Let us compare some Zen teachings with that of Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Hui Hai was one of the great Ch’an (Zen) masters from the 8th Century CE. This excerpt is taken from Hui Hai’s Text on the Importance of Sudden Enlightenment, Dialogue 2.
I have interspersed quotes from Ramana Maharshi and Shankara in red type to compare and contrast the teachings:
Question: what method must we practice in order to attain liberation?
Answer: It can be attained only through the gate of sudden illumination (or sudden enlightenment).
Q: What is a sudden illumination?
A: ‘Sudden’ means instantaneously ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts’. ‘Illumination’ or ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation that illumination is not something to be attained.
[Tom – This can also be translated as ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation there is no ‘Enlightenment’ to attain, there is nothing to attain’. Compare this with : ‘The benefit of this Light of Supreme Truth is the understanding that there is not the least thing such as ‘attainment’, since the Supreme Self is the Ever-Attained One Whole.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 8]
Q: From where do we start this practice?
A: You must start from the the beginning, the fundamental root.
Q: And what is that?
A: Mind is the fundamental root.
Q: How can this be known?
A: The Lankavatara Sutra says:
‘When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all phenomena (dharmas) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’
[Tom – compare: ‘If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?]
The Vimalakirti Sutra says:
‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land’ must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land.’
The Sutra of the Doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha says:
‘Just by mind control, all things become possible.’
[Tom – compare: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?‘]
In another sutra it says:
‘Sages seek from [their own] mind, not from the Buddhas; fools seek from the Buddhas instead of seeking from [their own] mind.’
‘The Wise regulate their minds rather than their body; fools regulate their body rather than their minds.’
The Sutra of the Names of the Buddha states:
‘Evil/sin springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil/sin overcome.’
[Tom – compare ‘…man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 172]
Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds and that mind is therefore the fundamental root. If you desire liberation, you must first know all about the root, mind. Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain.
The Dhyana Paramita Sutra says:
‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after aeon upon aeon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’
[Tom – compare: ‘Let people quote the Scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no Liberation without the realisation of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 6]
Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?
A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by Dhyana (Ch’an) and Samadhi (Ting). The Dhyana-Paramita Sutra says:
‘Dhyana and Samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the deluded thoughts remain in confusion and tumult, and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’
Q: Please describe Dhyana and Samadhi.
A: When wrong thinking does not arise, that is Dhyana.
When you sit and see your original nature, that is Samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal unborn mind. In Samadhi, there is the natural situational response of no-mind, and the ‘eight winds’ do not function.
The ‘eight winds’ are gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By practising in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says:
‘All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.’
There are those who in this way have crossed over to the other shore and attained liberation, transcending the six rafts (the six Paramitas), and freeing themselves from the three worlds (greed, anger and delusion). The great power of the ‘Enlightened Ones’ is the infinite power of the Honoured, the Courageous, the ‘Conqueror’!
Tom is the only one [teacher] I’ve seen who doesn’t come from his point of view, he always comes directly from the silence and meets the seeker exactly where they’re at. If they need a practice, he has it, if they already have one but are stuck he knows how to move them, if they’re just beginning he knows how to guide them…it’s wonderful to see.
To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page.
I offer 1 to 1 sessions either in person or via zoom. These sessions can be a wonderful way of clearing apparent blocks and confusion and can provide a much needed short-cut on your spiritual journey.
I meet you wherever you are in your journey and guide you from there – whether you’re completely new to this or are a seasoned seeker, whether you want to focus purely on non-duality or instead want to heal emotional issues, deal with practical aspects of life or explore relationship issues.
Even if you don’t have a specific question or issue in mind, I often find I can intuitively feel where you are and advise you accordingly.
Here are just some of the many things I have helped guide those who have approached me:
- Total Freedom – right here, right now!
- Clarity around the teachings with a focus on ending suffering in daily life
- Awakening & enlightenment experiences: making sense of what may have happened to you and where to go from this
- Going ‘in and out’ of enlightenment – why this is happening for you and what to do about it
- Reconciling various traditional approaches such as Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Zen, Advaita, Vedanta as well as non-traditional approaches such as law of attraction, new-age teachings, direct teachings, neo-advaita, etc.
- Dealing with practical issues such as various aspects of daily life and earning money
- Relationship issues eg. with partners, family and children
- Not really feeling happy, peaceful, whole & complete despite intellectually understanding the teachings
- Healing emotional trauma and distress
- Resolving addictive or habitual egoic tendencies (vasanas)
- Addressing various issues related to being a ‘spiritual seeker’, eg:
- a sense of isolation or loneliness
- loss of interest or passion for various pursuits
- other more specific issues such as psychic and energetic experiences.
Cost for an online 1 to 1 session: £75 for 1 hour; £50 for 30 minutes
Cost for in-person 1 to 1 meeting (in the London area, UK): £100 for 1 hour
To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page
Meetings and sessions are not intended as a substitute for professional therapy, medical care, or legal advice. Please consult a licensed professional in these matters.
Tom is the easiest person to talk to and he gave me the support I needed.
Tom’s teaching is unique. His guidance is a non-dual lighthouse emitting a bright light-beam across life’s turbulent expanse to steer the seeker from crashing on the rocks of ignorance, misunderstanding and delusion, to reach the shore of Timeless Being.
His gift is discerning where the individual seeker is at and what is required specifically for that ‘individual’ to support them in their thirst for freedom from suffering. His maturity, as a guide, is evident in how he can appreciate the wisdom teachings, the ‘treasure in the field’, in traditions not generally associated with non-duality.
This breadth of understanding sets him apart from the smorgasbord of spiritual snake-oil merchants, pedlars, ‘evangelical’ non-dual purists and genuine teachers which, in practical terms, allows a welcoming and genuine spirit of inclusivity for anyone attending his satsangs.
I find Tom’s teachings clearer, simpler, and less encumbered by BS than just about anyone out there whom I have encountered. I’ve had teachers from Alan Watts to Adi Da, to Andrew Cohen, and others. Tom has the least ‘baggage’ I think…
Your words always affect me like a clear, clean breath of fresh air in the midst of what is often a lot of misconception and gobbledygook about what there is to ‘attain’ and all the rest of it.
I chanced upon Tom’s website at a very interesting time in my journey. I had studied traditional Vedanta for many years. I had some good understanding about the concepts and was doing some serious self inquiry or Atma Vichara. That’s when I started tying myself into all sorts of knots. I wasted a lot of time confused by concepts and was in a very frustrated place until I spoke to Tom.
I believe things happen for a reason and you meet the right people at the right time in the journey. Within a couple of sessions, Tom was able to help me unravel some of these knots. As the layers started peeling off and more layers and depth opened up the journey started taking a different shape. Throughout this, Tom was able to ask just the right question and clarified many concepts that would have otherwise taken a life of their own.
I found his teaching style refreshingly down to earth and humble and since he was able to speak from his direct experience, it made everything so real and relatable.
A ‘Double Ignorance’
We need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from a ‘double ignorance’. We could say the teaching has two wings to it, one for each aspect of ignorance. Let me explain: you could say ignorance has 2 steps:
Ignorance step (1) – Structural Ignorance: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva. This is also known as a limiting belief or identifying as being a limited entity. The most common form this identification takes is the thought-concept ‘I am the body-mind’. ie. we take the body-mind to be our primary identity. This limited identity is the ego or jiva.
Ignorance step (2) – Functional Ignorance: that ego/jiva, sensing it is limited, vulnerable and incomplete, then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects. This seeking tendency eventually becomes ingrained and habitual and these habitual egoic tendencies are known as vasanas in Sanskrit.
In Step (1) we create the structure or form of the ego, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Step (2) represents the movement or function of the ego in which the body-mind entity then goes on to seek security, pleasure, as so on, and is also afraid of death, misfortune, ill health, etc, and so suffers.
So we have described the ego’s form (1) and function (2), or its structure (1) and movement (2).
A ‘Double Teaching’
Each of these aspects of ignorance usually have to be tackled and resolved, so there are two aspects or ‘wings’ of the teaching. Most teachings that one comes across usually focuses only on one of these two wings. This is because on a practical level it is more difficult to teach both together, and many are unaware of how these two aspects of the teaching fit together. But when we do bring both together, the teachings tends to be much more potent in actually pointing the way directly to Moksha/liberation.
So, what are the two aspects of the teaching? Structural ignorance (1) is rectified by insight or knowledge teachings, and functional ignorance (2) is resolved by purification teachings.
Insight teachings basically point out the belief ‘I am a body-mind’ is a false limiting belief. When seen, the illusion of separation and doership naturally fall away. Insight is also known as knowledge, gnosis or realisation
So why do we need the purification teachings then? Well, for most, due to the strong habitual tendencies to identify as a body-mind, the ‘I am the body-mind’ concept keeps on arising and egotism is continued. Without a spiritual practice to remove this habitual ignorance the egotism usually quickly returns and with it suffering also returns.
Examples of Insight Teachings
Insight teachings include negating teachings such as ‘You are not the body-mind’ and ‘You are not the doer’. Sometimes they take on affirming forms such as ‘You are That’ or ‘You are Brahman’ or ‘You are Pure Consciousness’, etc.
In order for insight teachings to work, usually the mind needs to be relatively calm so that there is enough mental space for the insight to arise through an in-seeing into the nature of every-day experience. Therefore it can be useful to practice calming or purification practices prior to insight.
Limitations of Insight Teachings
Insight teachings by themselves, which tend to be spoken or written teachings or ‘pointers’, can be very freeing but usually do not lead to full realisation/liberation unless the egoic vasanas/tendencies are already very much diminished. Usually, whilst insight is present all is apparently well, but then though daily life the egoic vasanas rear their head and wreak havoc. This leads to flip-flopping in which one alternately seems to ‘get it’ then ‘lose it’. For most, without purification, the insight remains fairly superficial on the level of the mind. I regularly come across many seekers in this predicament, where suffering continues and the approach is predominantly intellectual. What is required is purification, usually devotion, surrender, mantra and prayer – all the things that the stereotypical ‘western rational mind’ is often repelled by.
Examples of Purification Teachings
I have spoken and written about this more extensively elsewhere (eg. here and here) but these are essentially practices that calm the mind and reduce seeking, agitation, addiction and other egoic tendencies. From a more traditional perspective the cardinal purification teachings are devotion, prayer, gratitude, mantra recitation, meditation, hatha yoga and other things such as mindfulness practice and adopting a health diet and lifestyle. Simpler forms of purification are simply to relax, be still, accept whatever happens, surrender practices, etc, etc.
Now one could argue that these are essentially dualistic practices (which they are) and they rely on a sense of doership (which they do, at least initially). These are both worthy points and I address them here: Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings
Purification teachings enhance the ability of insight and also allow insight to deepen and be more stable. Therefore traditionally devotion, mantra recitation, yoga and meditation are all considered to be essential foundational practices to purify the mind and enhance the ability of Self-Realisation to occur. Similarly, purification is usually limited without insight. ie. unless the belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is removed, purification will not be as effective. This is because it is this limiting ‘I and the body-mind’ belief that gives rise to the sense of incompleteness and vulnerability that fuels these egoic tendencies.
Limitations of Purification
Like insight-only teachings, purification-only teachings, which tend to be practices, can be very freeing of themselves. Unless the sense of being a limited entity (ie. structural ignorance) is already very weak, purification alone tends not to lead to liberation. This is because the limiting notion ‘I am the body’ goes unchecked and perpetuates itself.
I have written an article on how these teachings function in several Buddhist schools here: Buddhism: How enlightenment happens
In Hinduism (Vedanta)
In Vedanta, these two aspects of ignorance are known as the two Shaktis (energies or powers) of Maya:
1. Avarana Shakti – also known as Avriti Shakti, this is the veiling energy of Maya which prevents us from knowing ourselves as limitless Brahman. We therefore adopt a limited notion, namely ‘I am the body-mind’. Avarana Shakti keeps us from discovering our true nature and shedding this wrong knowledge or ignorance. It is related to Tamoguna. You can see that this is another way of talking about what I call Structural Ignorance above, but in a slightly different way.
2. Vikshepa Shakti – this is the projecting power of Maya. Once Avarana Shakti has veiled our true identity as Limitless Brahman and we (seemingly) take on the limited identity of the body-mind, the Vikshepa Shakti projects forth a body, mind and world in which the limited body-mind (ie. ego or jiva) can roam, seek, fear and suffer. It is related to Rajoguna. I hope you can see how this notion is related to what I call Functional Ignorance above.
In Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see here for a summary by Ramana Maharshi), a full teaching is given that explains the above shakti’s: in the first portion of the text the knowledge teachings are explained and in the latter portion the focus is on meditation or nididhyasana. I also talk about this more here: False Enlightenment.
Is there really a double ignorance?
If you look closely, these two aspects of ignorance are deeply related and are not separate at all. Most seekers will tend towards either knowledge or purification in the first instance, and only when some headway is gained on that particular aspect of the teaching will they intuitively be drawn to the other less-explored aspect of the teaching
So, in practical terms what should I do?
Essentially, follow your heart – it will guide you. You will know, if you listen to that ‘voiceless voice’ within what teaching is right for you right now. Perhaps you need to listen to a teacher or read more. Perhaps you need to practice devotion or surrender. Perhaps both. If you remain truly open in both heart and mind and do not overly cling to fixed conceptual views, your Heart will lead you home and attract/bring into your experience exactly what you need.
That said, as a general rule, I encourage regular attendance to Satsang or a similar meeting in which these teachings are repeatedly given. The mind is resistant and egotism/ignorance is deeply ingrained in most, and so regular contact with a teacher you resonate with is usually very important. This alone can save many months or years of erroneously seeking in the wrong direction. In just a few conversations with seekers I have often been able to quickly point them in the right direction in a matter of minutes after having had a real-time interaction with them, although obviously this is not always the case. Please see my meetings page if you are interested in attended an Online Meeting or In-Person meeting with myself.
Devotional practices and mantra recitation can both be extremely powerful. I often call them spiritual bulldozers as they are able to plough their way through years and years of egoic vasanas with relative ease compared to insight style teachings in many cases. My experience is that many with a Western scientific mindset (which in many ways is my own background) do not readily resonate with these practices, especially if they have had negative experiences of organised religion. However, there are ways these practices can be explained to allow even fairly atheist seekers benefit from these teachings.
Lastly meditation and stillness are also usually essential for the teachings to penetrate the deeper layers of the body-mind and root out egotism/ignorance at a deep energetic non-verbal level.
Summary and Ego Tricks
One trick I have noticed the ego-mind does is that is tries to avoid the above by use of clever reasoning. Whilst sometimes this logic is reasonable and sound, in most cases it is the ego trying to perpetuate itself and claim knowledge and experience for itself.
Sometimes the mind will say ‘I do not need to attend Satsang as I know everything that will be said’. I met someone for a 1 to 1 just recently who had heard and read all the teachings multiple times and was growing weary of it all. They felt there was no point to asking further questions, but on some level knew that there was something missing. Through a direct interaction we were quickly able to see where the sticking points were. This was only possible as the seeker in question was open to this possibility and maintained contact and dialogue with me even though their mind was saying ‘I know all this already’. The seeker was also open to their heart which guided them, in their case, to arrange a 1 to 1 with me.
In summary, listen to your heart with an open mind. The True Guru is Within. For most, having a teacher is essential. Consider listening to knowledge teachings (eg. attending satsang), and undertaking devotional practices, mantra recitation and silence/ meditation.
Q. The thing here is… we (Brahma) incarnated on this planet as 7.4 billion people and countless animals and plants and the planet itself. Brahma chose to be us, in different bodies and different personalities and different life stories and ultimately, these bodies and personal identities will end, but while we are incarnated in our current forms, are we not looking for the “middle path” as we make our way through the world? We are individually and collectively Brahma and Atman simultaneously.
I understand and fully comprehend everything that Sri Ramana Maharishi is saying [in these quotes] . But I get the sense that you are inviting people to abandon their egoic sense of self (Atman) in favor of identifying as Brahma. The middle path IMHO is when one can hold both illusions (or ultimate truths depending upon your perspective) in mind simultaneously. When you are at work and a patient or coworker says “Dr. Tom Das” you don’t ignore them or say something confusing like “I am not this body, I am not this name, I am pure conscious awareness disguised in human form” you go ahead and answer to your name. You and other people who have experienced awakening and not ended up in a no-self dissociative state continue to have an ego. It’s how you and everyone else navigates this world. I don’t find it particularly useful to deny the continued existence of this ego.
You ARE Tom Das and simultaneously, you ARE everyone and everything and everywhere and everywhen. I don’t see the Atman / Brahman as an either/or decision. It’s NOT a case of mutually exclusive choices. We can and ideally are a mixture of both. Deny the existence of Tom Das all you want but you will still answer to your name and show up and fulfill your roles in life and at work. Repeated denials that you are Tom Das seem even sillier than an actor on the stage repeatedly telling the audience “I am not really Hamlet.”
Tom: I agree it is not about abandoning one view for another – that is more duality, more ego, more ‘me’. What you have written is also not the middle way, which is about not being attached to any conceptions of self, at least according to Nagarjuna.
The teachings, as I have explained before, are pointers that tend to aim at removing ignorance, not truths.
The view you are advocating is called Vashisthadvaita in the Vedic texts in which multiplicity is acknowledged to co-exist with Brahman, whereas the views coming from myself and Ramana in the above quotes are advaita (no multiplicity) at times and ajata (no creation) at other times. Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.
Traditionally the non-dual teachings proceed from dvaita (duality) to vashisthadvaita, to advaita to ajata, so you will find all 4 types of expressions in the scriptures and from the sages.
The first 2 of the views (Dvaita and Vashisthadvaita) can be understood by the mind and seem to make sense within the subject-object reality that is imagined to be real by the ‘me’ or ‘ego’. The fact that they are understandable and they do somewhat relieve suffering makes them valuable teachings to the seeker (ego), whereas Advaita and Ajata cannot be comprehended by the mind and makes no sense to the mind which only can think in terms of subject-object.
If everyone thinks an actor is only Hamlet, and they don’t realise he is an actor playing the role, the teaching ‘I am not Hamlet’ becomes more important, which is why these teachings tend to be emphasised. You could say I appear to be Tom Das, and there is no need to deny this, but in reality there is only the Inexpressible This.
So the volunteer who usually edits and puts together my videos is no longer able to do so. This has resulted in me surfing the internet and learning how to edit videos myself! Below is my first video, edited and put together by…well…me! It was recorded live during Thursday’s online meeting, so the picture quality is not as good as it could be. Subscribe to the YouTube channel if you want to receive more of these videos, tell me what you think and enjoy 🙂
ps. if you know anyone who would be willing to help edit videos for me please let me know, with thanks 🙏
In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. (See here for Ramana’s view of the Buddha). As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.
If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.
The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.
In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:
And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?
There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.
With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’
With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.
Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.
In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:
When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].
Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.
Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.
Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.
My comments are interspersed in italicised red:
The Jhāna Sutta (AN 9:36)
First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:
“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:
“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.
Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).
And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).
“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”
In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.
The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.
We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:
“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’
Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):
“Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”
(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)
So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.
The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:
“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’
We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.
The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:
“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’
“Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.
(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)
For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:
“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”
Take your time with each of these, really take your time with them…
1. Do not get involved with life. Allow the body-mind to look after itself. Allow everything to come and go.
2. Relax and be still.
3. Do not take yourself to be a person, a body-mind. Here the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘From where does ‘I’ arise?’ can be useful initially, as can the assertions ‘I am not the body-mind-world’ and ‘I am That’. Relaxation and stillness are also useful here.
4. To rest in that state where one is aware but no ‘I’ thought arises is stillness. In time resting here will lead to realisation, but there must be no thought of realisation as this itself is a disturbance, a distortion.
5. Know that all is nothing,
Everything is nothing,
Nothing is here…
There is only That…
…not even That.
Over the years I have heard some people say things such as ‘the Buddha was enlightened, but he was not self-realised’ or ‘the Buddha only had an insight into no-self, but he never discovered the Self’. Both of these imply somehow that the Self-Realisation of the Upanishads is somehow of higher status and fundamentally different to the Nirvana of the Buddha, and that the Buddha was not truly enlightened.
I have noticed that usually this view is put forwards either by academics who have analysed various texts but not fully embraced the traditions, or by religious teachers who teach that their way is the best or only way and tend to be attached to their methodology over and above others.
I remember that when I first came across this view I was quite shocked, as it always seemed obvious to me that both Buddhist and Vedic traditions were pointing at the same things in different ways. In fact all the great self-realised masters I had come across also said the same. Impurities naturally, and perhaps inevitably, creep into traditions as without a genuine realisation, the ego co-opts the teachings and slowly slowly dogma and beliefs form. Therefore teachings naturally reinvent themselves in each culture and age, and we can clearly see this if we study the history of the development of both Vedanta and Buddhism. In fact, there has been so much cross-fertilisation between these two traditions, with each tradition borrowing from the others at some point, it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart!
The key thing for me is to realise that there exist various different methods by which the Supreme is approached. And, of course, some say there are no methods (you could say this is the method of directly pointing out what is already fully here). When the method has served its purpose, then why cling to the method? The main issue is for ignorance to be removed, and the various teachings serve various ways of doing this:
There is nothing to realise. There is nothing new to gain…On the other hand a man must lose his ignorance. That is all.
Ramana Maharshi, Talks 104
By the way, in the above quote, I assume that by ‘man’, he means any human. Here is what Ramana said about the Buddha and Self-Realisation:
568. Guru [Ramana] has said that the state of nirvana that was taught by Buddha to be the state in which samsara and suffering are ended is the same as remaining in the supreme state, having discarded all the sheaths.
He reaffirms this in the following verses:
345. The sage Buddha taught this truth; also the great teacher Sankara taught the same; our own Guru [Ramana] also tells us the same; and this is also the essence of the Vedanta.
284. The Buddhas call that the state of right awareness. In it there is neither knowledge nor ignorance. That is the highest state, in which there is nothing, whether sentient or insentient, other than the Self.
So, there you have it: according to Ramana Maharshi, Nirvana = Self-Realization. Here is another quote of Ramana on Buddha taken from the book Maharshi’s Gospel:
Question: Buddha is said to have ignored questions about God.
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, and because of this he has been called an agnostic or nihilist. In fact Buddha was concerned with guiding the seeker to realise Bliss here and now, rather than with academic discussions about God and so forth.
So that’s Ramana’s view. What do you think?
Here is a more in depth post that looks at this: Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi
The Diamond Sutra is considered to be one of the most important and venerated of Buddhist scriptures. The text itself says that it can be considered to be the ‘diamond that cuts through illusion’ and that understanding it will lead to ‘the Highest Perfect Wisdom’.
In this post I have grouped excerpts from the Diamond Sutra into themes and so hopefully the essence of the teachings are readily conveyed. Please note that The Diamond Sutra itself is not actually very long, so if you are interested, I would readily encourage you to read the original in full.
It was composed perhaps as early as the 1st century BCE in Sanskrit, and forms part of the Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) sutras in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It is also given particular importance in various Zen/Ch’an schools, which are often themselves considered to be part of the Mahayana tradition.
Interestingly, a Chinese version of the scripture is one of the oldest examples of a printed book, dated from 11th May 868, about 500 years before the Gutenburg. The original can be currently seen in the British Museum and is officially ‘the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book’.
This sutra takes the form of a conversation between Buddha and one of his disciples, Subhuti. I have used the translation from Alex Johnson, primarily because it is easy to read and is without technical terms.
This teaching leads to the ‘highest perfect wisdom’
The Buddha then replied:
“…If sons and daughters of good families want to develop the highest, most fulfilled and awakened mind, if they wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom and quiet their drifting minds while subduing their craving thoughts, then they should follow what I am about to say to you. Those who follow what I am about to say here will be able to subdue their discriminative thoughts and craving desires. It is possible to attain perfect tranquillity and clarity of mind by absorbing and dwelling on the teachings I am about to give.” Then the Buddha addressed the assembly.
(from Chapter 2)
The basic teaching
“…all living beings will eventually be led by me to the final Nirvana, the final ending of the cycle of birth and death. And when this unfathomable, infinite number of living beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.
“Why Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a self, a separate person, or a universal self existing eternally, then that person is not an authentic disciple.”
(from Chapter 3)
Is the Buddha his body?
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?”
“No, Most Honored One, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form. Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion.”
(from Chapter 5)
Illusion and reality
The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: “All that has a form is illusive and unreal. When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature.”
(from Chapter 5)
Will people benefit from reading or hearing this sutra?
“Without a doubt, Subhuti. Even 500 years after the Enlightenment of this Buddha there will be some who are virtuous and wise; and while practicing compassion and charity, they will believe in the words and phrases of this Sutra and will awaken their minds purely. After they come to hear these teachings, they will be inspired with belief. This is because, when some people hear these words, they will have understood intuitively that these words are the truth.
(from Chapter 6)
Who will benefit from hearing this message?
“But you must also remember, Subhuti, that such persons have long ago planted the seeds of goodness and merit that lead to this realization. They have planted the seeds of good deeds and charity not simply before one Buddhist temple, or two temples, or five, but before hundreds of thousands of Buddhas and temples. So when a person who hears the words and phrases of this Sutra is ready for it to happen, a pure faith and clarity can awaken within their minds.”
“…this person must have discarded all arbitrary notions of the existence of a personal self, of other people, or of a universal self. Otherwise their minds would still grasp after such relative conceptions. Furthermore, these people must have already discarded all arbitrary notions of the non-existence of a personal self, other people, or a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions.”
(from Chapter 6)
If I am seeking enlightenment, what view should I take of the teaching?
“Therefore anyone who seeks total Enlightenment should discard not only all conceptions of their own selfhood, of other selves, or of a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such concepts.”
(from Chapter 6)
Are these teachings true?
“When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that in teaching spiritual truths the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded. These arbitrary concepts and ideas about spiritual things need to be explained to us as we seek to attain Enlightenment. However, ultimately these arbitrary conceptions can be discarded.
(from Chapter 6)
The highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind
Then Buddha asked Subhuti, “What do you think, Subhuti, has the Buddha arrived at the highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind? Does the Buddha teach any teaching?”
Subhuti replied, “As far as I have understood the Buddha’s teachings, there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened or enlightened mind.
Nor is there any independently existing teaching that the Buddha teaches.
Why? Because the teachings that the Buddha has realized and spoken of cannot be conceived of as separate, independent things and therefore cannot be described. The truth in them is uncontainable and inexpressible.
(from Chapter 7)
“…And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”
(from Chapter 8)
“No, Most Honored One. According to what I understand from the teachings of the Buddha, there is no attaining of anything called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”
The Buddha said: “You are correct, Subhuti. In fact, there does not exist any so-called highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind that the Buddha attains…Someone would be mistaken to say that the Buddha has attained the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind because there is no such thing as a highest, most fulfilled, or awakened mind to be attained.”
(from Chapter 17)
Does a Buddha consider themselves to be enlightened?
“Tell me, Subhuti. Does a Buddha say to himself, ‘I have obtained Perfect Enlightenment.’?”
“No, Blessed One. There is no such thing as Perfect Enlightenment to obtain. If a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha were to say to himself, ‘I am enlightened’ he would be admitting there is an individual person, a separate self and personality, and would therefore not be a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.”
(from Chapter 9)
How to practice
“A disciple should develop a mind which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensory sensations or any mental conceptions. A disciple should develop a mind which does not rely on anything. Therefore, Subhuti, the minds of all disciples should be purified of all thoughts that relate to seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and discriminating. They should use their minds spontaneously and naturally, without being constrained by preconceived notions arising from the senses.”
(from Chapter 10)
“Therefore, Subhuti, disciples should leave behind all distinctions of phenomena and awaken the thought of the attainment of Supreme Enlightenment. A disciple should do this by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas evoked by the world of the senses – by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas stirred by sounds, odours, flavors, sensory touch, or any other qualities. The disciple’s mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that might arise within it. If the disciple’s mind depends upon anything in the sensory realm it will have no solid foundation in any reality.”
(from Chapter 14)
Is there a clear teaching to be taught?
“What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Buddha taught any definite teaching in this Sutra?” “No, the Buddha has not taught any definite teaching in this Sutra.”
(from Chapter 13)
Does a Buddha have characteristics?
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be perceived by means of his thirty-two physical characteristics?”
“No, Most Honored One. The Buddha cannot be perceived by his thirty-two physical characteristics. Why? Because the Buddha teaches that they are not real but are merely called the thirty-two physical characteristics.”
Subhuti’s response to the teachings
At that time, after listening to this Sutra, Subhuti had understood its profound meaning and was moved to tears.
He said, “What a rare and precious thing it is that you should deliver such a deeply profound teaching.”
(from Chapter 14)
The benefits of understanding this teaching
If there is a person who hears this Sutra, who receives and retains it with faith and understanding, then that person will be a rare one, a person of most remarkable achievement. Such a person will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.
Why? Because if they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things.
(from Chapter 14)
What is a Buddha?
“Buddhas are Buddhas because they have been able to discard all arbitrary conceptions of form and phenomena, they have transcended all perceptions, and have penetrated the illusion of all forms.”
(from Chapter 14)
Persons and form
“…Just as the Buddha declares that form is not form, so he also declares that all living beings are, in fact, not living beings.”
(from Chapter 14)
Understanding the teachings
“Subhuti, if a person is satisfied with lesser teachings than those I present here, if he or she is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self, then that person would not be able to listen to, receive, recite, or explain this Sutra to others.”
(from Chapter 15)
“Subhuti, you should know that the meaning of this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion. Likewise, the fruit resulting from receiving and practicing this Sutra is beyond conception and discussion.”
(from Chapter 16)
Helping others attain enlightenment
“Subhuti, a good son or daughter who wants to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind must create this resolved attitude of mind: ‘I must help to lead all beings to the shore of awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, in truth I know that not even a single being has been liberated.’ Why is this so? If a disciple cherishes the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a universal self, then that person is not an authentic disciple. Why? Because in fact there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind.”
(from Chapter 17)
“Subhuti, do not say that the Buddha has the idea, ‘I will lead all sentient beings to Nirvana.’ Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Buddha to lead to Enlightenment. If the Buddha were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. Subhuti, what the Buddha calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Buddha does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can speak of them as ordinary persons.”
(from Chapter 25)
Who becomes enlightened?
“Subhuti, my teachings reveal that even such a thing as is called a ‘disciple’ is non-existent. Furthermore, there is really nothing for a disciple to liberate.”
(from Chapter 17)
Who is a true disciple?
“A true disciple knows that there is no such thing as a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. A true disciple knows that all things are devoid of selfhood, devoid of any separate individuality.”
(from Chapter 17)
What does it feel like to be enlightened?
Subhuti again asked, “Blessed One, when you attained complete Enlightenment, did you feel in your mind that nothing had been acquired?”
The Buddha replied: “That is it exactly, Subhuti. When I attained total Enlightenment, I did not feel, as the mind feels, any arbitrary conception of spiritual truth, not even the slightest. Even the words ‘total Enlightenment’ are merely words, they are used merely as a figure of speech.”
(from Chapter 22)
“Furthermore Subhuti, what I have attained in total Enlightenment is the same as what all others have attained. It is undifferentiated, regarded neither as a high state, nor a low state. It is wholly independent of any definite or arbitrary conceptions of an individual self, other selves, living beings, or a universal self.”
(from Chapter 22)
The importance of ethical behaviour
“Subhuti, when someone is selflessly charitable, they should also practice being ethical by remembering that there is no distinction between one’s self and the selfhood of others. Thus one practices charity by giving not only gifts, but through kindness and sympathy. Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can become fully enlightened.”
“Subhuti, what I just said about kindness does not mean that when someone is being charitable they should hold onto arbitrary conceptions about kindness, for kindness is, after all, only a word and charity needs to be spontaneous and selfless, done without regard for appearances.”
(from Chapter 22)
Knowing and worshipping the Buddha
“Should anyone, looking at an image or likeness of the Buddha, claim to know the Buddha and worship him, that person would be mistaken, not knowing the true Buddha.”
(from Chapter 26)
Is everything illusory and unreal?
“Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as nonexistent, cut off from life. Please do not think in that way. One who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, and awakened mind does not contend that all objects of mind are nonexistent and cut off from life. That is not what I say.”
(from Chapter 27)
The verbal teachings
“If any person were to say that the Buddha, in his teachings, has constantly referred to himself, to other selves, to living beings, or to a universal self, what do you think, would that person have understood my meaning?”
Subhuti replied, “No, blessed One. That person would not have understood the meaning of your teachings. For when you refer to those things, you are not referring to their actual existence; you only use the words as figures of speech, as symbols. Only in that sense can words be used, for (1) conceptions, (2) ideas, (3) limited truths, and (4) spiritual truths have no more reality than have matter or phenomena.”
Then the Buddha made his meaning even more emphatic by saying:
“Subhuti, when people begin their practice of seeking to attaining total Enlightenment, they ought to see, to perceive, to know, to understand, and to realize that all things and all spiritual truths are no-things; and, therefore, they ought not to conceive within their minds any arbitrary conceptions whatsoever.”
(from Chapter 31)
How to understand these teachings and explain them to others
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquillity and free from any attachment to appearances.”
(from Chapter 32)
“So I say to you—This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world: