A 5 T S O I O C Y

The Two Realities

If there is a angle essential concept in MahaySna Buddhism it is that of the coexistence of two aspects of reality: ultimate re'alitv and apparent or conventional reality. Candraklm {sixth century), the great commentator on NagJrjuna,' describes these as follows:

All phenomena possess two natures:

That which is revealed by correct perception

And that which is induced by deceptive perception.

The object of correct perception is ultimate reality,

The object of deceptive perception is conventional reality.

—MadhyamakAvatAra, vi, 23

The same phenomenon, therefore, may be perceived according to its ultimate nature or its apparent nature.

Ultimate reality is also called "emptiness." "Emptiness" does not mean that all phenomena are nothing, but rather that they do not exist in themselves. Although phenomena, the universe, thoughts, beings, time, and so on, seem to he wry real in them?* selves, ultimately they are nor.

Each of us can perceive the changing and unpredictable nature -of existence. There is not a single being or a single object that is not subject to birth and death, creation And destruction, from our own lives and our constuctions. the earth and the planets, down to atoms and subatomic particles, as scientists have discovered.

This transitory nature of phenomena, tmpernuiWKV, is the first sign of emptiness.

Let us consider ,1 rainbow, At fim when it .ippcitzs m the sky, it seems icat. but th.s appearance is vcrv ephemeral In order for such a phenomenon to appear, rbcre must be a primary

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cause—the nivs of the sun—and a contributory cause—rain in the opposite direction to the sun. When ihese two causes come together at the same time, the sun's light is reflected and refracted in the droplets of rain and a rainbow appears. If the sun is hidden or if the shower .stops, the rainbow disappears. What can be concluded from this? That the rainbow has no existence in itself, ft is a phenomenon composed of light, and depends on precise causes and conditions in order to appear. When these change, rhe rainbow phenomenon cannot subsist.

What we have just described is the interdependence of phenomena, or their dependent production. The "rainbow" phenomenon, in fact, depends on the phenomena "sun rays," "rain," and "time"": it therefore does not exist of itself. The emptiness of a phenomenon means that it exists neither in itself nor of itself.

What we have said regarding the rainbow can equally be applied to other phenomena. Ask yourself, what is "I"? Although we identify with it, this "I" is also a transitory compound, an assemblage of feelings, perceptions, sensations, ideas, and so on, whose «attire is always open to question. Its ultimate nature is none other than emptiness. There is thus the emptiness of phenomena and the emptiness of self, the emptiness of subject and object

What about time? The idea of time is closely linked to that of the succession of events, that is, to actions, to causes and effects. Whevs you act, your action feeds on your past. The result proceeding from that action becomes the cause of a future event. An actton connects the present to the future and the past. But neither the pasi nor the future has any existence. So what are the bases for \ our action?

.We could also say that the ideas of past, present, and future exist only in our thought:.. A present thought is connected with past thoughts ayid gives rise to future thoughts. When a past thought van^« and before a future thought arises, what can Gtte say u, the present about a present thought that is not Jinked W rite other two tunes? it also lus no existence. If a thought dues not exist in itself, nmt does not wist cither.

Apparent or rehtive" truth is the aspect of thing, that we 1 perceive at first S,gh, h our convem,Pona) imCTpr8mtJOn (jf the world in which we live. Known In Tibetan as kun dtop "the reality that encloses all things,- this ,s none other than L appearance of phenomena as we perceive them through our senses.

bmce the perception of each being is different, there will be as-many perceptions of phenomenal appearances as there are beings in the universe. One day, according to a legend, the astrologer of a small Indian kingdom warned the king that there would soon fall on the land a rain "that would send people mad." This news quickly spread, and everyone, from the humblest to the most powerful, hurried to stock as much drinking water as possible. The rain began to fall, as predicted. The less consequential people, who had few reserves, were soon obliged to drink the rainwater and became mad. Then it was the turn of the merchants, the rich people, and finally the ministers themselves—all were forced ro drink the contaminated water. Only the king, with his vast reserves, remained sane. And everyone throughout the kingdom was convinced that it was the king who was mad. This story illustrates the relative nature of conventional reality.

Our mode of perceiving the world depends on our memal disposition and our karma. By the word karm.i, I mean here all the conditioning created by our past actions. Every action is ia effect a cause. A positive action will have positive effectv while a negative action will produce a bitter fruit. It is the performer of an action who will experience its consequences. By the same token, all our actions leave a trace in the current of our consciousness; and when conditions allow, sills impnm will show the mental proclivities that are firmly rooted m us. These proclivities permeate out psyche and condition our view of things.

The overall result of the tendencies connected with our past karma is very complex and differs horn individual to Muxl However, we humans have a "common karm.c vision of the world, thanks to which we are able to communicate thiough concepts and words. Thus all human be,rig. share a .utam type

of kantuc reitdencv. W: aU agree about concepts such as "table," and "color"; but this does not apply to value judgments: here mch individual has his or her own vision, his or her own opinion. If I say, "This is a table," everyone will agree, but if I add, "This is a fine table," opinions may differ.

Buddhism recognizes six classes of being that inhabit the universe, and we are told that the perception of the world is different in each class. Where a human being sees a river, a being of the hot hells sees a stream of burning molten bronze, a being of the cold hells sees a glacier, a hungry ghost sees defilement and pus, a god sees a scream of nectar, and a titan sees a violent river bearing weapons.

Since sensory perception is conditioned by our karmie tendencies, it is at the same time "relative" and "misleading," Karma, indeed, is always connected with ignorance. This fundamental ignorance that obscures our being is a sort of unawareness that prevents us from seeing the true nature of things. Rooted in ignorance, our actions are blind and are the origin of all illusion and all evil.

What, then, are the relations between these two levels of reality? The absolute and apparent reality of the same phenomenon are opposed to each other—indeed, since perception varies from one individual to another, the apparent nature of an object varies also, and .for this reason its apparent nature cannot be its ultimate nature, which is unique,

The two realities are inseparable—according to the I'rajnapara->niw Htdaya Sutra.

Form li emptiness, emptiness is form. There is no emptiness other than form, no form other than emptiness.

Thus all phenomena are empty, bui we see them as appearances. Conveiidy, all apparent phenomena have no existence m themselves. These two aspects are inseparable, and there is no third reality outside these iwo.

The two realities have the same essence. Indeed, existing ij" not 'W>me empty" -they are empty from the be-

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ginning. That is their essence. Apparent reality can be- compared to a building whose component part, are brought toother in order to support each other but in which no component part rests on the earth. The building ,s in a state of constant collapse it is a sketch of existence, completely relative, m which phenomena only exist in relatton to others and whose essence i, emptv since the beginning.

Thus phenomena are not "destroyed" by emptiness: thev continue to appear in dependence upon each other, all empty. The two realities are like the two sides of the same com.

Samsara and Nirvana

Why does Buddhism emphasize emptiness? Not knowing the ultimate nature of things means believing that their appearance is the only reality. This belief leads one to cling to appearances as something real, and can only lead to illusion, disappointment, and suffering. Ignorance of ultimate realitv is therefore the cause of suffering,

What is called "mind" is also essentially empty. But this empty mind has a luminous nature, and its clarity is none other than its capacity to perceive, to know, to think, to conceptualise, to analyze, and to create. The ueativirv of the ntind is endless and has infinite possibilities; because of this the mind is sometimes referred to as "the king that creates everything." Within the mind, emptiness and elarit) -ue mscpaiabk, .¡nJ their union gives rise to the unfolding of the inhmre variety of appearances.

The person ivho iveogni'fs the nature of the mind is enlightened, a btiddha. l ot him. all phenomena are empty and luminous arid are no more dun the constant MJ spontaneous play o) the mind. In this nonduahtv, he is five from ,uiv Imvted hoheb. Beyond nonexistent and beyond the eternal, hcvond t.tcrtcr and exterior, hope ^ h'' hevo,uJ " , sense of the word mm.*,, in T.beui,' Since 4 buddtu is esuh-

iished in the primordial purity of the mind, the origin of all things, he is omniscient, he knows all phenomena both in their essence (emptiness) and in detail (distinct appearances).

When, on the other hand, we do not have this awareness, we are deceived as to the true nature of things. Under the power of ignorance, we perceive the luminous creativity of the mind as "external" and ''foreign" to ourselves. Doubt is set up and soon becomes duality, "I" and "others." "Others" includes ail external phenomena, to which we attribute real and independent existence. \Ve form three sorts of relationship with these others: attraction or desire for those phenomena that are judged as pleasant; revulsion or anger for unpleasant phenomena; and indifference or neutrality toward phenomena regarded as being of no interest. From these three reactions are born the five passions: ignorance, anger, desire/attachment, pride, and jealousy. When these passions dominate the mind, they are translated into thoughts, concepts, and finally concrete actions. These are known as karma. In accordance with their tone, whether negative or positive, our actions provide the causes for the later experience of effects of the same nature. We ceaselessly experience the fruits of past karma, and at the same time we continue to create new karma.

in this way, we chain ourselves to the vicious circle of existence, or sarnsara. Out feeling of "I" is confirmed, arid with it our menu! habits, Karma is accumulated and it becomes more and more difficult io recognise the deep illusion in which we are ¿unk.

When one particular passion predominates and our perceptions lake on a particular hue, this is known as "karmic vision." There are six types oi karmic vision, corresponding to six realms of existence: the hell realms, the realms of the hungry ghosts or prem, the animal u-alm, the human realm, ihe realm of the titans or and the realm of the gods or devas. These realms are dominated respectively by anger, greed, ignorance, desire, jealousy, and pride. We wander from one to another of these realms under the influence of karma; and this transmigration from life 10 hie does riot cease until the ,mule ()t (he mind k understood.

I his entire process resembles the crystalli/ation f,r .„.¡..¡.i,,, t.on of phenomena created spontaneously fey the mind. Thus, the five elements are the origin of the mind's pure and spontaneous manifestation of wisdom, appearing as a five-colored light. This luminosity has never been different from our mind, but as a result of ignorance we mistake it for the multitude of external objects. Thus externally the five colors of this light become the five gross elements, Ether, Air, Water, Fire, and Earth, and internally they become the gross constituents of the body, "hollows," wind, blood, heat, and flesh.

The mind is indeed "the king that creates everything," the basis of all things or kiin zhi. Recognizing it as such is to realize its functioning and to unite with its radiant luminosity. This is the path of the buddhas, Not recognizing it leads to attachment to one's own perceptions and one thus falls into illusion. This is the path of samsara and suffering.

In the original mind, neither samsara nor nirvana exists. Ignorance creates the conditions of samsara, and -as its antithesis there arises the search for nirvana or the "extinction*" of samsara.

The practice taught by the buddhas consists of ridding ourselves of illusion, developing strong compassion for all .suffering beings, liberating ourselves from the gnp of karma, dissolving our crystallizations, and reintegrating them into our void and luminous nature.

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