question In what you say in your web pages there is a flavor of some sort of an underlying absolute reality. In some sense, of course, that must be true. As we investigate reality, we might imagine ourselves digging deeper and deeper into its fundamental reality. Absolute reality would be like the center of the earth – maybe it is beyond the capacity of human language to express, but there it is all the same. The contrasting view I prefer is more like probing out into space. The more we investigate, the vaster the universe appears. Eventually maybe we realize that space is boundless and that our investigations will be limited only by how far we push them.
answer The results of that digging or probing, however sophisticated, still belong to conventional truth. They are only so many more conventional ontological facts, about phenomena, that one has been able to collect. They do not belong to an underlying reality nor do they have an underlying reality themselves. There is in Advayavada Buddhism no underlying reality, separate from phenomena, to be investigated. What we are after is ultimate truth. It is as a result of the purification of our perception of the phenomenal world, indeed at the level of conventional truth, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth. Nirvana is to experience the phenomenal world at this level of ultimate truth – to experience the phenomenal world thus, brings about the complete extinction of all suffering as a direct result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is.
question Nagarjuna says something like this: “However confused people are who take ordinary appearances as substantially existent, even more confused are those who take emptiness as substantially existent.” So how can we be after something that is not a thing at all? I think of absolute truth, of emptiness, as something like the inevitable ungraspability of things. And it isn’t just ordinary things that are ungraspable. Also Buddhahood and emptiness are ultimately ungraspable. Emptiness simply already is, it’s the nature of everything already, completely and thoroughly. But I nevertheless have the bad habit of grasping at things as if they were ultimately graspable, and I suffer and create suffering for others because of the incompatibility of my actions with the way things actually are. I need to bring myself into harmony with the nature of things, with their ungraspability, which is inseparable from their mutual interdependence.
answer To realize what in Advayavada Buddhism we term ‘to become a true part of the whole’ one must follow the Eightfold Path. In Advayavada Buddhism the Path is interpreted dynamically as a fully autonomous process of progressive insight and, let us clarify further here, as strictly non-dual and non-comparative, this in the sense that it bears no reference at all to anything predetermined by others or oneself. A prescriptive method with preset demands and expectations is antithetical to all progress, both of the individual and the group to which he or she belongs. The Path is moreover not seen in Advayavada Buddhism as a means to become something in the future, but as the way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. It is seen as the way to become oneself herenow as existence interdependently becoming over time now in its overall right direction – it is by becoming herenow as the whole of existence as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it, that we free ourselves from suffering. Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time, with natura naturans – Nirvana is, if you wish, the ultimate reconciliation with his or her Buddha-nature achievable by man.
question We normally wander around sensing that phenomena are imbued with their own self-possessed selfness that marks them to be what they are, independent of anything else. We innately and intellectually perceive them to exist from their own side alone, self-established and intrinsically identifiable. They may be related or interact with other phenomena, but we generally see them to contain their own distinguishing identity. Doctrinally and experientially this is the selfness that is refuted in Buddhism. Emptiness (shunyata) is the non-affirming negation of such inherent selfness. Emptiness is a negation that only negates without affirming some other possibility. It is not someplace occupied by mystics and seers. It is not a state of mind where no thoughts echo. It is not something we can detect by staring at things hard enough. In no way is anything else asserted. Also emptiness is empty. Teachings and meditators hold that emptiness can be perceived directly, but nowhere do they assert that emptiness becomes a something. Emptiness is the absence of what seemed to be obviously manifest.
answer Well said. The fully liberated person has two truths at his or her disposal: the conventional everyday relative or ‘veiled’ truth (samvriti-satya) of the phenomenal world and the ultimate truth (paramartha-satya) of its pure, unblemished becoming, its Emptiness. We say that it is as a result of the purification of our perception of the phenomenal world, at the level of conventional truth, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth. Nirvana is to experience the phenomenal world at this level of ultimate truth – to experience the phenomenal world thus, brings about the complete extinction (nirodha) of all suffering (duhkha, dukkha) as a direct result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is. Note, however, and always bear in mind, that man is the only being able to eventually view and experience reality under this aspect of eternity. In other words, Nirvana is a human concept.