour when reaching) the waters of the ocean”. Therefore, the word ‘pratiitya’, being a gerund, means ‘reaching’ in the sense of being dependent (or relative). The word ‘samutpaada’ means ‘appearance, manifestation’. It comes from the verbal root ‘pad’ which with the preposition ‘samut’ has this meaning. Thus, the term pratitya-samutpada (in our system) conveys the idea of a manifestation of (separate) entities as relative to their causes and conditions (hetu-pratyaya-apek.sa).This quote is taken from Th. Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvaa.na, revised and enlarged edition with comprehensive analysis and introduction by Jaideva Singh (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), p. 89 (on chap. 1, ‘Examination of Causality’).
27. Naagaarjuna brought the basic Buddhist doctrines in line in a most sweeping manner by emphasising on the traditional concept of emptiness.
Whole realm of human experience could now be glimpsed from both the unenlightened and enlightened nature of things. In Buddhaghosa’s analysis of dependent origination, a verse depicts the voidness of the wheel becoming. This verse also confirms Mahaayaanistic employment of the concept of emptiness in the experiential dynamics of becoming. To this extent, the concept was given a new meaning by Naagaarjuna and heralded the possibility of further developments in Buddhism. There is strong suspicion that there may have been an unknown author or authors of the earliest praj~naapaaramitaa thought or other seminal works who had originally spawned the idea of the uniqueness and power of emptiness.

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