Monday, December 08, 2008

Three years ago today, I wrote the following:

For more than a decade, I have been searching for a direction in life. Now, I know the answer to the question: What do you want in life?

I wish to belong to a global (cosmic, inter- or extra-world) body (organization, system, etc.) that takes cares of this world and looks after its well-being and growth.


I believe there is more to life than merely laboring for survival and worldly gains. If there is well-being and growth, then people can have quality life and be able to devote themselves to higher ideals and purposes in life.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Every time I "work" on the principle of conditions in my mind, I feel like a theoretical physicist.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Appearance from Emptiness, Empty Appearance

I read the following section in a book yesterday. It so eloquently explains "....the secret of understanding reality lies in the union of emptiness and appearances. When things are empty, they appear; when they appear, they are empty" as stated near the end.

The section is by Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk residing at the Shechen monastery near Kathmandu in Nepal. He is coauthor of the critically acclaimed The Monk and the Philosopher and is the official French translator of H.H. The Dalai Lama.

I don't know if you're interested in such topic or feel comfortable with the kind of writing and analytical discussion; but just the same, I keyed in the paragraphs from the book, in case you want to read them. The note in brackets is mine.

- - - - -

Buddhism rejects the idea that anything can be causeless. If a result could happen without any cause, absolutely anything could lead to absolutely anything else, since what is causeless depends on nothing. So an effect must depend on its causes and conditions. This seems simple, but things become more complicated when we remember that Buddhism also rejects the notion of “objective” reality. The reductionist way of looking at causality supposes that an inherently existing entity with intrinsic properties acts on other entities by altering their properties. But Buddhist logic points out the insurmountable problems that arise when we consider phenomena as concrete, independent entities. So our view of causality is more complicated. In order to truly understand the Buddhist view, we should go through the traditional Buddhist analysis of this problem of causality.

We start with the realization that there can be only four sorts of causality, or means of production, in the world. A thing can be born (1) from itself; (2) from something else; (3) from itself and something else; or (4) neither from itself nor from something else. Then we work our way through the possibilities.

The first step is to acknowledge that a thing can’t be born of itself. If it contained all of its own causes, it would then multiply indefinitely without anything being able to stop. When all of the necessary causes are present, the event in question must occur. What’s more, if a thing was born of itself, this would mean that it already existed. Production would then be unnecessary. If what had already been born was born again, then the process would never stop.

And what about the second possibility, which is more similar to our usually idea of causality and those of science? Can a thing be produced by “something else”?

Buddhism accepts this sort of causality in terms of relative truth. In absolute terms, however, it affirms that if the cause and effect were totally distinct, then causality couldn’t operate. The reasoning goes like this: at the moment when the cause is about to vanish and the effect is about to appear, do the cause and the effect, considered as real, separate entities, have a “point of contact,” even for just a fleeting instant?

If yes, the cause and effect exist simultaneously when they are in contact. The effect thus doesn’t need to be produced, given that it already exists and the cause is unnecessary. What’s more, two simultaneous entities can’t work on each other in casual terms, because they can’t act on each other in the present instant. (This goes back to what Heisenberg said: “Two simultaneous phenomena cannot be connected by any direct causal action.”) On the other hand, if the cause and effect have no point of contact and are totally unconnected, causality breaks down. The two entities have nothing to do with each other and so can’t be in a cause-and-effect relationship. What’s more, if the cause has nothing to do with its product, anything could be born from anything else. In the words of Chandrakirti:

If something could be produced by something intrinsically “other,”
Then darkness could be born of fire
And anything could be born from anything.

Anything could be born from anything, because if the “cause” entity is “other” in terms of the “effect” entity, all phenomena are equivalent in the sense that they are all “other” in terms of the effect. In that case, any phenomenon could have been the cause. If the cause has already disappeared when the effect appears, then this comes down to saying that the effect happened with no cause and is an ex nihilo creation. In other words, if the cause vanishes before the result arrives, then the result never will arrive. A seed can’t vanish before giving birth to a shoot. Nor can the cause remain unchanged when the result arrives, just as a seed can’t give birth to a shoot without vanishing. To sum up, a concrete autonomous entity can’t produce another one. If the “result” entity already exists at the same time as the “cause” entity, either it doesn’t need to be produced, or it takes part in its own production, which is meaningless. If it doesn’t exist, its production is impossible, given that a billion causes can never produce something from nothing. Nagarjuna summed up this argument in the following quatrain:

If the entity of the effect already exists
What does a cause have to produce?
If the entity of the effect does not exist
How could a cause produce it?

And Atisha added, in the Torch of the Path to Enlightenment:

Something that exists already cannot, logically, be born.
Just like nonexistent thins – which are like flowers in the sky.

So this is Buddhism’s conclusion: What seems to us to be a cause-and-effect relationship can only be possible if neither the cause nor the effect exists independently and permanently. We thus come back to the phrase “because everything is emptiness, everything can exist.” The nonreality of phenomena is the precondition for their appearance. These “simple appearances” then evolve according to a law of causality based on interdependent phenomena with no inherent existence. To quote Nagarjuna once more:

There is not the slightest thing
That does not come from a dependent origin
And therefore there is not the slightest thing
That is not emptiness.

Modifications of these interactions bring about the chain of cause and effect, without its being necessary to postulate the existence of separate entities, each containing all of its own properties – what physicists call “local” properties.

Let’s now turn to the last two possibilities. Something can’t be born both of itself and of something else for the same reasons as in the preceding arguments. So, can something be born neither of itself nor of anything else? No, it can’t. For it could be born with no cause, anything could be born anytime, anywhere, and anyhow.

So that leaves us with what?

The only solution is interdependence, a co-production in which phenomena condition one another mutually within an infinite network of dynamic, impermanent causality, which is incomprehensible to a linear way of thinking, which is innovative without being arbitrary, and which eludes the two extremes of chance and determinism. To sum up, an inherently existing object can’t have a cause and can’t depend on anything else. If everything existed in this fashion, nothing would come about, causality wouldn’t operate, and the world of phenomena would be permanently frozen. The fact that things seem to happen in the world of appearances, or relative truth, is possible only because cause and effect have no intrinsic existence. It is said in Prajnaparamita’s Transcendent Knowledge:

They have no ending and they have no origin;
They are not nothing, nor are everlasting;
They do not come, they do not go;
They are not one, they are not more than one.

A correct understanding of emptiness thus stops us from falling into the traps of realism [permanent existence] or nihilism. Meditation on emptiness attenuates the belief in the real existence of things. But you mustn’t become attached to emptiness as a belief. If you do, you will relapse into nothingness. In the Garland of Jewels, Nagarjuna writes, “Since we find nothing real, how can we find something unreal? Indeed, the ‘nonexistent’ can only be conceived of in relation to what is existent.” In his Fundamental Treatise on Wisdom, he concludes:

When emptiness is wrongly understood,
It leads the ignorant to their perdition.
And thus in neither “is” nor “is not”
Does the sage abide.

According to Buddhism, the secret of understanding reality lies in the union of emptiness and appearances. When things are empty, they appear; when they appear, they are empty. Over and above the limitations of simple theoretical rationality, a true understanding of this statement can only be reached by means of direct contemplation. As it is said in Transcendent Knowledge:

People say, “I see a space” –
But how can space be seen? Examine what this means.
In such a way the Buddha spoke of “seeing” the ultimate nature of things;
He found no other word than “seeing” to express himself.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 13

>Okay, we can leave it at that then. If I somehow bump

>into an ancient text
that the buddha did mention about
>the existance or the permanence of
the mind, then maybe
>I can refer it to you. But until then, maybe we can

>leave it at this state at the moment, since words coming
>from ancient text
are the most credible to you, more than
>my attempted logical reasoning.

Correction: I did not say ancient text. I said what the
Buddha said, because I consider him the authority of the
Buddha Dharma.

>Following ur new topic. I really don't know about northern
>and southern
chinese buddhist sutras. I know the name
>of some chinese sutras but I
don't know which falls into
>what category.

Not sutras; lineage, schools.

Northern lineage: Buddhist schools in Tibetan, Chinese,
Japanese, Korean, etc.; schools that refer to themselves
as belonging to the Mahayana or the “greater vehicle.”
Southern lineage: Buddhists schools in Thailand, Burma,
Laos, etc.; primarily following Theravada Buddhism; or
what the Mahayana schools like to refer to as the
“Hinayana” or “lesser vehicle” schools.

>But I do know that if you want ancient buddhist schools,
>then I think the
oldest and earliest schools that
>branched out after the Buddha taught
were maybe the
>four indian schools of: 1.) Abhidharma 2.) Sautantrika

>(sutrist school) 3.) cittamatra (mind-only school)
>3.) madhyamika (middle
way school - which is further
>divided into the madhyamika svatantrika and
>prasangika)....I think u know these...then are u telling
that you are only interested in these older schools?
>or did u mean...the older schools in chinese buddhism?

Correction: Not older schools; ancient Buddhism.

By “ancient Buddhism,” I was referring to the first
school, where the practitioners of the Buddha Dharma
belonged - when the Tathagata was still alive. Ancient
Buddhism may also include the Sangha school that existed
shortly after Gotama the Buddha died.

>On another us as a buddhist want to reach
>buddhahood ASAP?

I wouldn’t know what every Buddhist is thinking.
Theoretically, a Buddhist aspires to be a Buddha; however,
this may not be true with every practitioner. In my case,
for instance, I do not aspire to become a Buddha. For
many years, my vow has always been “to become an
enlightened person, so I can help others become

I want to be enlightened, so I can be competent enough to
help other practitioners “graduate” sooner; sooner as
meaning in the present lifetime, or at least, for them to
know the right path leading to enlightenment even if
they are unable to practice in their present lifetime.
I am not trying to be a martyr in thinking this way. I
just don’t want other sincere practitioners to be like
me before or to waddle forever in mud in search of the
magga (Way).

Sometimes, certain “funny” feelings or thoughts cross my
mind when I am contemplating. For instance, I wonder if
I really want to stop rebirth – if I could, as an arhat,
for instance – and stop becoming a human again. I check
myself and find no serious dilemma, but I can detect
someone small within me wanting to be human again. I tell
myself, good thing I don’t want to stop rebirth, because
my vow requires me to keep coming back. My only regret,
as mentioned in my previous e-mail, is I have to begin
learning from scratch every time I start a new life as
a human (if I get a ticket to the human realm next time).

In connection with the “graduation” topic… This is why
I told my friend William that I do not agree with the
so-called “authorities” preaching the Buddha Dharma
unless they are already “enlightened beings.” Of course,
I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them would, in their
own way, claim to be “enlightened” or “authorized by
[fill in the blank]” when challenged. Before, I wouldn’t
know how to distinguish them from charlatans or wishful
thinkers, now I have gauges: the basic principles of the
Buddha Dharma and the doctrine/law of dependent

>what's ur plan of action to achieve it? just curious...
>in another words...u
said that your understanding of
>emptiness and impermanence was the
basis of ur
>practice.... so how do u practice with it........?

Understanding emptiness and impermanence is the basis of
my practice? Uh…

Let me put it this way. This is how I understand it. The
right way is to comprehend/perceive the doctrine/law of
dependent origination and to apply it with continuing

In this sense, for my practice, there are two things I
have to achieve: cultivation through knowledge and
cultivation through actual practice. I feel I’ve never
had any problem with the former. Information always seems
to pop up whenever I need it, especially when it is
relevant to spirituality. I guess I have this stronger
“synchronicity” with information? Perhaps, I am only
fooling myself, because the mind sees what the person
believes. Anyway, thanks to the volume of information
available to me, I feel my intellectual cultivation of
the Dharma has always “improved” in time (by stages of
exposure, as I look back at my past). Improving in the
sense that if I learned A before and I learn B now, B
can help me better comprehend/perceive A. When I get
to C, C helps me better comprehend/perceive B; but by
then, I realize I can already explain A in my own words.

My problem is with actual practice or the application of
the relevant knowledge. People have different opinions
about the application. William insisted on the importance
of virtue or “teh” (in Chinese); lots of Buddhists prefer
the “kong teh” (in Chinese) in relation to their actual
practice. I didn’t have any better ideas, but I do now.
To me, it’s about having continuing mindfulness. I am
sure that, if William were asleep now, he would be
turning in his bed. If he were awake and were to hear
this, he would just shake his head and think that I am
back to the old loop. Well, I don’t care, because I have
never felt this sure of the magga; never, as measured
by in-all-my-life.

Sad to say, I am still struggling with the part on actual
practice. Sometimes, I am beginning to feel that,
although I seem to have full access to certain resources,
my role or mission in this life may not concern becoming
an enlightened being… More like a librarian or scholar
whose primary job is to provide information on the Dharma
or magga.

Thinking in this line, I’ll appreciate it if the Buddha
tells me or left word to inform me that I am still part
of a Greater Campaign. Hah! But that’s being imaginative;
or even experiencing self-delusion, which is typical of
victims of cult culture. 8^b

Saturday, November 13, 2004

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 12 (2)

>BUT it is 'not' true that all things that are empty are

impermanent. Because there are existing things
>that are permanent.


>REgarding the issue of an eternal soul. If you or I had
>used the word soul
from the start (without mixing it
>with mind), then I would have agreed with
you. I have
>heard a great buddhist scholar explain why buddhists deny

>the existance of an eternal soul. But, soul and mind
>are different, the same scholar that explained why an

>eternal soul does not exist explained why an eternal
>mind exists. Given
this situation, if the text you read
>about buddha reprimanding a disciple for
believing in an
>eternal soul actually used the english word "soul" or meant

>it in any other language, then maybe you have assumed that
>the soul and
mind are the same, and the buddha mean that
>the mind is eternal
but "souls" do not exist, let alone
>an eternal soul....

>As we both agree that the eternal soul does not exist and
>if the source
you read really did use the term "soul" and
>not "mind" then maybe the
buddha did mean "soul" and the
>buddha believes in an eternal "mind", but
somehow you
>assumed that the "soul" and "mind" are the same.
>let me know if the term used was really "mind" or " soul".

The English term used in most materials I came across was
“consciousness,” some “soul,” but I take it that Bhikkhu
Sati’s “consciousness” then meant the “soul,” which is a
more popular term today. Of course, it could also mean the
mind because consciousness is more relevant in meaning to
the mind than to the soul.

Now, be it soul, consciousness, or mind, it’s just the same
to me. I cannot accept an “eternal mind,” whether it’s
attributed to the Buddha (blasphemy!) or not. To me, the
doctrine of dependent origination, which Gotama the Buddha
taught, applies to all in samara. All phenomena are
impermanent. To me, the mind - be it Gotama's or not -
is a phenomenon; therefore, it is impermanent. IF, however,
Gotama the Buddha said that his mind is permanent or eternal,
then I shall re-evaluate my conviction.

On another topic, I’d like you to know that questions
have been raised regarding the authenticity of many
popular sutras, especially those belonging to the Northern
lineage (Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Korean, etc.).

Lately, I’ve been exposed to the Southern lineage, and,
based on my decades of exposure with the Northern lineage,
specifically the Chinese traditional Buddhism (and later
Tibetan and Tantric neo-Buddhism), I now find the Southern
schools simpler, plain, and direct to the point, whereas
the Northern schools tend to be romantic and prone to the
ornamental, as in too many extensions, attachments, and
“mysteries.” No wonder the Northern schools have so many
“Buddhist” deities.

Furthermore - this is just an observation – I find many
“Buddhist authorities” of the Northern schools being
prejudice towards practitioners belonging to the Southern
lineage; the most notorious being labelling the latter as
“Hinayana” or “Hinayanists.” In the past months, I used to
watch a Buddhist program in cable channel headed by a
very active Chinese monk. I always got turned off whenever
he referred to “monks of the Southern schools” or “teachings
of the Southern schools” with lesser respect in comparison
to his “Mahayana” lineage. That monk is typical of many
Chinese monks in my impression. But then, that’s his
business. I have my own cultivation to attend to.

Given my experiences with the more “romantic” schools,
and my awareness of the integrity of some sutras and
human “authorities” of the Dharma being put to question,
I no longer want to waste my time and effort with just any
sources other than the Buddha. For this reason, I now favor
ancient Buddhism. Of course, that doesn’t mean I would treat
everything that is labelled as coming from the Buddha’s
mouth as authentic and acceptable right away.

>To me, the buddha's compassion's depedent origination
>is that his great
compassion was caused by his cultivation
>in the past...but now that he is
the buddha and perfected
>his practice...his compassion will continue to be
>by its dependent origination but he will always retain his

>compassion..therefore his compassion is everlasing and

Frankly, I feel very uncomfortable with your use of the
present tense, especially the eternal parts. Ha ha ha!

>This is my buddhist should be tested like gold
cut..blablabla)...and this is what this discussion
>is doing I guess...atleast...
I hope.

It’s part of the cultivation.

Friday, November 12, 2004

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 12

>hehe, no I haven't perceived emptiness directly, but I

>have repeatedly
tried to show that "emptiness" and
>"impermanent" are different, so I do
not need to have
>perceived "emptiness" to disagree with the statement

>that such and such are "impermanent".

From the start of this communication, I’ve been wondering
at the back of my mind why you find emptiness and
impermanence so different, whereas from my previous e-mails,
you’d see that I find them to be closely related, such
that emptiness is used to describe the effect of
impermanence. Would you tell me what is your understanding
of emptiness and impermanence in the Buddha Dharma?

>I agree that Gotama buddha's body has passed away or
>died or
something like that, but his mind continues,
>and that is why I believe his
enlightened mind continues
>to exist. The reason I believe this is that it is

>a basic buddhist belief that when the body stops the
>mind doesn't stop.
The mind 'supposedly' according to
>buddhist theory has been existing for
countless eons
>in the past and will continue existing forever even when

>the samsaric body perishes. Somewhere in this paragraph
>is where we
have different beliefs.

Yes, that is where we have our contrasting beliefs. I'd
even venture to say that there lies one of the great
differences among practitioners of the Buddha Dharma.
As I told you, I re-evaluated my beliefs of the Buddha
Dharma during my study of the doctrine of dependent
origination. Just some months ago (yes, only recently),
when I kept encountering the story of the Buddha
reprimanding the Bhikkhu Sati, my fundamental
understanding of a continuing soul or consciousness or,
in your case, mind, after physical death collapsed.
Actually, at first, I thought I misread or misunderstood
the idea in the accounts (from different sources). That
was why I encouraged you to check out the story of
Bhikkhu Sati in relation to the topic. Likewise, the
accounts of the Buddha correcting the other bhikkhus
for harbouring the concept of an eternal entity, which
ran against the Buddha Dharma’s principle of impermanence
and practice in the Middle Path. To my understanding,
one of the Buddha’s campaigns then was to dismantle the
concept of permanence, which was so deeply rooted among
people, perhaps due to Brahmanism or generally accepted

It took me a long time to “assimilate” this particular
concept of impermanence because the old one about a
permanent entity was ingrained in my belief. Somehow,
when things fell into place later (after the assimilation;
this should remind Lizanne of the Borgs, ha ha!), I began
to see why “emptiness” is often used and is so important
in the teaching of the Buddha Dharma. With the new
perspective, for instance, I now find it relatively easier
to comprehend (or find the “deeper” meanings “hidden” in)
the Heart Sutra or by extension, the Diamond Sutra; but
then again, it’s only my observation.

>To say that translating it in that way will have no
>benefit at all, is probably
not true....but on the
>other hand if every generation of translators where

>to add his/her own interpretation to the sutra and still
>maintain the
original title of the sutra ...then after
>100 generations after it might look
very very different
>from what the buddha really said or even meant, which

>dilutes and in a way pollutes the pure teachings.
>this is my concern.

You have a good point there. I will change “translation”
into “my interpretation.”

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 11 (2)

No, I do not agree “that the enlightened mind of a buddha


I think I can see where the wedge is. Am I correct to
assume that you believe that the “enlightened mind of the
Buddha” should be permanent?

Well, this is how I understand it.

First of all, the last living Buddha I know, according to
Buddhist teachings, was Gotama. He died thousands of years
ago. When he was alive, he was a person like us, but he
discovered the law of nature (law of dependent origination)
and the Four Noble Truth. Hence, he became a Tathagata (a
supreme enlightened being) or what others would call a
Buddha. Gotama the Buddha, in being able to stop the
process of rebirth, would no longer “arise” in samsara
after his death. Since Gotama the Buddha is dead, how
can there be an “enlightened mind of a Buddha?”

All phenomena, by their nature, are impermanent. If you
believe in a permanent “enlightened mind of a Buddha,”
then the attachment to that idea, a mind consciousness
(there also being eye consciousness, ear consciousness,
nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body
consciousness), is a phenomenon. Therefore, it is

Furthermore, phenomena arise in samsara. What thing in
samsara is permanent or eternal? Even the Buddha died.
If you insist that the Buddha is eternal, then this line
of argument will end up nowhere because to me Gotama the
Buddha is dead. That, in fact, has been the idea of the
practice. No more rebirth in samsara after death because
rebirth means another round of sufferings.

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 11

I used “impermanence” to mean “not permanent” or “not
eternal.” I used “phenomena” to mean “all things;”
in our case, including consciousness and dharmas (“fa”
in Chinese).

“All phenomena are impermanent.” All things, including
persons, incidents, aggregates, consciousness, and
dharmas are not-permanent or not-eternal. They are
temporary because they arise (exist, become, born, etc.)
depending on causal conditions. Once the conditions
change or disappear, the things change or cease to exist.
In this sense, they are “empty” or devoid of an independent
existence; “independent” as in existing or operating
independent of causal conditions. In Chinese Buddhism,
especially in Vajrayana, there is a popular phrase
called “yuen chi shing kong” (“yuen chi” = dependent
origination; and “shing kong” = an entity’s nature is

Your question #1: “empty space”

I don’t exactly understand what you mean. Do you see
empty space as a phenomenon? Is empty space itself an
arising or existence? Well, I don’t really see the
relevance here. I assume we’re talking about the
impermanence and emptiness of something mainly because
a practitioner could be attached to it and hence start
a round of suffering, if he fails to perceive that
the something’s existence is impermanent or empty.
I fail to see a person attaching to empty space; however,
if a person is attached to the *idea* of “empty space,”
then it (the idea or mind consciousness) is a phenomenon.

Please refer to the Heart Sutra. It says that with
Perfection Wisdom, the practitioner sees “mind
consciousness” as impermanent, or as you’d put it
“empty.” (yad rupam sa-sunyata … Evam eva vedana,
samjna, sam-skara vijnanam) vijananam = sunyata.

Your question #2: “the buddha's mind is omniscient”

Are you asking if the Buddha’s mind is a phenomenon?
Uh, first of all, I don’t think I have enough competence
to comprehend the Buddha’s mind, so I cannot even begin
to talk about it, because if I could, I’d probably
be a Buddha. Second, in relation to my answer to
question #1, the issue is phenomena that cause attachment
when a practitioner fails to perceive the phenomena’s
existence as impermanent or empty. In this sense,
therefore, if the practitioner is attached to the *idea*
of “the Buddha’s mind is omniscient,” then it (the idea
or mind consciousness) is a phenomenon.

Your question #3: “perceiving emptiness directly is
a direct antidote to eliminating the first link of
dependent origination”

I’d prefer to put it this way: In knowing the law
(process) of dependent origination, a practitioner can be
able to stop the process at the first link, Ignorance,
when he has mindfulness (being aware of the “arising” at
the instant and the way to the cessation of suffering)
and - very important - chooses to stop it.

If the practitioner is attached to the *idea* that
“perceiving emptiness directly is a direct antidote to
eliminating the first link of dependent origination,”
then it (the idea or mind consciousness) is a phenomenon.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Staying on the Middle Path and the Belief of an Eternal Existence

When I posted my new page on the Heart Sutra, the son of my good friend (JP) wrote me with concerns about the way I translated the Sutra, specifically on why I replaced "emptiness" (sunyata) with "impermanence." I replied to him in a not-so-short e-mail. Later, I found it necessary to add the following in a second e-mail to him:

This is how I understand it.

Popular beliefs and practices do not proceed on the Middle Path. They tend to stray to the two extremities, which are contrary to principles of the Buddha Dharma. What are these two extremities? (1) The concept of an eternal or permanent existence (sassataditthi or “chang jien”) and (2) the concept of nihilism (ucchedaditthi or “duan jien”).

I assume you, like most Buddhists, do not agree or hold on to the concept of nihilism, so I will just go to the issue on the concept of an eternal or permanent existence. Note that often times it is this latter concept that is eroding proper Buddhist cultivation, which is practicing in the Middle Path.

What are the familiar symptoms of the concept of an eternal or permanent existence that are relevant to my discussion (in the previous e-mail)? The belief that the doer of a deed will be the receiver of its consequences. By extension, the belief that a soul, consciousness, or person goes from one life to the next carrying with him the merits accumulated or debts incurred from the previous life.

Let's talk about "the doer of a deed is the receiver of its consequences" first.

Based on the doctrine or law of dependent origination, the "doer" exists (arises) due to causal conditions; therefore, it is impermanent and "empty" (devoid of an existence that is independent of causal conditions). For instance, a person lives because favorable conditions support his continued living. If the conditions necessary for his continued existence go away, he dies. In this sense, a person is impermanent and "empty" (devoid of an existence that is independent of causal conditions).

An analogy for better understanding: A branch of a mango tree bears a mango. Before the mango came out, did the fruit exist inside the tree? No. So where did the mango come from? It arises because various favorable conditions support its becoming; for instance, a healthy fertile tree and favorable weather conditions. In this sense, the mango's existence is dependent on conditions. In the Buddhist sense, therefore, it is "empty" (devoid of an existence that is independent of causal conditions).

Likewise, based on the doctrine or law of dependent origination, the receiver's existence is dependent on conditions. Therefore, the doer of the deed is NOT the same entity to bear its consequences. The doer and the receiver have causal links, but they are NOT the same entity. The receiver is NOT the future of an eternal or permanent doer self. Remember, all phenomena are impermanent according to the law of dependent origination. Thus, the receiver arises due to causal conditions, albeit its existence has causal links with the doer and is conditioned according to the deed of the doer (karmic conditioning). Meaning, the receiver will bear the consequences of the deed, but he is NOT the same entity as the doer.

Now, let’s talk about the belief that a soul, consciousness, or person goes from one life to the next, carrying with him the merits accumulated or debts incurred from the previous life.

When a person dies, no soul or consciousness goes to the next life. If you believe a soul or consciousness passes to the next life bringing along the merits accumulated or debts incurred by the person in the previous life, then you are holding on to the concept of an eternal or permanent existence, which is contrary to the principle of the Buddha Dharma.

Rebirth occurs also according to the law of dependent origination. A new entity (person) arises due to conditions, but his becoming has causal links with the previous entity (person), and is conditioned according to the deeds (merits and debts) of the now-dead previous entity. Rebirth, however, may take place be in the human realm, animal realm, in heaven, or hell, as fashioned by karmic forces working in accordance with the law of causality.

An analogy for better understanding: A seed when planted grows into a mango tree, which bears fruit. The seed has causal link with the fruit, but it is not the fruit. In this case, it undergoes sort of a transformation process. In the same sense, a person’s becoming, death, or rebirth undergoes certain processes according to the law of nature. The seed may be likened to the person in the previous life, whereas the fruit a person in this life, who certainly is not the person in the previous life but has causal link with the previous existence.

The becoming of a person may be influenced by karmic conditions. Although the person's becoming might be partly influenced by karmic conditions, his existence is not totally predetermined (as in the belief of destiny) because karma is just one of the natural forces affecting becoming and the process of existence. The person has free will over his life. His intentions and deeds, in turn, will form the karmic conditions that will influence the next becoming, whether in another life or a future portion of this life. Karma is essentially a “pattern” that the person designs for the next becoming through his deeds, and it becomes effective because of the law of causality

I do not know how you could swallow the above concepts readily, even if you now believe the doctrine to be correct. When I discovered that the doctrine was the core of the Buddha Dharma, I had to spend a long, long time reading, meditating, digesting, understanding, and assimilating the concepts that come with the doctrine. No wonder, when Ananda commented that the doctrine of dependent origination was simple and easy to understand like causality in the mechanical sense, the Buddha rebuked “Do not say so, do not say so, Ananda, because the doctrine of dependent origination is profound.”

By the way, the Buddha never explained causality as most people (even Buddhists) do today: If you do this, you will get this. This was how He explained causality: “When this is, that is. From the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, that is not. From the ceasing of this, that ceases.” (Imasmim sati, idam hoti. Imass uppadadam uppajjati. Imasmim sati, idam na hoti. Imassa nirodha, idam nirujjhati.) What has that got to do with the causality that people generally know? Well, I also worked very hard, and have assimilated it. Now, I don’t have any dilemma in seeing the connection of the Buddha’s explanation and the causal process, especially when I also incorporate the doctrine of dependent origination.

As I mentioned before, the practice of the Buddha Dharma is essentially about accepting the truth of the existence of sufferings and cultivating for the cessation of sufferings. The cessation of sufferings comes when the practitioner is able to stop rebirth or sufferings from arising at the root stage: Ignorance (capitalized because the term is specific in the 12 links of dependent origination, another story). The practitioner is able to do this when he sees “emptiness” in all phenomena, including the dharmas, because he totally comprehends the doctrine of dependent origination and can apply it in his life thru continuing mindfulness.

My e-mail reply to JP on Nov. 10

Thank you for your reply and for sharing your ideas.

I was not surprised about your ideas of emptiness and
impermanence. In a way, I expected them to be that way.
I myself was "hit in the head" when I came upon the
doctrine of dependent origination, and had to re-evaluate
my ideas of the Buddha Dharma, which I've kept studying
for more than three decades. Before that, I even went as
far as Tantra, just to research on the origin of Tibetan,
Chinese, and Japanese vajrayana Buddhism.

I maintain that all phenomena are impermanent. To me,
the aggregates, consciousness, and even the Dharma are
impermanent. In this sense, I maintain that, for instance,
there is no eternal soul or entity that is going from one
life to the next. I, however, maintain that there is
rebirth due to karmic conditioning (if you feel a
logical/mental knot here, I shall elaborate for you in the
future when needed).

I *encourage* you to research on this topic, especially on
the part where the Buddha corrected (actually reprimanded)
Bhikkhu Sati (a monk in His sangha group) for his insistence
on the belief of an eternal consciousness or soul that goes
from one life to the next. Bhikkhu Sati, like so many
practitioners then and today, believed in an eternal self or
soul. Other bhikkhus in error, like so many practitioners
then and today, also believed that the doer of a deed is the
*same* receiver of karmic repercussions. The key error being
the belief on the same entity or a permanent self. In this way,
the bhikkhus in error harbored a concept of eternal existence
("chang jien" in Chinese) - an extremity, thus, not of the
Middle Path - whereas the Buddha specifically taught the
doctrine of dependent origination or the idea of impermanence.
(mind blowing? go research)

To my understanding, the term "sunyata" (emptiness or void)
is a term used to describe the effect of dependent origination
or impermanence. For instance, a fruit exists only as long as
its supporting conditions hold. The present state of fruit
(taste, texture, etc.) is due to causal conditions (karmic
conditioning in the case of a person). When the supporting
conditions change, so does the fruit; like it rottens in
time. In this sense, the fruit is impermanent and, therefore,
"empty" because it is devoid of an *independent* self.
Otherwise, it would be an entity that exists independent of
causal conditions or karmic conditioning, like how the
Christians believe their God to be. This same principle of
impermanence applies to all persons, things, phenomena,
consciousness, and even the Dharma (remember the line "all
dharmas are empty?" All as in all forms of dharma, from
"chu fa kong hsiang").

To my understanding, the term "emptiness" (or "void") used
in Buddhism, whether in Chinese or English, is most misleading.
People are prone to interpret the Dharma as preaching nihilism
("duan jien" in Chinese) - the other extremity, thus not of the
Middle Path - whereas the Buddha specifically taught the doctrine
of dependent origination or the idea of impermanence.

A long time ago, I also held the same concept as you do
about "emptiness" in my practice. It got me nowhere because I
could only repeat what the teachers or books said. Isn't it the
same with you now? Repeating the lessons; repeating what you are
taught about emptiness when you talk about it? As I see it, the
problem in this case is you can't even begin to comprehend
emptiness by attending to "emptiness" - because it is simply
a term used to describe the effect of dependent origination
or impermanence.

Since I was small, I always wondered what the Buddha
contemplated on under the tree. I wanted to have it so I could
become a Buddha. Today, I know it was the doctrine of dependent
origination that the Buddha Gotama discovered when he practiced
under the tree. I used "discovered" because, according to Him,
the doctrine was about the law of nature, which he discovered.
He did not invent the doctrine. Therefore, according to Him, any
person who is not a Buddhist but knows the doctrine can still
become a Buddha like Him. I am fortunate on being able to come in
touch with the doctrine. Now, I feel I have found the magga (Way).
Of course, the other part of the practice is actual.

Regarding your concerns... Rest assured that I have no intention
of misleading practitioners. To the best of my understanding,
my translation of the Heart Sutra is the right way to interpret
and report on the Buddha Dharma. As you will notice, my translation
of the Sutra is not literal, because my purpose is to relay the
message and not simply to repeat the words in another language.

If you take this discussion seriously enough, and would like
to explore, I can imagine it will bring about certain contradictions
or conflicts in your understanding of the Dharma. Especially, if you
hold the teachings of your school or teacher close to heart. Well,
I am not encouraging dissidence (he he he!), but, like how the
Buddha always wanted His tudents to do before, you might want to
investigate and find out the truth by yourself (refer to the
Kalama Sutra: I believe every
person has his "yuen" in the Practice. There are many roads to the
destination. All I can suggest to you, on this issue, is pray for
guidance to be able to have the Right View and practice in the
Right Path.

As for me... I am not afraid to maintain my view - although it
goes against the mainstream and popular belief, which is apparent -
because of my vow. I do not seek freedom from rebirth - even if I
can attain the level of an arhat (!) someday, if ever anyway -
or stay in the Pureland (as many Chinese Buddhists hope for)
because of my vow. My only wish is, in my next lives in samsara,
I won't have to spend this much time (more than four decades!) in
coming to the magga and carry out my mission.

I am glad my e-mail started this discussion. I look forward to
reporting my personal discoveries to you by e-mail or in person
(now, we have something to discuss about when we meet in the future).

Should you find it worthwhile to read about the doctrine, my
Web pages have links to some helpful materials. Also, I hope
you won't mind my sharing this discussion with others.