Thinking about Buddha Nature lately, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve come around to the question of whether the world is “real”. Or the question, at least, of whether the Buddhadharma – with it’s tropes of “illusion,” “bubble,” “dream” – is actually about the unreality of the world.
It can really sound like it; isn’t the ultimate understanding something like, “no eyes, no ears, no nose…”? Buddhism does teach that there are no substantial person-selves (Pali teachings), and that indeed nothing at all exists of itself (Mahayana). Buddhism also teaches that nothing can really be said about “reality” (Madhyamaka), and that what we see as the external world is completely informed by our own mind – projected from it, dependent on it – and lacks substance in that way as well (Yogacara).
All of these teachings can sound like “this isn’t real,” but it seems to me that that isn’t really the point. The teachings are that nothing can be grasped, that nothing persists over time, and that nothing is independent. That nothing can be ultimately said or posited about reality.
The teachings don’t seem to me, though, to deny that something is happening. Actually something really cool is happening. Something inconceivably amazing.
But what is that? And how do we talk about it?
Radical negation is one approach – “This thing that’s happening is not what we think it is!”
Mind-only is another approach – “This thing that’s happening is only what we think it is!”
But these are principally negative approaches, they are apophatic. And in that, they can be easily misconstrued as pointing away from the world, pointing away from this delusive, perceived reality. “Oh, this world – it’s not real.”
Buddha Nature teaching, on the other hand, is willing – like the bodhisattva – to wholeheartedly enter the muddy world of perceived reality, and to not just dismiss it but to say something positive about it. To say something like: “What this reality is, is awakened nature, is the process of awakening, is awakened mind.”
This is to describe reality in a cataphatic way, one that invites us more brightly to open to the fullness of our world, our perceived, and however deluded, experience of it.
This positive approach doesn’t overturn any of the other teachings, but it adds to them. It even carries them, because in a way they are what this wonderful nature refers to. Their truth is itself what is meant by the unborn and undying Buddha nature.
Buddhism does seem to say that generally speaking we don’t really get what’s going on here, but it also says that what’s going on here is unspeakable beautiful, unspeakably perfect, unspeakably, vibrantly, awake to its own truth.
Since I have to think of “reality” in some way, why not take a view that’s that friendly?
It might help me relax, and actually arrive here.