First of all, I respect Venerable Bodhi's works. His translations of the Nikayas and his commentaries were excellent and I highly recommend them to everyone. I have collected a number of his books which are all excellent, and Thusness passed me a big one - the Samyutta Nikaya.

However, someone asked me to comment on one of his articles and I will do so here. Been procrastinating on this for a few days because it is a long article but hopefully it will clarify some of the misunderstandings out there.

Let me do it slowly... and... others are welcome to add their own points. (Note: this critique was originally posted/evolving part by part in Facebook before final compilation) Maybe Kyle Dixon has something to add as well. When this gets done I will compile my comments and hopefully others' comments (that’s the beautiful thing about a group or forum like this - you can gather bits of wisdom from everyone), and send it to that person who asked me.

Here's the article:

To start it all: the first few paragraphs about the difference between Advaitic view on Brahman and the Buddhist view on anatta is OK. If you have been reading our blog then you'll know that the Vedantic view and insights is quite different from the Buddhist view and insights. The authors of this blog, Thusness and I, know this from experience. The Buddhist (Theravada and Mahayana) sort of non-duality has nothing to do with union with 'Brahman'/'Universal Self'/'Pure Consciousness'/etc etc, which are the Hindu goals.

Piotr quoted something nice by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche:

"Nonduality does not mean that you dissolve into the world or that the world becomes you. It is not a question of oneness, but of zero-ness. No synchronization of the sense perceptions is necessary. Everything is reduced into zero, and the whole thing becomes one-pointedness—or zero-pointedness. That is moksha, or “freedom.” You do not have any hassles and no synchronization is necessary. Things just unfold by themselves."

Thusness also wrote in comments to that:

"The tendency to unify is the cause of reification. Consciousness always subsume into Oneness because the idea is so beautiful to the mind and fits so well to the inherent intellect. The very act of unification into oneness prevents the seeing of liberation at spot. Instant liberation at spot is realized by recognizing the very nature of appearances/phenomena and self is non-arising and empty, it is not resting in/as Awareness or space. The former is liberation via wisdom, the later is just Awareness teaching."

The problem with Bhikkhu Bodhi's article starts from this paragraph:

"The Mahayana schools, despite their great differences, concur in upholding a thesis that, from the Theravada point of view, borders on the outrageous. This is the claim that there is no ultimate difference between samsara and Nirvana, defilement and purity, ignorance and enlightenment. For the Mahayana, the enlightenment which the Buddhist path is designed to awaken consists precisely in the realization of this non-dualistic perspective. The validity of conventional dualities is denied because the ultimate nature of all phenomena is emptiness, the lack of any substantial or intrinsic reality, and hence in their emptiness all the diverse, apparently opposed phenomena posited by mainstream Buddhist doctrine finally coincide: "All dharmas have one nature, which is no-nature."

Comments: This paragraph is erroneous. The ultimate does *not* deny the validity of conventional dualities of samsara and nirvana.

First of all, as David Loy pointed out, "Nagarjuna never actually claims, as is sometimes thought, that “samsara is nirvana.” Instead, he says that no difference can be found between them. The koti (limit, boundary) of nirvana is the koti of samsara. They are two different ways of experiencing this world. Nirvana is not another realm or dimension but rather the clarity and peace that arise when our mental turmoil ends, because the objects with which we have been identifying are realized to be shunya. Things have no reality of their own that we can cling to, since they arise and pass away according to conditions. Nor can we cling to this truth. The most famous verse in the Karikas (25:24) sums this up magnificently: “Ultimate serenity is the coming-to-rest of all ways of ‘taking’ things, the repose of named things. No truth has been taught by a Buddha for anyone anywhere.”"

What is denied is not 'conventional validity' but the real, substantial existence of dharmas in the ultimate sense. The conventional designations of dharmas are being utilized in the same way by the Madhyamika, their conventional validity are not in any way undermined at all, it is only that their status as ultimate realities (paramartha dharmas) or real existents are seen to be untenable upon analysis.

As Loppon Namdrol/Malcolm puts it:

"It is not the intention of Madhyamaka to undermine this or that conventional presentation of the skandhas, dhātus and āyatanas, but merely to show that they are not paramārtha dharmas. "

"As we know, Madhyamaka adopts the conventional truth either according to the Sautrantika system, or the Yogacara system. But since it's own perspective is grounded in the Prajñāpāramitasūtras, it regards distinctions such as mind and matter to be merely conventional designations that do not have any real basis apart from imputation."

BB: "The teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali canon does not endorse a philosophy of non-dualism of any variety, nor, I would add, can a non-dualistic perspective be found lying implicit within the Buddha's discourses."
Comments: First of all we should be clear on what exactly non-duality here means.

Malcolm wrote: "It depends on what you mean by nondual. There are three kinds of non dualism. One is cognitive non dualism, i.e., everything is consciousness, for, like example Yogacara. The second is ontological nondualism, i.e. everything is brahman, god, etc. The third is epistemic nondualism, i.e., being, non-being and so on cannot be found on analysis and therefore do not ultimately exist.

The indivisibility of the conditioned and the unconditioned is based on the third. We have only experience of conditioned phenomena. Unconditioned phenomena like space are known purely through inference since they have no characteristics of their own to speak of. When we analyze phenomena, what do we discover? We discover suchness, an unconditioned state, the state free from extremes. That unconditioned state cannot be discovered apart from conditioned phenomena, therefore, we can say with confidence that the conditioned and the unconditioned are nondual. The trick is which version of nonduality you are invoking. This nonduality of the conditioned and unconditioned cannot apply to the first two nondualities for various reasons."

First of all, the definitive view being held by many schools especially those of the Tibetan schools is the Madhyamaka view - that is, the epistemic nondualism of being and non-being, existence and non-existence, etc.

And we need to ask, is this found in the teaching of the Buddha in the Pali canon? The answer is of course, yes. In the suttas the Buddha taught that "Bhikkhus, there are these two views: the view of being and the view of non-being. Any recluses or brahmans who rely on the view of being, adopt the view of being, accept the view of being, are opposed to the view of non-being. Any recluses or brahmans who rely on the view of non-being, adopt the view of non-being, accept the view of non-being, are opposed to the view of being.[5]" and stated that the Dharma leads to the relinquishing of clinging for such views. In another sutta, it is stated: "Dwelling at Savatthi... Then Ven. Kaccayana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "Lord, 'Right view, right view,' it is said. To what extent is there right view?"

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one."

The four extremes, of the 'existence, non-existence, both existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence' of the Tathagata after passing was also rejected in the suttas. From all these examples we can know that the epistemic non-duality that is the rejection of being/non-being is taught in the suttas even if the specific word "non-dual" may not be used.

What is not specifically stated in the suttas is the 'indivisibility of the conditioned and the unconditioned', however, this is implied naturally if the epistemic non-duality is valid.

Kyle Dixon adds:

I had wrote this the other day when someone brought up 'neo-advaita' in relation to the buddhadharma:

One of the issues with so-called 'neo-advaita' is that it lacks both the dichotomies of (i) 'conventional and ultimate' and/or (ii) 'delusion and wisdom', and without those aspects of the teaching, persons, places, things etc. (what the dharma refers to as conventional designations), are taken to be truly non-existent (often because they are 'concepts'), and that subtle objectification results in the mind grasping at those notions, and you end up with a bunch of people who truly believe there is no self, etc. So it's a bunch of selves who believe they don't exist.

Traditional Advaita Vedanta is much more refined, but it still posits the existence of an unconditioned and uncaused, universal self. Though its praxis is backed by a long standing tradition, and so it doesn't have as many inconsistencies and issues when compared to the new wave 'neo-advaita'.

I don't think Dolbulpa's gzhan stong is quite the same as Vedanta.

The big differences between the Advaita view and that of the buddhadharma is that the Advaita non-duality is 'advaita', which is accomplished by subsuming relative existents into a truly established and inherently existent ultimate nature. That ultimate nature exists in relation to relative phenomena, is the source of that relative phenomena, but is not that phenomena and is beyond the relative.

The non-duality of the buddhadharma is 'advaya', which is discovered through a freedom from the extremes of existence and non-existence (and both and neither). The ultimate nature is the non-arising of the relative, and so there truly is no inherent ultimate nature. The ultimate nature in this case is inseparable from the relative, for example; when Nāgārjuna states: 'samsara and nirvana, neither of these truly exist, instead, nirvana is a complete and through knowledge of samsara'.

And here's a compilation of some of Lopon Malcolms posts on non-duality in the buddhadharma:

Malcolm wrote:
There is no actual state or condition that is free from duality. If one should think that there is, one will have not understood one single thing about Buddha Dharma.

Because people think there is a real state free from dualistic extremes, they fall into the pit of eternalism and grasping, never even recognizing emptiness correctly, let alone realizing it, and hampering their understanding of dependent origination.

Thinking there is such a thing as a real state of non-duality is precisely the Advaita Vedanta, Trika and so on.

The term non-dual (gnyis med, or advaya) is used frequently in Buddhist texts. The term non-duality (gnyis med nyid, advaita) is virtually never used, showing up only one time in the entire Kengyur, in a single passage in the Kalacakra tantra (hooray for a text searchable Tibetan canon!); and nineteen times in the Tengyur, the translations of Indian commentaries.


Malcolm wrote:
"Non-duality" is trivial in general because is just an intellectual trip.

The nature of things is "non-dual", simply meaning free from existence and non-existence. Great, now one knows this. Then what? How are you going to use this fact? How do you integrate this into your practice? Better not do so conceptually, since that will just result in taking rebirth as a formless realm god.

The purpose of emptiness is to cure views. Emptiness is not a view. "Non-duality" is a view. That is why Vimalakirti kept his trap shut.


Malcolm wrote:
Emptiness is one of three doors of liberation; non-duality is not. The other two being lack of aspiration and the signless.

There is no philosophy of non-dualism in Buddhism. This is wholly the invention of western scholars. For example, Madhyamaka rarely uses the term "non-dual".

When it is used in Yogacara, it is meant to describe lack of a real subject and object in perception (vijñaptimatra), and hence the absence of existence and non-existence in those imagined phenomena as well.

It does not get used at all in the Nikaya schools.

I think westerners are over-invested in this word.

But a word that is frequently brought up, over and over again, is anutpāda, non-origination, non-arising. This word is much more important for we Buddhists.


Malcolm wrote:
"Non-dual" in Dzogchen is no different than non-dual in Madhyamaka - it means that the categories of being and non-being are cognitive errors.

Also in Dzogchen practice one does not seek to avoid discursive thoughts. One seeks to recognize their actual state....


Malcolm wrote:
"Non-dual" i.e. gnyis med/advaya means the absence of the duality of being and non-being.

In Yogacara, it can mean absence of subject and object, but the reason for this is that ultimately there is an absence of being and non-being.

Even when we talk about the inseparability of original purity and natural formation, kadag and lhundrup, this inseparability is actually predicated on the non-duality that I mentioned above. When we talk about freedom from the four extremes, the eight extremes and so on, it is all, in the end predicated on the absence of being and non-being. That absence of being and non-being is the essence of what the term "non-dual" means in Buddhist texts.

It is not a translation or terminology issue, it is just a basic fact of Buddhist view....


Malcolm wrote:
Whatever is asti is satya (true), whatever is nasti as mithya (false), so at base, it really is about freedom from asti (being) and nasti (non-being).

Malcolm wrote:
In general, whenever we say that something is inseperable or non-dual with emptiness, whether we are talking ka dag, dharmakāya, etc. we are talking abot the fact that at basis, there is no being and or non-being upon which all of this clarity, appearance, path, yoga, three kaȳas, you name it, etc., can be based.

And often enough translators decide to translate dbyer med as non-dual, even though dbyer med is asaṁbhedaḥ, inseparable.

I am just a bigger pain in the ass than most translators and more insisitent that translations reflect and are completely consistent with buddhist view so that crypto-hindu notions stay out of our school.

Even Norbu Rinpoche asserts that in his rdzog chen skor dris len that Dzogchen view does not go beyond Madhyamaka in terms of formal statements of the view, citing Sakya Pandita to the effect that if there would something beyond freedom from extremes, that would be an extreme, and so on.


Malcolm wrote:
"Nondual" in Dzogchen does not mean everything is the same in the one without a second (Brahman, Advaita Vedanta); it means that ontic pairs such as existence and non-existence cannot be found. What nondual really means in Dzogchen is that everything is in a state of liberation from the beginning, not the absence of diversity with respect to this and that thing.


Malcolm wrote:
Non-duality is not a thing. There is no non-dual thing or state and so on.

There is a difference between an absence of duality (Madhyamaka, and so on) and so called "non-duality".

Malcolm wrote:
The first refers to an absence of extremes. The second is advocating a philosophical position.

Malcolm wrote:
The term non-dual (gnyis med, or advaya) is used frequently in Buddhist texts. The term non-duality (gnyis med nyid, advaita) is virtually never used, showing up only one time in the entire Kengyur, in a single passage in the Kalacakra tantra (hooray for a text searchable Tibetan canon!); and nineteen times in the Tengyur, the translations of Indian commentaries.


Malcolm wrote:
One can argue from the point of view of emptiness. One cannot argue from the point of view of non-duality and remain a Buddhist.

Advaya-patita means "not broken into two parts", better to say, "...all phenomena are not divided into two, though they are not divided into two, they are not, however single".

Better translation of the title would be the dharma discourse on entering the absence of dualism.

But the absence of dualism here is the dualism of "exists" and "does not exist".

Also the absence of the tā particle in Buddhist renderings of the term advaya is significant, even though usually over looked. "Tā" bears the meaning it "ity" in English, for example, reality. Non-duality means literally, "a state of being in which there is no dualism".

Emptiness is nondual, but it is not a nondual'ity'.

The amount of trouble this simple word causes is incalculable -- the mistranslation of advaya as non-duality is responsible for huge misunderstandings....

The nice thing about śūnyatā is that you can stated that it is ultimate reality without committing oneself to an ontological position. Hence the tā suffix.

Three gates of liberation are a little different: śūnya, alakṣana, apranidhana, empty, without characteristics, without aspiration.

They are not states, they are entries. Emptiness is the bhutatā, the actual nature of the things. Also emptiness has no nature, since it is free from extremes.

This is the beauty of Madhyamaka. You can assert emptiness as a nature, and no one can fault you. If you assert non-duality as a nature you have already committed an epistemological blunder.

As Nagarjuna really said:

If I had a position, I would be at fault.
Since I alone have no position, I alone am free from fault.


Malcolm wrote:
Phenomena are free of duality, since they originate in dependence. That absence of duality also has a correlate in direct experience -- see Kaccaayanagotto Sutta i.e. "Everything exists,' this is one extreme [view]; 'nothing exists,' this is the other extreme. Avoiding both extremes the Tathāgata teaches a doctrine of the middle".

The middle way view is by necessity a non-dual view, avoiding these extremes of dualism. That is also emptiness; emptiness cures the views of existence and non-existence -- that can be correlated in one's personal experience....

It is the same, now attached, now detached; now full, now empty; now exists, now does not exist; these are all dualities.

When the basis for attachment has ceased, also the basis for detachment has ceased: detachment is also trapped in dualism....

...Non-attachment is remedial. It contains the seeds of its own defeat.

If you have attachment, then you need non-attachment. It is better to cut these things at the root, rather than the leaf.

The root is wrong views of existence and non-existence. That is dualism as defined by the Buddha. The absence of duality is when one's has no wrong views concerning "it is" and "it is not".

Every other dualistic pair stems from these two.

Finally, from the Ch'an/Zen side of things, by Ven. Huifeng of Fo Guang University:


Malcolm wrote:
Since the position of Zen has been brought into the discussion (albeit in a rather clumsy manner), it is worth pointing out how the phrase "advaya" appears in Chinese. It appears almost always as 不二, which is again just "not two", a very clear translation of "advaya". If one wished to express "advaita" (or similar abstracted sense), then one would probably use 非二性 (Xuanzang style translation). However, while 不二 appears thousands of times throughout the Chinese canon, including the Chan (--> Zen) works, the latter term or variants, only appear once or twice from what can be found scanning the entire canon digitally.

So, the Chinese - and I'd warrant the Japanese too - most likely had a clear notion of "advaya" as "not two". Whether or not this is held out in English translations of the Chinese or Japanese works, however, is another matter. But considering that of Chan or Zen practitioners, only a tiny minority use English, one would want to avoid gross over generalizations.

(end of Kyle's post)


Now in another sense, we can also say that the non-duality that is the rejection of a Seer, Seeing the Seen (subject-action-object) is another important aspect of non-duality that is supported by the Pali suttas.

What does the Suttas say about this? We hear from Ajahn Amaro who explains on the Bahiya Sutta,

"What does it mean to say, “There is no thing there”? It is talking about the realm of the object; it implies that we recognize that “the seen is merely the seen.” That’s it. There are forms, shapes, colors, and so forth, but there is no thing there. There is no real substance, no solidity, and no self-existent reality. All there is, is the quality of experience itself. No more, no less. There is just seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, cognizing. And the mind naming it all is also just another experience: “the space of the Dharma hall,” “Ajahn Amaro’s voice,” “here is the thought, ‘Am I understanding this?’ Now another thought, ‘Am I not understanding this?’”

There is what is seen, heard, tasted, and so on, but there is no thing-ness, no solid, independent entity that this experience refers to.

As this insight matures, not only do we realize that there is no thing “out there,” but we also realize there is no solid thing “in here,” no independent and fixed entity that is the experiencer. This is talking about the realm of the subject.

The practice of nonabiding is a process of emptying out the objective and subjective domains, truly seeing that both the object and subject are intrinsically empty. If we can see that both the subjective and objective are empty, if there’s no real “in here” or “out there,” where could the feeling of I-ness and meness and my-ness locate itself? As the Buddha said to Bahiya, “You will not be able to find your self either in the world of this [subject] or in the world of that [object] or anywhere between the two.”" -

And we find similar teachings in the Kalaka Sutta, where the Buddha talked about how the Buddhas are free from the conceiving of a Seer and an object of sight:

"When cognizing what is to be cognized, he doesn't construe an [object as] cognized. He doesn't construe an uncognized. He doesn't construe an [object] to-be-cognized. He doesn't construe a cognizer.

Thus, monks, the Tathagata — being the same with regard to all phenomena that can be seen, heard, sensed, & cognized — is 'Such.' And I tell you: There's no other 'Such' higher or more sublime."

BB: "At the same time, however, I would not maintain that the Pali Suttas propose dualism, the positing of duality as a metaphysical hypothesis aimed at intellectual assent."

Comments: The suttas actually reject metaphysical dualities, such as being/non-being.

BB: "I would characterize the Buddha's intent in the Canon as primarily pragmatic rather than speculative, though I would also qualify this by saying that this pragmatism does not operate in a philosophical void but finds its grounding in the nature of actuality as the Buddha penetrated it in his enlightenment. In contrast to the non-dualistic systems, the Buddha's approach does not aim at the discovery of a unifying principle behind or beneath our experience of the world."

Comments: Buddhism is certainly pragmatic rather than speculative, but it would again be erroneous to understand emptiness as if it is a 'unifying principle behind or beneath our experience'. The non-dualism of emptiness has nothing to do with a 'unifying principle behind or underneath experience'. The non-dualism of emptiness is an epistemic non-duality free from extremes, not a philosophical void (it is not a philosophical statement but the nature of one's mind/experience that can be directly realized), and the realization of this emptiness frees us from all clinging and references, which allows for the very purpose of Buddha's teachings: to lead sentient beings to the end of suffering. Emptiness is not a background of phenomena, not a unifying principle, not a principle beneath our experience, but the very nature of all phenomena/experience is to be empty of any intrinsic existence at all.

Furthermore, the dependent and empty nature of emptiness should show that there is no 'underlying emptiness behind everything'. If the emptiness of a cup depends on a cup, how can this emptiness be said to be some universal underlying principle behind all phenomena?

Greg Goode put it well:

"Emptiness Itself is Empty

Even emptiness is empty. For example, the emptiness of the bottle of milk does not exist inherently. Rather, it exists in a dependent way. The emptiness of the bottle of milk is dependent upon its basis (the bottle of milk). It is also dependent upon having been designated as emptiness. As we saw above, this is alluded to in Nagarjuna’s Treatise, verse 24.18.

Understood this way, emptiness is not a substitute term for awareness. Emptiness is not an essence. It is not a substratum or background condition. Things do not arise out of emptiness and subside back into emptiness. Emptiness is not a quality that things have, which makes them empty. Rather, to be a thing in the first place, is to be empty.

It is easy to misunderstand emptiness by idealizing or reifying it by thinking that it is an absolute, an essence, or a special realm of being or experience. It is not any of those things. It is actually the opposite. It is merely the way things exist, which is without essence or self-standing nature or a substratum of any kind. Here is a list characteristics of emptiness, to help avoid some of the frequent misunderstandings about emptiness, according to the Buddhist Consequentialists:

Emptiness is not a substance
Emptiness is not a substratum or background
Emptiness is not light
Emptiness is not consciousness or awareness
Emptiness is not the Absolute
Emptiness does not exist on its own
Objects do not consist of emptiness
Objects do not arise from emptiness
Emptiness of the "I" does not negate the "I"
Emptiness is not the feeling that results when no objects are appearing to the mind
Meditating on emptiness does not consist of quieting the mind"


BB: "Instead it takes the concrete fact of living experience, with all its buzzing confusion of contrasts and tensions, as its starting point and framework, within which it attempts to diagnose the central problem at the core of human existence and to offer a way to its solution. Hence the polestar of the Buddhist path is not a final unity but the extinction of suffering, which brings the resolution of the existential dilemma at its most fundamental level."

Comments: Realization of emptiness as emphasized in Mahayana teaching has nothing to do with "a final unity" (unity with what? Brahman? Obviously not a doctrine accepted in Buddhism) and does, indeed, lead to the extinction of suffering.

And this is not just a Mahayana teaching. Look at Phena Sutta (Pali Sutta) on how the realization of emptiness leads to the release from all suffering:


""Now suppose that a magician or magician's apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?

"Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he grows dispassionate. Through dispassion, he's released. With release there's the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

Speaking about Greg Goode, from that same article I quoted from, there is a very relevant passage, and shows how the non-duality of emptiness has nothing at all to do with some "oneness" or "final unity":

How Is Emptiness Nondual?

The most common connotation of "nonduality" is "oneness" or "singularity." Many teachings state that everything is actually awareness; those teachings are nondual in the "oneness" sense in which there are no two things.

But there is another sense of "nonduality." Instead of nonduality as "oneness," it's nonduality as "free from dualistic extremes." This entails freedom from the pairs of metaphysical dualisms such as essentialism/nihilism, existence/non-existence, reification/annihilation, presence/absence, or intrinsicality/voidness, etc. These pairs are dualisms in this sense: if you experience things in the world in terms of one side of the pair, you will experience things in the world in terms of the other side as well. If some things seem like they truly exist, then other things will seem like they truly don't exist. You will experience your own self to truly exist, and fear that one day you will truly not exist. Emptiness teachings show how none of these pairs make sense, and free you from experiencing yourself and the world in terms of these opposites. Emptiness teachings are nondual in this sense.

For those who encounter emptiness teachings after they've become familiar with awareness teachings, it's very tempting to misread the emptiness teachings by substituting terms. That is, it's very easy to misread the emptiness teachings by seeing "emptiness" on the page and thinking to yourself, "awareness, consciousness, I know what they're talking about."

Early in my own study I began with this substitution in mind. With this misreading, I found a lot in the emptiness teachings to be quite INcomprehensible! So I started again, laying aside the notion that "emptiness" and "awareness" were equivalent. I tried to let the emptiness teachings speak for themselves. I came to find that they have a subtle beauty and power, a flavor quite different from the awareness teachings. Emptiness teachings do not speak of emptiness as a true nature that underlies or supports things. Rather, it speaks of selves and things as essenceless and free.

BB: "When we investigate our experience exactly as it presents itself, we find that it is permeated by a number of critically important dualities with profound implications for the spiritual quest. The Buddha's teaching, as recorded in the Pali Suttas, fixes our attention unflinchingly upon these dualities and treats their acknowledgment as the indispensable basis for any honest search for liberating wisdom. It is precisely these antitheses — of good and evil, suffering and happiness, wisdom and ignorance — that make the quest for enlightenment and deliverance such a vitally crucial concern."

Comments: as explained above, all these conventional dualities are not being undermined in any way. Hidden in BB's statement is the assumption that emptiness in fact undermines the 'pragmatic value' of Buddhadharma, such as the four noble truths, the path towards ending suffering, the cultivation of a virtuous life, etc.

It must be explained that Emptiness does not ever reject or deny the necessity of all these pragmatic aspects of Buddhism. On the other hand, it is precisely because of emptiness and dependent origination that there is the possibility of practicing them.

Check this out:


Nagarjuna's Critique of the Dharma

In chapter XXIV of the Karikas, NAgarjuna continues his attack on the Abhidharma philosophers by analyzing the Four Noble Truths, and argues that-like causality, impermanence, suffering, and bondage-they, too, are "empty." The problem of this chapter needs to be seen against the background of the preceding section. If the Abhidharma views of causality are "empty," as Nagarjuna says they are, and if causality is a central feature of Buddhist praxis, then Nagarjuna seems to undermine everything that is vital to Buddhism. He begins chapter XXIV by expressing the Abhidharma position in the following way:

If all of this is empty,
Neither arising nor ceasing,
Then for you, it follows that
The Four Noble Truths do ont exist.

If the Four Noble Truths do not exist,
Then knowledge, abandonment,
Meditation and manifestation
Will be completely impossible.


If these things do not exist,
The four fruits will not arise.
Without the four fruits, there will be no attainers of the fruits.
Nor will there be the faithful.

If so, the spiritual community will not exist.
Nor will the eight kinds of person.
If the Four Noble Truths do not exists,
There will be no true Dharma.

If there is no doctrine and spiritual community,
How can there be a Buddha?
If emptiness is conceived in this way,
The three jewels are contradicted.
(Garfield 1995, p.67)

In the passages above, the Abhidharma opponent is saying that if Nagarjuna is right about "emptiness," then the very practices that make Buddhism soteriologically efficacious will be destroyed. That is, if it is true that the Four Noble Truths are "empty," then there is no such thing as the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, no such thing as impermanence, "non-self," and nirvana, and the practices that supposedly lead to liberation will be destroyed. Nagarjuna responds to the opponent by saying that he has misunderstood "emptiness":

We say that this understanding of yours
Of emptiness and purpose of emptiness
And of the significance of emptiness is incorrect.
As a consequence you are harmed by it.
(Garfield 1995, p.68)

Because the opponent has taken "emptiness" to signify the nonexistence of the Four Noble Truths, he is "harmed by it"-in other words, he sees "emptiness" as destructive. But his reason for thinking of "emptiness" in this way is that he thinks that a "correct" meditation on causality, the aggregates, and the Four Noble Truths is necessary for liberation.

Nagarjuna responds to this assumption by reversing the tables and saying, in effect, that it is not "emptiness" that destroys practice, but the very idea that such things as causality, the aggregates, and the Four Noble Truths are "inherent," essential, or necessary:

If you perceive the existence of all things
In terms of svabhava,
Then this perception of all things
Will be without the perception of causes and conditions.

Effects and causes
And agent and action
And conditions and arising and ceasing
And effects will be rendered impossible.
(Garfield 1995, p.69)


Nagarjuna goes on to say that the reason essences militate against causal conditions, arising, ceasing, agency, and so forth is that the idea of essence entails independence, and if things are by nature independent then it is impossible for them to interact causally. If this is true then there is no "dependent arising," and without "dependent arising" it is impossible to make sense of the ability to cultivate a virtuous life. In other words, without the process of change the whole idea of cultivating the "fruits" of a Buddhist life is rendered nonsensical. Nagarjuna responds by saying that Buddhist praxis must be "empty" if we are to make any sense of the Four Noble Truths:

If dependent arising is denied,
Emptiness itself is rejected.
This would contradict
All of the worldly conventions.

If emptiness is rejected,
No action will be appropriate.
There would be action which did not begin,
And there would be agent without action.

If there is svabhava, the whole world
Will be unarising, unceasing,
And static. The entire phenomenal world
Would be immutable.

If it (the world) were not empty,
Then action would be without profit.
The act of ending suffering and
Abandoning misery and defilement would not exist.
(Garfield 1995, p.72)

Nagarjuna has thus shifted the debate. Whereas the Abhidharma thinker begins with the assumption that a "correct" meditation on the Dharma is a necessary prerequisite for liberation, Nagarjuna undercuts this by saying that if one takes the Dharma as essential, that is, as necessary, then the very essence of Buddhism is undermined. Like the first chapter on causation, Nagarjuna is reminding the Abhidharma philosophers here about nonattachment. The Four Noble Truths are supposed to be medicinal "rafts" that help specific sentient beings overcome their attachments, but if one becomes attached to the practices of nonattachment then one has missed the entire point of Buddhism. Thus, Nagarjuna says that the Dharma-which includes causation, impermanence, suffering, bondage, and liberation-is "empty."

(At this point, Greg Goode added a comment to this thread:)

“I find this to be a fascinating topic, like many inter-path discussions. Back in 1998 when the article was published, there weren't very many people talking about the Madhyamika. Back then, the big new path was Advaita and its various Westernized versions. Papaji's teachers were out and about. Ramana and Nisargadatta's teachings were very popular. Chinmaya Mission and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam were beginning to catch attention.

I think that the good Bikkhu Bodhi (who about at the time he wrote the article, was head of the Mahayana dharma center where I used to practice) is objecting to a specific philosophical tendency.

The tendency could be described as lumping things together into a more fundamental reality, or collapsing one part of a dualism into another part, or moving towards a monistic ontology and psychology. Some things like that happen in Pure Land, and in Jaxchen.

From BB's perspective none of those make for Buddhism. There is a lot in Mahayana that Theravada doesn't accept.

But I sometimes wonder in a sociological way, How much are these boundaries going to stay rigid going forward... People shop around a lot these days, way more than in the late 90s. It happens a lot. People mix and match paths and create new soups and salads from teachings. In many American sanghas, there is a lot of thought over "Western Buddhism." What will be kept from Asian sources? What will fall away? What new things will emerge?

I talk about "joyful irony" in my book on emptiness. For a joyful ironist, these are exciting times!”

Back to critique:

BB: "At the peak of the pairs of opposites stands the duality of the conditioned and the Unconditioned: samsara as the round of repeated birth and death wherein all is impermanent, subject to change, and liable to suffering, and Nibbana as the state of final deliverance, the unborn, ageless, and deathless. Although Nibbana, even in the early texts, is definitely cast as an ultimate reality and not merely as an ethical or psychological state, there is not the least insinuation that this reality is metaphysically indistinguishable at some profound level from its manifest opposite, samsara. To the contrary, the Buddha's repeated lesson is that samsara is the realm of suffering governed by greed, hatred, and delusion, wherein we have shed tears greater than the waters of the ocean, while Nibbana is irreversible release from samsara, to be attained by demolishing greed, hatred, and delusion, and by relinquishing all conditioned existence."

Comments: I do not have problems with this statement except for the equation of Nibbana as "an ultimate reality". While certain early texts - particularly the Theravadin abhidhamma, would consider all such dharmas (not limited to Nibbana) as paramartha dharmas (ultimate realities), it is not the case for all early texts. That's the only problem I have with that statement, as Malcolm said earlier, all the conventional presentation of dharmas (including samsara and nirvana) are not undermined, only their status as paramartha dharmas (ultimate realities) are negated.

Geoff/jnana wrote:

"For the Theravāda, nibbāna is an ultimately real dhamma (paramatthadhamma) and the only dhamma that is not conditioned (asaṅkhata). It is an object of supramundane cognition (lokuttaracitta) and is included in the mental phenomena sensory sphere (dhammāyatana) and the mental phenomena component (dhammadhātu). The four paths, four fruits, and nibbāna are classified as the unincluded level (apariyāpanna bhūmi), that is, not included in the sensual realm, the form realm, or the formless realm. According to the Visuddhimagga, nibbāna "has peace as its characteristic. Its function is not to die; or its function is to comfort. It is manifested as the signless; or it is manifested as non-diversification (nippapañca)."

According to the Sarvāstivāda, nirvāṇa is an analytical cessation (pratisaṃkhyānirodha) that is a disjunction from impure dharmas that occurs through analysis (pratisaṃkhyāna), which is a specific type of discernment (prajñā). This analytical cessation is substantially existent (dravyasat) and ultimately exists (paramārthasat).

For Sautrāntika commentators nirvāṇa as an analytical cessation (pratisaṃkhyānirodha) is a merely a conceptual designation (prajñapti) and doesn't refer to an entity or state that is substantially existent (dravyasat). It is a non-implicative negation (prasajyapratiṣedha), that is, a negation that doesn't imply the presence of some other entity. Therefore nirvāṇa simply refers to a cessation that is the termination of defilements that are abandoned by the correct practice of the noble path.

According to the Yogācāra, for those on the bodhisattva path, nirvāṇa is non-abiding (apratiṣṭha nirvāṇa). The dependent nature (paratantrasvabhāva) is the basis (āśraya) of both defilement and purification. The all-basis consciousness (ālayavijñāna) is the defiled portion (saṃkleśabhāga) of the dependent nature. Purified suchness (viśuddhā tathatā) is the purified portion (vyavadānabhāga) of the dependent nature. Synonyms for purified suchness are the perfected nature (pariniṣpanna) and non-abiding nirvāṇa. Non-abiding nirvāṇa is the revolved basis (āśrayaparāvṛtti) that has eliminated defilements without abandoning saṃsāra.

Madhyamaka authors accept the notion of non-abiding nirvāṇa, but they don't use the three natures model used by the Yogācāra. Rather, they simply consider all things to be conceptual designations (prajñapti) that are empty of nature (svabhāva). For them, conceptual designations are relative truth (saṃvṛtisatya) and only emptiness is ultimate truth (paramārthasatya).

Zen, Pure Land, Vajrayāna, etc., are practice traditions more so than doctrinal schools, and authors writing from any of these perspectives would generally rely on Yogācāra or Madhyamaka śāstras or a specific Mahāyāna sūtra."

Dmytro asked: "Hi Ñāṇa,

And how you would put the Buddha's description of Nibbana in relation to said above?"

Geoff replied: "Given the definition given in SN 38.1, SN 43.1-44, and Abhidhamma Vibhaṅga 184, I would say that it's a designation (paññatti, prajñapti) referring to the elimination of passion, aggression, and delusion. Or with regard to the four paths (stream-entry, etc.), a designation referring to the elimination of fetters terminated by each path. This is similar to the Sautrāntika interpretation."

And yes, I do find myself leaning towards the Sautrāntika interpretation of Buddha's nibbana, over the Theravada's substantialist interpretation of nibbana.

BB: Thus the Theravada makes the antithesis of samsara and Nibbana the starting point of the entire quest for deliverance. Even more, it treats this antithesis as determinative of the final goal, which is precisely the transcendence of samsara and the attainment of liberation in Nibbana. Where Theravada differs significantly from the Mahayana schools, which also start with the duality of samsara and Nirvana, is in its refusal to regard this polarity as a mere preparatory lesson tailored for those with blunt faculties, to be eventually superseded by some higher realization of non-duality. From the standpoint of the Pali Suttas, even for the Buddha and the arahants suffering and its cessation, samsara and Nibbana, remain distinct.


What Greg Goode said here basically sums it up:

“That urge to wipe everything away is what Bikkhu Bodhi was complaining about. It's kind if a nondualistic oversimplification.

Refuting inherencies not only leaves conventional truths, but it (1) depends on them, and (2) liberates them. Structures are not abandoned, just liberated from conceptions of inherency”

BB: Finally, in the domain of wisdom the Ariyan Dhamma and the non-dual systems once again move in contrary directions. In the non-dual systems the task of wisdom is to break through the diversified appearances (or the appearance of diversity) in order to discover the unifying reality that underlies them. Concrete phenomena, in their distinctions and their plurality, are mere appearance, while true reality is the One: either a substantial Absolute (the Atman, Brahman, the Godhead, etc.), or a metaphysical zero (Sunyata, the Void Nature of Mind, etc.). For such systems, liberation comes with the arrival at the fundamental unity in which opposites merge and distinctions evaporate like dew.


First of all, there is nothing metaphysical about emptiness. Emptiness is the very nature of appearance itself, it does not swallow up appearances and distinctions.

As Greg puts it: “Stian, the realization of emptiness is much deeper and more earth-shatteringly powerful than a mere concession. Though a concession is a good start as one seeks to deepen one's understanding of emptiness. One's understanding gets deeper, from conceding a possibility, through belief, then inferential realization, and the nonconceptual, direct realization. But one can't do this without the structures. One needs the conventional truth to realize the ultimate truth, the the realization of the ultimate truth for the analytic cessation.

But then one is not in a featureless, monistic, nondual bubble world totally devoid of distinctions. But the distinctions have lost the ability we thought they had to truly divide the world.”

“When one realizes the emptiness of X, X doesn't disappear. It doesn't need to. It's our ignorant exaggerations about X that cease. Then X is transformed for the very reason that there is nothing fixed about X. When it really hits home, our world is one of non-referential ease.”

Also, as I wrote previously,

“No, in direct Gnosis here, emptiness is seen directly as the non-arising taste of appearance that is all vivid thoughts and sense perceptions - completely equivalent to a magician's trick, mirage, and so on, without coming from anywhere, abiding anywhere, ceasing anywhere, utterly unfindable and unlocatable, without arising/abiding/ceasing.

An "emptiness" divorced from appearance is simply an intellectual (in fact, incorrect) understanding of emptiness. Emptiness is the nature of appearance - being completely devoid of substance (just as Buddha described), illusory (just as Buddha described with so many analogies), and non-arising. It is precisely by realizing emptiness that everything becomes actualized with the taste of being mere-appearance, like a reflection.

The problem is that you are denying appearance. But my insight and experience does not deny appearance. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form. i.e. Appearance is Emptiness, Emptiness is Appearance. Only the deluded cognition/appearance ceases in wisdom, not the appearance that is wisdom-display. We simply realize and actualize the true nature of phenomena/appearance/elements/etc to be inseparable luminosity and emptiness.

And as Malcolm said:

"I would not put it this way because it make it seems like the five elements are extraneous to wisdom. They are not. The nature of the five elements is wisdom. It is like the front and back of one's hand. You only have one hand, but it appears differently based on perceiving its front or its back. As Magnus implies, it is when we rectify our perception of the elements that they then appear as wisdom.

Also the cause of ignorance is the wisdom of the basis itself. So vidyā becomes avidyā, lights become elements, and so forth simply due to our ingrained traces of ignorance built up over countless lifetimes.

In order to reveal the wisdom light that is the empty substance of the universe and living beings, we have to purify our perception of our personal elements. This is done through togal or klong sde practice."

"The elements are wisdom, they simply are not recognized as such. There is a Bon logic text, very nice, that proves appearances are dharmakāya. The objection is raised, if appearances are dharmakāya why isn't everyone liberated instantly? The answer is that those who recognize appearances as dharmakāya are liberated instantly since instant liberation is as desiderata. Those who are not liberated instantly are those who have not recognized appearances as dharmakāya.

Upon what does recognition of appearances as dharmakāya depend? Introduction. Without having been introduced to appearances as dharmakāya, one will not recognize appearances as dharmakāya, just as if one has been sent into a crowd to find a person one has not met, even when one sees them face to face they are not recognized.

So the elements are wisdom. Vidyā and avidyā is the deciding factor in recognition. That recognition depends on an introduction, just as our recognition of a face in the crowd depends upon whether we have been introduced to that face or not."

In the first verse, which explains the view of Mahamudra, Milarepa sings:

Do you know what appearances are like?
If you don’t know what appearances are like
Whatever appears is an appearance
Not realized, they are samsara
Realized, they are Dharmakaya
When appearances as Dharmakaya shine
There’s no other view to look for
There’s no other view to find

Milarepa first questions Loton when he sings, “Do you know what appearances are like?” In other words: Do you know what the nature of these appearances is that you take to be real? Do you know that you are attached to them as real? Then Milarepa answers the question by saying that, for those who are not realized, whatever appears in samsara and nirvana appears as samsara. However, for those who are realized, who recognize that while a thing appears, it is empty, and while it is empty it appears—all appearances are the Dharmakaya, appearance and emptiness undifferentiable.

And furthermore, Loppon Namdrol/Malcolm said:

“The difference is that we do not posit some substratum like the ālayavijñāna to account for those appearances. Nor are we denying the appearance of external objects. We are merely stating the obvious i.e. that those appearances are not real, and hence are completely equivalent with illusions. The charge of nihilism is not appropriate because we are not denying appearances. The charge of eternalism is not appropriate because those unreal appearances cannot be found on analysis. We are saying that appearances are not false, because they appear, but they are not true, because they cannot be found, just like the appearance of a moon in the water. We are saying that all phenomena are like that. Similarly illusions too are not false, because the elephants, and so on of the illusion appear, but they are not true, because when examined they cannot be found. This approach to the two truths is called the upadesha transmission of Madhyamaka. It is much superior to the Madhyamaka of analysis which is focused on rejecting wrong views of the lower tenet systems.

In fact, according to Rongzom, the purpose of the affirming negation is reject the views of an opponnent, while affirming your own, in the form of a proof. The purpose of the non-affirming negation is merely to eliminate the point of view of an opponenent.

Madhyamaka only has non-affirming negations, and does not make use of affirming negations at all.”
BB: Spiritual systems are colored as much by their favorite similes as by their formulated tenets. For the non-dual systems, two similes stand out as predominant. One is space, which simultaneously encompasses all and permeates all yet is nothing concrete in itself; the other is the ocean, which remains self-identical beneath the changing multitude of its waves.


Those simile of an underlying source and substratum that is an ocean which remains unchanged beneath its waves is definitely more appropriate for the substantialist non-dualism of Advaita Vedanta that is erring on the extreme of eternalism, not the Mahayana Buddhist understanding of emptiness free of extremes.

Even the analogy of space should be used with caution and requires clarification, as Kyle Dixon wrote before:

'Space' is merely a metaphor for awakened wisdom. Like space is unconditioned, unproduced, vast, open, clear, pure, unborn, undying, unadulterated, unassailable etc. awakened wisdom is like that. Emptiness is like that.

Emptiness in Dzogchen and Madhyamaka are exactly the same (so it would actually be inaccurate to say there's two differing philosophical uses): lack of inherency, freedom from extremes, illusory, unfindability. Everything is 100% empty in Dzogchen and in Madhyamaka. Emptiness allows for process and dynamism, if things existed inherently they'd be dead, stagnant, the basis (gzhi) wouldn't be able to display itself, there would be no possibility for awakening.

Dependent origination in Dzogchen and Madhyamaka both apply to the 12 Nidanas. Dzogchen (unlike Madhyamaka) has both (i) afflicted dependent origination; which applies to the structuring of ignorance (Skt. avidyā, Tib. ma rig pa) and, (ii) unafflicted dependent origination; i.e. lhun grub which is known in vidyā (Tib. rig pa). Lhun grub, which means 'not made by anyone', is spontaneous natural formation (autopoiesis), which is truly self-origination.

Dharmakāya is the epitome of emptiness, but also signifies the condition of a Buddha. It is a total freedom from extremes so we cannot say it is the 'fundamental nature of being as awareness', if dharmakāya was 'being' it would be conditioned, so free from extremes.

BB: The similes used within the Ariyan Dhamma are highly diverse, but one theme that unites many of them is acuity of vision — vision which discerns the panorama of visible forms clearly and precisely, each in its own individuality: "It is just as if there were a lake in a mountain recess, clear, limpid, undisturbed, so that a man with good sight standing on the bank could see shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also shoals of fish swimming about and resting. He might think: 'There is this lake, clear, limpid, undisturbed, and there are these shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also these shoals of fish swimming about and resting.' So too a monk understands as it actually is: 'This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.' When he knows and sees thus his mind is liberated from the cankers, and with the mind's liberation he knows that he is liberated" (MN 39).


The wisdom of emptiness in fact does lead to discerning “the panorama of visible forms clearly and precisely, each in its own individuality” and its non-arising, empty nature. Why? The emptiness of a particular appearance does not negate that distinct appearance, it merely negates the real substantial existence of it. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.

For example, when we look into the mirror we don't have the sense that another self of mine becomes born in that mirror, or that when the mirror reflects a tree then a tree becomes born in that mirror. Nothing can be asserted to have come into existence despite that reflection/appearance, and no matter what is being reflected that is just more co-dependently arisen, empty and unborn reflections. We are not diminishing the ability to discern or even conventionally distinguish various appearances, we are simply rejecting the notion that there is something truly existing in the mirror, that has come into existence, abide and later ceases to exist. Our whole life - all dharmas - are like these, unborn reflections. Yet we still discern the appearing diversity of life, the appearing pain and suffering of life, and so forth... without reifying them.

As Ted Biringer wrote regarding the Yogacara's elucidation of the four prajnas:

The third prajna is the Observing Prajna. Also called “subtle analytic knowledge,” “profound observing cognition,” “all-discerning wisdom,” and so forth. The Observing Prajna is the actualization or the function of the enlightened mind. By employing this prajna, enlightened wisdom is deepened and refined, and the spiritual methods and techniques or the “skillful means” of Zen are cultivated and mastered. The Observing Prajna is the activeBuddha. Realizing the equal or, empty nature of all things should not make you turn away from the world of differentiation, but instead, use your realization to act within the world...”

“...Learned audience, many popular “Zen” books advocate the experience of the Universal Mirror Prajna, but fail to acknowledge, much less encourage students to realize, the deeper levels of wisdom beyond this partial aspect of the enlightened mind. The authors of such books sometimes assert that progress on the path of Zen consists only in expanding the
durationthat this condition can be sustained.
Such aberrant teachings, by failing to recognize the wisdom of differentiation, can effectively bar students from the true wisdom of the Buddhas and Zen masters. The overall effect of practicing such teachings actually fosters a non-Buddhist disdain for the world of things and events. If such teachings were true, the highest realization of Zen would consist of nothing more than living in a detached state of pure awareness all the time. To become fixated on this aspect of the enlightened mind is to abstain from the zeal, the passion, the joy and the heartache that gives life its flavor.
Good friends, the realization of emptiness, equality, or oneness is a necessary first step into the vast and fathomless realm of the Buddha-Dharma, and should be continuously deepened and refined. However, there is much more to Zen Buddhism than the experience of “pure awareness.” The practice and enlightenment of Zen includes the wisdom of differentiation, infinite variety, and joyful participation in the world....” -
Also, in, we find this explanation on the four wisdoms:

Although the enlightened mind is one, it is useful to classify its activities into four types of enlightened wisdom which are the functions of the Buddhic mind. These reflect the transformation of the eight consciousnesses [8] into fundamental wisdom [3] : 1. The five perceptual consciousnesses [13] become the wisdom of Successful Performance.
"This wisdom is characterized by pure and unimpeded functioning (no attachment or distortion) in its relation to the (sense) organs and their objects."2. The sixth consciousness [10] becomes the wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation which "has two aspects corresponding to understanding of the emptiness of self and of the emptiness of dharmas [7]." With this wisdom the Buddha knows all dharmas, without distortion or obstruction, and, in that way knowing the mental and physical condition of all beings,...[can] teach them most effectively."3) The seventh consciousness [9] becomes the wisdom of Equality. which "understands the nature of the equality of self and other and of all beings." 4) The eighth consciousness becomes the Great Mirror wisdom. This wisdom reflects the entire universe without distortion. Although the four wisdoms do not manifest completely until enlightenment, aspects of Wonderful Contemplation and Great Mirror wisdom begin to function in a lesser degree before enlightenment.

From all these examples we know that the wisdom of emptiness does not in any way diminish, but in fact increases, the knowledge of all distinct dharmas “without distortion or obstruction”. And as Greg wrote earlier: “But then one is not in a featureless, monistic, nondual bubble world totally devoid of distinctions. But the distinctions have lost the ability we thought they had to truly divide the world.”

“When one realizes the emptiness of X, X doesn't disappear. It doesn't need to. It's our ignorant exaggerations about X that cease. Then X is transformed for the very reason that there is nothing fixed about X. When it really hits home, our world is one of non-referential ease.” 
p.s. Thanks to Myriad Object, here's a very good explanation by Geoff:
Posts: 2233
Joined: Tue Apr 27, 2010 7:56 pm

Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Post by Nyana »

Hi all,

In his paper Dhamma and Non-duality Ven. Bodhi begins his critique of the Mahāyāna schools by asserting that:
  • The Mahayana schools, despite their great differences, concur in upholding a thesis that, from the Theravada point of view, borders on the outrageous. This is the claim that there is no ultimate difference between samsara and Nirvana, defilement and purity, ignorance and enlightenment.
This is simply an inaccurate appraisal of the two Indian Mahāyāna traditions (i.e. Mādhyamaka and Yogācāra). It is one thing to understand that saṃsāra and nirvāna are not ultimately established as independent ontological realities, and are therefore nominal designations (prajñapti); it is quite another to phrase it in terms implying an absolute unity, as Ven. Bodhi does, and then draw out the unwanted consequences of this characterture.

As the 8th century Indian mādhyamika Kamalaśīla states in his Bhāvanākrama-s, awakening depends upon differentiating and engaging in specific, unerring, and complete causes and conditions:
  • It is impossible for omniscience [i.e. enlightenment] to arise without causes since this would entail the absurd consequence whereby everyone could be omniscient all the time. If it could arise independently, it could exist everywhere without obstructions, and again everybody would be omniscient. Moreover, all functional things depend exclusively on causes because they only occur for certain persons at certain times. And so, because omniscience does not arise for everybody everywhere at all times, it most certainly depends upon causes and conditions. Also, from among those causes and conditions, one should rely on unerring and complete causes.
There is no reification of an “ultimate” in Indian Mādhyamaka and Yogācāra. And the path structure of these two systems necessitate an accurate differentiation of defilement and purity, ignorance and enlightenment. There is no path without such differentiation.

Moreover, Ven. Bodhi’s assumption that the transcendence of dualities “from the Theravāda point of view, borders on the outrageous” and that according to the Theravāda view “wisdom must respect phenomena in their precise particularity” is also questionable. For example, in The Mind Stilled Ven. Ñāṇananda, a Theravāda bhikkhu, states:
  • The transcendence of relativity involves freedom from the duality in worldly concepts such as 'good' and 'evil'. The concept of a 'farther shore' stands relative to the concept of a 'hither shore'. The point of these discourses is to indicate that there is a freedom from worldly conceptual proliferations based on duality and relativity.
And in his Concept and Reality (pp. 55–56), Ven. Ñāṇananda says:
  • Concepts – be they material or spiritual, worldly or transcendental – are not worthy of being grasped dogmatically. They are not to be treated as ultimate categories and are to be discarded in the course of the spiritual endeavour.... That the emancipated sage (muni) no longer clings even to such concepts as “nibbāna” or “detachment” (virāga) is clearly indicated in the following verse of the Sutta Nipāta:

    “For the Brahmin (the Muni) who has transcended all bounds, there is nothing that is grasped by knowing or by seeing. He is neither attached to attachment nor is he attached to detachment. In this world, he has grasped nothing as the highest.” [Sn 795]
Ven. Bodhi repeatedly casts the goal of “the non-dual systems” in terms of a realization of a “final unity,” a “metaphysical unity,” an “all-embracing absolute,” an “all-embracing identification with the All,” and an “absolute or fundamental ground.” For example:
  • For those of such a bent, the dissolution of dualities in a final unity will always appear more profound and complete.... For the non-dual systems, all dualities are finally transcended in the realization of the non-dual reality, the Absolute or fundamental ground.
For the Indian Mahāyāna schools this is incorrect. There is no “final unity” or “absolute or fundamental ground” to be realized in either of the two Indian Mahāyāna traditions (i.e. Mādhyamaka and Yogācāra). In both traditions a mindstream is designated as an individual momentary continuum, and this pertains to buddhas as well as deluded sentient beings.

Ven. Bodhi goes on to opine that:
  • Since, for the non-dual systems, distinctions are ultimately unreal, meditation practice is not explicitly oriented toward the removal of mental defilements and the cultivation of virtuous states of mind.
Also incorrect. Both Mahāyāna Mādhyamaka and Yogācāra path structures involve employing all the necessary causes and conditions for the attainment of awakening. This means engaging all thirty-seven factors of awakening, which includes penetrating the four noble truths upon attaining the path of seeing. In addition, for the boddhisattva this necessarily involves mastering not only the four dhyāna-s, but also the five mundane higher gnoses, the four formless attainments, and the cessation attainment. This is because the bodhisattva has to develop experiential knowledge of all paths in order to eventually instruct others, and also because the bodhisattva’s aspiration is to attain the perfect awakening of a buddha, which includes mastery of all meditative attainments. To suggest that one can penetrate the four noble truths and master all of these meditative attainments and eventually realize full awakening without the “removal of mental defilements and the cultivation of virtuous states of mind” is unsustainable.

That mastery of the dhyāna-s, etc., was of significant importance from the beginnings of the Mahāyāna is evident from reading the early Mahāyāna sūtra-s, which go to some length to praise forest seclusion and solitude. And that these passages remained in high esteem throughout the Indian Mahāyāna traditions can be seen from the fact that they were still being quoted in practice texts by the likes of Śāntideva and Vimalamitra many centuries later.

Ven. Bodhi also states that:
  • Nibbana, even in the early texts, is definitely cast as an ultimate reality and not merely as an ethical or psychological state....
Here we get a whiff of why the Mahāyāna Mādhyamaka and Yogācāra systems are so objectionable to Ven. Bodhi’s realist abhidhammika sensibilities. For Ven. Bodhi nibbāna is necessarily an “ultimate reality” independent of cognition. Elsewhere Ven. Bodhi expands on his view of this matter, which further demonstrates a conflation of epistemology and ontology:
  • Nibbana is not only the destruction of defilements and the end of samsara but a reality transcendent to the entire world of mundane experience, a reality transcendent to all the realms of phenomenal existence....

    [T]he Nibbana element remains the same, no matter whether many or few people attain Nibbana....

    Nibbana is an actual reality and not the mere destruction of defilements or the cessation of existence. Nibbana is unconditioned, without any origination and is timeless.
Remedying this confusion and conflation of the epistemological and ontological was one of Nāgārjuna’s primary concerns. And not only Nāgārjuna. Throughout The Mind Stilled as well as his other writings, Ven. Ñāṇananda has addressed this issue. For example:
  • To project Nibbāna into a distance and to hope that craving will be destroyed only on seeing it, is something like trying to build a staircase to a palace one cannot yet see. In fact this is a simile which the Buddha had used in his criticism of the Brahmin's point of view....

    Lust, hate, delusion - all these are fires. Therefore Nibbāna may be best rendered by the word extinction. When once the fires are extinguished, what more is needed? But unfortunately Venerable Buddhaghosa was not prepared to appreciate this point of view. In his Visuddhimagga as well as in the commentaries Sāratthappakāsinī and Sammohavinodanī, he gives a long discussion on Nibbāna in the form of an argument with an imaginary heretic. Some of his arguments are not in keeping with either the letter or the spirit of the Dhamma.

    First of all he gets the heretic to put forward the idea that the destruction of lust, hate and delusion is Nibbāna. Actually the heretic is simply quoting the Buddha word, for in the Nibbānasutta of the Asaṅkhatasaṃyutta the destruction of lust, hate and delusion is called Nibbāna: Rāgakkhayo, dosakkhayo, mohakkhayo - idaṃ vuccati nibbānaṃ.

    The words rāgakkhaya, dosakkhaya and mohakkhaya together form a synonym of Nibbāna, but the commentator interprets it as three synonyms. Then he argues out with the imaginary heretic that if Nibbāna is the extinguishing of lust it is something common even to the animals, for they also extinguish their fires of lust through enjoyment of the corresponding objects of sense. This argument ignores the deeper sense of the word extinction, as it is found in the Dhamma....

    It seems that the deeper implications of the word Nibbāna have been obscured by a set of arguments which are rather misleading....

    More often than otherwise, commentarial interpretations of Nibbāna leave room for some subtle craving for existence, bhavataṇhā.... It conjures up a place where there is no sun and no moon, a place that is not a place. Such confounding trends have crept in probably due to the very depth of this Dhamma.
All the best,


    4 Responses
    1. Mandy Soh Says:

      What u talking about? So long.

      In samsara of course got yin/yang.

      In Nivarna there is no yin/yang. Back to wuji. U understand?

    2. Mandy Soh Says:

      Look. There is only one truth on all the occurance that can exist whether it is Taoist or Buddhist. The difference will probably lie in differences in culture way of expressing the insights they have noted. Duality, having ref point are same meaning as yin yang. Laotze has neither mentioned self or non-self in his writing. But Taotejing has many similar points as Pali Buddhist teachings. Formation of karma is the split into yin yang, and more and more complicated yin yang. Going back to wuji is same direction as nivirna.

    3. Soh Says:

      I disagree that it is merely the same insights presented in different culture. I say that they are different insights/experiences/understanding.

      Have you seen ? My point is not to set up a hierarchy of stages (as the numbers do not imply a hierarchy) but to point out that there can be many different insights and realizations arising in one's path. That has been the case for me as well.

    4. Mandy Soh Says:

      You see the style Buddha sutta is versus Chinese laotze style you can see Chinese like to talk vaguely, either you understand or you dun. Buddha is Indian style, he like to repeat and repeat and like to use the style like.... There are how many kinds. And what lead to what.