Thursday, November 11, 2004

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.


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