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The Infinite Substance of Luminous Mind

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Posted by Tallis Grayson


In this post, I would like to discuss the following question:

Is there some eternal aspect of your being that continues to live on past death?

As a rule, the Buddha refused to answer questions concerning that which is either eternal or everlasting. For example:

“Once a wandering mendicant asked the Buddha, ‘Does one who has reached the truth live again after death or not live again after death?’ To which the Buddha replied, ‘That is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion.’” (DN 9.26)

[See suttas 63 and 72 of the Majjhima Nikaya for a more extensive list of questions that the Buddha avoided answering.]

However, in the suttas the Buddha is very clear that he is not a nihilist:

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“Both formerly and presently, I have never been a nihilist, never been one who teaches the annihilation of a being. Rather, I have taught only the source of suffering, and its ending.” (MN 1.140)

In fact, in the suttas the Buddha repeatedly stresses that he is neither an eternalist (one who holds the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul) nor a nihilist (one who believes that death is the annihilation of consciousness).

“Once, the Buddha was asked by a visitor named Vacchagotta whether the self existed, ‘Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?’ When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

‘Then is there no self?’

A second time, the Blessed One was silent.

Then Vacchagotta got up from his seat and left.

Not long after Vacchagotta had left, Ananda said to the Blessed One, ‘Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta?’

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Ananda, if I - being asked by Vacchagotta if there is a self - were to answer that there is a self, then that would be conforming to those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul. If I - being asked by Vacchagotta if there is no self - were to answer that there is no self, then that would be conforming to those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness.’” (SN 44.10)

[To appreciate how thoroughly the Buddha approached this topic, you might also want to read the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya, where the Buddha describes and rejects sixty-two different philosophical worldviews.]

Here is another passage, this time between Sariputta (Buddha’s most trusted enlightened disciple) and Maha Kotthita (a slightly less experienced disciple). Here Maya Kotthita is more or less asking if there is anything beyond nirvana (i.e. anything beyond the liberated mind that no longer clings).

Maha Kotthita: With the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intellection, is it the case that there is anything else?

Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.

Maha Kotthita: With the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?

Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.

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Maha Kotthita: Is it the case that there both is and is not anything else?

Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.

Maha Kotthita: Is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?

Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.

Maha Kotthita: Being asked, with the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, if there is anything else, you say, 'Do not say that, my friend.' Being asked if there is not anything else; there both is and is not anything else; there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, 'Do not say that, my friend.' Now, how is the meaning of your words to be understood?

Sariputta: The statement, 'with the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media is it the case that there is anything else?' objectifies non-objectification. The statement, 'is it the case that there is not anything else; is it the case that there both is and is not anything else; is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?' objectifies non-objectification. How far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. How far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading and the stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of objectification. (AN 4.174)

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Buddhist scripture rocks!

The patience and care taken in these suttas is remarkable.

Here is another:

"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen and pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye and forms, ear and sounds, nose and aromas, tongue and flavours, body and tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." (SN 35.23)

Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?

How should we answer this question? Well, according to my reading of these suttas we can forget attempting to ascribe any predicate whatsoever to It, for we can’t even claim that It exists or does not exist, and worse still, we are not even supposed to ask the question in the first place; for the question is itself confused. The question is confused because it attempts to objectify that which lies beyond the range of objectification.

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Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?

It seems that a number of Buddhist teachers and bloggers are content to answer yes to the above question. But worse still, they feel compelled to describe their experience of Its intrinsic nature with a seemingly never ending string of positive attributes such as “pure, clear, authentic, radiant,” etcetera, claiming that the universe is made out of some sort of “Luminous Mind Stuff,” claiming that one should keep searching until ones sees the ________. Feel free to insert your favourite definite descriptor in the space provided. I personally like “The Infinite Substance of Being.” Whatever one might call It, the act of calling It (that is, ones so called 'experience' of It) anything whatsoever amounts to poppycock.

Be suspect of those who continually speak of seeing some sort of ‘Eternal True Self’. In my opinion, claiming to have seen some sort of ‘Eternal True Self’ is not consistent with the teachings of the Buddha.

[Of course, who hasn’t made this mistake? (i.e. made the mistake of naming that which is beyond range.) I know I have made this error on numerous occasions. Sometimes I get careless; don’t we all. The point I want to make is to be wary of those who don’t consider ‘naming that which is beyond range’ a mistake at all. Despite being guilty of this error myself, (I need to do better), I believe that there is a rather simple safeguard that we can employ to help us avoid making this error. Sounds like a good topic for next time.]

Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?

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It seems that a number of Buddhist teachers and bloggers are content to answer no to this question. Worse still are those who believe that the essence of their existence amounts to nothing more than an illusionary wisp of smoke. This is, in my opinion, worse than being merely a nihilist, (one who holds the view that death results in their annihilation), for they do the impossible by believing that they never existed in the first place. The logical consequence of believing that you are nothing but a wisp of smoke is that you begin to act as though you are nothing but a wisp of smoke. You do not honour the possibility that there “exists” in you an indescribable Divine Identity; nor do you sufficiently value your own dependently originated and uniquely developed personhood.

Be suspect of those who claim that there is no ‘Eternal True Self.’ In my opinion, this kind of statement is not consistent with the teachings of the Buddha.

With such restrictions, how can a Buddhist not help but feel verbally bound by a straightjacket? Are we really not permitted to say anything whatsoever concerning the It that truly does not both and neither exist nor not exist beyond the range of objectification?

I am not sure that I even understand that last sentence. What a convoluted mess!

What is one to do?

I might have an idea or two.

See you next post . . .

Tallis

Source

tallisgrayson.blogspot.com.au