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November 08, 2018


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How do you understand the line
"There is no noble truth, there is only emptiness." ?


From the Shurangama Sutra:

‘The Buddha told Ananda, “The essential, true, wonderful brightness and perfect purity of basic enlightenment does not admit birth and death, nor any mundane defilements, nor even empty space itself. All these are brought forth because of false thinking.

”The source of basic enlightenment, which is wonderfully bright, true, and pure, falsely gives rise to the material world, just as Yajnadatta became confused about his head when he saw his own reflection.

”The falseness basically has no cause, but in your false thinking, you set up causes and conditions. But those who are confused about the principle of causes and conditions call it spontaneity. Even empty space is an illusory creation; how much the more so are causes and conditions and spontaneity, which are mere speculations made by the false minds of living beings.

”Ananda, if you perceive the arising of falseness, you can speak of the causes and conditions of that falseness. But if the falseness has no source, you will have to say that the causes and conditions of that falseness basically have no source. How much the more is this the case for those who fail to understand this and advocate spontaneity.

”Therefore, the Tathagata has explained to you that the fundamental cause of all five skandhas is false thinking.”’


Here is the first noble truth.

"And what, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering? It should be said: the five aggregates subject to clinging; that is, the form aggregates subject to clinging...the consciousness aggregate subject to clinging. This is called the noble truth of suffering" (SN 56:13).

Put into modern words our psychophysical body is the truth of suffering. And the cause of our suffering is clinging to this temporal body. A noble or aryan knows this. An an-aryan does not. The aryan also knows how to stop clinging to the temporal body. It is by the Eightfold path which culminates in samadhi by which nirvana is achieved.

What's the first noble truth? Life is suffering. Right? Every one knows this. It's still true. So why did bodhidharma say what he said in the koan? Because Zen teaches emptiness above all, Even the noble truth of suffering. Mind is empty originally. That's nirvana. I
I wouldn't call it bliss, though. I'd call it peace. The end of suffering. No drama. It gets kind of boring though after awhile though. So life goes on and on and on...

What you posted is spread around like cheap manure by those who never bothered to retain and penetrate into the real dialogue taking place between Emperor Wu and Bodhidharma (Daruma) that auspicious day in the Imperial Court.

Taken from this erroneous dialogue you posted, Bodhidharma could as well have responded thus on the second question;
"Though you deny it on any given moment, Mount Sumeru keeps flowing by in the stream of Buddhas outside your prison of gold on a daily basis. To see this miracle is to believe. To not, is to have faith in the empty while being entangled with its opposite."

Or he could have simply snapped a loud sound with his fingers. Either way would not awake the sleeping Buddha at that throne of dragons, that's why he left the Liang court at the end of the dialogue, not bothering to continue the encounter on the basis of the emperors very poor understanding of the true principle of the way.

For those who wonder why, they could perhaps investigate this excellent reading from early Ch'an known as the Treatise on the Transcendence of Cognition (Chüeh-kuan lun  - 絶觀論)

This excerpt describes an imaginary dialogue between two hypothetical characters, Professor Enlightenment (ju-li hsien-sheng 入理) and the student Conditionality (yüan-ch'i 緣起)

Question: "If one becomes a Tathaagata without transformation and in one's own body, how could it be called difficult?"
Answer: Willfully activating (ch'i 起) the mind is easy; extinguishing the mind is difficult. It is easy to affirm the body, but difficult to negate it. It is easy to act, but difficult to be without action. Therefore, understand that the mysterious achievement is difficult to attain, it is difficult to gain union with the Wondrous Principle. Motionless is the True, which the three lesser vehicles only rarely attain."

At this Conditionality gave a long sigh, his voice filling the ten directions. Suddenly, soundlessly, he experienced a great expansive enlightenment. The mysterious brilliance of his pure wisdom revealed no doubt in its counter illumination.

For the first time he realized the extreme difficulty of spiritual training and that he had been uselessly beset with illusory worries. He then sighed aloud: "Excellent! Just as you have taught without teaching, so have I heard without hearing.

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