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July 24, 2011


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Clyde, admit it, you are the American reincarnation of Dogen!

Kojizen; You seem to be arguing with Dogen. (He’s dead.) And you avoided answering my questions about your views. Perhaps another time you’ll share Kojizen’s understanding.

Clyde, there is subtle but important difference between the lion (phenomenon) and the gold (noumenon) analogy of Fa-tsang and Dogen's belief that phenomena and Buddha-nature are the same.

To use Fa-tsang's other analogy it is like a snake made of rope which the deluded mind perversely imagines to exist. But in truth there is no snake. For Dogen the snake is the rope. Delusion is enlightenment.

Kojizen; I’ve read very little Dogen, so I don’t know his teachings on Buddha-nature. And I’m more interested in understanding your view. Perhaps if we examine a favorite analogy of the blog: the Golden Lion.

We agree that the Self is not the form (or any of the Aggregates). And you can’t ‘have’ the gold because then the question would be: What is the ‘you’ that has the gold? And you can’t be multiple gold atoms, since the Buddha clearly taught that “All compound things are impermanent.” But are you a single unique, identifiable particle of gold different from other equally unique and identifiable particles of gold; i.e., does your particle of gold have a mark of Kojizen? Does the Zennist ‘particle of gold’ (Self) have a mark of Zennist?


I think some people hear or see the word "eternalism" and that the Buddha rejected it and rush to assume therefore that the Buddha rejected the notion of the eternal altogether without them having fully examined how it is really defined by the Buddha. However, that the Buddha described Nibbana as "sassata" clearly obviates this mistaken generalization, lest the Buddha (or the suttas) be immediately accused of the eternalism he professes to reject. So there is more to it, and it is very important to know what the Buddha says about it.

So the student of Buddhism should be able to see that there is no contradiction, because on the contrary, Eternalism is identified by the Buddha as a set of "sakkayaditthi" or views concerning the existing aggregate, which his teaching consistently shows are non-eternal. That is to say, when exampled as a heresy (for example in the Brahmajala sutta) it has a specific focus with regard to what the Buddha otherwise knows to be non-eternal, and that is the crux of the error; it lies not in the notion of eternality itself, only in mistaking the non-eternal for the eternal. So when the Buddha identifies Nibbana as sassata and the five aggregates as non-eternal and suffering, and furthermore Nibbana as the happy utter cessation of the five aggregates, it is patently not "eternalism" as rejected by the Buddha even though he is most clearly offering an eternal.

Put another way, eternalism as a heresy puts forth the eternality and identity of both self and world. Knowing that world is defined by the Buddha at one place as "that which perishes," we can immediately see why he rejects such a doctrine. Interestingly enough, if one examines the Brahmajala sutta closely, one notices a glaring "omission" in the taxonomy of error: the doctrine "the self is eternal, the world not" is not included in the wrong views described, which is curious given this is the principle pernicious doctrine that those who generalize the Buddha's rejection of eternalism assume he is rejecting. It's probably because just such a doctrine is the basic gist of his own teaching!

On the flip side of sakkayaditthi, annihilationism would be a mistaking (doctrinally) of the eternal for the non-eternal, saying it perishes or does not exist as the eternal, therefore identifiable also --as the Buddha explicitly does-- with "natthika" or "nihilism/denial". To say of what properly should be understood as eternal that it is non-eternal is the same thing as to say the eternal does not exist.

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