According to Zen master Niutou Farong (594–657) the ultimate essence of things is other to itself in the realm of illusion which is also to say, it appears different from what it actually is so that it cannot be recognized by us. He says:
“The Ultimate Essence of things is what is most important. But in the realm of illusion it becomes different from what it is. The nature of reality is invisible and cannot be understood by our conscious mind.”
But certainly, also, the ultimate essence cannot see itself, directly. It is only when the ultimate essence is other to itself in the form of antithesis is there any chance of it seeing/recognizing itself. This means, simply, that our “samsaric” temporal and illusory existence plays an important role in enlightenment.
This same illusory otherness or antithesis is also a dependent origination derived from the ultimate essence. Only when there is the absolute negation of the antithesis, i.e., dependent origination, is the origin of the antithesis revealed, this being what Niutou Farong called the ultimate essence of things.
This was perhaps why the Buddha did not unpack dependent origin in more detail and how it related to awakening. It was too heady of a subject. In my own thought about this subject beginning over ten years ago—and with some help from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) (Phänomenologie des Geistes)—it hit me like a lightning bolt as to what dependent origination was all about. I also learned what dhyana (Chan; Zen) was all about.
Dhyana is the means by which the adept overcomes the antithesis, thus awakening directly to its source which is the unconditioned ultimate essence of things. How elegant! This is why in earlier blogs, commenting on koans, the Zen adept has to go, eventually, to their wits’ end. Yes, even our mental images and concepts are dependent originations which hide their true source. It is like saying that when we totally remove the conditioned by dhyana, the unconditioned is, suddenly, revealed. The boundary or limit of the conditioned is precisely the unconditioned. Another way of looking at this is the boundary or limit of rope, is the manila from which it is made.