Essentially the ultimate validation of any system, school, academy, lineage, science or mode of understanding, is the inevitable process the literature and its own peculiar (and lurking) form of ‘anti-matter’ – known as the disintegration of the logical underpinnings that hold it all together. This is not a negation, but rather an acknowledgement that all that is brought together by the human mind, can not remain as an artificial construct indefinitely. Bundles of ideas can be conveyed from one generation to the next, but in the process, the acknowledged accumulated wisdom is not only ‘conveyed’, but also ‘replicated’ in the act of remembrance through study. Things that are passed on are really disparate in nature, consisting of many strands of knowledge held together by a central premise. In its natural environment, (and left to its own devices), all knowledge bundles atrophy into non-awareness and return to an unconstituted state. Knowledge is awareness aimed at a particular subject (or object), with the experience stored as ‘memory’ in the human mind. This gathering of knowledge is inherently linked to the ‘re-call’ of ‘facts’ stored as memories. This gathering of experience is passed on as knowledge so that the benefit of its value may be experienced by another. This knowledge-value is added to and taken away from as the gathering and passing-on process requires. There are many types of knowledge bundles with criterion that vary according to the nature of those bundles, such as science, philosophy, or religion, etc. This memory of experience is obviously affected by geography, climate and change. What is ‘known’ is gathered from reasoning and reflection entwined with physical experience. Different knowledge bundles define the various cultures existent around the world. The differences in knowledge bundles represent the disparate nature of human existence, and although this ‘difference’ can be seen within distinct nations of peoples, it can also be viewed as existing between family groupings and individuals. This kind of knowledge is the product of the apparent interaction of ‘mind’ and ‘matter’, with the caveat that what may appear to be ‘separate’ and ‘different’ in the everyday manifestation, may not in fact be so in ‘reality’, if reality is defined as ‘not existing in the everyday’. Of course, this is not to say that reality is non-existent in the everyday, but that through the prism of ordinary cognition, the world appears to manifest in a certain manner that is at odds with the description of the world as perceived and understood by those who have undergone a transformation process of the mind, through a specific regime of mind development. This implies that ordinary perception, regardless of its clarity and insight, is nevertheless ‘impaired’ in some way, and is therefore unable to perceive reality as it actually is, rather than through the perceptual limitation of its usual and normal functioning. In this regard, the notion of ‘common sense’ denotes a certain collective knowledge that is functional in the everyday world, but is in fact no more than a collection of focused deluded thoughts assumed to be important within a certain context. The ordinary mind, passed on from birth between parents and off-spring is exactly the entity that is believed to be transformed through the spiritually enlightening process. This is not a process that exists beyond the world, but rather the activation of a higher mind state already existent but existentially obscured by confusion of thought and conflicting feelings. This inner array of unfocused ordinariness is compounded and affirmed by the physical conditions and characteristics that form the material life of the individual. Matter and mind work within an intricate matrix of thought, feeling and outer experience that conspires to retain the ordinary state of mind for as long as possible, creating the assumption that it is the only mind-state that can manifest within the world itself. Mind and matter mutually condition one another so that no other state of being can be realised as possible in theory or practice.
Humanity is trapped in two ways. It is trapped by its necessity to immediately adapt to the often harsh circumstances that are part of a physical existence in the world. Physical existence, although viewed as extremely valuable within Buddhist philosophy, contains within the potential to be incredibly brutal and short. Material conditions create an immediate sense of urgency in the mind (and body) of every human being and living thing. Without meeting this urgency directly, the physical existence of the individual is threatened. Environmental pressure to survive within a hostile material circumstance dictates the kind of mind-set that is developed. Before the development of human culture and the disparity between people within a society, the common experience of life was one of immense difficulty as there existing little cultural security, medicine or technology of any kind. The human mind internalises these inadequacies so as create the taints of greed, hatred and delusion, and the environment encourages and supports the creation of these taints. In developed societies, these conditions are still prevalent but hidden. Modern society encourages competitiveness between individuals whereby an ample collective wealth is fought over through the auspices of commerce, and the restrictive mind-sets of those who possess much, to the detriment of those who possess little. Fear permeates even the most affluent life-style, (i.e. fear of he loss of wealth), and the most deprived, for obvious reasons. The urgency of the need to secure (and retain) physical security is the same in contemporary societies as it was for primitive societies. The presentation may have changed, but the underlying material pressure remains exactly the same. Knowledge must be generated and gathered quickly. In old social groupings this required an apparent and functioning knowledge that appeared to work within a limited context. As societies developed, the ability to gather knowledge became conditioned by one’s social circumstance and economic position within a society. Those with access to the educational facilities obviously had the ability to gather knowledge with a far greater range of depth and applicability, as opposed to those who existed in the lower strata of society who were limited in their knowledge gathering (i.e. excluded from the higher education establishments) to a more or less existential model. Here there is a developed disparity in the quality of knowledge that is gathered and consequently generated. On the premise of old knowledge, new knowledge is built, providing the knowledge base is vibrant and the product of the intellectual cutting-edge of the society in general. Not only is old knowledge preserved from generation to generation, it is also improved upon as understanding develops. Knowledge that is not vibrant tends to be preserved in a state of arrested development. This knowledge suffers from a lack of intellectual vibrancy, as it is not preserved within the strata of society that encourages such an endeavour. The lower classes are not encouraged to ‘think’, as are the upper classes. The lower classes simply exist as a foundation to the more developed strata of their particular societies. The quality of deluded knowledge, therefore, is itself riddled with contradictions and inadequacies. It is functional and can be developed to an extraordinary degree, and it can be intellectually redundant and of a non-developing nature. The Buddha teaches that regardless of the kind of knowledge one happens to encounter within a particular birth, it is all, without exception, of a completely deluded nature. Even superior knowledge held in a developed society is not spiritually valid, and may even constitute a greater developmental trap than an existence as a more humble human being. Whatever the case of the origination of the knowledge in question, the act of storing and recording of it, (so that it can be passed on), does not constitute a spiritual act of liberation. Regardless of the quality of the of kind knowledge cultivated, the mind in its potential totality is not developed in any way beyond that of the requirement to reflect the physical world it inhabits, and think profound thoughts based upon those perceived reflections. Worldly reason ensures that the propagator remains trapped in the world he inhabits, and that the habits of mind associated with this state of being maintain the working illusion of ‘mind’ separated from ‘matter’. This is the ‘subject-object’ dichotomy that serves as the basis for developed logic, and which is viewed as the foundation for ‘common sense’. It is believed to be ‘self-evident’ that the human mind exists within the physical organ of the brain, (and nowhere else), and that the physical body lives within a world of (separate) matter.
This perspective is ingrained in the human mind and seems natural a priori position. To question the fundamental reliability of such a view is considered illogical if the questioning of its ultimate truth content transcends the barriers of mere theoretical speculation. As a thought exercise, the modus operandi of conventional society may be questioned to a certain degree that is designed not to create any real change in the outer world, but to assist a developing intellect make sense of the world it inhabits through the education system it encounters. Indeed, so powerful is the pull of the world motivated by greed, hatred and delusion, that even religions that where once founded upon a mode of mental-spiritual transcendence (of the world of physical matter), over-time find themselves conforming to these ‘taints’ and distorting their own spiritual teachings so as to give the impression that the material view of the world is fully supported by a philosophy (or theology) that was once viewed as radical and revolutionary. The Lord Buddha (563-483BCE) was born into a society in northernIndiathat exhibited a society based upon the requirements of greed, hatred and delusion. In this respect it was a society just like any other, but manifesting its own peculiar physical characteristics based upon its unique historical and economic development. According to what is known about his life, the Buddha was born the son of a chief or king, in the prominent Sakya clan that was believed to comprise of warriors and kings (Kshatriya caste). Although no comparison can be made with the development of post-industrial cities and states, nevertheless, the Buddha’s physical surroundings, due primarily to the rank of his father, were considered luxurious for the time. His father ruled by consensus and continued to do so for many years, thus ensuring the social status of his family. This story, which is interesting in itself, reveals that every pleasant experience was available to the mind and body of the Buddha and that to the extent that was possible, the more or less normal painful experiences of everyday life were kept to a minimum. This existence that emphasises the ‘pleasant’ over the ‘painful’, sets the stage for what is about to happen. The Buddha occupied the highest strata of his society. His up-brining was such that he was surrounded only by the trappings of his social superiority. Even a context of the appreciation of how other, not so fortune people existed was denied to him as a young man. Indeed, from his social conditioning and life of privilege there is no reason whatsoever for him to question either the validity or morality of the society he lived within. Opulence breeds appreciation for its existence and the urge to maintain the ‘sweetness’ of its manifestation. Knowledge as encountered within this context is of a binding nature, the premise of which is difficult to uproot, or even identify. The state of delusion serves to obscure reality in a very profound manner. When the needs of the body are met, the mind is content – when a content mind is trained to believe that its idyllic material condition is due to an inherent physical and mental superiority of some kind, that mind does not critically ‘question’ the essence of that which continuously re-enforces the very nature of the opulence it experiences. Good, positive and pleasant sensations are experienced and always expected to continue in a never ending chain of comfortable living. The Indian spiritual mind had already formulated much philosophical thought upon the nature of freedom. Although complex and diverse, this thinking at the time of the Buddha did allow for a leaving of developed society for a life in a wild place, or at a foot of a tree in a forest, etc. The story that the Buddha, having not been allowed to leave the security of his home, is enhanced by the fact that when he did finally encounter the outside world, the shock of the reality of life for those not as socially privileged as he, came as a spiritually profound shock. This shock triggered his leaving of the world as he had known it, and led to a spiritual journey that is still remembered and discussed today. Through austerity and meditation, and after leaving the world of plenty, the Buddha roamed from place to place with only his begging bowl and robe as possessions. After practicing austerity, he rejected this method as not being able to reach the highest enlightenment. He trained in, and fully mastered the meditative methods of his day, and despite achieving the highest state, rejected these paths as not going far enough toward the ultimate enlightenment. Having abandoned the conventional spiritual teachings, he embarked upon his own meditative practice, a practice that would eventually lead to a full and profound inner metamorphosis, more commonly known in English as ‘enlightenment’.
What exactly is the nature of the Buddha’s enlightenment? The state is often described as ‘nirvana’ (Sanskrit: निर्वाण), or ‘nibanna’ (Pali: निब्बान). Although a path of spiritual purification is followed, coupled with a requisite generation of spiritual wisdom, that seeds greed, hatred and delusion thoroughly uprooted through meditative effort, nevertheless, the state of nirvana is described as being ‘unconditioned’. It is the non-presence of greed, hatred and delusion that allows for the realisation of the state of nirvana, but nirvana as a distinct state is not dependent upon the achievements and attainments of the path that leads the practitioner to its realisation. In reality the state is not ‘achieved’ at all, but rather manifest when the mental obscurations of habit are set aside. Nirvana is entered, but its entering is only perceptual, the state of nirvana, (as it is unconditioned) can neither ‘entered’ or ‘left’. It can be permanently ‘revealed’ (through wisdom), or it can be permanently obscured (through delusion) – but it is not dependent upon either. It is a state of freedom from greed, hatred and delusion. One in such a state no longer creates any new karma, and is believed not to be subject to the endless rounds of re-birth. However, this state, as the ‘revealed’ objective of a physical path is not just characterised by the ‘extinction’ of greed, hatred and delusion – the literal meaning of ‘nirvana’, but also of the possession of a profound insightful wisdom. It is clear that in the oldest layers of the early Buddhist suttas the Buddha does not claim omniscience, but rather states that whatever his mind comes into contact with, this he thoroughly understands. The nirvanic state, being free of the ‘taints’ is able to fully penetrate the true and profound meaning of phenomena as and when it appears within the perceptual field of the enlightened mind itself. Of course, this power is enhanced by the various telepathic and paranormal attributes also associated with this state. The term ‘nirvana’ emphasises the aspect of enlightenment that stresses the eradication of the causes that give rise to the conditions that lead to the manifestation of greed, hatred and delusion. As the conditions that give rise to greed, hatred and delusion are no longer present; the state of nirvana is described as being ‘unconditioned’. The mind is ‘quiet’ in as much as there is no longer any activity involving the ‘taints’, but vibrant in the sense of manifesting a pristine understanding of the nature of the universe that does not arbitrarily separate perception into the dualism of ‘subject-object’. In this respect, the Buddha is sometimes referred to (in the suttas) as being a ‘Jnana-vadin’ (Pali: ‘nana-vado). In the Brahmanic interpretation (of this concept) this term is applied to those ascetics who have ‘seen’ the truth contained within the teachings known as the ‘Vedas’. Within the Buddhist context this term is used to describe the Buddha’s attainment of the ‘seeing’ of the reality of the ‘Four Noble Truths’. The context differs, but the notion of a higher knowledge attained through ‘seeing’ (in meditation), remains the same. Therefore, a ‘Jnana-vadin’ may be interpreted as referring to ‘One who sees the teachings’. This is not an ordinary ‘seeing’ by ay means, but rather the term Sanskrit ‘jnana’ (ज्ञान) refers (with Buddhism) to state of pure awareness free of any defiling obscuration or characteristic. It is comprised of the verbal root ‘jna’ that although can be used to refer to knowledge in general, in this context is used to exclusively to convey the idea of a spiritual knowledge that fully illuminates the laws of all phenomena, and thoroughly understands (naturally) how these laws work and how they should be applied. It is the thorough and complete (mental) penetration to the heart of the essence of reality, and the understanding gained there from. It is intimately linked to the Sanskrit concept of ‘prajna’ (प्राज्ञ) – (Pali: ‘Panna’), which denotes an intellect that has been fully developed to the level of (supreme) wisdom, which is beyond the grasp of the mundane, or undeveloped mind. With the ending (nirodha- निरोध) of the creating of the conditions that give rise to greed, hatred and delusion, the state of nirvana is evident. Within this is a state of pure awareness (jhana) that sheds light on the reality of phenomena, which is expressed in the manifestation (i.e. ‘function’) of wisdom (prajna).
The Buddha became enlightened through is own effort. Although he may have been conversant with the Brahmanic Upanishadic teachings, and despite the fact that the Buddhist teachings record that he trained with various ascetic teachers, (and was definitely aware of other teachings prevalent in the India of his day), experience taught him that these spiritual paths did not go far enough – to complete liberation – and as a consequence could not be used as methods to achieve complete enlightenment. Having tried and rejected known methods of development (yoga) he focused his awareness inward and kept up a steady concentration (in the mind) until all defilements were torn asunder and the true essence of the mind made clear. This is referred to as the attainment of the state of ‘samyak-sambodhi’ (Sanskrit:सम्यक्सम्बोधि). This translates as ‘samyak’ meaning ‘complete perfection’ (as achieved in following the correct path and using ‘right effort’), whilst ‘sambodhi’ refers to the state of ‘complete perfect enlightenment’. Bodhi is linked to the term ‘Buddha’ and translates as ‘awakening’. This ‘awakening’ pertains to ‘perceiving’ in its pristine state. The Sanskrit term ‘sam’ (सम्) is used twice in quick succession. As well as signifying a state of completion, it also implies ‘truth’, Taken as a complete concept, the term samyak-sambodhi conveys a very definite sense of an awakening beyond any other conceived of, or imagined notion of what ‘awakening’ might mean. It is the supreme expelling of the darkness of ignorance and the ushering in of the pure light of awareness that is untainted by defiled obscurations in the mind. Nirvana describes the path that leads to enlightenment,(i.e. the extinguishing of the taints), whilst samyak-sambodhi is the explanation given to the unconditioned (i.e. ‘uncaused’) manifestation of the fruit of that effort. Once attained, one may be called a ‘Jnana-vadin’, or indeed a ‘Buddha’ (Sanskrit: बुद्ध), who is awake and aware in away that that manifests perfect knowledge without defilement. The state of nirvana, with its extinct desires, contains an innate and complete wisdom that when applied to the phenomenon of the world is able to fully comprehend and understand without error or confusion. Laws of operation are seen clearly and their systems cognised immediately without recourse to a base or mundane intellectual function. Although the many hundreds of Buddhist suttas are varied and diverse, the central message implicit in every single one is that delusion (in its multiplicity) must be uprooted and desire extinguished so that the pristine state of understanding can be manifest. This is the ‘pristine’ teaching of the Buddha and it may be assumed that any divergence from this (original) intention must be considered a later development in interpretation of the teachings themselves, with such divergence amounting to new and unwanted obscurations, being the product of ordinary intellect that has not yet realised the freedom as advocated by the Buddha. This is not a criticism of the different schools of Buddhism par se, but rather the acknowledgement that even the earliest written sources pertaining to Buddhism have often undergone an interpretative process, such as the Buddha denying ‘omniscience’, to the commentarial tradition that asserts that the Buddha is indeed ‘omniscient’. The assessment of the enlightenment itself can shed an important definitional light about exactly what it is that the Buddha is conveying. The state of nirvana may be empty of desire, but it is not just this aspect that defines enlightenment. Empty of desire is also full of awareness, and yet this awareness sees clearly into the ‘empty’ (sunyata) nature of the universe which is very different to, and beyond the notion of an ‘absence’ of an object. The emptiness of the presence of desire is not the emptiness of sunyata – therefore the definition of ‘nirvana’ as representing an ‘extinction’ can not be taken as a description of enlightenment itself, but rather only one particular (developmental) quality of that state. Through the extinction of desire, one enters the state of enlightenment, but the state of enlightenment is not dependent upon the extinction of desire. Buddhist enlightenment is ‘uncaused’ and can not be said to be dependent upon any attribute. Enlightenment is not even dependent upon the path that is believed to lead to it. As it is a state free of karma and its fruits (vipaka), it is free from the shackles of cause and effect. It is true that the propagation of a path of positive karmic effects leads to the attainment of enlightenment – the actual state of enlightenment itself is not dependent upon karmic fruits, positive or otherwise. With the cessation of the root causes that give rise to greed, hatred and delusion, the karma creating imperative is destroyed and over-come. Freedom, in this sense, is freedom from defiling desire and karma creating potential. A mind thus freed is able to (naturally) manifest a perfect and complete knowledge of awareness. From this knowledge (jnana) and wisdom (prajna) the Buddha formulated a system that when applied correctly, has the potential to lead humanity from the state of conditioned delusion, to that of an unconditioned enlightenment. In the (later) Ch’an school of China, the direct connection between delusion and enlightenment was re-discovered and re-emphasised, with the Ch’an masters, (through their odd and peculiar behaviour) advocating the immediate perception of the unconditioned ‘true mind’, and moving away from attachment to the conditioned path of expediency. The Buddha’s path is designed as a temporary abode, through which one passes on the way toward enlightenment. However, following the passing of the Buddha, schools and factions felt compelled to assert the legitimacy of their respective paths. This in-turn led to the development of attachment to the ‘path’ itself, with the aim of emphasising ‘difference’ in the physical world, rather than the actual transcendence of conditioned reality itself.
Within Chinese Buddhism the very important Sanskrit ‘nirvana’ is represented as’涅槃’ (nie4pan2). Although it is often the case that upon translation from the Indian language to the Chinese – a sophisticated understanding is demonstrated by the selection of ideograms chosen to convey meaning, it is also true that on occasion a term remains ‘untranslated’, and Chinese ideograms are chosen not for their actual or intended meaning, but solely for the phonetic (sound) they represent. Nirvana translated as涅槃 (nie4pan2) appears to be one of these occasions. Nie2 ‘涅’ actually means ‘to blacken’, and pan2 ‘槃’ refers to a bowl or a tray of some kind. As the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion leads to the bright knowledge of jhana – it may be concluded that the process is one of a development of a clarifying light rather than an obscuration that ‘blackens’. However, ‘jhana’ is represented by the ideogram ‘慧’ (hui4). This is comprised of the particle ‘心’ (xin1), which although depicting a human heart, actually refers, in this context to the human mind. As a particle, it represents ‘intelligence’ and ‘wisdom’. It is also comprised of彗 (hui4), which shows a hand holding up a plant (with branches) toward the light. This adds to the over-all meaning (of the ideogram) the attribute of ‘brightness’. Therefore, ‘jnana’ as represented by the Chinese character ‘慧’ (hui4) carries the meaning of a ‘bright wisdom’. It is a wisdom that not only ‘knows’, but in so doing brings forth both ‘clarity’ and ‘understanding’. Through the brightness of the sun, the darkness of night is banished. The state of jnana lights up the world. With ‘prajna’ (supreme wisdom), the following ideograms are used; 般 (bo1) 若 (re3). Again, these appear chosen for their sounds rather than their literal meaning. Bo1 ‘般’ is written to suggest a boat that is steered through the correct application of force (literally ‘hitting’), whilst re3 ‘若’ shows a picture of a woman running her fingers through her hair and can mean ‘like’, or ‘suppose’, etc. In situations such as these, the original Indian meaning of the term is associated with the borrowed Chinese sounds – even though the ideogrammatic meanings tend to have no bearing whatsoever. Within Chinese Buddhism it is usually the case that the state of ‘enlightenment’ is recorded from the Sanskrit as ‘anuttara-samyak-sambodhi’, with the word ‘anuttara’ meaning ‘unrivalled’ or ‘supreme’. This phrase is represented in Chinese as ‘得阿耨多羅三藐三菩提’. This may be translated as follows, but again other than the borrowing of Chinese sounds, the meanings have little relevance, other than perhaps菩 (pu2), which is also used to refer to the ‘bodhi tree’, under which the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. The Chinese sounds are approximate, but when used are believed to convey something of the rhythm of the original concept, even though the sounds themselves may not be recognised as accurate:
得 (dei3) = ‘to obtain’.
阿 (e1) = ‘to assent’.
耨 (nou4) = ‘hoe’.
多 (che3) = ‘many’.
羅 (luo2) = ‘net’.
三 (san1) = ‘three’.
藐 (miao3) = ‘belittle’.
三 (san1) = ‘three’.
菩 (pu2) = ‘fragrant herb’.
提 (ti2) = ‘control’.
The concept and personage of the Buddha is represented by the ideogram ‘佛’ (fo2), and contains the particle ‘亻’ (ren2), which means ‘a person’, and the particle ‘弗’ (fu2), which is a picture of ‘arrows’ wrapped together – to make them ‘stronger’. Therefore ‘佛’ (fo2) means ‘a strong person’.
This state of supreme wisdom has passed through all the apparently existing stages before finding the conditionless state. This state of profound emptiness (has been interpreted) within early Buddhism to suggest a personal enlightenment in the face of an independently existing material world, whereas in later Buddhism the implication of ‘emptiness’ (sunyata) has profound ramifications for the material world itself, effectively rending the apparent ‘subject-object’ dichotomy redundant and meaningless. Indeed, as later Buddhism (so called), agrees with the early suttas, it can be surmised that all developments have their origination within these texts. Indeed, the early texts are radical in their own way as can be seen from the following list of ‘mind powers’ associated with an enlightened being;
1) Iddhividhu = Psychokinesis (levitation, etc).
2) Dibbasotadhatu = Clairaudience.
3) Cetopariyanana = Telepathy (reading minds).
4) Pubbenivasanussatinana = Knowledge of previous births.
(or Cutupapatanana) = Clairvoyance-knowledge of the survival or decease of beings.
6) Asavakkhayanana = Knowledge of the destruction of asavas.
The enlightened state of the Buddha exudes meaning that can not be limited to any particular description of the enlightened state itself. As the Buddha experienced, so can all those who follow his path. The suttas contain many layers of meaning locked into them on the day the Buddha used his voice to give them life. The surface meaning is only an access point that should be moved beyond as soon as its message is understood. The idea is not to get delayed in the words or phrases, but rather to move on, leaving delusion behind and striving forward toward enlightenment. The wisdom contained within the suttas is designed to ‘push’ the aspirant toward the goal of mind transformation – through the use of words – the reliance upon words is continuously transcended. The teachings should not ensnare, but rather set practitioner (and the world) free of the fetters that bind to the cycle of suffering and delusion. The ripples of the Buddha’s enlightenment are still permeating out from ancient India, and their vibrations can be perceived in every word of the suttas – including the numerous ‘silences’ of the Buddha himself. Do as the Buddha did – throw-off the restraints of convention and realise the essence of the mind ‘here and now’.