The Buddha rejected the extremes of eternalism and nihilism and taught the middle way which is free from extremes. This post examines what each of these mean with pictorial aid.


There is a water. Water truly exists. Hydrogen and oxygen are attributes of the water.


The water does not exist. OR The water that exists now annihilates later.

Middle Way

Co-dependently arisen hydrogen and oxygen are empty of water, but is conventionally called water. Hydrogen and oxygen are not attributes of an entity "water" (no such thing can be pinned down), not contained by an entity called "water", nor is there a "water" that is "made up of" hydrogen and oxygen. Rather, two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms co-dependently arising ARE what is conventionally imputed as water.



Self view is the held position that there is a self. Self truly exists. Self may be seen as attributeless (as some attributeless pure consciousness as in advaita), or a self that owns or contains attributes, or an agent that manifests, owns, observes, or controls, its aggregates. The precise view of self varies from eternal, partially eternal, to nihilistic (for a lengthy discourse by Buddha on the numerous "thicket of views", refer to From an eternalist perspective, the self remains unchanged despite the changes in life. It remains unchanged even after bodily death. It is either seen as the unchanging self [as an individual soul], or the Self [as an infinite Self or Presence] that is unaffected by the passing aggregates or phenomena.


The self does not exist. OR The self in this life annihilates upon death. There is no karma, cause and effect, or rebirth.

Middle Way

Co-dependently arisen five aggregates are empty of self, but is conventionally called self. Seeing is not a self seeing, but is simply the experience being seen. Volition is not via a doer, but is simply action-activity-process, co-dependently arisen. Consciousness is not a self, it is simply auditory consciousness manifested dependent on ear, sound and attention, so on and so forth. Taste of chocolate has nothing to do with a taster but is simply the process or seamless activity of biting, tongue touching chocolate, consciousness of taste, etc. Ultimately, whatever dependently originates is also empty of any true existence (five aggregates are also empty) - but appearances are not denied.

Now replace "water" or "self" with anything - mind, matter, Buddha-nature, Truth, awareness, cars, houses, atoms, universe, etc. All applies the same way.

Diamond Sutra: "Subhuti, all dharmas are spoken of as no dharmas. Therefore they are called dharmas."

Anuradha Sutta: "And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, 'Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death'?"

Ted Biringer: "...According to Dogen, this “oceanic-body” does not contain the myriad forms, nor is it made up of myriad forms – it is the myriad forms themselves. The same instruction is provided at the beginning of Shobogenzo, Gabyo (pictured rice-cakes) where, he asserts that, “as all Buddhas are enlightenment” (sho, or honsho), so too, “all dharmas are enlightenment” which he says does not mean they are simply “one” nature or mind."

Thusness (2008): The key is in "emptiness" so that there is complete non abiding and (non-)staying (thus avoiding eternalism) and "luminosity" so that there is aliveness and clarity without falling into nihilism.

Note: does that mean that conventionally self truly exists? No. Conventional truths are not in fact true nor existing but are merely deluded projections as a result of ignorance. Five aggregates are deludedly conceived as a self. Such a self may conventionally be considered true, yet there is actually no truth to it. It is merely a false name used by the enlightened for pragmatic purpose, but taken to be true and existing by the ignorant. Nagarjuna: "Since the Jina proclaims that nirvana alone is true, what wise person would not reject the rest as false?"

The diagrams are inspired by Julian Baggini's speech on Ted talk:
(Above: Ted Biringer's book)

Like always, Ted Biringer have interesting and well written postings.

Just like to add a short comment:

Dogen here relates nyo (“like”), to ze (“this”), evoking the familiar Zen association nyoze (“like this,” “thusness”). He goes on to draw the implication that “like this” signifies not mere resemblance but the nondual identity of symbol and symbolized. He thus rejects any dualistic notion of metaphor or simile (hiyi), whereby an image points to, represents, or approximates something other than itself. Rather, for Dogen, the symbol itself is the very presence of total dynamism, i.e., it presents.

Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, note 8, p.251

I could think of one example: people liken “Buddha-nature” to be “like the moon”.
In actuality, the very appearance of the moon is buddha-nature, it is not that there is some hidden thing called buddha-nature which merely resembles the moon. The moon is buddha-nature, the buddha-nature is the moon, the nondual identity of symbol and symbolized. Or as Dogen says, the moon-face buddha and sun-face buddha, the whole body is the whole moon. There is nothing hidden or latent about it, there is no hidden noumenon in which phenomenon or symbols can “point to” or “hint at”. The symbol, e.g. the moon, is itself the very presence of total dynamism. Furthermore, manifestation does not 'come from' Buddha-nature, nor does Buddha-nature 'contains' manifestation, Buddha-nature is empty of a self but conventionally imputed on the "myriad forms". Likewise for Truth, Awareness, etc.

In fact everything is like this.

Scent of a flower is not scent of “a flower”, the scent does not represent or approximate something other than itself but is a complete reality (well not exactly a 'reality' but rather a whole and complete manifestation/appearance which is empty and unreal) in itself: the scent IS the flower, wheel of a car is not wheel of “a car”, the car IS the wheel. Wheel cannot be said to "come from a car" or "be contained by a car". The word “car” is a mere imputation, not a true reality that can be established. “Self” and aggregates are likewise.

Seen in such manner, all constructs are deconstructed and what's left is just the shimmering "dream-like" (coreless, empty, illusory), luminous appearances which is all there is, but not to be confused with a dreamy state.

Anyway this is Ted's new post:

Friday, June 01, 2012
Buddha-Dharma: A Dream in a Dream

On the True Nature of the Self...

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.
Wallace Stevens

The appearance of buddhas and ancestors in the world, being prior to the emergence of any incipient sign, has nothing to do with old, narrow opinions. This accounts for the virtues of buddha-ancestors, as of going beyond the Buddha. Unconcerned with time, the life-span [of buddha-ancestors] is neither prolonged nor momentary, as it is far from the comprehension of ordinary minds.

The ever turning wheel of the Dharma is also a principle prior to the emergence of any incipient sign; as such, it is an eternal paragon with immeasurably great merit. [Buddha-ancestors] expound this as a dream in a dream. Because they see verification within verification, it is known as expounding a dream in a dream.

The place where a dream is expounded in a dream is indeed the land and assembly of buddha-ancestors. The buddha-land and buddha-assembly, the ancestral way and ancestral seat, are all verification founded upon verification, hence all are the expounding of a dream in a dream. Upon encountering their utterances and discourses, do not think that these are not of the buddha-assembly; they are the Buddha’s turning the wheel of the Dharma. Because this wheel of the Dharma turns in all directions, the great oceans and Mt. Sumeru, the lands and buddhas are all realized. Such is expounding a dream in a dream, which is prior to all dreams.

The entire world, crystal-clear everywhere, is a dream; and a dream is all grasses [things] clear and bright. To doubt the dream state is itself to dream; all perplexity is a dream as well. At this very moment, [all are] grasses of the “dream state,” grasses “in” [a dream], grasses“expounding” [a dream], and so on. Even as we study this, the very roots and stalks, leaves and branches, flowers and fruits, lights and hues [of our perception] are all a great dream. Never mistake this, however, for a dreamy state.

Dogen, Shobogenzo, Muchu-setsumu (Expounding a dream in a dream), Trans. Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.279-280

It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera. Only it hurts.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers)

Dogen here relates nyo (“like”), to ze (“this”), evoking the familiar Zen association nyoze (“like this,” “thusness”). He goes on to draw the implication that “like this” signifies not mere resemblance but the nondual identity of symbol and symbolized. He thus rejects any dualistic notion of metaphor or simile (hiyi), whereby an image points to, represents, or approximates something other than itself. Rather, for Dogen, the symbol itself is the very presence of total dynamism, i.e., it presents.

Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, note 8, p.251

If the new empirical results are taken seriously, then people throughout our culture have to rethink some of their most cherished beliefs about what science and philosophy are and consider their values from a new perspective...

If conceptual metaphors are real, then all literalist and objective views of meaning and knowledge are false. We can no longer pretend to build an account of concepts and knowledge on objective, literal foundations. This constitutes a profound challenge to many of the traditional ways of thinking about what it means to be human, about how the mind works, and about our nature as social and cultural creatures.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p.273

Allegory and metaphor both start off saying one thing as if it were another. But where allegorical method divides this double talk into two constituents – latent and manifest – and requires translation of manifest into latent, the metaphorical method keeps the two voices together, here the dream as it tells itself, ambiguously evocative and concretely precise at each and every instant. Metaphors are not subject to interpretive translation without breaking up their peculiar unity... Since symbols and metaphors cannot be translated, another method for understanding dreams is needed, a method in which masks, disguises, and doubleness inherently belong, a method that is itself metaphorical.

if the dream is psychic nature per se, unconditioned, spontaneous, primary, and this psychic nature can show a dramatic structure, then the nature of the mind is poetic. To go to the root human ontology, its truth, essence, and nature, one must move in the fictional mode and use poetic tools.

James Hillman, Healing Fiction, pp35-36 [italics Hillman’s]

Also see:

+A and -A Emptiness (On the two experiential insights involved in Thusness Stage 6)

Last year, a forummer from the NewBuddhist forum (Albert Hong a.k.a. Taiyaki) penetrated within a year the realization of I AM to non dual and anatta. He is an avid reader of this blog.

Thusness wrote the following pointers for him:

"There are several points that maybe of help to Taiyaki:

1.  First there must be a deep conviction that arising does not need an essence. That view of subjective essence is simply a convenient view.

2.  First emptying of self/Self does not necessarily lead to illusion-like experience of reality. It does however allows experience to become vivid, luminous, direct and non-dual.

3.  First emptying may also lead a practitioner to be attached to an 'objective' world or turns physical. The 'dualistic' tendency will resurface after a period of few months so it is advisable to monitor one's progress for a few months.

4.  Second emptying of phenomena will turn experience illusion-like but take note of how emptying of phenomena is simply extending the same "emptiness view" of Self/self.

5. From these experiences and realizations, contemplate what is meant by "thing", what is meant by mere construct and imputation.

6.  "Mind and body drop" are simply dissolving of mind and body constructs. If one day the experience of anatta turns a practitioner to the attachment of an 'objective and actual' world, deconstruct "physical".

7.  There is a relationship between "mental constructs", energy, luminosity and weight. A practitioner will experience a release of energies, freedom, clarity and feel light and weightless deconstructing 'mental constructs'.

8. Also understand how the maha experience of interpenetration and non-obstruction is related to deconstructions of inherent view.

9. No body, no mind, no dependent origination, no nothing, no something, no birth, no death. Profoundly deconstructed and emptied! Just vivid shimmering appearances as Primordial Suchness in one whole seamless unobstructed-interpenetration."


On another occasion, Thusness wrote (not to Taiyaki):

...Like after anatta, as I have said many times the sense of externality and physicality can still be very strong. My deconstruction process of "externality" and "physicality" is actually based few questions: 1. Why is mind which is "mental" is able to "interact" with something "physical"? 2. Why does consciousness need conditions for its arising? 3. What is interaction? All these questions help stabilized my experiences when I penetrated them in my own way.

Illusion like realization (arose) when I contemplated "hereness" and "nowness" until my mind was able to intuit the logic behind all these, then experience becomes stable. However one can enter by experience to have a taste of it...

I think of all the traditions' explanations of Buddha-nature, I still prefer some of the explanations of Buddha-nature by some Soto Zen teachers (particularly those influenced by Dogen).

A few excerpts/postings found on a good blog by Zen teacher Judith Ragir:

The emancipation of suchness

From Dogen, Bussho Fascicle, Shobogenzo:
Although with mu-buddha-nature (no- Buddha-nature) you may have to grope your way along, there is a touchstone – What.  There is a temporal condition – You.  There is entrance into its dynamic functioning – affirmation.  There is a common nature – all-pervading or wholeness.  It is a direct and an immediate access.

In contrast to some interpretations of Buddhism which are about transcending suffering or leaving the realm of samsara behind and not returning, Dogen always surprises me by turning that around.  He encourages us see this moment of what we might call “ordinary life”, as the moment of practice and liberation.  There is no room to stray far from the moment at hand.  He is completely affirming of life, quite different then a nihilistic interpretation of Buddhism.

Katagiri-Roshi said,

The important point is not to try to escape your life.  But to face it- exactly and completely the way it is beyond discussion of good and bad, right and wrong, like and dislike.  All you have to do is just take one step.  Strickly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face and nothing else (the temporal condition). If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice.  Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness.

In studying the fasicle Bussho,  we find that Buddha-nature is not a thing that represents some kind of foundation.  Buddha-nature is impermanence and interconnectedness.  It is essentially empty.  Dogen breaks down the “thingness” or solidness of all things by deconstructing time, space and body.  He only writes of the whole body or entire being, and the total functioning or interconnectedness of life.  The temporal conditions are the coming together of all the factors which produce the formation of this very moment.  That formation itself is Buddha-nature.
The whole body or entire being is often expressed in Dogen with the words:
Mountains and rivers
Earth, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles
All things in the dharma realm in ten directions
Carry out Buddha work.

    From Jijiyu Sammai, Dogen Shobogenzo
All human bodies completely inter-be with all other manifestations of life.  We are not solitary, independent units.

In this dynamic reality, Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.  The temporal condition of the moment, the
“what”, gives birth to and emancipates the suchness, emptiness, or aliveness of the moment.  Emptiness, impermanence and interconnection are affirmed in this very moment.  They are freed or manifested through their birth in form.  In inversion, form is freed by the letting go into impermanence.  This inter-embrace is Buddha-nature.


It means just appearing, that’s all.
This is the basic nature of existence.

"Entire being is the buddha-nature"

In the beginning of Dogen’s Bussho fascicle of the Shobogenzo, he quotes a famous passage from the Nirvana Sutra (ch. 27) All sentient beings without exception have the Buddha-nature.   In Dogen’s way, Dogen reinterprets this sentence so that it more explicitedly reads in a non-dualistic style.   In the previous sentence, it’s possible to read it dualistically as:
A subject, “sentient beings” “has” an object, “Buddha-nature”

Dogen reinterprets the sentence as:  Entire being is the Buddha-nature.  He tries to alleviate the duality inherent in the sentence structure.  Entire being becomes the complete network of interdependent co-origination, which has no inside and no outside, no I and no you.  Our being or a sentient being is actually the same as the total dynamic working of the entire network of beings.  We cannot pull out a separated “being”.  Dogen deconstructs the space or place of a “being” as a separate, independent unit.  The entire network of beings, functioning together, is the Buddha-nature.

The Buddha-nature is not seen as a “thing” or an “object” but rather the process of life life-ing itself.  It is the total dynamic working of the machine of life.  Katagiri Roshi deconstructs the “time” of Buddha-nature.  He says :
 “Buddha-nature is impermanence itself.  This real moment is constantly: working, arising, disappearing, and appearing. To say what the present moment is, right here, right now, is to say that this moment has already disappeared.  This is called emptiness.  Both cause and effect are exactly impermanence in themselves.  It means just appearing, that’s all.  This is the basic nature of existence.  That’s why impermanence is Buddha-nature.  Buddha-nature is being preached constantly.  When you manifest yourself right now, right here, becoming one with zazen or with your activity, this is Buddha-nature manifested in the realm of emptiness or impermanence.”  From Returning to Silence, page 9.


Friday, June 17, 2011

To know Buddha-nature, contemplate temporal conditions

Buddha said, “if you wish to know the Buddha-nature’s meaning, you must contemplate temporal conditions.  If the time arrives, the Buddha-nature will manifest itself.  From Bussho,  Shobogenzo, Waddell and Abe translation.

This is it for me!  No more seeking. (thank god, after 40 years I’m so tired of seeking) (Joshu calls us,  “Buddha seeking fools”)  No more intellectualizing on the meaning of Zen or the sutras or thinking we can understand.  No more seeking deep and poo-pooing surface (ordinary things).  No more wishing for sacredness and transcendence,  which discounts our ordinary delusions and the problems of life. This dualistic thinking, separating the absolute and the relative, with our concurrent preferences, just continues all the worldly suffering, confusion and fatigue.  Wishing things were otherwise.

The absolute and the relative,  the sacred and the ordinary, are completely intertwined and completely arise together.  That means that this moment is complete, is the Buddha-nature.  There is no “other”  “thing” to search for.  So our practice should be directed at seeing the inter-related quality, the process of no-solid-objects including me!, the openness and no-story (and the taking care of the story) of what is actually arising, the temporal condition of this moment.  We must ONLY contemplate the temporal condition of this moment, and then the next.  This moment is the nexus of process that brings forth this object and brings forth Buddha-nature.  There is no exception and no abandonment.  We can experience this when we release our concepts of truth and our preferences.

If the nexus of forces that arrive are in alignment, we can see "no form" with integrity and "form" with integrity.  We can also experience that they are not separated but whatever the object of our awareness is, This itself is the arrival of Buddha-nature.  “If the time arrives, the buddha nature will manifest itself.   From Fukanzazengi:  :The treasure store will open of itself, and we will use it at will”