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BBnB Monday - Two Truths - The Correct View of Emptiness July 4, 2005

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  • GhanaBhuti@AOL.com
    Namo Buddhaya Namo Dharmaya Namo Sanghaya Monday Night Buddhist Discussion Buddhism Basics and Beyond NOTE Look for the Reminder Email on Monday. It will have
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      Namo Buddhaya Namo Dharmaya Namo Sanghaya

      Monday Night Buddhist Discussion
      Buddhism Basics and Beyond

      NOTE
      Look for the Reminder Email on Monday.
      It will have some extra material on the Two Truths


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      Our Topic Tonight is

      The Two Truths
      The Correct View of Emptiness

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      The Two Truths
      The Correct View of Emptiness

      Hi Folks,

      For the past few weeks we have been focusing on getting familiarity with The Three Principle Aspects of the Path as delineated by Lama Je Tsongkhapa.

      In his text Lama Je states that these three are:

      1. The Desire to be Free (Renunciation);
      2. Bodhicitta (the Altruistic Mind of Enlightenment); and
      3. The Correct View of Emptiness (The Two Truths).

      We've spent the past three weeks getting some familiarity with Bodhicitta and this week we will begin the study of the correct view of emptiness as delineated by the many teachings on the Two Truths.

      The Two Truths are stressed as one of the Essential parts of Buddhist View by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. John Tigue reminds us of HHDL's emphasis on The Two Truths in the following passage:



      When seeking to understand Buddhism, where should one start? When the Dalai Lama was asked, he suggested that for many Westerners, the two truths, conventional truth and ultimate truth, is the best place to start. When the Buddha awoke, he saw the ultimate reality of things just as they are. There are shifting appearances and conventions, and then there is the mystery of things just as they are. Each system of Buddhist philosophy has its own way of explaining what these two truths are and how they relate to one another.

      In exploring these systems, we are asking: What is real? This is not an idle intellectual question, but a matter which cuts to the heart of our life. ''Professor Newland's intellectually engaging examination of the four Buddhist tenet systems navigates the maze of complex theories that must be mastered to understand each system's contribution to the whole.''
        --John Tigue, Ph.D., for Explorations reviewing Four Buddhist Tenet Systems by Guy Newland at URL: http://www.emahofoundation.org/BookList/readingnew.htm

      An equally historical emphasis to understanding the Two Truths is given by

      Nagarjuna in his seminal work, Root Verses on the Middle Way (MulaMadhyamikakarikas).


      The Dharma taught by Buddhas
      Perfectly relies on two truths:
      The ambiguous truths of the world
      And the truths of the sublime meaning.

      Those who do not understand
      The division into two truths,
      Cannot understand
      The profound reality of the Buddha’s Teaching.

                   - Nagarjuna, MMK Cpt. 24


      In Buddhism, the Two Truths (DviSatya) are taught in Theravada and the Early Schools as well as in the Mahayana and Vajrayana Schools. While each school has its own way of defining and explaining the Two Truths, it is important to keep in mind that the Buddha stressed the Importance of Relative Truth. To understand this profound emphasis, it is necessary to distinguish between three 'types of truth,' Absolute, Ultimate and Relative.

      First of all, there is no Absolute Truth in Buddhism. There are many texts that state that the Two Truths are the Absolute Truth and the Relative Truth. I believe that this is an error based on not understanding the distinction between the terms Absolute and Relative.

      Absolute - as an adjective - refers to:

      è      1. Perfect in quality or nature; complete.
      è      2. Not mixed; pure. See synonyms at pure.
      è      3a. Not limited by restrictions or exceptions; unconditional: absolute trust. b. Unqualified in extent or degree; total: absolute silence. See Usage Note at infinite.
      è      4. Unconstrained by constitutional or other provisions: an absolute ruler.
      è      5. Not to be doubted or questioned; positive: absolute proof. 
      - absolute. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.



      Ultimate - as an adjective - refers to:

      è      1. Being last in a series, process, or progression: “As the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court occupies a central place in our scheme of government” (Richard A. Epstein).
      è      2. Fundamental; elemental: an ultimate truth.
      è      3a. Of the greatest possible size or significance; maximum: Has the ultimate diamond been found? b. Representing or exhibiting the greatest possible development or sophistication: the ultimate bicycle. c. Utmost; extreme: the ultimate insult.
      è      4. Being most distant or remote; farthest. See synonyms at last.
      è      5. Eventual: hoped for ultimate victory. 
      - ultimate. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.


      Ultimate and Absolute are two very different terms. Due to this difference in both their semantical and philological distinctiveness, it is important to refer to the Ultimate and not to the Absolute in discussions of the Two Truths. Absolute would imply a truth that had no relationship with any other truth or indeed a negation of any other truth.

      Ultimate Truths allow for relationship - and this is the beauty of the Buddha's wisdom. This is the very seed of the Middle Path.

      It is in this light that we can look at Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso's statement about the Importance of the Relative Truth in his classic text, The Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.

      The one thing to note is to change the term 'absolute' to 'ultimate' in the last sentence.*

      Without a proper understanding of the vast aspects of the relative truth, meditation on emptiness can be misleading and even dangerous. Although insight may come quickly, stability comes slowly. The relative truth gives us a way of looking at life and the world which, while conforming to our ordinary common sense notions of time and space, is conducive to Enlightenment (i.e., liberation) which lies beyond them.

      The relative truth is the foundation of all the Buddha's teaching because it gives a proper understanding of what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated. By abandoning unwholesome and cultivating wholesome action one creates the necessary conditions for listening, reflecting and meditating to be fruitful. In this way it is through respecting the relative truth that the absolute
      (((better to say Ultimate instead of absolute - gb))) truth can be realized.

      With this as background, we can look at the Two Truths in general. - gb

      * * * * *


      The Two Truths in Buddhism
      A Very Short Introduction to a Vast Subject


      GhanaBhuti


      There are trivial truths and there are great truths.
      The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false.
      The opposite of a great truth is also true.
      - Neils Bohr



      Writing a brief essay on the Two Truths is like trying to explain String Theory in a few short pages. Both theories have the virtue of holding profound implications about how we view all things that exist in our world as well has having a terminology of relationships between various categories of existents that requires learning a new language. In addition, both fields of study are huge in that they are the basis for an ever-increasing set of relations and co-relations between workers in related fields of study.

      In the case of the Two Truths, an exact definition cannot be given as the description of the Two Truths differs from its origin in Advaita Vedanta to its incorporation into the Abhidharma of the early Buddhist schools and on into its incorporation as the 'Three Natures' in the Cittamatra and the precise definitions of the several Madhyamika schools.

      With all of this as proviso and disclaimer, I shall attempt the near-impossible and give some definition of the Two Truths in a general sense.

      The Two Truths are the Relative Truth and the Ultimate Truth. Note that 'Ultimate,' in this sense, does not mean 'Absolute' or without reference to anything else.

      Ultimate Truth or Paramartha Satya is a term used to refer to the fact held by most Buddhist Schools that Emptiness (Shunyata) is the Fundamental Descriptor of the Nature of all things and persons that exist. This said, it becomes apparent that the definition of the Two Truths will vary considerably dependent upon a school's definition of Emptiness.

      Relative Truth also has several definitions. The most useful definition at first is that the Relative Truth is the 'Truth of the Day-to-day World.' Thus, the common names and uses we ascribe to rocks, trees, clouds and people become part of this 'Day-to-day Identity' and the many areas of business, life and commerce in which we employ these definitions.

      Relative Truth is defined in various ways in the Five Schools,** and these definitions enter into how the Two Truths are portrayed in association with the particular definitions of Emptiness. Some Schools stress the 'Truth of the World of Conventional Affairs' or Vyvahakari Satya, while other Schools stress the 'Illusory Nature or Concealor Nature of the Relative Truth. Samvriti Satya is the term that is often translates as 'Empirical Truth.' Its more precise meaning in Sanskrit is 'Concealor Truth.'

      Concealor Truth refers to the illusory or deluding nature of Relative Truths in that they hide or obscure the Ultimate Portion of the Truth as seen by ordinary beings. Such Concealor Truths are those we impute by naming or labeling.

      Some people might take a look at all of this confusion of terms and seemingly contrived words and ask, 'Why would anyone take something as beautiful as life and complicate it with all this crap?'

      This is a good question.

      The reason for all of this 'crap.' Is that it makes life much more livable - much more beautiful. Lets take a look at why this is so.

      Most negative feelings come from a false idea of what life is like or what life is 'supposed to be like.' We might be born into a system of beliefs that teaches us of a form of ultimate justice that is more often negated by our life experiences than not.

      Buddhism teaches us that these false expectations are based on the unreal assumption that we are somehow 'real,' in the sense that we exist unto ourselves alone or exist 'from our own side.' A careful examination of how we came into existence will convince us that such beliefs are in error. Thus Buddhism teaches that grasping at or clinging to a false sense of 'self' is a certain way to experience sorrow simply because life does not behave in a manner consistent with that belief.

      All of these false beliefs come under the heading of the extreme view of Eternalism, the belief in a permanent, isolated and unchanging self that is unrelated to the many other phenomena of existence.

      The other false notion, held by some, is that nothing exists in any substantial way at all. We see such a belief paraded in Film Noir, courses on French Philosophy, modern poetry and of course, the vulgar display that is the Evening News. Such beliefs fall under the heading of the extreme view of Nihilism, that there is no reality to existence and thus, no meaning to be found to cure our feelings of isolation and terror at the hands of an unfriendly universe.

      Buddha looked at both sides of this argument, and many other formulations and pronounced an alternative to such extreme views. This is the origin of Buddha's teaching of the Ontological*** Middle Way. Ontology*** here, refers to the fact that things - phenomena and persons - do in fact exist, but not in the illusory way that we at first think that they exist based on our untrained mental practices. Buddha taught his central doctrine of Dependent Co-Arising (Pratityasamutpada) as an explanation of how ignorance leads to rebirth, and how things actually exist due to arising from a common set of causes and conditions.

      Buddhism then teaches us that reality is indeed real, but it is too subtle to be described in any one, absolute manner. Instead of this absolutism, we are trained to look at life in a relative sense, and see the Inter-Relation between various existents and persons and to fathom the deep chain of complex causes and circumstances that they share. Thich Nhat Hanh's term for this deep inter-relation is 'InterBeing.'

      Interbeing is another word for Dependent Co-Arising, the ostensibly provable idea that all things come into existence 'because of each other.' This sentiment arises from the fact that the phenomena and persons that do exist hold the myriad causes and conditions in common, and that the origin of one thing or person cannot be isolated from the origin of all other things.

      This Ontological Middle Path is taught as an affirmation in the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma where the Buddha taught Dependent Co-Arising and the concurrent idea of a 'Selflessness of Persons;' the idea that the Self is not a permanent, isolated and unchanging entity as such a 'self' cannot be found in any of the skandhas or their isolates.

      In the Second Turning of the Wheel, this 'selflessness of persons was expanded to include the lack of self-nature of dharmas (meaning phenomena in this sense) and a special term to explain the nature of existence of both persons and phenomena that lacked self nature. This special term is Shunyata or Emptiness, a descriptive term that states exactly the basic nature of how things exist in our universe. Things do indeed exist, but not from their own side. Thus, all persons and phenomena lack one thing, and the thing they lack is 'Inherent Existence,' existence from their own side.

      In terms of the Two Truths, we must then look at two expressions of the nature of reality. Together these two expressions describe the totality of One Complete Reality, One Truth. The Two Expressions are then, Paramartha Satya, an expression of the Ultimate Truth of Emptiness of all Persons and Phenomena; and Samvriti Satya, an expression of the Conventional Truth of all Persons and Phenomena as derived (in a communal or collective sense) from Dependent Co-Arising.

      Taken together then, Emptiness and Dependent Co-Arising are seen as different aspects of each other, different aspects of the same thing, the ineffable subtlety of how things do in fact exist, and how that existence is woven together with that of all other beings.

      è      Dependent Co-Arising is a Positive Ontological Statement of 'How things Actually Exist,' and
      è      Emptiness is a Negating Ontological Statement of how things do NOT exist in that it denies that any person or phenomenon exists as a permanent, isolated and unchanging entity that is in some way outside of and unrelated to the rest of the existents of the Universe as a whole.

      The terms we use for the Totality of Existence as described by the Two Truths are also remarkable. We use the terms**** Dharmata, Dharmadhatu, Dharmakaya, Tathagatagarbha, Thusness, Suchness and Void to describe the Great Potential of Being that is contained in our own existence due to the Wonderful and Freeing Fact that we lack this Limiting Thing called 'Inherent Existence.'

      Each of these terms teaches us a quotient of the deep lessons we can fathom when we unravel the mystery of our own life and being. Thus we can begin to investigate with all our resources our nature as Dharmakaya, the Truth Body of the Buddha. Starting with this is a matter of recognizing the seed of Buddha nature within us (Tathagatagarbha) and working to help this hidden nature grow into the Suchness of Full Enlightenment.

      This one thing we lack is of Great Benefit to us in many ways. Primarily, if we were in fact permanent, isolated and independent entities, we would be unable to Grow, Change and Leave Fear Behind. We would be unable to Grow and Change beyond the limits that defined us as permanent, isolated and independent entities. This brings up a subtle point that is contained in the mystery of the contemplation of the Two Truths.

      When we contemplate the Two Truths, we contemplate the Union of Appearances and Emptiness, or - in other words - the union of the Conventional Truth of Dependent Co-Arising with the Ultimate Truth of Emptiness. In this meditation we can easily see that, as beings in the ordinary day-to-day world, we incur the limits of who and what we are, and how the limitations of our life define us in a way that seems somewhat isolated from many parts of the universe as a whole. In other words, we are limited or prevented from having some attributes by virtue of the attributes that we do possess in a Relative Sense.

      Such limiting attributes are those of race, citizenship, culture as well as physical attributes such as sex, hair and eye color, our age and a host of other features and character states that go into the entire 'Package of Who We are' - in a Conventional Sense. These attributes are seen as limits in that having one attribute precludes having other attributes. Being born a woman precludes being born as a man. Having Blue Eyes precludes having Brown or Black Eyes, and being born, raised and educated in France precludes a similar birth, rearing and education in some other country.

      It is important to contemplate deeply and meditate upon the nature of the characteristics we use to 'define ourselves.' This is important in that, No matter how long the list and how glowing are the attributes that we can list on our Curriculum vitae, they represent profound limitations as well as accomplishments. A great particle physicist is unlikely to be a great and innovative heart surgeon as well as a Grass Court Champion at Wimbledon and an Astronaut - even if all of these careers are remarkable.

      Emptiness shows us the other side - the unlimited side - of how we exist, in that we can examine any of the character states that define us and, - by the wisdom of emptiness - see that they are not real in any absolute sense. Knowing this Emptiness, we can discover an inner sense of openness and freedom that lifts us beyond the Limitations of Conventional Reality and allow us to explore the Unlimited Expanse of Our Own Mind. With this type of understanding, we can use the Circumstances of our Ordinary Lives to further our sense of freedom - our realization of Emptiness.

      Thus, the Two Truths save us from the limitations that we might feel imposed upon us by virtue of the happenstance and circumstance of our life. We are also able to put aside the obsessive need to over-classify and therefore limit any persons, phenomena or subjects in our lives, and learn to experience all of these things by means of a more Open Dimension of Being.

      Emptiness and Conventional Truth taken together then become a remarkable synthesis for finding both the advantages of our Conventional Lives and marrying those circumstances and happenstances to the Great Freedom, Perfection and Wisdom of Emptiness, the Unlimited Dimension of who and what we truly are.

      To find Emptiness and the Union of the Conventional Truth with this Ultimate Truth of Emptiness, requires a great commitment and the application of the Wisdom taught in the Three Prajñas of the Buddha. These three Prajñas are Hearing, Contemplation and Experiencing the Dharma by the processes of Listening, Intellectual Analysis and Meditative Experience. These three Wisdoms are so important that many Buddhist Masters teach that if one is not involved with all three of these wisdoms, they are not really on the path at all.

      Returning to the matter of the Two Truths, there is still much to say because the realization of the Union of the Two Truths is a matter that takes a refined and constant approach of the Three Prajñas over many years. The reason for this is that the Illusory Nature of Existence or Maya is remarkably deep. Further, it takes a deep practice over a number of years to penetrate deeply into the heart of this Maya, this illusory nature of the Universe and find the Perfect Union of the Two Truths at the core of our experience of both ourselves, others and all persons and phenomena of the Universe.

      As we begin anew our study of Buddhism it is important to place the Doctrine of The Two Truths in proper perspective. In all the teachings of the Buddha, there are (at least) three intents. I should note that the term 'Three Intents' is my own neologism to express this intent in the teachings of Buddhism. While this term and usage are not Canonical, the term does indicate the deep richness of all of the Teachings of the many paths and teachings of the Buddha.

      è      First, each teaching is an expansion of the ideas of the Four Noble Truths which include all of Buddhism in the Noble eight-fold path that is the Fourth Noble Truth. Each teaching thus reminds us of the Nature of Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the End of Suffering and the Noble Eight-Fold Path that leads to the Cessation of Suffering. In Buddhism, keeping the Four Noble Truths as foundational is a key for understanding the deep texture of the Teachings and how the lead us from a deluded state of sorrow to a refined state of Grace and Wisdom.

      è      Second, each teaching is a further expounding upon the Middle Way taught by the Buddha. In this way, both the Conventional Middle Way of the 'Golden Mean' between extremes is taught, and the Ontological Middle Way between the extremes of Eternalism and Nihilism is taught. Keeping both of these expressions of the Middle Way in mind will help incorporate the Buddha's many teachings on the correct view, path and ethical stance to incorporate into our day-to-day lives and our meditative contemplations as Seekers.

      è      The Third Intent of each Teaching within Buddhism is a further explanation of some aspect of the Two Truths. Of course all of these Three Intentions overlap each other. The eight-fold path contains all of the teachings of the Buddha as the Middle Way and the Two Truths are elements of each other.

      One set of resources for learning more about these three Intents is to study 'The Three Higher Trainings' of Ethics (or Higher Conduct), Bodhicitta and the Correct View of Emptiness.' The Correct View of Emptiness is the Meditative Attainment of the Two Truths. Some synonyms, practices and paths of this attainment are found in Mahamudra, Dzogchen and the tantric meditations on Illusory Body and Clear Light.

      No matter what course of study one is involved with in either Sutrayana or Vajrayana Buddhism, the lessons of the Two Truths are a fundamental source of growing wisdom as taught by the Buddha and his many worthy successors.

      I wish you well in your journey to this Great Wisdom.

      Namaste and Shanti,

      GhanaBhuti
      Earth Day, April 22, 2004,
      Also Charles Mingus' Birthday, and
      The 45th Anniversary of the Recording of the
      Second Half of Miles Davis' Great Album, 'Kind of Blue'
      (The First Half was recorded on March 2, 1959)



      * * * * *

      For those who would like to read more about the Two Truths now, here is a URL for Two Parts of a Teaching by Denmo Lochö Rinpoche, the ex-abbot of Namgyal, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala, India.

      The Two Truths Part 1



      We will look at both parts of Rinpoche's text in detail soon. - gb

      * * * * *


      Notes:


      *Absolute in Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso's text. This translation is by Lama Shenpen Hookham who teaches at the very successful and excellent Heart Sangha in England. Lama Hookham is well-known for having a Substantialist (Shentong) view of Emptiness and this affected the translation of Khenpo Tsultrim's book as she sees Emptiness in a more Absolutist figure and POV than some other teachers.

      ** The Five Schools. In teachings on the Progressive Stages of Viewing Emptiness, the Five Schools are:

      1. Shravaka - the Hinayana View
      2. Cittamatra - the Mind Only View
      3. Svatantrika - the Autonomous View
      4 Shentong - The View of 'Other Emptiness' or 'Extraneous Emptiness'
      5. Rangtong - The View of Intrinsic Emptiness or Self-Emptiness.
      Various Tibetan Schools differ in view as to the superiority of the Shentong view or the Rangtong view.

      *** Ontology - In Philosophy, the branch of Metaphysics that deals with questions of ultimate origin and the nature of being.

      **** This list of terms are used to describe particular aspects of Ultimate Truth. It is not important to know these terms now but we will investigate them in detail as time goes on.

      * * * * *


      All Original Text Copyright,
      © 2004, GhanaBhuti, GhanaBhuti@...


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      Of all Beings and thus to Highest Enlightenment


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