The Buddha’s Material Mind


‘The Pali word “chitta” may be translated into the English word “mind”, subject to the proviso that the latter be not understood in the sense of something non-material which is it is usually taken to mean. For “chitta”, according to both the Hindu and Buddhist ways of thinking, is not non-material, but belongs to the side of matter, however rarefied it may be.’

Nikunja Vihari Banerjee, The Dhammapada (Page 95)

Within the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha defines reality as a combination, integration or entanglement of physical environment and mind in all its defined aspects. Notice that the Buddha defines reality as ‘matter’ prior to explaining the different aspects of the developed human mind that interacts (via the senses) with that environment. This ‘bundle’ of reality is usually translated as the ‘five aggregates’ and is always presented in the following manner:

  1. Matter – including living forms (rupa)
  2. Sensations – feelings about the external world received via the senses  (vedana)
  3. Perceptions (samjna)
  4. Thought formations (sankhara)
  5. Consciousness (vijnana)

An ‘aggregate’ is an English translation for the Pali term ‘kkhandha’, which literally means a ‘heap’, ‘gathering’, or ‘collection’ of something that is used in the Buddhist sense to define a distinct category. Matter (rupa), for instance, is used to explain the entire material realm – which includes the living body and its senses. The aggregate of matter is comprised of the four great elements (i.e. solidity, fluidity, heat and motion) and their derivatives, etc, and interestingly is said by the Buddha to include certain types of thoughts, ideas, or conceptions which exist as mind-objects (dharmayatana). This demonstrates straight away that the Buddha considered matter the basis of reality, and the mind to be an important aspect of this material realm. The aggregate of sensation includes all physical and psychological sensations – which may be defined as ‘pleasant’, ‘painful’, or ‘neutral’. The Buddha defined six senses which include the eye (visible sensations), ear (audible sensations), nose (smell sensations), tongue (taste sensations), body (sensing tangible objects), and mind (which senses thoughts, ideas and conceptions). The aggregate of perception distinguishes between physical and psychological stimulus, and identifies the differing material and psychological objects perceived through the six senses. The aggregate of thought formation represents the generation of volitional (or ‘willed’ thought – which is conditioned by the aggregates of matter, sensation and perception prior to its arising. However, as the Buddha does not posit a spirit, consciousness or mind that exists in opposition to the world of matter, the Pali term ‘sankhara’ also refers to anything in existence that is conditioned – including all psychological and physical events – as the five aggregates are used to define the entirety of conditioned existence. The aggregate of consciousness does not recognise an object, it represents only the presence of the awareness of an object. For instance, visual consciousness arises when the eye encounters an object which is blue in colour – but the visual consciousness (which underlies all ability to see with the eyes)  remains ‘unaware’ of the object of or its colour. It is only through the aggregate of perception that the object and its colour are recognised. Seeing does not mean ‘recognising’ and it is the same within Buddhist thinking for the other five senses.

The Buddha recognises ‘six’ senses because he views the mind as a ‘sense-organ’ which perceives ‘thought’ (and presumably emotion). In the contemporary West, however, although five senses are common, there are a number of extant theories advocating a higher number – including more than the Buddha’s six – with neurologists identifying as many as nine, and others as many as twenty-one!  I think the telling point is that the Buddha identifies the mind as being part of the physical body – what might today be termed the brain-mind nexus – and does not at any point state that the mind, as either consciousness or spirit, stands in opposition to a physical world. The Buddha quite clearly identifies the mind as materially derived, whilst also identifying its psychological (or ‘thought-producing’) aspect. In other words, the Buddha appears to be stating that in the natural state, a human mind cannot exist without a human body. All this is stated within the aggregate of matter – from which arise the other four aggregates. Even the Buddha’s use of ‘consciousness’ (vijnana) does not correlate in anyway with modern, Western notions of the term that are ‘idealistic’ in origination, and seem to take on a meaning that combines what the Buddha would refer to as ‘thought formations’ (fourth aggregates), with a notion of an eternal religious ‘soul’ (or ‘atma’) – an idea the Buddha thoroughly rejected. The Buddha perceived an impersonal and integrated world of mind and body that did not contain any notion of an assumed Brahmanic ‘atma’ – or ‘divine spark’. Therefore, for the Buddha, ‘consciousness’ only exists as long as a sense organ is in contact with a sense object – when this sensory contact is broken – the particular form of consciousness in question (i.e. eye or ear, etc) ceases to function. Of course, with a sensory impairment, such as blindness, eye consciousness has ceased to function altogether whilst the individual is alive, but when the physical body ceases to function at the time of death, all sensory consciousness also ceases function (along with the functioning of the other aggregates). This is an important observation, because it also suggests that for the Buddha, the concept of ‘mind’ (as thought formation) also ceases. The Buddha’s description of reality suggests that ‘mind’ only functions within a specific set of conditions, material circumstances, does not pre-exist physical birth, and does not post-exist physical death.

When all this is considered, why do many people assume that the Buddha’s thinking is ‘idealistic’? This is surely an incorrect assumption, premised upon a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the Buddha’s teaching. This category error probably stems from the false belief that the Buddha’s assessment of reality is ‘religious’ in nature, when it is obviously secular and premised upon a rational and empirical assessment of reality by a human mind freed from the historical conditioning of religious thinking. The Buddha rejected (as unsound) any theological notion that an unseen god created the physical universe (and all life in it), and then connected himself in a special manner to each human being through an individual ‘divine spark’. For the Brahmanic system, this  ‘divine spark’ is termed ‘atma’ or ‘breath of life’. Through introspective meditation, the Buddha looked into his psycho-physical interior and stated that no such ‘divine spark’ existed, and that when a person was fully enlightened to the nature of reality, all volitional karma ceased to function (i.e. there is no rebirth in the ultimate state of understanding), and that there were no such entities as ‘unseen’ gods, etc. The Buddha used a remarkably ‘modern’ rationale to ascertain the non-existence of the religiously inspired, immaterial realm. This has been the position of Buddhism ever since, and applies to Brahmanism just as it does to any other theistic religion – be it Islam or Christianity. The Buddha was not a god or a messenger of god – and there was no ‘hidden’ theistic meaning to existence. The Buddha achieved this insight through the meditative (i.e. psychological) exercise of non-identification with thought formation (in the mind to the point of cessation of all thought), and through the act of physical discipline (vinaya) with regards to how he ‘related’ to the material world around him. This led to the permanent state of ‘non-attachment’ to thoughts arising in the mind (and to the state of non-arising of thought), and the rejection (and complete cessation) of desire (in the mind and body) to otherwise attractive phenomena existing in the material environment. For the Buddha, this included a celibate lifestyle, and the exchanging of a ‘personal’ existence for a completely ‘impersonal’ existence. Through disciplining the mind and body, the Buddha discovered an indifferent collectivity to existence that contained no personal desire, and so saw the end of suffering caused by desire – this is the perfected, tranquil and harmonious state of ‘nibbana’ experienced by an individual that no longer exists in the dualistic, deluded or egotistically attached sense.

Given that the Buddha’s theory of mind is purely materialistic (with conscious awareness being a special arrangement of matter due to the evolutionary process as described by the Buddha in the Agganna Sutta), why is Buddhism still often misrepresented as a ‘religion’? Part of the problem is the Buddha’s insistence upon a disciplined ‘Sangha’, or ‘monastic’ community, with even the Buddhist lay-community expected to keep a certain number of moral rules or precepts. This set-up seems very similar to the Christian monastic orders that developed much later, but for the Buddha and his followers, there was no ‘grace of god’ at the end of their path.  Another reason lies in the modern Western habit of interpreting the Buddha’s path as a form of ‘idealism’ (despite all the Buddhist teachings to the contrary), and assuming the Buddha is advocating a type of ‘secular’ god-worship – with him as the physical manifestation of god on earth. Again, this is a grave error of interpretation, and bears no relation to the Buddha’s expressed teachings, even if the different schools of Buddhist interpretation are taken into account. Of course, certain politicised elements of modern Buddhism that ‘sell’ the Dharma to gullible Westerners, propagate the non-Buddhist myth of ‘reincarnation’, when it is clear from the Buddha’s description of the five aggregates that ‘nothing’ pre-exists birth, or post-exists death – certainly nothing pertaining to a ‘personality replete with memories’ that transmigrates from one life-time to another. This is true even if the Buddha’s rather vague explanation of an impersonal ‘rebirth’ is taken into account – a process that only exists in the deluded mind, and ceases with the realisation of complete enlightenment. The concept of reincarnation was probably integrated very late into certain types of Buddhist thought from theistic Brahmanism, and may relate to the ‘prophets’ that frequent the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, etc. Whatever the case, the Buddha denies any divine origin and rejects the concept of theism being of any value to practitioners. Finally, misinterpretations of the ‘Yogacara’ School have had a substantial effect upon Buddhism being mistakenly viewed as ‘idealistic’. The name itself – ‘Yogacara’ – is probably non-Buddhist in origin and translates as ‘yoga practice’, or the ‘structured practice of spiritual discipline’. From a Buddhist perspective, this school is also known as ‘Citta-matra’, or ‘mind only’, and it is this translation that has caused a number of misconceptions to arise (particularly evident in DT Suzuki’s English translation of the Lankavatara Sutra – a sleight of hand used by Suzuki to justify the distorted version of Zen that he followed and propagated in Japan leading-up to WWII – and in the West following Japan’s defeat after WWII)). The point here is easy to clear-up. The founders of the Yogacara School did not disagree with the Buddha, and did not think that the ‘mind’ as defined by the Buddha was ‘permanent’. On the contrary, the founders Asaṅga and Vasubandhu fully agreed that the mind was impermanent and subject to change and dissipation upon physical death. The point they were making, (and which is often missed), is that it is within the mind (i.e. the ‘thought formations’) that the ‘will’ to become enlightened must be propagated and developed, so as to generate the appropriate level of psychological and physical discipline, or commitment to the Buddha’s path. As the Buddha defines the mind as being part of the physical world, and considering he advocates a physical and psychological transformation into a collectively existing and impersonal being, there is nowhere in his teachings any grounds for the Buddha suggesting that ‘only the mind exists’. Mind exists temporarily (as a special arrangement of matter) just as long as a physical body is alive, but as matter (according to the Buddha) is always changing, and its forms are impermanent, so is the capacity of the human mind as defined through the five aggregates. The human mind has the power and capacity to manipulate and develop the material world (i.e. modern science and medicine, etc), but also possesses the ability to navigate an individual Buddhist practitioner from a purely selfish existence and into a selfless collectivity,

Further Reading:

Banerjee, Nikunja, Vihari, The Dhammapada, (2000), Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Narada Thera, The Dhammapada – Pali Text and Translation with Brief Notes, (1993), Buddha Educational Foundation

Rahula, Walpola, What the Buddha Taught, (1972), Gordon Fraser

Rahula, Walpola, Zen & The Taming of the Bull – Towards the Definition of Buddhist Thought, (1978), Gordon Fraser


The Connection Between the Perception of Inner and Outer Space


The Buddha’s ideas are very similar in nature to many of those generated by the philosophers of ancient Greece. Like those ancient Greek philosophers, the Buddha used his mind in a very ‘modern’ manner, and developed a logical and rational view of existence. Again, like the ancient Greeks his thinking reflected, the Buddha developed his mode of pristine thought out of the religiosity prevalent during his lifetime. The Buddha’s life dates are uncertain, but he is thought to have lived (by Western scholars) around 2,500 years ago in ancient India, and around 3,000 years ago according to the traditional scholarship preserved within Chinese Buddhism. I have speculated elsewhere, a tentative theory that Emperor Ashoka [304-232 BCE] (and his ministers) may have developed a peaceful and wisdom-loving (secular) philosophical path, that denied the relevancy and reality of an ‘Indian’ militant Brahmanism, an Indian religion that threatened to confront and over-throw Emperor Ashoka’s ‘foreign’ rule. A passive and meditating Buddhism could have been developed by merging certain Brahmanic elements (such as the yoga of meditation), with various aspects of Greek rational thought. A candidate for the Greek input for the Buddha’s mode of thinking could be the system of thought as developed by Epicurus (370-270 BCE). The similarities between the Buddha’s system and that of Epicurus are so obvious and staggering that I am surprised that this link has not been recognised in the past and studied with a greater depth. Of course, playing devil’s advocate, I have suggested that the ancient Greeks influenced ancient Indian thought, and that Emperor Ashoka ‘created’ Buddhism out of an admixture of Indian and Greek traditions. This is purely a speculation on my part, using the rational facility of my mind. It could also be that the Buddha’s mode of modern thinking was developed hundreds of years before a similar manifestation occurred in ancient Greek (spreading to Greece from ancient Indian through trade and cultural exchange). Another theory is that a ‘new’ way of using the human mind was an evolutionary development that spread ‘species-wide’ across many human cultures that had no direct (or indepth) contact with one another. The use of the rational mind (as advocated by the Buddha and ancient Greeks), is essentially a ‘free’ and ‘unhindered’ mode of thought that lies at the basis of modern science when channelled in a certain manner. This means that ‘free-thinking’ requires various modes of constraint to direct its energy into specific forms of creativity – with perhaps art for art’s sake being its most ‘free’ expression, and scientific endeavour being its most structured and disciplined.

Epicurus was taught by Nausiphanes, and their root-master was Democritus. Democritus was a genius who – without access to microscopes (or even advanced mathematics) – used his ‘rational’ mind to determine that existence is comprised of ‘atoms’ that move around through ’empty space’. Today, through the use of advanced technology and mathematics we know that this is scientifically correct. This would suggest that Democritus had an experience no less important than the enlightenment of the Buddha, as it radically redefined humanity’s perception of reality and existence, and yet generally speaking, there are no temples containing statues of Democritus, or people applying a meditative method to replicate his mode of thought. Democritus stated that atoms moved through space in a determinate manner – but Epicurus modified this idea by stating that atoms – although moving in a definite manner through space – also possessed the ability to suddenly ‘deviate’ or ‘swerve’ in a different direction for no apparent reason. This is how Epicurus explained how unusual events happened, whilst things seemed to unfold in similar patterns. Thousands of years later, Epicurus was proven right when Heisenberg produced his ‘Uncertainty Principle’ in 1927. My point here, is to explore how space and matter is perceive within (and by) the human mind. The Buddha and the Greeks said similar things about form and void. Epicurus – like the Buddha – rejected the relevancy of religion. Both seem to suggest that gods might exist in a deluded sense, but do not exist in an ultimate sense (as many people thought). Epicurus stated that even if gods existed, they had no interest in humanity, and after-all, as there are only atoms and space that define existence, the gods themselves must be comprised of atoms just like humans, and probably subject to some-type of ‘death’ or ‘demise’. For Epicurus – who understood that life was comprised of many sufferings and different kinds of pleasure – death is the absolute end of existence for the individual because the body has ceased to function and its atoms fall apart. There is no transmigration to a heaven or a hell, or rebirth into another living form. The Buddha agrees with this, but allows for a certain ‘delusional’ existence where rebirth occurs and physical death is not the end of existence. However, when full enlightenment is attained, then all rebirth (and karmic retribution) comes to an end – and yet the Buddha clearly states time and again the reality is comprised of empty space within which physical reality manifests. In other words, empty space is not ’empty’ in essence, and physical matter does not occur in a ‘dead’ vacuum.

The Buddha and ancient Greeks were able to use their minds to ‘see’ reality in such a way that modern science has confirmed their basic assumptions to be correct. Both Epicurus and the Buddha seem to suggest that this is not just an ‘objective’ understanding, but also the product of a profound subjective experience. It could be that the Buddha and Greek philosophers like Epicurus were able to manifest a rational mind premised upon subjective experiences that had been previously interpreted in a ‘religious’ manner – an approach rejected by ‘rationalists’. The following is a fascinating scientific documentary about empty space – which is not ’empty’:


How Plotinus Makes Use of the Material World


I include below two extracts from the ‘Enneads’ (Gk: ‘the nines’) – or what might be referred to as the ‘nine categories’ of the life work of the great Greek philosopher Plotinus (204-270 CE). I doubt Plotinus – who did not even care about the state of his physical body – would have cared much whether his words were passed on or not. We owe a debt of gratitude for the preservation of these essentially beautiful words, to the untiring efforts of the main student of Plotinus – namely ‘Porphyry’.  In my opinion, far too much is said about Plotinus that diverts the student of inner development away from the correct path. Although, for instance, often and continuously referred to as the ‘founder’ of neo-Platonism, Plotinus had a teacher – Ammonius Saccas (of Alexandria in Egypt) – and if anyone was responsible for creating a ‘new wave’ of Plato’s philosophical understanding, it was Ammonius Saccas and not Plotinus, but neither man, I suspect, would have recognised the term ‘neo-Platonism’ – stating that what they follow is the ‘correct’ or ‘true’ lineage of Plato (as originally taught to Plato by Socrates, and eventually passed on to Aristotle), which has been precisely and exactly passed down through the generations over hundreds of years. In this respect, this approach is very similar to the spiritual lineages of Chinese civilisation, whereby a qualified master carefully teaches a few good disciples over many decades, to follow a systematic path of physical discipline and psychological development. Plotinus advocates a relationship with the physical world that involves an understanding of it as incomplete, but otherwise definitely existing in nature, in a sense that its ‘heaviness’ can keep the average person anchored firmly to the temporal realm, with no ability to ‘see beyond’ its superficial manifestation. Regardless of the sophistication of his method, that is the rarefied and clear dissection of perception and non-perception – Plotinus NEVER denies the existence of the material world – he simply uses it as the springboard for his method. If there was no material world (which is often admitted as being ‘beautiful’ by Plotinus), there could be no transcendent method. The point is that the realm of ideas (for Plotinus) exists within the material world, but also appears to exist as if disembodied from it – and yet it is only within a human-body, that the reality that Plotinus believes lies beyond its material limitations, is realised. This is a point often missed by those who would have use believe that Plotinus ‘rejects’ the relevancy or existence of the material world, he certainly does not. For all its limitations and inconsistencies, without a material world that provides (through evolutionary development) a conscious being to appreciate it, there can be no ‘transcendent’ system of philosophical insight. Therefore, it must be truthfully stated (as Plotinus does), that a continuously changing beauty exists beyond any concepts of ‘static’ beauty, and that such a beauty with regards to that which lives is ‘beautiful’, but that even that which is ‘dead’ is also ‘beautiful’ when viewed in a certain way. Although Plotinus advocates (for a time) a ruthlessly ‘looking within’, he does not permanently ‘reject’ the physical world he strives to ‘look beyond’. He fully admits that once a higher view of existence is attained, it must be applied not only to the realm beyond material existence, but also to the material world itself. The beauty of insight is applicable to both form and void, and yet lies also beyond form and void (with no inherent contradiction). For Plotinus, true beauty is arrived at through a strict and disciplined life-style and form of meditation – and yet once inner and outer unity successfully realised – it has absolutely nothing to do with the method through which it has been attained.

‘He that has the strength, let him arise and withdraw into himself, foregoing all that is known by the eyes, turning away for ever from the material beauty that once made his joy. When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: he must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards That they tell of. For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water- is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in Soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the Intellective-Being, where, blind even in the Lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 8th Section

‘Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity- when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step- you need a guide no longer- strain, and see.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 9th Section

Definition: Kata-Form (形 – xing2)


The Okinawan martial arts are derived from two distinct origins:

a) Indigenous Okinawan martial arts

b) Chinese martial arts.

As Japan has had a presence on this island nation (through invasion) since 1609 CE, a case can be made for an influence for Japanese martial arts – although generally speaking, Japanese people proper – tend to view the ‘Okinawans’ as ‘foreigners’ living within geographical Japan (Okinawa was formally annexed by Japan in 1872). Prior to this, Okinawa was an acknowledged part of China for well over a thousand years (as a tributary State), although many Okinawans view themselves as living within an independent sovereign nation that has made certain and specific cultural choices throughout its history.

The well-known martial arts term ‘kata’ is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term ‘形’ (xing2), which is comprised of the particles ‘彡’ (shan1) meaning hair that sprouts and becomes ‘apparent’ through ‘growth’, and ‘开’ (kai1), which signifies two-hands that initiate action and work together as ‘one’, to achieve an effect in the physical world. Therefore, ‘kata’ (形 – xing2), is an expression or mode of behaviour that expresses a certain intended reality, or form of being. Within Chinese dictionaries, ‘形’ (xing2) is also described as implying the correct ‘imitation’ of a specific mode of behaviour, that creates a distinct ‘appearance’ in the physical world. It can also mean ‘contour’, as in the ‘texture’ of any given expression that can be seen in broad daylight.

Kata can also be written using the Chinese ideogram ‘型’ (xing2).  Contrary to certain English texts implying that ‘形’ is a simplified version of ‘型’ (both categorised as ‘xing2’ in modem pinyin) each ideogram is in fact considered a ‘traditional’ expression in its own right, with neither possessing a ‘simplified’ version. In the case of ‘型’, it is comprised of the particles ‘土’ (tu3) meaning ‘earth’ or ‘clay’, and ‘刑’ (xing2) meaning ‘punishment’, or ‘penalty’, (literally a hand ‘开’ using a knife or sword ‘刂刀’). This is why ‘型’ carries the over-all meanings of ‘pattern’, ‘mould’, ‘standard’, ‘law’, ‘model’ and ‘style’. Through correct (and repeated) practice, the clay-earth is slowly moulded into the required shape. Of course, correct practice is regulated by a set of precise instructions (or ‘laws’) that must be steadfastly followed and applied if mastery is to be achieved.

A translation generally favoured in the West (within Chinese martial arts practice) for ‘形’ (xing2) is ‘form’, but it might be better translated as ‘shape’. A ‘form’ within Chinese martial arts is comprised of a number of self-defence movements involving specific stances and elaborate footwork, combined with various kicks, punches, throws and evasions, as a means to convey a particular lineage of martial history that developed a ‘style’ of combative science, premised upon a real experience of deadly warfare gained upon the battlefield (often of an ancient origin, and certainly prior to the founding of modern China in 1949). As each style was founded by a powerful martial individual, he or she chose a ‘specific’ expression of their martial system, premised upon their personal experiences in combat. As everyone’s experiences are deeply personal with regards to the horrors of warfare, many different expressions of martial efficiency grew into existence. Therefore, a ‘form’ or ‘kata’ is the ‘essence’ or the very ‘heart’ of a martial system that conveys the deepest meaning and the profoundest wisdom. Not only is a traditional ‘form’ or ‘kata’ a vehicle for martial excellence, but through the specific shapes (and psychological and physical conditioning required to perform these ‘forms’), longevity and health are an important by-product of proper and correct martial practice.

No Idealism in Buddhism


The Buddha’s philosophy is that of ‘realism’, as he teaches from the position that an empirical world exists external to the mind that apprehends it.  This means that the physical world exists independently of the mind that perceives it, and continues to exist irrespective of whether a mind is perceiving it or not.  However, according to the Buddha, the mind possesses the ability to perceive the world as it actually is, and that such a realisation is the same for all apprehending minds.  The Buddha explains that the world is experienced through the six senses, which in the Buddhist teachings includes the ‘mind’ as a sense-organ.  Whether or not an ‘idealist’ position exists within later Buddhism is a matter of academic dispute.  A supposed Buddhist position of idealism assumes that the empirical world is nothing but a creation or projection of the mind, and has no other or independent reality.  This is in fact the exact opposite of what the Buddha originally taught, and displays a slippage back into the ‘creationist’ dogma of theistic (i.e. ‘Brahmanic’) religion.  The incorrect assumption that, for instance, the Yogacara School (premised as it is on the Lankavatara Sutra) is ‘idealistic’ in nature appears to an error attributed to poor Japanese Buddhist scholarship (attributed primarily to DT Suzuki), which was uncritically pursued by subsequent Western scholars.  Suzuki’s assertion that the Lankavatara Sutra is ‘idealistic’, is directly and authoritatively challenged by such modern Buddhist academics as Florin Giripescu Sutton in his excellent ‘Existence and Enlightenment in the Lankavatara-sutra’.  As the Buddha taught that mind is impermanent, obviously it cannot serve as the fundamental essence of existence.  Therefore, whatever it is that the Yogacara School is teaching through its notion of ‘cittamaitra’ (mind only), it cannot be that ‘mind’ is ultimately ‘real’ and ‘unchanging’, if it is to stay within the definitional confines of Buddhist philosophy.  Walpola Rahula, in his ‘Zen & the Taming of the Bull – Towards the Definition of Buddhist Thought’, dedicates a chapter to this matter, and states that ‘cittamaitra’ should actually be translated as ‘thought only’, and not mistakenly confused with Berkley’s notion of ‘idealism’.  Neither Asanga or Vasubandhu (the founders of Yogacara) asserted that ‘mind’ is the ultimate reality, on the contrary, Asanga is quite clearly recorded as confirming the non-substantiality of mind.  What appears to be happening in this type of Mahayana literature, is that a for more sophisticated and exact assessment of the Buddhist notion of ‘mind’ is being developed as a means to understand its functionality to a greater degree (through clearly defining and distinguishing terms such as citta [mind], manas [mental organ], and vijnana [consciousness], etc.  Furthermore, Walpola clarifies that the understanding that an individual’s impression of the world (in the deluded state) is nothing other than a collection of subjective assumptions is not unique to the Yogacara School (despite its sophisticated understanding), but is found throughout Buddhist teaching, and is known and accepted within the Theravada School.  The idea of ‘emptiness’ (sunyata), as propounded by Nagarjuna is also not new and is present in the Pali texts, and refers to the non-substantial nature of ‘perception’.  In the enlightened state, the mind is free (or ‘empty’) of greed, hatred, delusion and any notion of a permanent ‘self’, so that when the physical world is ‘perceived’, it is done so ‘directly’, free of any mediating (psychologically generated), deluded traits (klesa).  This quite literally creates the impression that the ‘real’ physical world arises, and passes within a great emptiness.  The ‘real’ physical world is then understood to be ‘empty’ of any substantiality, as its material existence is always in a state of flux, of becoming and dissipation.  This is the perceptual integration of ‘form’ (i.e. the physical word) with ‘void’ (i.e. a perception cleared of all disruptive subjective traits). The Yogacara School then, is not ‘idealistic’, and it is a grave mistake (from a Buddhist philosophical perspective), to assume that it is.  The Yogacara School simply assesses human perception in a much more enhanced and subtly expanded fashion than that found in the early Buddhist texts. This ‘depth’ psychology was never intended to be interpreted as suggesting that all that there is in the universe is a ‘functioning mind’, but rather to assist those embarked on the inward path of perception, to more readily understand the inner terrain that they are likely to encounter.  It would be better to state that the Yogacara School and the Buddhist texts referred to as containing ‘thought only’ content, are simply pursuing the age old Buddhist habit of supply good quality and indepth meditational instruction.  Taking for granted the existence of the outer world, the Yogacara delves into the psychic fabric of the mind and opens-up its functionality for all to see.


Chinese Martial Arts – Developmental Form Practice


When the outer structure of a form is well-known and adequately practised (i.e. mastered inaccordance with the principles of the particular style in question, relevantly adjusted to the psychology and physiology of the individual practitioner), the form itself becomes a ‘vehicle’ that ‘conveys’ the practitioner on a journey of self-discovery and environmental recognition.  The physical structure itself is continuously ‘refined’ (a little here and a little there), as ‘small’ ‘awarenesses’ are developed and accumulated overtime, into major insights.  This is the mastery of the ‘outer’ frame of the body (and power production ‘external’ to the bone).  The form must be regularly practised overtime so that the student becomes keenly aware of the ‘inner’ structure (or ‘inner terrain’) of the form (and the power production ‘inside’ or ‘internal’ to the bone).  This constant accessing of the ‘inner terrain’ of the mind and body is made possible by the outer structure of the form being ‘sound’ and functionally able to serve as an effective means of self-defence.  Without regularly ‘looking within’ during form practice, inner mastery will never occur, and the practitioner will not advance his or her knowledge beyond the superficial level.

However, this developmental procedure is hindered if there is a psychological ‘dependency’ or ‘attachment’ to the form practice itself.  Attachment to form practice signifies a psycho-physical ‘block’ of qi energy flow that prevents any developed insight beyond the frequency of the blocked qi energy itself.  In a very real sense, human perception congeals around the point of greatest resistance to change, and ceases to ‘transform’ in any meaningful way.  This implies that functional tension in the mind (in the form of self-limiting obsessions, and pointless repetitions) creates (or reflects) tension in the muscle fibre, and that habitual tension in the muscle fibre, has the tendency to create (or ‘reinforce’) tension in the mind.  This ‘tension’ is symbolic of a qi energy’ nolonger being in a state of free flow and free expression.  When qi energy cannot and does not freely move from one place to another, all development premised upon ‘free’ expression comes to an end.  Regular form practice is designed as a method to become ‘aware’ of tension in all its subtle manifestations (as it is never just ‘one’ layer or manifestation) that require being uprooted through the process of ‘acknowledgement’ of both its presence and existence.  This is a steady process that takes years to perfect, but in the higher levels of awareness and development, ‘form’ practice goes beyond the simple repetition of physical movements, and cannot be limited to this expression.

My Experience with ‘ghosts’


As a secular rationalist who has utilised the Chinese Buddhist meditation techniques to put my mind in order, (and turn it the right way around), I must stress from the start that I neither ‘believe’ or ‘disbelieve’ in the notions of ghosts. Furthermore, as I do not follow, nor have I been influenced by the Judeo-Christian religion, I do not accept (or limit my experiences to) the often clichéd categories of ‘theist’, atheist’, or ‘agnostic’, and I neither ‘believe’ nor ‘disbelieve’ in a god-construct as a ‘first cause’ for existence, or as a psychological or emotional prop when times get hard. In fact, I view much of what passes as ‘religion’ as an interesting, but nevertheless misconstrued body of work premised mostly upon fantasy and myth. It seems to me that when humanity does not understand the machinations of the physical world, it retires into the confines of its own skull, and begins to worship random thought constructs that keep it warm on a cold night. However, I do acknowledge that usually well hidden aspects of religious teachings, do often contain the kernels of mind development techniques, but that these teachings are side-lined by religious authorities who simply wish to continue the religious domination of physical facts through the agency of myth. In a very real sense, the worshipping of ‘myth’ is not religion in the sense that religion is supposed to be a developmental device that ‘binds’ the aspirant with a higher goal, rather than condemn him or her to an earthly existence addicted to passing mental constructs.

Do paranormal events exist? From a strictly empirical perspective the answer is ‘no’. This means that there has never been a single ‘paranormal’ or ‘supernatural’ event observed as happening under the scrutiny of scientific conditions. This is because a so-called ‘paranormal event’ is defined as the momentary ‘suspending’ of the laws of nature. It is interesting to note that the ‘suspending’ of the laws of nature is exactly how the Judeo-Christian religion defines a ‘miracle’ and this seems to be the cultural base in the West for secular, paranormal events. Just as people believed ‘miracles’ happened during the religiously dominated medieval period, people living in the post-modern era continue this tradition and ‘believe’ that they too are also experiencing paranormal events. The modern academic subject of ‘Paranormal Psychology’ studies why people think they are experiencing paranormal events, and investigates (where possible) the physical circumstance surrounding the alleged event. To date, the vast majority of investigations have been solved as being the products of misconstrued natural events, hallucinations (singular or group), psychological or psychiatric dysfunction, and fraud. Although a small number of these investigations have not been solved, the circumstances surrounding them have not been declared ‘paranormal’ simply because there is no supporting evidence. The thinking is that these events will be explained as being ‘natural’ in due course.

The rational evidence, which is not premised upon religious faith, suggests that there is no such thing as paranormal events, and that what we are seeing is the reconstruction of a cultural religious myth repackaged for a secular age (similar to how Carl Jung explained that UFO’s were actually ‘halos’ re-imagined by Christians who were trying to come to terms with a modern technology that renders the teachings of the bible more or less redundant). Science defines reality in two ways; 1) Newtonian Mechanics which explains that the physical world is ‘measurable’ and clearly functions through cause and effect. The understanding of this cause and effect in many areas of physical life (including the atomic, and molecular) has allowed humanity to develop industry, medicine and advanced technology.

This advanced technology has enable humanity to ‘see’ into the atom and discern the sub-atomic particles and their peculiar behaviour. 2) Quantum Theory has been facilitated by the development of advanced technology that has allowed for the exploration of sub-atomic particles – which ‘appear’ and ‘disappear’ in the empty space that is being observed. Not only this, but sub-atomic particles (that appear unconnected) in physical space, effect one another without an observable medium that physically connects the two together. Of course, this does not mean that there is no connecting medium, but just that at the moment in the development of human science, no connecting medium has been discerned. This means that the macro-world as experienced by the bodily senses (and interpreted by the mind), is deterministic and obvious to understand through a developed mind. However, underlying the obvious surface-level of the world is a free-flowing void where sub-atomic particles arise and pass away in a non-deterministic manner. The physical world of human existence is both deterministic and non-deterministic, so although ‘nothing is certain’ (Heisenberg) at the sub-atomic level, everything is determinable (or ‘certain’) at the macro-level. What Western scientists have discovered through the use of advanced technology and experimentation, the Buddhist philosophical path assumes that it can realise through the extensive discipline of the body, and intense focusing of the mind, as if the Quantum vacuum (void) can be discovered by looking into the essence of physical matter (form). This happens because the ‘mind’ is focused (but not limited to) the brain, and the physical matter of the brain is the substance the Buddhist intensely studies through meditation.

Science – whether ‘Newtonian’ or ‘Quantum’ – is not myth but established fact, even if we admit the caveat that science is not a finished product, but a process very much in perpetual motion. Quantum Theory – although often co-opted by religionists to justify their belief systems – is neither ‘mythology’ nor ‘theology’. It is the product of a discerning mind observing and stripping-back the multitudinous layers of physical and Quantum existence. This is the basis from which I investigate my (two) experiences today that happened to me as a child. Although these experiences could be construed as ‘paranormal’, I am of the opinion that they are primarily ‘psychological’ in origin.

Experience One – Aged Two (1969) – Oxfordshire

My constructive memories start at around two and a half, and just before this time, my parents inform me that I used to come into their bedroom in the middle of the night, and say that there was a man standing in my bedroom – which was a small single room located across the landing. They would investigate and find no one, but I was allowed to sleep in their room every time this happened. When my family moved from this home, we were contacted by a friend who informed us that our old house had been in the local press. Apparently the new tenants who moved in after we left, reported seeing a WWII RAF pilot in the bedroom I used to sleep in. He apparently manifested halfway through the floor (as if he were standing on a different level to that which the house was built on). Historical research revealed that this area of Oxfordshire was once a WWII RAF base prior to the building of a new housing estate.

Experience Two – Aged Eight (1975) – Devon 

I slept in a large bedroom situated at the back of the house. I would wake-up in the middle of the night because I thought that I heard movement in the room. Looking-up I would see numerous people dressed in what I would describe as ‘Elizabethan’ dress – they seemed to be walking along a road or lane, more or less taking no notice of me. This housing estate dates back to WWII and was apparently built by German Prisoners of War. Before this, the area was farm land. I had this experience a number of times for about a year – and then my family moved house and the visions ceased. Afterwards, my family was contacted by the next tenants who had moved in. They asked us whether we had seen anything strange in the house, as they had been so frightened, they left to live elsewhere. They slept in my former back bedroom, and said that they used to hear noises and that on one night, a tea-set securely stored to the back of the top of a wardrobe, suddenly shot across the room and smashed into pieces!

I think that the phenomenon of lucid dreaming more or less explains these experiences. This occurs in a state of awareness that exists between the waking and sleeping state, where dreams manifesting in the mind, appear to the experiencer as if they are happening in the surrounding physical environment. In other words, events that seem to be concrete and real are mental constructs and are only theoretical imprints on the surface of the mind of physical events that may or may not have actually happened in the real world. In Elizabethan times, for instance, people obviously walked up or down roads and lanes, but this fact does not mean that they were doing so in the 1970’s, in a bedroom in Devon! Many WWII RAF fighter-pilots died whilst protecting the UK from Nazi German invasion, and many of these brave men would try to pilot their badly damaged aeroplanes back to their bases. Many of these men were also severally wounded whilst doing this. They attempted this because of the lack of RAF aeroplanes in the UK – making even a damaged Spitfire or Hurricane extremely valuable. Whether or not I saw a WWII pilot in Oxfordshire in 1969 – I do not truthfully know, although it is curious that others said that they did. It is further curious that others also said they experienced strange happenings in Devon after my (remembered) experiences. It could be that statistically people experience strange things quite often, and that a correlation between ‘witnessing’ events is being assumed where none actually exists. It could also be that chains of events are being inversed – or remembered back to front – placing the events in the wrong order or out of logical sequence. The apparent corroboration of my experiences by people unrelated to me, or unfamiliar with my experiences, would need to be subject to investigation to see if they are ‘real’ or simply ‘imagined’ events such as those used to justify religious experiences or ‘miracles’. As it stands, I do not know if these testimonies are correct or not.

Sitting on a Stone


Sitting on a Stone

Sitting and breathing – which came first?

Working it out – deviates from the Dao.

All is known without undue effort – and the stone stays where it is.

Is a human being life a stone?

Yes – because the human body is soft: No – because the human heart is hard.

When a reflect clearly perceives its own nature – duality and contradiction disappear.

Ch’an Adept – Da Dao

Ch’an practitioners have a certain quiet but dignified bearing. This is not a random occurrence, although it is also true that such obvious virtue cannot be contrived, or otherwise artificially induced. Its presence is in fact the product of the paradoxical presence of the realisation of ‘emptiness’ in form. This paradox is premised upon the understanding of the existence of ‘form’ in emptiness. However, none of this is possible without the cultivation of profound wisdom, compassion, and loving kindness, all of which is required if the mind is to turn around at its deepest level and regain a correct and true conscious awareness. The further paradox is that emptiness is not ‘nothing’, and that consciousness cannot exist without an object.

Buddhist Dialectics, Logic and Emptiness

Buddhist Dialectics-01

An unfamiliar enquirer asked Buddha: “I do not ask about words – I do not ask about non-words.” The Buddha remained still and silent. The enquirer praised him and said: “The great benevolence and great mercy of the World-Honoured One have parted the clouds of my delusion and enabled me to enter the Way.” After the enquirer took his leave, Ananda asked Buddha: “What did the enquirer realize so that he said you had enabled him to enter the Way?” Buddha replied: “He is like a fine horse that runs even at the shadow of a whip.” (Blue Cliff Record Case 65)

Nagarjuna developed the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) School of Mahayana Buddhism, which is premised upon the understanding that all in existence is non-substantial, or ‘empty’ of any inherent substantiality. The Hinayana School views the world as ‘empty’ (sunya) of greed, hatred, and delusion, and any notions of a ‘permanent self’ premised upon these taints (pudgalanairatnya) in the enlightened, or realised state, but nevertheless views the physical world as being ‘real’ and ‘substantial’. Nagarjuna dismissed this Hinayana conclusion by applying Buddhist logic to the problem. Nagarjuna explained that as all phenomena is dependent upon conditionality, it lacks any inherent and underlying substantiality. Nagarjuna referred to his approach as ‘prajna-paramita’, or the ‘liberating wisdom that carries one to the other shore’. Another name for this method is ‘sarvadharma-sunyata’, or ‘all dharmas are empty’.

Buddhist logic is derived from a thorough study of the Buddhist sutras and their commentaries, as well as through the interaction between a qualified master and a disciple. As the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings has varied from one person to another, and from one generation to the next, this had inevitably led to doctrinal interpretations that may be considered to be either ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’ in their conclusions. Nagarjuna’s powerful use of Buddhist logic reveals that the Hinayana teaching does not appear to conform to the internal logic of the very Buddhist teachings it claims to uphold and represent. Where the Hinayana view gains support is from empirical science which assumes a priori that the physical world is real, and that all true knowledge emerges from its accurate and exact measurement. The Mahayana view, by way of contrast, is more in keeping with complexity science, and appears to philosophically resemble the conclusions found within quantum physics (i.e. non-locality theory, etc).

In around the 2nd century CE, Nagarjuna studied the Buddhist Sutras (probably in Pali and Sanskrit), and the numerous associated commentaries. Nagarjuna perceived that the Buddha ‘remained silent’ when questioned about well-known and popular Metaphysical issues. The Buddha’s own explanation for this response is that Metaphysical questioning of this type falls under the category of ‘avyakrta’, or are of philosophically speculative questions, the answers to which are ‘inexpressible’. In other words, these Metaphysical questions are ‘empty’ of any perceivable answer. The Buddha taught that there are fourteen such Metaphysical questions that have no discernible answer – there are:

a) Whether the world is;

1) Eternal

2) Non-eternal

3) Both eternal and non-eternal

4) Neither eternal nor non-eternal

b) Whether the world is;

5) Finite

6) Infinite

7) Both finite and infinite

8) Neither finite nor infinite

Whether the Tathagata;

9) Exists after death

10) Is non-existent after death

11) Both existent and non-existent after death

12) Neither existent nor non-existent after death

Whether the atma (soul concept);

13) Is identical with the body

14) Non-identical with the body.

Three of the four categories related above are dealt with using four exact responses in the sutras, whilst the last category is dealt with using only two exact responses – but even the last category could easily be subjected to the Buddha’s four methods of dialectical analysis without suffering any loss of meaning or coherency. Nagarjuna’s genius lies in the fact that he appears to be the first Buddhist scholar in history to clearly perceive this enlightened dialectical method as utilised by the Buddha himself. From this analysis and clear thinking, Nagarjuna derived the concept of ‘prasanga’, which can be described in Latin as the dialectical method (and practice) of ‘reductio ad absurdum’, which in this context refers to the logical demonstration that if a particular argument is arbitrarily accepted as ‘true’ and ‘correct’, then only false and illogical results and consequences will inevitably follow.  Nagarjuna uses this method of Buddhist dialectics to demonstrate that the physical world cannot be ‘substantial’ in any true sense of the word, and that to assume that the physical world is substantial, is to make an untrue and illogical statement from the point of view of established Buddhist logic (as it exists in either the Hinayana or Mahayana Schools).

Nagarjuna termed the four alternatives of Buddhist dialectical logic as ‘catuskoti’, which is often presented by the Latin term of ‘tetra lemma’ (or ‘four propositions’). Nagarjuna’s dialectic can be expressed in the following manner:

1) Positive thesis 2) Negative counter-thesis = basic two alternatives

3) Positive and negative theses affirmed = third alternative

4) Positive and negative theses denied = fourth alternative

From this analysis it can be clearly demonstrated that a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to profound metaphysical questions is not a suitable method of answer, as this basic ‘either-or’ dichotomy lacks the necessary depth of understanding and dexterity of expression required to express the highest form of truth. Therefore the Buddha, as he denied the validity of viewpoints associated with ‘eternalism’ (sasvata-vada), and ‘nihilism’ (ucchedavada), refused to give any categorical answer to Metaphysical questions. His philosophical position is explained as being that of ‘madhyama pratipada’, or of the unwavering ‘middle’, or ‘central’ position. This is why the Buddha refused to be drawn into ‘yes’ or ‘no’ arguments, as he considered such speculations to be the product of ‘ditthivada’, or the ‘path of attachment to fixed views’. Nagarjuna did not invent the tetra lemma – as the Buddha taught this method hundreds of years before Nagarjuna – but he is responsible for lifting this method out of the sutras, and developing its use to a very high level. In many ways, Nagarjuna reasserted Buddhist logic, and through correct dialectical analysis, managed to put the Buddha’s original ideas back into the interpretation of Buddhist concepts. He referred to this realisation as ‘Madhyamaka’, which is the name of the school associated with him, and the prajna-paramita philosophy he developed. For Nagarjuna, not only is the world ‘empty’ of any substantiality, but the concept of ‘emptiness’ itself, (to be inaccordance with Buddhist dialectical logic), must also be ‘empty’ of its own ‘non-substantiality’.  Existence is:

1) Substantial (full)

2) Insubstantial (empty)

3) Both substantial and insubstantial (full and empty)

4) Neither substantial nor insubstantial (neither full nor empty).

Enlightenment appears to be the realisation of the exact mid-point between these four positions of logic, but is not limited to any of the propositions. Things are ‘empty’ because they are not ‘full’, but it can equally be said that things are ‘full’ because they are not ‘empty’ – but these statements are relative positions for the interpretation of ‘truth’. As the ordinary and deluded view is that a physical self exists within a substantial world – the ‘emptiness’ wisdom of Nagarjuna is used like a medicine to cure an illness – in this instance the illness of the illusion of substantiality. However, the notion of ‘emptiness’ must not be taken too far, or it becomes non-Buddhist ‘nihilism’ – or the exact opposite delusion to the world being real and self-existent. As the Heart Sutra states ‘Void is form, form is void’ this is Nagarjuna’s tetra lemma reduced to its bear bones. Many Buddhist schools (such as Chinese Ch’an) take a practical approach to this teaching, and advocate the ‘breaking-up’ of delusion (or obscuring thought) in the mind, so that the profound empty mind ground can be perceived. This does not mean that thoughts nolonger exist, but rather that they exist within a context that can be described as substantial insubstantiality.


©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.

The Implications of Ch’an Meditation

In early Buddhism a real world lacks an underlying, permanent substance, in latter Buddhism the very same world is viewed as ‘empty’, not only of ‘self’, but any ‘thing’ or ‘substance’ that could be interpreted as independently ‘real’.  In early Buddhism the world is real but forever changing, whilst in later Buddhism the physical world is as much an illusion, as the idea of a permanent self inhabiting it.  The ‘form’ is ‘void’, and the ‘void’ is ‘form’.  Everything that appears before the senses, and of course the senses themselves, are mistakenly interpreted as real and solid in the unenlightened state – this is the essence of logical materialism.  The Buddha teaches that the materialist view is an error, and that despite the apparent solidity of matter, it is in fact completely empty of any solid aspect whatsoever.  This can not be seen if the mind views the world as separate from itself.  In the dualistic state everything is separated into the dichotomy of the ‘subject’ and the ‘object’.  This creates the illusion of a separate, permanent self that stands in juxtaposition to the apparently real external world that surrounds it. However, through the act of effective meditation, the delusive experience is seen thoroughly through.  The perception of emptiness sweeps through the illusion of a one-sided solidity and dissolves the duality that it is based upon.  The perception of emptiness in relation to the sensing of a solid external world, in the first instance is such a relief for the aspirant that it is firmly grasped as an antidote to the sickness of material reality.  This kind of emptiness, although signifying a substantial step forward on the spiritual path, is nevertheless the next hurdle to over-come.  The grasping of this kind of emptiness becomes nihilistic in the sense that it ‘wipes out’ physical matter completely.  Buddhist masters often describe this state as a ‘dead’ mind, or the ‘unrecorded’ state, and within Buddhist meditation it must be transcended.  The grasping of a hard earned emptiness is understandable as its realisation has entwined within it a great sense of peace and tranquillity, as the aspirant is no longer bound by the tyranny of physical matter.  This oasis is not the final objective and the aspirant at this point faces a stark choice; leave the world completely beyond and remain in a peaceful place and retain this state, or go back into the world and be over-come with sensory stimulation that subsumes this incomplete state.  In the Ch’an School such a predicament is some times referred to as ‘sitting on top of a hundred foot pole’.  For this predicament to transform into a new situation the aspirant must let go of this realisation and move onward with the spiritual development.  Emptiness must not be one-sided – it must be all embracing and at exactly the same time, contain all things.  The next stage is to realise the inter-penetration of emptiness with the physical world so that all appears to arise within, and pass away from, a perfect, reflective all embracing and compassionate emptiness (sunyata).  With the attainment of this state is the realisation that the existence of matter is not solid, and that emptiness is not actually ‘void’ of physical impressions.  Matter is not solid and emptiness is not empty.  This stage is arrived at through a peculiar logic (prajna) that appears to be saying that matter is not full, and that one-sided and incomplete emptiness has to be emptied of its ‘empty’ one-sided content, before the reality of form is void, and void is form becomes clearly apparent.  The appearance of existence is an interwoven state of emptiness and form that is actually beyond its constituent parts – existence is beyond all duality, including form and void, but it is through the understanding and realisation of ‘form’ and ‘void’ that the enlightened state is realised.  Language is not sufficient to explain exactly what the enlightened state is actually like, but can only hint at its reality by describing what enlightened reality actually is not.  Enlightenment is not ‘form’, as form is ‘suffering’, the Buddha teaches that realising the state of ‘emptiness’ is definitely upon the right path, but that a one-sided state of emptiness is not complete enlightenment, and yet both ‘form’ and ‘void’ do form vital aspects of the world view from that of the perspective of the enlightened mind.  Form – or physical matter is both ‘empty’ and ‘full’ at the same time.  Emptiness is both ‘empty’ and ‘full’ at the same time, and there is no difference between the two states of ‘form’ and ‘void’, as that would imply a duality which is not present in the enlightened view.  The physical world seems real, but it is not.  A certain spiritual state perceives the world as empty, but it is not.  The enlightened view is an all embracing integration of these two states, so that the states themselves dissolve into the all embracing view.  Emptiness is used as an antidote to the excesses of materialism.  As matter is not real, it is ‘empty’ in relation to the belief that it is ’full’.  However, although matter may well be ‘empty’ of solidity, the state of true ‘emptiness’ itself includes all ‘matter’ without exception.  Therefore the Buddha taught that form is void, and void is form.  The mind is reflective of all things, and all the things reflected are empty of a permanent substance and a separate self.

Some times an illusion is used to over-come an illusion and the result is the realisation of reality.  In this regard, any expedient can be utilised to move toward the ‘real’.  Skilful means are a method to untie the many knots of delusion that bind the mind to the cycle of samsara.  The essence of the samsara, however, is nirvana, which means that the illusional world simply has to be penetrated by insight for it to be transformed into nirvana.  The Ch’an method gathers the forces of the mind into one place and then guides these forces as it drills through the many layers of delusion in the mind, built-up over life-times.  The resultant clarity of thought accumulates as ‘prajna’, or a special kind of spiritual insight.  The aspirant sees clearly into the psychic fabric of the mind, and in so doing sees into the reality of existence itself.  On occasion, the mind can be ‘turned’ at its deepest essence in an instant by a word or deed from an enlightened teacher, but often these occurrences are the product of a long and profound period of intense meditation over many years.  The process of drilling into the psychic fabric of the mind weakens the delusion layers themselves and so renders the mind susceptible to experiencing a ‘turning around’ by external stimuli.  The Ch’an master senses the right moment and tips the transformative process over the edge – and nothing is ever the same again.  This requires a sustained turning within so that the mind can be straightened-out.  Without this effort the delusional process stays very much intact.  Thinking about transcending the mind never accomplishes the act itself – as a thinking mind can not envisage that which lies beyond its deluded state.  The pull of the external world prevents the psychic powers (qi) of the mind from being gathered together and focused inwardly, rather than the usual scattering of this energy toward innumerable outer objects of attraction.  There must be a conscious disengagement from the external stimuli that soak-up vital psychic force (qi) away from the contemplation of the inner terrain.  Watching others practice Ch’an, or reading the dead words of those who have come before achieves nothing for the realising of the Mind Ground, if a concerted meditation method is not engaged in.  In this respect the outer world, with its never-ending supply of external attractions is designed to prevent the very activity that is required to ‘see through it’.  The illusion of duality can not be transcended if the processes required to transcend it are never allowed to come into operation.  As it is a certain limitation of physical existence that a person can not exist with out a body, the disengagement of the mind from externals is not the end of sensation itself.  As long as the body is functioning there will be sensations that appear to be originating either within the body itself, or from sources external to it.  When the mind’s attention is drawn away from attachment to these sensations, the energy of the mind is no longer scattered.  The mind begins to treat the sensations themselves with a certain indifference, and this allows for the psychic energies to be re-deployed to assist the spiritual process.  Non-attachment to externals is in fact the practice of attention diversion, as the mind’s awareness is literally disengaged from one mode of observation and trained to perform another.  The gaze is moved from the mindless consideration of externals toward the mindful consideration of its own inner terrain.  This is the establishment of the Ch’an meditative method.  This is often associated with ‘sila’, or ‘moral discipline’, which is a method for gathering the strength to initiate the process.  The relationship with external stimuli must be transformed just prior to the diversion of the mind’s attention away.  Taking vows and making dedications prepares the mind and body for a major shift in understanding.  Moral discipline is the act of preparing the body and environment for the re-defining of how the mind will interact (with them) from now on.  Moral discipline gathers the qi in the externality of the individual so that it may be conveyed to the inside of the mind so that it can be used on the inner journey.  The ‘morality’ of the situation should not be read exclusively to mean that that one physical action is better than another, (although of course, this is the case), but rather that it is ‘morally’ right to turn the mind inward, and with a powerful vigour to find enlightenment.  Changing outer behavioural modes is beneficial to the individual and to society, and should be encouraged as normal, but in and of its own, behavioural modification does not create the inner circumstance to ‘breakthrough’ in the mind, which is only achieved through a strong meditation.  However, a peaceful, positive and wise existence on the outer plain helps to create the conditions that allows for the inner journey to take place in the first place, and this type of life-style should be encouraged as being beneficial to humanity – the teachings for this kind of existence are found within Buddhism, Daoism and the original works attributed to the great sage Confucius.

The enlightened view is a radical departure from that of the ordinary mind.  On the other hand, it may be described as the same, but different – as paradox reconciles into a common middle, a middle ground, however, that appears forever contradictory to a mind that has not realised its essence.  The deluded mind creates the duality of ‘enlightened’ and ‘unenlightened’, and sets the explanatory nature of the spiritual search.  Primarily, many spiritual paths explain enlightenment from the perspective of the deluded mind as it is slowly led toward a transformative experience.  The process of training toward this goal is an exercise in delusion control whereby the klesa inherent within the mind are gently engaged, transcended and finally discarded as the mind adopts a position beyond their limitations.  Once beyond the limitations of klesa, the mind settles into a new state that appears to have existed for all time, as the delusion of the past is wiped-out in a second.  Practitioners on the Ch’an path, however, although experiencing ‘levels’ of attainment, nevertheless are also instructed to ruthlessly cut-down every single state of mind that manifests, until the pure and pristine Mind Ground manifests.  Even temporary understandings – such as those which attempt to explain ‘emptiness’ and ‘form’, must be swept aside, and nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of the complete and total immersion within the Mind Ground itself.  Therefore Ch’an practice takes the goal of complete enlightenment as its starting point because there is not a single thing in the universe that does not have it as its base and function.  The ordinary, deluded state appears to lack it, but this is because it has not been realised as present.  The immediate presence of the Mind Ground is the basis of the Ch’an path – it is the essence of Buddhism, without recourse to the thousands of words that define ‘Buddhism’.  The sutras lead the aspirant toward enlightenment at their own pace, whilst Ch’an, in its more direct method demands that the obvious is realised here and now, and its nature not endlessly talked around.  The Ch’an masters use the language of the ‘uncreate’.  This is the use of ordinary conditioned human language, in a manner that does not allow for the usual conditioning to operate, and thus deprives the intellectual mind of the fuel needed to create more delusive thought.  This language manifests the ‘real’ in a non-dualistic and absolute manner and can not be understood with a mere shallow cleverness.  Its impact is often decisive and is designed to take the practitioner through the three gates of entry into nirvana; namely ‘voidness’, ‘formlessness’, and ‘inactivity’.  Voidness empties the mind of the idea of self and others; formlessness wipes out the notion of externals, and inactivity puts a stop to all worldly activities, whilst appearing in the world – in numerous and diverse circumstances – to act as a bodhisattva and deliver all living beings from suffering.  Inactivity is the state of the non-creation of deluded, worldly states of mind and body and is the quality of a ‘stilled’ mind in meditation.  Beyond this state, the aspirant may appear to act within the world of red dust (i.e. ‘everyday existence’) for the betterment of innumerable beings.  The Ch’an method does not stay or settle at even profound levels of attainment, and the aspirant must push on.  The sutras describe the ten fearless powers (Dasabala) of an enlightened being as knowing:

1)     What is right and wrong in every condition.

2)     The karma of every being, past, present, and future.

3)     All stages of liberation through dhyana and Samadhi.

4)     The good and evil (karmic) roots of all beings.

5)     The knowledge and understanding of every being.

6)     The actual conditions of every being.

7)     The direction and consequence of all laws.

8)     All the causes of mortality and of good and evil in their reality.

9)     The former lives of all beings and the stage of nirvana.

10)   The destruction of all delusion of every kind.

An enlightened being also possesses the six supernatural powers (sadabhijna), which are:

1)     Divine sight.

2)     Divine hearing.

3)     Knowledge of the minds of all beings.

4)     Knowledge of all forms of previous existences of self and others.

5)     Power to appear in any place and have absolute freedom.

6)     Insight into the ending of the streams of birth and death.

Through the realisation of the state of profound inactivity (that is not limited to its own definitional boundaries), these states naturally arise.  It is not an effort of intellect that achieves these states, and these states are not created out of a logical construction.  The existence of these states is ethereal and not dependent upon the ego in any way.  These states naturally manifest when course delusion is transcended, but the Mind Ground that the Ch’an methods seeks lies even beyond these extraordinary achievements.  The pitfalls are many and these states should not serve as the basis for meditation.  Unusual abilities of both mind and body are a consequence of a deep and profound inner journey, and never the focus of the journey itself.  All must be left behind – even the notions of divine powers.  The ego will try to prevent its own transcendence by taking-on the pretence of spirituality and mimicking these divine powers – catching many beings in a trap that ultimately makes matters spiritually worse, rather than better.  The deluded spiritual teacher wraps many innocent beings into his false understanding; this is why the Ch’an method demands an absolute honesty that pushes the practitioner on toward true understanding and realisation.  In the records of Ch’an masters – even a monk who had died – and then re-animated his dead body – had not achieved the final position.  This demonstrates that some times, when some progress has been made on the spiritual path, the consequential fruits can hinder further progress and become a gold chain that blocks development.  The Buddha himself cut through the haze of delusion in two ways; one way involved the meticulous explanation of Dhamma – expressing the same wisdom from many different perspectives. Including the use of chanting to break through – and secondly the direct approach that allows for no distinction whatsoever.  This is why the Buddha’s pathway is very diverse.  It can be entered from many different life-circumstances, but despite which dharani door is used, the Mind Ground that is realised is exactly the same.

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