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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
23 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Assoon as we talk about a path like Buddhism, we think about its finishing line—some kind of result or goal. But in the Mahayana there is no goal. In the Prajnaparamita Sutra, for instance, we hear that “Form is emptiness, empti- ness is form. No eyes, no nose...” and all that. There’s noth- ing to obtain. And there’s no “no nothing” to obtain. The Mahayana path is more like peeling layers of skin and finally finding out that there’s no seed inside. We have to obtain liberation from the skins, but this is difficult to do because we love our skins. When we’re children, a sand- castle is very important to us. Then when we’re sixteen, a skateboard is very important, and by then the sandcastle has become a rotten skin. When we’re in our thirties and forties, money, cars, and relationships replace the skateboard. These are all layers of skin. More importantly, even the paths that we practice are all layers of skin, which we use to help us peel the other skins. The inner skin helps us to think about the outer skin and motivates us to peel it. But ultimately in the Mahayana path, you have to be free from all systems, all skins. So what happens when all these skins have been peeled off? What’s left? Is enlightenment a total negation, like the exhaustion of a fire or the evaporation of moisture? Is it something like that? No, we’re talking about something that is a result of elimination. For example, if your window is dirty, you clean it. You wash the dirt, and then the window, in the absence of dirt, is labeled a clean window. There’s nothing else. The phenomenon that we are calling a clean window, the quality that is the absence of dirt, is not something that we produced by cleaning the dirt. I don’t think we should even call it a clean window, because the window in its original state has never been stained by the extremes of either dirty or clean. Nevertheless, the process of getting rid of the dirt can be labeled as the emergence of the clean window. Here we’re talking about buddhanature, and if you want to know about buddhanature, then Maitreya’s Uttaratantra Shastra is the text you have to study. It’s important to be careful when establishing the idea of buddhanature, because otherwise it might end up becoming something like an atman, or a truly existing soul. The Mahayana shastras talk about the qualities of freedom, or elimination, such as the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, the thirty-two major marks, the eighty minor marks, and so on. If you’re not careful, you might start to think about buddhanature theistically—that is, in terms of the qualities of a permanent god, soul, or essence. But all these qualities talked about in the Mahayana shastras are simply qualities of the absence of dirt. When we talk about the result of elimination, we automat- ically think we are talking about something that comes after- ward: first there is elimination and then comes its effect. But we are not talking about that at all, because then we would be falling into an eternalist or theistic extreme. “Elimina- tion” means having something to eliminate. But in the Prajna paramita, we understand that there is nothing to eliminate. And that is the big elimination. The result of that elimination isn’t obtained later. It’s always there, which is why it’s called tantra, or “continuum.” This quality continues throughout the ground, path, and result. The window continues from before the dirt was there, while the dirt is being washed away, and after the cleaning is complete. The window has always been free from the concepts of dirt and freedom from dirt. That’s why the Mahayana sutras say the result is beyond aspi- ration. You cannot wish or pray for the result of elimination, because it’s already there; it continues all the time, so there’s no need to aspire to it. The essence of all of the Buddha’s teachings is emptiness, or interdependent arising. Nothing arises, dwells, or ceases independently. Therefore, there’s nothing permanent. There is no truly existing self. Everything that we think exists, or does not exist, or both or neither—all these things are fabri- cations of our mind. We fabricate them and then we become attached to our fabrications. But we don’t realize they are our own fabrications. We think they are real, which is why they are referred to as extreme. Basically, every single conception or clinging that we have is some kind of fanatical process. The Mahayana sutras teach emptiness, or shunyata, to lead us beyond all these extremes and fabrications. When we talk about emptiness, something beyond fabri- cation, we immediately think of a state of being that has no function, like a couch potato or piece of stone, but that is absolutely not correct. It is not merely a negation, elimination, or denial. It is not like the exhaustion of a fire or the evapora- tion of water. It is full of function, and we call this function buddha activity, which is one aspect of buddhanature. This buddhanature has an aspect of uninterrupted wisdom. This is the difficulty, because as soon as we talk about wisdom, we think in terms of cognition and the senses and their sense objects. We are curious about how a buddha perceives things. But although buddhanature is seemingly a cognizer, it has no object, and therefore it cannot be a subject. Furthermore, it’s (opposIte)dangerIlke