This is all dream, a dream body, a dream life, a dream world. A dream that can bring you great pleasure and great pain, all self wrought, all self-inflicted, all self-deserved. But the good news, the best news, is that no matter how lost you are or how confused or deep the nightmare you wander, no matter how much joy you derive from these dreams…one day, you will wake up. And the real world is infinitely better, infinitely more alive, more real. It requires only real eyes to see it and a real heart to comprehend it.
I made a slide-deck primer on Prajna Paramita, which I share with only a small number of people. By popular demand, and because it’s unfeasible to keep sharing a slide-deck, I write out that particular presentation into a full Article.
If you look deeply into the person you love, you’ll be able to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And out of that understanding, real love will be possible. When someone is able to understand us, we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. Looking deeply into any object, understanding will flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply.
— Thich Nhat Hanh on Prajna Paramita, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings
What is Prajna?
Prajna is said to be the Mother of Buddhas, because all Buddhas arise due to the practice of Prajna Paramita.
Prajna is the Container of the Six Paramitas, because the perfection of understanding enriches all the other Paramitas (although all Paramitas are in all other Paramitas; when we practice one deeply, we practice all of them).
Prajna is Right Understanding.
The Root of Prajna is looking into One’s Mind.
What is Prajna, really? Prajna Paramita is the practice of RIGHT UNDERSTANDING, and refers to the Direct Insight into:
The Four Noble Truths.
The Three Marks of Existence, anicca (impermanence), anattā (non-self), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering).
And Sunyata (Emptiness); which is synonymous with Co-Dependent Origination.
The Four Noble Truths
Exisence is marked by Dukkha (dissatisfaction/suffering
The cause of Dukkha is primarily “Craving” (Taṇhā).
Dukkha can be ended by the cessation of Craving (and other causes).
The path to the cessation of Dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Paths.
Method of Practice
SILA (Ethical Compass of Virtues)
Five Precepts (with the correct motivation, not a blind obligation to appearances and bodily morality).
SAMADHI (Correct Meditation)
6.Right Effort (Diligence)
Meditative practices such as Mindfulness (samatha), and Concentration (samadhi).
Knowing the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and understanding Codependent Origination. And having correct intentions for why you practice.
Anicca (Impermanence) All phenomenon (what is observed— such as objects, feelings, and the world), whether perceived as so-called physical or mental, is a formation (Saṅkhāra), it has a co-dependent origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) and is impermanent.
Any given phenomenon arises in conjunction with other phenomena (codependency), undergoes changes and disappears.
When we see a Mountain, we feel that it has a real existence, because the process of its existence seems so much longer than our own, and seems to have always been there. But at a microcosmic level, it is undergoing trillions of changes as things move, things transform, and things decay and disappear. Thus a Mountain is actually dynamic flashes of energy, like a shadow, a lightning bolt, a raindrop, just as we are, just as all things are. It arise and dies every moment.
Anatta (Non-Self) Because everything is Anicca (impermanent), the phenomena that codependently forms the sense of ownership and the sense of self, are also impermanent, and will dissolve and transform into other phenomena. Thus, the Self dies every moment, and re-originates as a similar but different self.
So when we grasp deeply onto a sense of Self (I am Justin, I am a skilled designer, I love this sense-object, and I dislike this sense-object. This is feeling is mine. This sensation is mine. This organ is mine. This history is mine), we will suffer when those objects & stories we are attached to inevitably dissolves or prove themselves not ours to own.
“This not mine, this is not me, this is not myself.”
— Shakyamuni Buddha
Dukkha (Dissatisfaction/Suffering) Because things are Anicca (Impermanent), and we are Anatta (Non-Self), when we grasp and become attached to these transitory phenomena, we are distressed when they dissolve.
When we want something, and cannot have it, we become distressed.
When we have something, and cannot keep it, we become distressed.
When we despise something, and we have it, we become distressed.When we do not have what we despise, but cannot keep it from becoming ours, we become distressed.
Co-Dependent Origination All phenomena are not static, but are processes of Becoming. This exists, so that exists, if this ceases to exists, that also ceases to exist. Ie, Because Eye and Light have contact, and there is a consciousness to perceive that contact, there is colour. When Eye and Light do not have contact, and no consciousness to perceive it, there is no colour. In truth, Colours don’t exist independently. Neither do eyes. Neither do Light. Neither do consciousness.
Things do not have substantive existence (there is no substance). What appears to be substantive (Justin is alive) are dynamic processes in homeostasis (equilibrium of processes) that last until it stops. There are no things, only processes. Ie, When I am feeling unwell, I become paranoid, when people interact with me, I take it as a slight, I then feed my paranoia by making up stories about why people are trying to hurt me, which feeds my anger. This is a process (with causes), but in ignorance, I think “that person is making me angry!” (when in reality, I made me angry— and anger doesn’t really exist as something substantive, only as processes). Or take evolution for example. We call a cat a cat, but a cat is a process of biological evolution that is ongoing. That cat was once a different cat, and was once a fish. Even the idea of a cat or a fish are not substantive, they are ideas we construct. No alien would recognize a cat or a fish, and might not even perceive that a cat or a fish are different in any meaningful way.
Things are codependent, no matter how reductive. That is to say, everything is made of something, caused by something, conditioned by something, allowed by something, brought forth by something. There is not a single thing you can demonstrate that isn’t in some way or form, evolved from an earlier set of codependent aggregates of phenomena.
Some words of wisdom from the Sixth Zen Patriarch.
Good and Wise Friends, the capacity of the mind is great and far-reaching; it encompasses the dharma realm. When functioning, it is clear and distinct, discerning and responsive. It knows all. All is the one [the mind]; and the one [mind] is all. Things naturally come and go, but the essence of the mind is unimpeded. That is prajna [wisdom].
Good and Wise Friends, prajna wisdom comes from one’s own essential nature: it does not come from outside. Do not make the mistake of using will and intellect. It is called “The natural workings of the true nature.” When the self-nature is true, everything else is true.
The mind has the capacity for great things; it is not meant to behave in petty ways. Do not talk about emptiness all day long, but fail to cultivate it in your minds. That would be like a commoner proclaiming himself the king of the country. How absurd; this could never be! Such people are not my disciples.
Good and Wise Friends, what is prajna? In our language [Chinese], prajna means wisdom. In every place and in every moment, in thought after thought, never becoming muddled and constantly acting wisely—just this is practicing prajna.
With one deluded thought, prajna is cut off. With one wise thought, prajna springs to life. Ordinary people, muddled and confused, fail to recognize prajna. Their mouths talk about prajna, but their minds remain confused. They are forever saying, “I cultivate prajna!,” and though they talk on and on about emptiness, they have no idea of its true meaning. Prajna has no shape or form; it is only the mind of wisdom. If you understand it in this way, just this is prajna wisdom.
— Huineng, The Platform Sutra
Further quotes, from the Fourth Zen Patriarch.
One should maintain an awareness of one’s own body as without substance; as purely an experience like a shadow, which can be seen but not grasped. Wisdom-awareness appears within this shadow. Ultimately without location, wisdom is unmoving, yet responds to all things, forever transforming. It produces the six senses and their realms of perception – all insubstantial, like dreams or illusions.
…To “maintain the One without wavering” is to focus on remaining with this single awareness with the eye of non-grasping purity, and to be committed to this practice at all times without wandering off. When the mind tries to run away, bring it back quickly.
…When the eye sees something, there is actually no outside “thing” that enters the eye. Like a mirror reflecting a face – although perfectly clear, there is no “thing” within the mirror. A person’s face doesn’t enter into the mirror; the mirror doesn’t reach out to a person’s face…If the mind becomes aware of some sensory stimuli and perceives it as coming from outside oneself, then return to a view of that sense object as not ultimately substantive (or independent).
The conditionally generated experiences of the mind do not come from anywhere within the ten directions, nor do they go anywhere. When you can regularly observe thinking, discrimination, deluded views, feelings, random thoughts, and confusion as not individually substantive mental events, then your practice is becoming basically stable. If you can settle the mind and remain free of entanglement with this continual conditioned thinking, you will be serene and fully aware, and discover an end to your afflictions. This is called liberation.
If on observing the mind’s subtle afflictions, and it’s agonizing confusions, and even its deepest introspections, you can, in a single moment, let go of them all and return to gentle stability, your mind has naturally become peaceful and pure. Only you must be courageous.
— Commentary from Dayi Daoxin, The Essentials of Entering the Way and Pacifying the Mind
The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. — 1 Corinthians 15:46 (NIV)
The prevalence of the belief in immortal souls or some sort of taken for granted eternal existence seems to colour most of our assumptions regarding the nature of Souls and Spirits.
I believe that Souls are abstractions for living body-minds (both mind and body together are souls). And Spirit is instead something that you develop (or is poured into you, so to speak).
Traditional Hebrew understandings of soul was that it was the same as the body, but the spirit was something else (Nephesh or soul, and Ruach, or spirit). Islam likewise distinguishes between Soul and Spirit (the Naf, or psychic organs, and the Ruh, or God-given Spirit).
Folk religions and non Abrahamic ones have similar ideas. Germanic Religion had four to five souls (Hamr or skin, Hugr or thought, Fylgja or astral familiar born into the world with a child, Hamingja or name/luck, and maybe Alf— literally elves or psychic organs).Chinese religion had at least two souls (Hun— the ethereal soul, and Po— the animal soul), though nowadays, there’s at least 10 souls in Chinese folk religion.
And we know all about the Egyptian varieties.
This brings me to Buddhism. There are five aggregates— form/rupa, sensations/vedana, perceptions/ samjna), mental formations/sankhara, and consciousness/vijanna — which functions in the same manner as as these orthodox understandings of soul as physio-psychic organs.
However, through spiritual cultivation, you can develop your Buddha Embryo (an abstraction for the potential of enlightenment inherent in all sentient beings, if not all phenonmena) into a Buddha-dhatu (Buddha-Nature).
What this is really saying, once you strip away the fancy terms, is that none of us have an immortal soul, but all of us have the potential to DEVELOP a Spirit.
Where do this Spirit come from? According to some, the Holy Spirit is God’s divine energy, pervading all phenomena that we are trying to open ourselves to. In Buddhism, the same concept is there— to become a Buddha is to realize Dharmadhatu (the pervading whole; or Dharma-Nature) and develop a Dharmakaya (The Truth Body). To transform this ordinary phenomena that we are made of into something more.
Woke up in the dead of the night because I needed to know: If Cain murdered Abel, are we descendants of the first murderer?
Of course I know it’s all mythology representing our transition from hunter-gatherers to agricultural society (and maybe there was an actual murder at the heart of the tale, maybe between two chieftains of different tribes?).
But it’s a valid question within the context of the Biblical Mythology.
There’s Seth of course (our supposed ancestor; it could have been any of his siblings really; but Seth is named), but most of his history was formed much later on by storytellers. Very little was said about him in the original source materials. He was merely one of the sons and daughters born to Adam and Eve after Abel’s death. Presumably his wife was one of his sisters. Enoch son of Cain (NOT the Enoch of the Book of Enoch), and his descendants died in the Great Deluge. By this process of elimination, we are to assume we are all Sethites (though I must ask, didn’t Cain’s descendants intermarried with Seth’s descendants at all? I am sure they must have).
The first two generations of Man continues to inspire human action throughout history. Some people use the story of Cain to justify racism (ie, ethnic minorities are descendants of Cain). There was historical religious movements inspired by them as well, such as the Addamites (hippie nudists), Abelites (celibate married couples who adopted an orphaned boy and girl to replace them after they die). And there was the Sethians and the Cainanites, both of which were actually Gnostic sects.
I should’ve wrote this down days ago, now the epiphany is less clear, but I’ll try (it’ll need refinement). It’s nothing sudden in truth, because I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now (you can tell, if you follow my writings and essays; which would help with understanding the references and ontological assumptions I am making).
Pain is part of life. An inalienable part of it. The world is necessarily composed of transformations, and transformative cycles— including cycles of predatory transformation. These transformations are characterized by change, and thus for those who grasp onto any one homeostasis of things, characterized by suffering. Buddhism identifies this as the three marks of existence (impermanence, non-self, and suffering).
Energy and matter constantly interchange, but no specific energy nor matter ever felt that they were suffering in this endless composition and dissolution of form. And why not? It is because they do not identify themselves as a self.
But we do (we as in animals and humans, and minds). We identify ourselves as a self, and thus delude ourselves into a sphere of experience seemingly separate from the ecosystem beyond our skin (as if we are not constantly cycling constituent matter into ourselves through air and water, and food— we become what we consume). For some of us, we fail to even understand that our mind and body are one organism.
If we examine our body or psycho-physical-organism (what Buddhism might call the “namarupa”), we would understand that we are an ecosystem unto ourselves, full of parasites, bacterias, and other organisms and systems. Our every cell is an organism unto itself. Our activities impact our own bodies and also the ecosystem around us. Our brain is a network of interdependent organisms. Altogether, everything themselves are composed of organelles, chemicals, and particles, and even more subtle things. Our mind is rooted in the body but not limited to it. Key parts on the physical side of things include the nervous system, and in the “second brain” of the gastro-intestinal tract’s nervous system (enteric nervous system). Our mind is also a complex system of interdependent parts. You are not just you; but numerous psychological organs and functions, including representations of self (the awareness of sight, the awareness of taste, the awareness of the awareness, etc), and cultural and genetic conditioning.
All things are alive because all things are part of the same ecosystem whose apex is a sentient being; but some things are more alive than others, or that is to say, more aware (as in, all phenomena inherently has a basic fundamental single point cognizance or awareness; if we accept panpsychism as true of course— which is more honest than ontological materialism at reconciling the material and the mental). On one end we have energy. On the other end, we have sentient beings (not necessarily animals of course; consciousness developed as part of predictive systems. All systems, be they energy or minds, want to minimize surprise, ie, the Free Energy Principle. The brain is a Bayesian inference engine, nothing more; but a biological brain and its ideological extensions need not be the only kind of system that can infer).
As living matter, war and violence and death (and the consumption of other living beings, be they plant or animal) is a part of the activity of the human animal. We do not need to do it, but if we do it, it is a natural expression of being a species with limitations to our behaviours and abilities. We are what we are, just as photons and electrons are what they are (this is not a justification however, whether for or against “human nature”, which has proven incredibly flexible and diverse).
What created mankind? Many things, but chiefly Self-Domestication. The animal that was Man became the human animal; through the murder of bad actors (those who do not cooperate). Through this long process, we shaped homo sapiens as a product representative of our world (our sphere of experience as human beings); it is through violence we are made. There has never been a “peaceful” human nature in some mystical past; but only the intrinsically pure process of the savage, bloody and wild Eden of the world prior to humanity.
But this is not a justification of course. In religions like Buddhism, the goal of attaining veridical awareness (Buddahood) does not depend upon nor require bodily justifications, because the inherent nature of awareness in phenomena is not limited to any specific condition, or form. Neither biology nor physics are obstacles; they are to be understood, but cast aside as irrelevant for the attainment of veridical awareness. Awareness inherent to all phenomena, but which is not a self, not a soul, not an ego-object nor any one thing.
It is not one awareness, or even many; but as many as there needs to be, and just as quickly to be gone (just as how there are as many phenomena as needed in this world to drive the process of reality, which endlessly transforms from one set to another; from beginnings to endings to beginnings again, changing the environment, and the constants of the cosmos and life and its limitations).
The attainment of veridical awareness is not your accomplishment, but the accomplishment of your sphere of experience (your localized ecosystem of phenomena; your field of experience; your sphere of experienced reality); which then becomes liberated from the identification of a self with any part of anything.
Practically, this realization is reflected in my acceptance of other’s mistakes as my own (and the acceptance of my genetic and causal inheritance; I am the culmination of the world around me, including my ancestors and my society). You can no longer simply toss aside others and other people as irrelevant to yourself. Ecosystems are not made of individuals. At the same time, because you are NOT other people (your eye is not your toe), you need not force yourself into unnatural action for others (I am part of, but am not solely responsible for, what is happening on the other side of the world, or even what is happening in my neighbour’s house. We do the best we can in our niche).
Ecosystems have many roles, and many niches. Though unlike an ecological ecosystem, the ecosystem of human experience is endlessly flexible and transformative. You need not be afraid that you’ll remain a predator, prey or parasite, or that others are stuck in their role. With insight, all people can transform and play any role as needed.
Someone asked, “So how does magic works in real life?”
The questionable part of that statement isn’t magic, but rather “real life”. What an absurd thing to say— is there such a thing as a false life?
What is “real”? And how would magic work in this supposedly other space called the “real?”
If you subscribe to Idealism or Representationalism, you have to accept that your perception and experiences is your reality, and might be the sole reality accessible to you (or in the case of Representationalism, heavily warps your perception of reality).
Magic, being whatever shapes these perceptions and experiences, then in a very real way, has altered your reality. This is how we end up developing the nascent scientific fields of transpersonal psychology, and why humanity have culture-bound syndromes (which may or may not have phenomenal basis tied into fields beyond psychology, anthropology, and so forth. We will find out one day).
“But what if you want to summon a fireball”, you ask, “how do I do that just by changing my perceptions?”
Well, you don’t just do that. Magic follows rules (insofar as any phenomena follows rules).
Many people think magic is “Harry Potter magic”. They’re looking to summon fireballs, they’re looking for a little bit of inexplicable phenomena that defies their narrow ontological views. In a way, the people who want to view magic as overt are doubtlessly ontological materialists of some sort. By presuming physicalism as true, they accept a a tentative dualistic view (although not necessarily belief) in its opposite: violations of the ontological materialist worldview. This is why stage magic tricks is so entertaining. It wows the materialists by seemingly violating their ontological presumptions (through psychological and sensory manipulation).
But many philosophies and scientific disciplines DON’T presume a physicalistic worldview. It is in these areas where magic is most alive because the miracles of everyday is magical in a way a materialist cannot easily accept. And it is only magical because we understand that they are based in mind, in ideas, in experiential phenomena, and not some unprovable religion of the physical.
For example, how does mathematical objects tie into the concrete phenomena they represent? How is it that we recognize numbers and equations as relating to experiential phenomena? For these reasons, the traditional philosophy of mathematics has been Platonic Idealism.
Technology (often seen as an “empirical” sort of power) is not the result of material culture. Or not solely of material culture I should say. It is equally the manifestation of Mind (or in some Idealisms, solely the manifestation of Mind). Some “technologies” are solely psychological and cultural in nature for example.
If you want to summon a fireball, you have to understand the nature of how fire works, you find ways to develop the technology needed to build a bowdrill (a prehistoric tool for creating fire), and you can now summon fire at will.
Technology is magic. Technological development are millennia long rituals our ancestors contributed to over time to make numerous capabilities available to our species.
Just like how the earliest knowledge were encoded as rituals to ensure repetition can be successfully done. How to make medicine, how to safely store food, how to carve stone tools— all ritualized through trial and error and passed on via repetitive rituals. The human-animal carrying out these repetitions don’t have to accurately understand why something works, only that it does. In fact, its possible that such behaviours predate the capacity for speech altogether (after all, even chimpanzees do this).
Another example; dowsing is a form of pattern-recognition for example. It is caused by unconscious body motion, and its chance of finding water is entirely dependent on luck and subconscious environmental cues (under laboratory conditions, these cues are eliminated, making dowsing no better than random chance; but have anyone considered that these cues are a required ritual component to enable the pattern recognition?). While many dowsers believe in a form of magical rationale when it comes to explaining dowsing, some dowsers do in fact, accept this scientific view. It doesn’t make their dowsing any less magical.
More examples of magic: Psychosomatic Death Curses and Haitian Zombies.
It’s possible for people to lose the will to live and die for no real reason (psychosomatic death). In some aboriginal cultures, this is taken a step further; someone cursed with death will actually die for psychosomatic reasons due to the cultural conditioning and beliefs.
Haitian Zombies are the result of chemical or social phenomenon that causes a state of zombification.
In the chemical hypothesis, being fed certain drugs causes one to enter a state of suspended animation, and upon being “revived”, the trauma and psychosis forces them to reconstruct their identity as a zombie since they believe themselves to have actually died in the cultural environment they were conditioned into (see also ants who were doused with death pheromones walking themselves to ant graveyards, only to realize they were alive after it wore off).
In the social hypothesis, zombies are a culture-bound syndrome; in lieu of Western categorization of mental illness and schizophrenia, the people with such conditions may be identified as zombies instead.
In any case, we see just how important a role the Mind plays in all such phenomena.
It takes effort, diligence, and understanding to make magic realized. It is not only the external technologies that are built, but the contextual frameworks or world-views that we have also developed and innovated that can be passed on to other humans (ie, philosophy, metaphysics, symbolisms, archetypes, etc). It can be passed on to animals too (via training).
The people who doubt the existence of magic don’t understand just how much magic we have built already as a species, and how much of magic is internal (though if all is Mind, as Idealism posits, what is “internal” and “external?”)— it’s installed into the mind of every human animal, almost at birth. This is thanks to the effort of our ancestors in transmitting culture, knowledge, and rituals (and possibly natural selection and epigenetics as well).
Although I phrased magic as something to develop and build, the mind itself is pure magic. The uncreated is the highest creation. The natural function is the basis for all constructions. In religious practices, things like Tantra, and Pureland, and even the metaphysics of Buddhahood— these kind of things are possible (in the ontological presumptions of some religions) because of the nature of Mind (of reality itself having this property of being conditioned and liberated).
Iddhis/Siddhis (overt psychic ability in Dharmic religions) function likewise: power is incidental to insight. It is the insight that matters, the power might accidentally manifest as a consequence (again, this is presuming you accept the ontological presumptions of these religions).
Someone asked how one can prove that an object exists physically.
You can’t. Ontological Materialism isn’t actually provable empirically, though a “physical” object in the context of a discipline that presumes ontological materialism can be proven to exist…in that context (usually a scientific field).
Illusions are real to other illusions; it is an illusion, yet is truth. Although all things are manifestations of emptiness (codependent origination), they are real with respect to other manifestations. This is the non-dual understanding of Emptiness/Thusness (or sunyata/tathata). This is the realization of the Dharma-Eye.
Idealism and Representationalism is more coherent than Physicalism (the same as materialism; which is fatally incapable of resolving how experiential things can emerge from physical phenomena).
A sense object is like a hologram. It has many codependent factors that sustains the process of its “existence” (it’s duration of apparent substance).
How do you prove an object is physically existent when that object is changing moment to moment until it becomes a different object? What is this “object” that you’re identifying, what makes it distinct from the process of its change? (it’s duration of apparent existence; every moment of which is an “object” of its own, moment to moment).
Worse yet, if I get shot through the head, that object stops existing, since a major factor in its existence (ie, my sense perception and my cognitive faculties) no longer perceives it. It doesn’t mean the object stops existing for the things it is interacting with, but for me it ceases because it no longer interacts with me. That object is also different depending on what it interacts with.
Every angle of a hologram can indeed be different, just like how different math equations can describe the same thing. Great or small, white or black, moving or still— there is much flexibility in any given “object” because it not really an object at all in truth, but a dynamic aspect of the whole. Where does this object end and another object begin? Where from one end of the Universe to the other, does an “object” ever really exists as a discrete entity unto itself, and not just a brief duration of a process that ripples across the interdependent whole?
The Underworld is most likely a manifestation of the Bardo State.
Someone asked whether rebirth is instantaneous (as argued by Theravada Buddhists) or if there was an Intermediate State (as argued by Tibetan Buddhists).
In my considered opinion, both explanations are valid. Depending on your point of view, of course.
It can be considered instantaneous because there is no such thing as “dead” people. The continuum of causality continues unabated. There is no gap, no stopping, and no “otherworld” in which you might have existed in prior to being “reborn”.
The continuum of causality that is fluid and hasn’t yet achieved a stable homeostasis is what we might call the Bardo state. It is Bardo because it has not settled down into a stable ecosystem of inter-penetrating phenomena.
How long does the Bardo state last after one is in the throes of the post-death process?
Contrary to Tibetan Buddhist belief in 49 days, I believe the Bardo could be instantaneous to millions of years, depending on the causal factors that is shaping it. Of course, time can be very subjective in this hallucinatory state.
I also believe that manifestations of Yama (a deity described as the God of the Dead in Vedic mythology) or an Underworld (not to be confused with Hell) is part of the Bardo State.
In certain mythologies, such as that of China, it is believed that the deceased will appear in the Underworld (Diyu) before being reborn. This doesn’t fit into Buddhist metaphysics…unless we accept that the Underworld is a hallucination of the Bardo state.
Hellworlds (Naraka) are proper rebirths, for it has a stable homeostasis, much like the life we currently experience. Hell-beings are living beings, every bit as alive as you and I (and plants and animals). They are not “ghosts” and not “spiritual” substances or existences. Nor are they “damned” in the eschatological or spiritual sense. Please note that the Vedic Underworld also use the term Naraka, but Buddhism use this term to mean a different concept entirely. It is blurry in Chinese mythology as well, because the Narakas were simplified into 18 Planes of torturous existences (of course, real Buddhist cosmology doesn’t have this schema, rather, the Hellworlds are infinite in number).
In contrast to Hellworlds, the mythological Underworld of China is described as a transitory state before going to a proper rebirth, and Yama himself is described as a psycopomp. These key factors mark them out to be most likely a Bardo aspect rather than a literal realm. How can there be an extrinsic world of the dead? Such a thing is ontologically impossible in Buddhism.
Consider also that there is duration in the Underworld, and the Underworld process is not a real rebirth, they must therefore be of the Bardo.
They are manifestation of mind, but we must remember that mind-body dualism doesn’t exist and all that is mind is part of the process of the “real” (per the view formulated by the Yogacara School and accepted in all Mahayana and Vajrayana schools). In this sense, Yama and the Underworld are nonetheless real (or as real as any phenomena can be)…but their manifestation during the Bardo process might be entirely subjective to each person’s beliefs and biases.
*I meant the Chinese Underworld, but one may consider the parallel to the Platonic Hades. In the Legend of Er, Hades is a place where souls go to be reincarnated (metempsychosis), they drink from the River Lethe to forget their memories, and their destinies are presided over by the Fates, the twin wheels (the constellations and planets), and by Hades himself. They draw lots and choose what they are inclined to as a consequence of their circumstances in life (which is a very karmic take). This is indeed, more or less, the same set up as Chinese mythology.
I am already syncretic, and embrace myriad religions. However in this year, I have come to appreciate and even accept the validity of the teachings of Mani*, Zoroaster, Guru Granth Sahib**, and even Joseph Smith. Insofar as I accept the validity of any religion (I don’t take any religion at face value of course; for insight is different than doctrine).
I see them as no different than Nagarjuna, Vasabhandu, or Asanga (all great Buddhist philosophers who are largely regarded as saints, and by some as infallible divine authority). I no longer invent, or require “evidence” of some historical divine connection to accept a teaching as valid. I accept the human genius in the process of divine inspiration and free myself from the need to question whether a theologian have to fit into my preconceived views of what a prophet is.
We should simply view prophets and religious innovators as theologians, philosophers, and moral exemplars who have authentic theophanic experiences and commitment. No different than any of us today who experience the same.
In the same faith system, innovations and insight are gained and disseminated as the theologies develop over time. A single religion has never remained the same religion, though they bear the same name. You simply need to understand this when viewing all religions as the same ecosystem of thought (as the same “faith”).
Every religious man today who profess to have experienced spiritual insight is literally no different than any of the esteemed worthies of the past. We have the potential to be no different than any number of theologians who Man have called prophets, sages, or even god-incarnate; some of which we have raised to sainthood on the basis of their work and their influence.
The question is, did God influence them? We can never know for sure…but we will never know anything for sure. Practice what you know and believe, and be open-minded about the ways of others, whom God may have favoured in his own way. Take from them what is right, and transform your understanding in new ways.
And perfect yourself so as to be a vessel to Divine Inspiration.
*Mani is interesting to me especially, because he drew his inspiration from Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Buddhism; and his religion influenced aspects of my own faith traditions for centuries despite being formally persecuted. And now I formally recognize my precursor in turn.
**Guru Granth Sahib is a book of course, a compilation of the words of the previous Sikh Gurus. It is treated as the eternal living Guru of the Sikh Faith.
My recent thoughts on the Purelands: Where are the Buddhafields (Purelands) actually located in the cosmos?
I am still thinking about this, and not an expert. As a Bodhisattva aspirant, purelands are not something I think about usually. What we know:
1) One interpretation of Buddhas are that they are veridical awareness (universal awareness coinciding with reality as it really is).
2) Each Buddha-field overlaps with a single Great-Trichiliocosm (an Universe).
3) There is no self, no personhood, and no way for phenomena to persist independently. Where a Buddha’s veridical awareness reach (which is everywhere), all beings and objects are that same Buddha.
4) Buddhafields and Sambhogakaya (the enjoyment body— one of the Triyaka or Three Bodies of a Buddha) are the same— they are a modus of the Dharmakaya, and interface between reality as it is, and “our world”. Whereas the Sambhogakaya refer to activities of Buddhas in this world, the Buddhafields refer to that same activity manifested as a world in which beings can be reborn into.
The implication here then, is this. If the veridical awareness of a Buddha is universal, and there is no abiding self, then that means that my efforts in manifesting a Buddhafield is in fact, de facto, the effort of the Buddha of this Trichiliocosm in manifesting a Buddhafield.
Which is to say, the Buddhafield and this world is not separate, and the Buddha manifesting the Buddhafield and all of us are not separate either.
The Buddhafield is an interface between the Dharmakaya of a Buddha and ourselves, the same way that all of theophany, visions, and interaction with Buddhas (their Sambhogakaya) is our interface with the Dharmakaya (“he who sees the dharma sees me, he who sees me sees the dharma”). The Dharmakaya is of course, representational of Dharmdhatu (the expanse of the totality of phenomena as an indivisible, pervading whole).
Which of course, returns us to the teaching that has been exhorted since the beginning; your every effort has profound enlightening effects (merits) upon your mind-stream, which is radically transformed to perceive the world as it truly is: Intrinsically Pure.
The Lankavatara Sutra says, “When the mind arises, all phenomena arise. When the mind ceases, all phenomena cease.”
When the Mind is Purified, the Buddhafield is Purified.
This is based on an ancient Reddit post I made many kalpas ago. May the Syncretic God forgive me for any mistakes I make.
Note that this article presupposed a predominantly Sunni Islamic view, and a Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhist View.
Let us compare some parallels:
On the plurality of Messengers
— Infinite Buddhas. According to the Bhadrakalpika Sūtra, we on Earth are slated for 1002 fully enlightened Buddhas in this Fortunate Kalpa alone. How lucky we are! We are currently 4 Buddhas in.
— 124,000 Prophets in Islam (or 25,000+ Prophets). Alot of Prophets. Sent to all peoples in the world.
On the interstitial periods
— Periods of time with no Buddhas (Dark Kalpa).
— Periods of time with no Prophets (Ahl al-Fatrah).
On non-human intelligent life, their religions, and the Devil
— Devas are mortals, don’t worship them.
— Djiins are mortals, don’t worship them.
— King Mara is a deva who is the Devil.
— Iblis is a Djinn who is the Devil.
— The Maras are devas who follow King Mara.
— The Shaitans are Djinns who follow Iblis.
— Devas are not necessarily Buddhist. Many have to be converted to Buddhism. Vast majority are ignorant of the Dharma or are the purview of other Buddhas in other trichiliocosms.
— Djinns can be Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other (that’s why they need to be converted to Islam).
On the Degeneration of the True Faith
— In Buddhism, the Dharma is taught by a perfectly enlightened Buddha, but then degenerates over time until only Buddhist culture is left, and eventually, even that is forgotten. When this happens, a new Buddha will arise and spin the Wheel of Dharma once more.
— In Islam, eventually, a divinely revealed faith will become corrupted, and a new Messenger is sent by God to teach Islam (both Judaism and Christianity— and potentially more— are considered corrupted versions of Islam).
On the Buddhas/Enlightened-Beings & Messengers/Prophets
— Prophets VS Messengers. Prophets are sent by God to serve as moral paragons and to teach people. But some Prophets are Messengers, which bring with them Divinely Revealed Messages (that usually then become a major scripture; such as the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Qur’an— though in Islam, all versions of these are corrupt save the Qur’an, which is the latest divinely revealed message).
— A Perfectly Enlightened Buddha is the only being capable of preaching the True Dharma, and only in a period of time around which they existed in the world to turn the Wheel of Dharma do the Dharma persists, no matter who propagates it.
In periods of time in which the Dharma is absent, Pretyekabuddhas (self-enlightened Buddhas) do occasionally arise, but they are incapable of teaching the Dharma because they simply lack the compassion/insight/intellectual resources required to do so. A Pratyekabuddha can give moral teachings, but cannot help others attain Enlightenment, and they do not leave behind a Sangha (Monastic Order).
A Buddha doesn’t magically attain knowledge or skill. A pretyekabuddha lacking the right conditions (either in the time period, the culture, or even the language) cannot express the Buddha-Dharma to sentient beings, and thus do not fulfill the role of a perfectly enlightened Buddha, incapable of turning the Wheel of Dharma.
Likewise, Arahants (technically a lesser kind of Pratyekabuddha) also are not capable of transmitting the manifold Dharma.
— Iddhis (supermundane powers that can be developed as a side-effect of practicing the path; though it should not be the goal, as it’s considered not True Dharma).
— Karamat (‘miracles’ performed by Saints. Like Tay al-Arzor or mystical teleportation).
On the Multiverse
— Allah, Lord of Worlds
— Contrasted with Buddhist conception of the Great Trichiliocosm (1 billion worlds), and there are infinite Trichiliocosms, filled with many different kinds of life. Each Trichiliocosm has a single Supremely Enlightened Buddha (though there are infinite Buddhas everywhere, all the time).
— In Buddhism, Buddha-Nature vs Aggregates [cause & effect phenomenon, compounded phenomenon]
— And in Islam, especially Sufism, Rūḥ (Spirit) vs Nafs (Souls).
In Buddhism, the Buddha-Nature or Dharma-Nature is the all-pervading nature, or “reality as it is, the way things are, phenomenon as it is, devoid of delusions”. This Dharma-Nature as present in a sentient being is Buddha-Nature (well, the potential for it, specifically).
In Islam, the Ruh are myriad phenomena. Sometimes identified as Angels, sometimes as the spirit in human beings, and sometimes as that which animates inanimate matter.
In addition, Buddha-Nature is also the nature of phenomenons, and Rūḥ is what allows Nafs to work.
Thus as described in Islam in Perspective, Rūḥ is Nafs in one sense, but yet they are not. The Rūḥ drives the Nafs (the souls, which are our desires and sensory perceptions; in essence our psychic organs), but the Rūḥ is apart of it.
Just as Buddha Nature is both the workings of phenomena and yet it is not (Nirvana is Samsara, Samsara is Nirvana).
In essence, we have the embryonic form of a Buddha within us (tathāgatagarbha— the embryonic Buddha) that must be developed so that we can become Buddhas (Buddha-dhatu— the Buddha Nature/Realm/Substrate). The potential for Enlightenment is there…we just have to perfect it.
In Zen, one must have faith that they have a Bodhi-Mind (a Buddha Nature) in order to realize enlightenment.
In Islam, Rūḥ is what God give us, so that we can come to know him, and to perfect it.
The two terms have that inherent meaning of being transcendental, as according to Buddhist, every Buddha expounded the same Dharma, from innumerable universes ago to now. According to Muslims, every Prophet expounded the same Islam (including Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, etc).
Buddhism denies Reincarnation (Metempsychosis). In Buddhism, the doctrine is Rebirth, which is “re-becoming”, not reincarnating, as it’s best to see all of our infinite lives as a singular life (as a result of phenomenon dictated by cause & effect).
In Buddhism, every moment is a rebirth, because it denotes the Mindstream changing and moving; bodily death is a bigger change (a larger wave made by the coursing river of Mind phenomenon), but not that different than the moment to moment experience we already have. Some call sleep the little death for this reason.
Everyday you live without Enlightenment (realization of Buddha-Nature) is already death anyway; thus Mara (the Devil), and the condition he embodies, is often called the Spiritual Death.
Buddhist Phenomenology denies a conventional soul (that is, a soul conceived of as another body or an object that one could mistakenly fixate their ego upon), but it believes in the Buddha-Nature (which is the foundational mind, absence delusions, and also phenomenon as it is). And this is because things being alive and having a soul, are one and the same (similar to the Jewish conceptions of the soul being indivisible with body, and arisen together with it).
Thus in Buddhism, a sentient being is an aggregate of different causes & effects (form, perception, sensation, wilful intent, consciousness), none of which have independent existence. Similar to the Nafs.
The Five Aggregates in Buddhism are the invariable constituents of a sentient being’s experience in a given moment.
Some things are just more alive than others (animals are more alive than plants, which are more alive than ordinary matter).
In Buddhist theology, the totally deluded (Icchantikas) have lost their Buddha-Nature entirely and can never attain Nirvana (but their Buddha-nature is recoverable if they are able to regain a small measure of a conscience).
Icchantikas is actually the closest equivalent to the Hebrew Gehenna or post-eschatological damnation present in all Abrahamic Religion.
The ultimate fate of Icchantikas is questionable. My own tradition at least, argues that Icchantikas are eventually dissolved into Qi (annihilated).
Thematically at least, the Buddhist Naraka (Hellworlds) are closer in conception to Sheol or the Islamic Barzakh (the Grave), since Naraka is not actually damnation. Narakas are considered proper rebirths. Being born in Naraka is not damnation. The Icchantika is however, a damning fate.
For a true transitory or purgatorial existence, in Buddhism that would be the Bardo (the fluid intermediate state between lives; which can be experienced as a hallucinatory nightmare for the deceased).
On God & Angels
Say, “He is Allah , [who is] One, Allah , the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” — Surah Al-Ikhlas [112:1-4]
“There is, O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not, O monks, this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed. Since, O monks, there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed. What is dependent, that also moves; what is independent does not move. Where there is no movement, there is rest; where rest is, there is no desire; where there is no desire, there is neither coming nor going, no ceasing-to-be, no further coming to be. Where there is no ceasing-to-be, no further coming-to-be, there is neither this shore [this world] nor the other shore [Nirvana], nor anything between them.” — Shakyamuni Buddha, Udana Nikaya (viii: 3)
More specifically, in Buddhism, you can conceptualize the Adi-Buddha as the primordial Buddha inherent in all things. Specifically, Adi-Buddha is identified as Vairocana, or the Dharmakaya (Truth Body) of Shakyamuni Buddha. Dharmakaya is representational of Dharma-Nature, in a manner very much akin to MALAKH YHWH (Angel that is the Lord in the Bible) sort of entity. Effectively God, but still not God (Dharma-Nature pervades the whole, but is not the whole. The closest you will find to a statement on the Uniqueness of God in Buddhism).
In Islam, none of the Angels have Free Will, being extension of God’s Will. Again, a functional god (in terms of how God interacts with the world. It was not God who directly spoke to the Prophet Muhammad, but instead, he used Gabriel as an intermediary to communicate his message. Why is this intermediary necessary? Because that is how God acts in the world; admittedly, this draws a bit from the Esoteric Kabbalistic conception of what Angels are— as Tasks of God, rather than from Islam).
For a good chunk of time (for at least 800 years, maybe much longer), Theravada Buddhism was almost Messianic; as in, adherents did not believe that they could attain Enlightenment under their own power. Disclaimer:I have a mostly Mahayana background, so correct me on any mistakes.
In the 5th Century, Buddhaghosa wrote the Visuddhimagga, which was the manual on Theravada meditation techniques and exegesis on its theology. It was touted as a step-by-step path to Enlightenment.
But Buddhaghosa in a postscript stated that he did not believe Theravada practices could lead to Nirvana. He hoped that by writing the Visuddhimagga, he would earn enough Merit to be reborn in a Heavenly Realm to await Maitreya’s arrival, so that he could hear Maitreya preach, and thus gain enlightenment. This postscript betrayed Buddhaghosa’s soteriological beliefs.
In addition, by the 10th Century, Theravada Buddhism no longer practice vipassana meditation at all, because they believed that the Buddha-Dharma had degenerated and that enlightenment was no longer possible until the arrival of Maitreya.
In essence, it seemed that for a least eight centuries, Theravada was almost Messianic.
In the 18th century, Vipassana Meditation was re-invented in Myanmar by Medawi, a Burmese Monk who is credited as the first author of the modern vipassana movement.
Reform &Decline of Tantric Theravada
In the intervening period before modernity, most Theravada meditation had been based on the Yogāvacara tradition (also known as borān kammaṭṭhāna, Southern Esoteric, or Tantric Theravada), but it declined, and was suppressed by the Reform movement in the 19th century which took Buddhaghosa’s philosophy as the orthodox interpretation of Theravada, as well as by French Colonial suppression and then by the Khmer Rouge. The Vipassana Meditation movement displaced Tantric Theravada.
The reforms were partly a reaction towards Western Colonialism, but also relied on the proliferation of the Pali Canon by Western interest to realize. The Theosophical Society played a big role in reviving the faith locally, especially amongst the laity. Theravada, however it existed in the past, was reshaped according to modern interpretations of the Pali Canon by modern eyes and modern minds.
There are also the Weizza (vijjādhara), or Buddhist Wizards in Burma, which may be related to Southern Esoteric Buddhism. Weizza practices alchemy and magic in order to attain timeless immortality; their purpose is to live long enough for Maitreya to arrive. This fits into the pre-reform beliefs about being unable to attain liberation without Maitreya.