certainty ch. 10 from Heart Blossoms



The Arising of Niscayamayiprajna

    Study and thoughtful reflection are generally sufficient for gaining inferential certainty in understanding emptiness, but meditation is a further necessity for completion of the transition from inference to direct and immediate knowing. With practice a deepening meditation gives more than just an intellectual certainty.  Direct perception, although supported by analytical studies, transcends those supports and completes them when meditation becomes more and more constant and stable. Perfect certainty regarding the truth of emptiness comes about by repetitious review of prior studies and then through meditation the knowledge is applied to the operations of the mind, ascertaining the correct view about how things really exist by ascertaining how they do not exist, and then making the proper adjustments in the thinking process.

   Things may appear differently to a more cultured perceptive capacity through meditational insight, and will be known with ultimate certainty when direct experience and clear discrimination give the proof.  That which cannot be directly experienced for the time such as nirvana, rebirth, or enlightenment, must be subjected to reasoning and subsequent valid inference. Neither can emptiness be directly experienced at first without a good supporting structure of reason and analysis. But when thoroughly cultivated in meditation, the correct view that all things are empty can erupt into a direct and profound non-inferential, and non-connectional, understanding, a “perception of the profound”.

    One of the best ways to cultivate a more extensive and complete understanding of emptiness is through an examination of the idea of the two truths, relative truth (samvritisatya) and ultimate truth (paramarthasatya).  The mundane relative truth is the way things appear to be, taken by the common run of human awareness to be real and appearing in manifested form through causality.  The transcendent ultimate truth is that everything is empty of self-being.  This truth cannot be perfectly expressed through the terms and concepts of language, but can be experienced directly.  Although not specifically mentioned in the text of the Heart Sutra, the two truths are nevertheless represented by “form” (the relative truth) and by “emptiness” (the ultimate truth).

     The difference between the various Mahayana Buddhist schools is usually merely a difference in the way the two truths are explained, and the way emptiness can be understood and experienced.  In meditation the practice is with the movement of thought merged with the application of the wisdom of emptiness; each thought is empty and is part of a process of interdependent origination, as are all phenomenal objects and events.  Form as relativity and emptiness as ultimacy may seem to be two different things, a dichotomy.  But meditation on, or analysis of, either one exclusive of the other inevitably leads to an imbalanced focus and viewpoint.  Any perceptible object is always relatively existent; there is something there which exists — but the object is also empty; it represents emptiness. The two truths are both valid simultaneously.

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

    It is not possible to abandon the reality of the appearance of form, nor is it possible to deny its inherently empty nature. Neither of these two aspectual truths can be excluded from their one source.  Each has the other as its basis of existence. All relativity is like illusion since there is no singular separate entity anywhere, and no thing can be investigated or even defined without relating it to other appearances; hence the definition of relativity as something which exists is only contingent with the existence of something else. Appearance as such must be real or there would be nothing to designate as objectively empty.  Emptiness as concept depends upon form, and has no separate existence apart from form, therefore emptiness cannot be an entity either; it is also selfless in the same way as form is selfless. Form and emptiness are not separate and distinct, not a distinctly separate dichotomy. The way a bodhisattva mahasattva or a buddha sees reality is by way of the two truths, both fused into an holistic view, a profound and perfect truth.  When meditation advances, the svabhava apprehension has to be passed beyond because the two truths are no longer mistakenly presumed to be two different things.

O Sariputra, form is none other than emptiness and emptiness is none other than form. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

      When the Heart Sutra defines the two truths in this way it is to be taken as the correct way to view things.  One of the clearest formulas elucidating this view was the doctrine of the threefold truth used in the T’ien Tai, the Hua Yen, and the Yogacara schools of Buddhism. This doctrine says:

(1) The absolute truth is that all phenomena are empty of their own specific selfhood since they all arise dependent on condition.

(2) The relative truth is that having a temporary appearance, all phenomena are interdependent and relative and are thus conventionally valid.

(3) The two truths are both aspects of reality, and in correct meditation both truths must be recognized together simultaneously, fusing them into one all-comprehensive, holistic, non-conceptual apperception.

     This simultaneity of prajna-vision is the esoteric meaning of parasamgate in the Heart Sutra’s mantra that takes one, through study and reflection beyond into meditation, until certainty, the apperception that the relative and the ultimate are not separate, and until “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form”, is known directly.

     Meditating upon one of the two truths, and then upon the other alternately, is a format for analytical knowledge.  When a practitioner actually realizes the integral truth of form and of emptiness without switching from one to the other, one moves beyond the negations of emptiness and the affirmations of form, beyond the dualism of relative and of ultimate, parasamgate. The practitioner realizes that everything perceived through the senses and comprehended with the mind is like a dream; this is an awakening to reality as it really is.   Many times in Prajnaparamita Sutras it is said,

“As a star, a visual aberration, a lamp, an illusion, dew, a bubble, a dream, lightning, and a cloud — view all composites as such.” (The Diamond Sutra)

     Looking at the world from the standpoint of svabhava perception is partial and errant perception mixed with superimposed conceptual classifications with reference to ego-notions and selfhood.  That is why it is like a dream, a dream of the uncultivated mind; it is also like a dream because there is no thing substantial in it.  Awakening to the standpoint of prajna-wisdom where there is certainty of understanding in spontaneous presence we can remain in the absence of false discrimination and constructed identification with the skandhas.  What is usually taken as normal perception and cognition is, in fact, a state of false understanding in which nearly everyone abides constantly when they fail to inspect their mental mechanisms and recognize the truth of things as they really are.   Enlightening texts such as the Heart Sutra always suggest inspection and analysis of our inner and outer worlds, and awakening to the real nondual situation.  Even the “inner” and the “outer” are mere conceptual designations and are not two in reality because dharma cannot be one-sided.  If one side is denied then the other side is automatically affirmed and if the opposite choice is taken then the opposite is the result.   This is the way the mind habitually splits one reality (dharmata) into a relative pseudo-dualism.

    There is a possible misunderstanding of an apparently basic contradiction in the formula for interdependent origination that is pointed out in the Heart Sutra.  Form happens to be a product of the origination process which is an affirmation of being. But emptiness negates only form’s self-being. The Sutra does not negate the being of form according to the process of conditional arising, but only negates its self-beingness.  So being is non-being, and non-being is being.  Even “affirmation” and “negation” are a duality that dissolves when prajna-wisdom cancels out the dichotomizing mind.  Understanding only the phenomenal side, which interdependent origination in its twelve phases presents, is a partial and dualistic discrimination. Non-dual apperception, however, transcends the partial view, and completes it. This was the task of the Heart Sutra being spoken on Vulture Mountain so long ago. The view of prajna-wisdom is a re-unification of a split that should never have been, a re-integrated view of the way reality really is and always has been, a healing of the disunity of dualistic perception.

    “Appearance” is a term denoting objective form, that which something “seems to be” in the absence of prajna apperception of what something really is.  This apperception must accord with the realization of the truth of sunyata as authoritatively taught in the Heart Sutra to the point where even terms and concepts with their structural limitations and imperfect capabilities are put into proper perspective.  “Emptiness” is a term describing the true condition of form, defining it as not what it may seem to be but pointing out its conditional absence of selfhood.   Appearance and emptiness each engender the other.  There is no separating them.  They go together as part of the true perceptual experience.

     If we inspect our true condition we may eventually awaken to the fact that we have long been under the influence of a habitual presupposition that everything emerges into existence as a result of strict causation, perhaps from a creator entity of some sort, and that an individual is a totally autonomous being. These presumptions are hidden away and unquestioningly accepted in the minds of nearly every human. Only those who undertake contemplative introspection will uncover these notions and become aware of the depth to which they distort perception and knowledge. When much is learned about conditioned mental factors, their operations, and how they interrelate in the cognition process, then it will, with certainty, be known that serial cause and effect as usually perceived, is only appearance, a seeming reality to those who have not yet correctly understood the conditional arising and therefore inherently temporary state of form-ness, emptiness.  Causes and effects are not self-existent entities.

    Abiding in the Noble Middle Way is a balance between these two truths, just in the middle, with no distinction between them as being separate realities. A perfect fusion is equanimity, a prajna perspective of fullness, of totality.  All dichotomies should be resolved through rigorous contemplative practice in order that that which was previously partially understood will be truly seen and fully comprehended.   This is a radical transformation.

    Understanding is polluted when the dichotomizing mind has adopted habitual patterns to the level of reactive mechanical conditioning.  This patterning of the mind is the unnoticed format and filter through which all perceptions and concept-creations are formulated.   Untainted discernments become tainted through the mind’s additions or subtractions resulting from these erroneous consciousness habit-seeds.  Dichotomous perception occurs when the dysfunctional non-lucid mind divides objects and events into supposed separate singularities conceptually removed from their actual integral relationships in the functional unity of the realm of reality (dharmadhatu).  Since there is no such thing as a separately originating, separately existing, or self-produced phenomena, the dichotomizing intellect is obviously errant in its dualistic suppositions. Deluded ideas of self-existence are based on mechanical suppositional mental formulas that add to and leave out basic verities.  The vision that fuses the two truths is prajna-vision, and certainty (niscaya).

    Dualistic and partial perception is chronic delusion, the non-understanding of the two conjoined truths. By not understanding the mental process of attachment and identification, and the consequent mistaken notion of separateness, the notions of the “me” and “other” become fixed perspectives, and this kind of habitual mental fixation gets so deeply ingrained that thinking and activity fall below the level of conscious awareness and into subconscious automatism.  The individual then becomes regularly absorbed in the compulsive and reactive processes of mental, emotional, and physical arenas of experience. Being absorbed means being engrossed, captivated and locked perpetually into inattentive modes of passivity and distraction.  The interdependent chain of events generated by this delusive absorption leads always to conflict, misery, turmoil, and suffering.  And it does so as a result of the associated train of thought that continues mechanically in the non-lucid mind of the one experiencing.

     All discernible events are temporary when judged with an isolated relativistic view.   Objects and events are extant only as a perceivable movement within the flux of conditioned factors, none of which have any substantial fixed existence when judged with prajna-wisdom. Disruption of absorption within aberrational thought processes is critical for the seriously devoted practitioner.  It is begun by the process of samatha, creating gaps in the flow of inattentiveness that allows undisciplined thoughts to fight for dominance and attention.   Short moments of attentiveness disrupt habitual inattentiveness. Creating habitual attentiveness eventually eliminates inattentiveness and becomes the perceptive “way”.  Inattentiveness in the mental process results from the dualistic concept of the “ego” notion of a permanent and eternal self, and the “self-being” notion of all “other”.  With the stabilization of attention and with certainty of understanding, samatha-vipasyana accomplishes lucidity and the elimination of delusion and distraction.

     Here is the all-comprehensive truth: “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form”.  The sense windows of our consciousness give the appearance of substantial being to that which is contacted though those apertures. But the result of this creative process is not that which was the contacted object of these sensory aggregates as one mistakenly assumes the “other” to be, but is only the mental creation resulting from the aggregate creative components reflecting in mind.  True reality is that which is NOT what one creates.   Freedom results from living non-discriminatively. Samsara becomes nirvana, and nirvana becomes samsara.


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