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July 16, 2018


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As you know, my limited perspective is merely as a lay follower of Buddhism, and not as any kind of sage. However from a dualistic understanding it seems quite clear that things arise and fall, and this is how worldlings view the world.

It can also be understood that these phenomena are mere appearances, which, Maya-like, take shape as if in a dream and cease to exist when the dream ends. How can this be realized? It is taught in the scriptures that appearances arise when conditions for them to arise are present, and cease to arise when conditions cease to be present. Upon the collapse of the skandhas they no longer appear. This is verifiable in practice.

In traditional Buddhist discourse, of course, this is established in a kind of logical equation of when A exists, B arises, and when A ceases, B does not arise. Thus, if the eye consciousness ceases to grasp to phenomena, things seen cease to present the characteristic of reality because the perception of them cannot take root, and it is with the ear consciousness, the taste consciousness and so on though the sensory system; but despite the appearances of forms and things in motion through time and space, mind itself remains unmoved, unstained, and without limit, instantly able to accommodate phenomena of infinite variety as long as awareness adheres to them, much like a dream in which people, places, and sensations all vividly arise, but which, when the support for them ceases, also cease to manifest and no longer appear as real.

While they seem to disappear, in reality they have neither appeared nor disappeared, but merely seem to do so by force of habit which mistakes these appearances for reality as long as conditions are present for them to appear. Thus while moving on a boat the shore can appear to move, whereas this is an inverted view.

In this way the rising of phenomena conforms to a relative truth, but of themselves they have never arisen, being dependent upon causation and arising together with the skandhic system. This is what I mean by non-arising.

It is this I would point to as reality and not the rising and falling of relative truths, which constitute the basis for most people’s awareness of the world as an objective reality with beings born into it. Thus I would hold there is none other than the absolute truth, with any divisions or relativity within it being merely provisional realities which have no basis unto themselves.

I am guessing this is what you are alluding to.

"Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned (asaṇkhata). What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned." ~ A. i. 152

When one attains bodhi/kensho this is exactly the state. Without bodhi, you can only approach it by thought which is conditioned. This then turns into the question: "How can thought reach the unthinkable?" I can't is the answer. They is why we have to employ dhyana — and I don't mean just sitting.


I am interested to know if you consider this problem at all relevant to the doctrine of non-arising.

As alluded to in a different post by Adasatala further down on your blogs, to me this issue of non-arising seems close to the crux of the problem. I too have often heard this (false) differentiation between “relative and absolute truths” among Western Buddhists.

Typically this is framed or presented as generally a kind of intellectual/conceptual acceptance that there might be some kind of absolute truth, but since the relative (i.e. samsaric) “truth” is most evident, action within and understanding about the relative is tantamount to gnosis of the absolute.

Of course this to me seems completely wrong, and as far as I can see, leads to an externalist practice which is not what is taught by the Buddha. As I understand it the greatest truth is also the most infinitely subtle. In sharing the Buddhadharma to close friends who have an interest and affinity in Buddhism, time and time again, there is a default sense of the karmic body as the absolute and real – with a natural inclination to view Buddhism as the means to make that karmic body a bit more comfortable or at peace, without a willingness to accept any other reality except that which appears to be born. And also from this idea is that Buddhism is the same as social justice warfare.

For this reason, I would like to bring up the truth of non-arising in reference to the habits of false discrimination of the relative as absolute. In reference to koan in the OP (the mountains sailing down the river) this brings to mind what the Lanka says about false discrimination, specifically the illusion that the shore is moving while the boat stays still. Clearly mind does not move, and all relative motion appears only because of false discrimination and (I would add), diminished capacity to perceive the twinfold egolessness of all things.

From this illusory motion arises a dualistic view, whereby we imagine ourselves as being born as objective entities into an objective world – this dualism being falsely conceived of as both beginning and end of spiritual practice, and tantamount to the absolute.
The metaphor of a moving firebrand seeming to make a wheel is another way to approach this fundamental problem of perceiving the unreality of samsara, which not only has no claim to relative truth, but is actually a complete mirage. How can a mirage be truth?

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