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There are different views of reality in Buddhism. Some teachers (e.g., the mahasiddha Tilopa) even discouraged any intellectual activity, including philosophy. See also Buddha Shakyamuni's position on some philosophical questions and his famous arrow parable.
Some views of reality in Buddhist are relevant to the issue of dependent origination and some to teachings beyond cause and effect. Examples are discussed below.
- Some consider that the concept of the unreality of "reality" is confusing. They posit that, in Buddhism, the perceived reality is considered illusory not in the sense that reality is a fantasy or unreal, but that our perceptions and preconditions mislead us to believe that we are separate from the elements that we are made of. Reality, in Buddhist thought, would be described as the manifestation of karma, part of the process of impermanence, similar to the Hindu concept of Maya.
- Other schools of thought in Buddhism (e.g., Dzogchen), consider perceived reality literally unreal. As a prominent contemporary teacher puts it: "In a real sense, all the visions that we see in our lifetime are like a big dream [...]". In this context, the term 'visions' denotes not only visual perceptions, but appearances perceived through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations.
Reality in Buddhist sutrasEdit
Buddhist sutras devote considerable space to the concept of reality, with each of two major doctrines — the Doctrine of Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada) and the Doctrine of Cause and Effect (karma and vipaka) — attempting to incorporate both the natural and the spiritual into its overall world view. While there is no prime force setting the universe in motion, no “First Cause”, Buddhist teachings continue to explore the nature of the world and our place in it.
The Theravada school teaches that there is neither a personal god, nor a spiritual or material substance that exists by itself as an 'ultimate reality'. The world as we know it does not have its origin in a primordial being such as Brahman or God. It exists only as a mental construction shaped by the senses. What we see is only a product of transitory factors of existence, which depend functionally upon each other. The Buddha said: “The world exists because of causal actions, all things are produced by causal actions and all beings are governed and bound by causal actions. They are fixed like the rolling wheel of a cart, fixed by the pin of its axle shaft.” (Sutta-Nipata 654)
The word 'illusion' is frequently associated with Buddhism and the nature of reality. Buddhism teaches that reality is a coin with two sides: impermanence or anicca and the "not-self characteristic" or anatta, referred to as "emptiness" in some Mahayana schools. Dzogchen, as the non-dual culmination of the Ancient School of Mantrayana, resolves atman and anatman into the Mindstream Doctrine of Tapihritsa. The Buddha Shakyamuni taught the often misunderstood and misinterpreted concept of "not-self" in the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. In this sutta, he listed the characteristics that we often associate with who we are, and found that these characteristics, ultimately, are not who we are because they are subject to change. He further illustrated the changing nature of our feelings, perceptions, and consciousness.
We can look at the concepts of impermanence and not-self in objective terms, for example by deconstructing the concept of an aggregated object such as a lotus and seeing that the flower is made up entirely of non-flower elements like soil, nutrients, photosynthetic energy, rain water and the effort of the entities that nourished and grew the flower. All of these factors, according to the Diamond Sutra co-exist with each other to manifest what we call a 'flower'. In other words, there is no essence arisen from nothingness that is unique and personal to any being. In particular, there is neither a human soul that lives on beyond the death of the physical body nor one that is extinguished at death since, strictly speaking, there is nothing to extinguish. The relative reality (i.e., the illusory perceived reality) comes from our belief that we are separate from the rest of the things in the universe and, at times, at odds with the processes of nature and other beings. The ultimate or absolute reality, in Buddhist thought, shows that we are inter-connected with all things. The concept of non-discrimination expands on this by saying that, while a chair is different from a flower, they 'inter-are' because they are each made of non-flower and non-chair elements. Ultimately those elements are the same, so the distinction between chair and flower is one of quantity not of quality.
The Diamond Sutra has many passages that use the formula: A is made of what is not A, therefore A is truly not A. It means that the self is the non-self: self = non-self = self. This makes instant sense visually if one considers this duality in a Venn diagram.
From a metaphysical standpoint, the Mahayana school has posited the idea of this ultimate reality of inter-connectedness as a unity with all things, a buddha-nature which illuminates or personifies the 'ultimate dimension' of reality. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, one of the 'Five Treatises', presents the Buddha's definitive teachings on how we should understand this ground [definition needed] of enlightenment and clarifies the nature and qualities of buddhahood (Dharmakaya). The Buddha Nature is declared to be the True Self of Buddha, both within and beyond samsara; and that True Self is stated by the Buddha in his final Mahayana sutra, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, to be "sovereign/ autonomous" (aishvarya), "real", "true", and "eternal" (nitya / sasvata). It is dependent on nothing — but is utterly free.
Reality and dreams in DzogchenEdit
In Dzogchen, perceived reality is considered to be unreal.
According to contemporary teacher Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, all appearances perceived during the whole life of an individual, through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations in their totality, are like a big dream. It is claimed that, on careful examination, the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not very different, and that in their essential nature there is no difference between them.
The non-essential difference between the dreaming state and ordinary waking experience is that the latter is more concrete and linked to attachment; the dreaming experience while sleeping is slightly detached.
Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiencing the intermediate state of bardo, an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created and another existence begins. This is how transmigration happens.
According to Dzogchen teachings, the energy of an individual is essentially without form and free from duality. However, karmic traces contained in the individual's mindstream give rise to two kinds of forms:
- forms that the individual experiences as his or her body, voice and mind
- forms that the individual experiences as an external environment.
What appears as a world of apparently external phenomena, is the energy of the individual him or herself. There is nothing external or separate from the individual. Everything that manifests in the individual's field of experience is a continuum. This is the 'Great Perfection' that is discovered in Dzogchen practice.
It is possible to do yogic practice such as Dream Yoga and Yoga Nidra whilst dreaming, sleeping and in other bardo states of trance. In this way the yogi can have a very strong experience and with this comes understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is also very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life's perceptions such as objects are real and as a consequence: important. If one really understands what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is unreal, then one can diminish attachments and tensions.
The teacher advises that the realization that life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of various emotions, different kinds of attachment and the chains of ego. Then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened. 
Reality in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras Edit
Contrasting with some forms of Buddhism, the Buddha's teaching on 'reality' in the Tathagatagarbha Mahayana scriptures - which the Buddha states constitute the ultimate manifestation of the Mahayana Dharma - insists that there truly is a sphere or realm of ultimate truth - not just a repetitious cycle of interconnected elements, each dependent on the others. That suffering-filled cycle of x-generating-y-and-y-generating-z-and-z-generating-a, etc., is Samsara, the prison-house of the reincarnating non-self; whereas liberation from dependency, enforced rebirth and bondage is nirvana or reality / spiritual essence (tattva / dharmata). This sphere also bears the name Tathagatagarbha (Buddha matrix). It is the deathless realm where dependent origination holds no sway, where non-self is supplanted by the everlasting, sovereign (aishvarya) self (atman) (as a trans-historical, unconditioned, ultimate, liberating, supra-worldly yet boundless and immanent awakened mind). Of this real truth, called nirvana - which, while salvationally infused into samsara, is not bound or imprisoned in it - the Buddha states in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
"What is the Real (tattva)? Knowledge of the true attributes of Nirvana; the Tathagata, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the attributes of space ... is the Real. What is knowledge of the attributes of Nirvana? The attributes of Nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation [of ignorance and suffering]; loveliness/ wholesomeness; Truth; Reality; Eternity, Bliss, the Self [atman], and complete Purity: that is Nirvana."
He further comments: " ... that which is endowed with the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and Purity is stated to be the meaning of 'Real Truth' ... Moreover, the Real is the Tathagata [i.e., the Buddha]; the Tathagata is the Real ... The Tathagata is not conditioned and not tainted, but utterly blissful: this is the Real ...".
Thus, in such doctrines, a very positive goal is envisioned, which is said to lie beyond the grasp of the five senses and the ordinary, restless mind, and only attainable through direct meditative perception and when all inner pollutants (twisted modes of view, and all moral contaminants) are purged, and the inherently deathless, spotless, radiantly shining mind of Buddha stands revealed. This is the realm of the Buddha-dhatu (popularly known as buddha nature) - inconceivable, beginning-less, endless, omniscient truth, the Dharmakaya (quintessential body-and-mind) of the Buddha. This reality is empty of all falsehood, impermanence, ignorance, afflictions, and pain, but filled with enduring happiness, purity, knowingness (jnana), and omni-radiant loving-kindness (maitri).
- emptiness (Buddhism)
- God in Buddhism
- Maya in Hinduism
- Mahaparinirvana Sutra
- Simulated reality
- Dream argument
- Lucid dreaming
- Lucid living
- Reality and chakras in Bön
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Dream Yoga And The Practice Of Natural Light Edited and introduced by Michael Katz, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, ISBN 1−55939−007−7, pp. 42, 46, 48, 96, 105.
- ↑ Dr. A. Berzin. Alaya and Impure Appearance-Making
- ↑ Elías Capriles. Buddhism and Dzogchen: the Doctrine of the Buddha and the Supreme Vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. Part 1 - Buddhism: a Dzogchen Outlook. Published on the Web.
- ↑ The Crystal and The Way of Light. Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Compiled and Edited by John Shane, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2000, ISBN 1-55939-135-9, pp. 99, 101.
- ^ Sarvabuddhavishayavatarajñanalokalamkarasutra as cited by Elías Capriles in The Four Schools of Buddhist Philosophy: Clear Discrimination of Views Pointing at the Definitive Meaning. The Four Philosophical Schools of the Sutrayana Traditionally Taught in Tibet with Reference to the Dzogchen Teachings. Published on the Web.
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