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White Lotus Sutra - Unchecked

by Sangharakshita

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked, and may contain mistakes and mishearings.

WLS Q/A 86 1 -

1986 Padmaloka.
Those Present The Venerable Sangharakshita, Dharmacharis:Abhaya , Buddhapalita
Cittapala Dharnmavat i Dharmaloka Dharmadhara Dharmavira Kulamitra Mahamati
Padmavaj ra Prakasha Ratnaguna Ratnaprabha Ruciraketu Saddhaloka Susiddhi Suvaj ra
Tejamitra Tejananda Virananda
Bhante, tonight we have got some eighteen questions for you on The Universal
Perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, including three subsiduaries ( ? some of the later ones
are quite brief questions. About a quarter of them seem to be on the subject of
interpenetration. And we start with a set of three from Padmavajra, the first of which is about
interpenetration and conditionality.
Padmavajra: Is the doctrine of the mutual penetration of all phenomena a logical
development of the doctrine of conditionality, or does it represent an entirely new vision of
S: I wouldn't say that it represented an entirely new vision of existence. One could say that
it represents a development at least in terms of expresion, at least in terms of articulation, of
the provisional Buddhist vision. The doctrine of interpene- tration is concerned, we might
say, with the nature of ultimate reality and obviously there are a number of different ways of
approaching that question. In the case of the pratitya- samutpada itself we are concerned with
a phenomenology, we might say. But that phenomenology has certain implications, one
might say certain met~physical implications, which are not brought out in the Theravada.
They are however brought out in the Mahayana, especially in the Madyamika through, or by
way of, or by means of its interpretations of the Sunyata teaching, especially through its
interpretation of the Sunyata teaching of the teaching of the middle way - middle way
between extremes. Middle way between the extremes of being and non-being, existence and
non-e istence. So in this way, from the more
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 22 phenomenological approach of the pratitya-samutpada itself we pass to the more
metaphysical approach. Still dealing with ultimate reality of the Mahayana, especially the
Madhyamika. But it's as though subsequent Buddhist thinkers weren't even satisifed with that.
Because it is as though, in the case of the Madhyamika, though not only in the case of the
Madhyamika, the Madhyamika brought out more strongly something that was already there,
just as the Prajnaparamita sutras brought out more strongly something that was already there;
they brought out more strongly the fact that all phenomena, all dharmas were reducible to
sunyata. So in a sense you have got a sort of merging of the particular in the universal.
Dharmas lost, so to speak, their distinctive qualities, all that you really cared to see in them or
to know about them was the fact that they were sunyata. So everything was reduced to
Sunyata. So in a way multiplicity was reduced to unity, so to speak. Because dharmas are
many and sunyata is, so to speak, at least for purposes of discourse, but one.
Then of
course along came the Yogachara and they saw reality, at least for practical purposes, not so
much in terms of Sunyata but in terms of the one mind. So they refused the
multiplicity\+phenomena, or perhaps we should say the multiplicity of (what shall we say)
mental phenomena to simply mind, the one mind if you like, absolute mind. But again with
them too there was a reduction, so to speak, of multiplicty to oneness. Diversity to unity. But
whoever it was produced the Avatamsaka Sutra, and of course traditionally it is ascribed to
the Buddha himself, just as all the Mahayana sutras are ascribed to the Buddha himself,
wasn't content with that. He wasn't content with the original, one might say, Buddhist
Sarvastivadin position, the Hinayana position of (as it were) the one being lost sight of in the
midst of the many - the many being the dharmas of the Abhidharma philosophy. Nor was he
satisfied with the with the many lost in the one, as was the case with the Sunyata and the
Yogachara in their different ways. It's as though whoever it was who produced the
Avatamsaka sutra thought that, this is translating into Western terminology to some extent,
thought that unity and multiplicity were themselves just concepts. You couldn't take it that
multiplicity was unreal and unity was real or the other way around, they are just both
concepts. And the question was, how best to use those concepts to express the ultimate and
the nature of ultimate reality even though strictly speaking they couldn't be expressed. What
was the best way of giving at least a hint, at least a pointer. So they seem to have come up
with a solution that one should make use of the concept of unity and the concept of diversity
and try to combine them in such a way that one had an even deeper insight, or at least a more
adequate expression of the nature of reality. So therefore, in the case of the Avatamsakas
they saw not all things in the one, nor even the one in all things, but they saw each individual
thing in every other individual thing. They regarded that as giving a more adequate expression
of the ultimate nature of reality. Probably the simplest general exposition of this point of
view is given in Suzuki's The Essence of Buddhism, those two lectures which he delivered
years and years ago before the Emperor of Japan. I think you probably know the work I
mean. If anyone wants to go into this whole question a little more, but not too much more,
more or less along the lines that I have suggested, you probably couldn't do better than to read
that little work.
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 33 This just answers the first question, at least in outline, it is a vast subject, obviously.
The second question from Padmavajra is on interpenetration and Sunyata.
Padmavajra: Could we make more use of the doctrine of mutual interpenetration, could it
replace the doctrine of Sunyata which is often spoken of in terms of a transcendence of the
subject object dichotomy? I have got a supplementary about Sunyata, shall I leave that for a
S: Yes, just for the moment. What is the real question?
Padmavajra: Could we make more use of the doctrine of mutual interpenetration, could it
replace the doctrine of Sunyata which is often spoken of in terms of transcendence of the
subject object dichotomy?
S: I think it is a question of, for whom. I am not so sure that we should jump straight into the
metaphysical deep end with everybody. I sometimes think it would probably be better if we
started off by stnessing much more impermanence. And of course impermanence does
ultimately imply emptiness, it does imply Sunyata. Also there is a direct connection with the
pratitya- samutpada and also with change and therefore also with the possibility of spiritucal
progress. So I am not sure that there should be any emphasis on the more metaphysical side
of the Mahayana, at least to begin with. Who would be able to appreciate an exposition of the
teaching of the Gandavyuha sutra? I am not so sure. I think on the whole I would tend to
stress, if anything, the teaching of impermanence, in fact the three Laksanas, without going
into metaphysical subtleties and refine- ments, as they must be for most people. Even in the
case of Order Members I feel quite reluctant to talk at length about metaphysics, about
Sunyata, or the one mind, when I find that the majority of Order Members even now have
great difficulty practicing mindfulness in the affairs of everyday life and great difficulty
sometimes even concentrating their minds. So I think I'd prefer to emphasise for quite a
while, more basic principles.
There was a supplementary question?
Padmavajra: How valid these days is the concept Sunyata? Was it only useful as a way of
dealing with the highly conceptual state of medieval Indian Buddhism? If it is redundant why
continue to chant the Heart Sutra?
S: As I said the teaching or doctrine of Sunyata is implied Wy the pratitya-samutpada itself,
but it is a metaphysical implication of it. Or it is, perhaps I should say, a metaphysical
statement of its implications. Because if you study the pratitya-samutpada at all carefully, at
all closely, you cannot but arrive at some understanding of Sunyata, or something analogous
to Sunyata. I have also pointed out in the past that one way of looking at Sunyata is of
bearing in mind that Sunyata, which literally means emptiness, means empty of all concepts.
It is a reminder to us that ultimate reality is empty of concepts. That is to say that all our
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 44 conceptual constructions are inadequate to express it. It really signifies the indescribability of
everything. Certainly its indescribability in, as it were, quasi-scientific, that is to say
conceptual terms. So in that sense, at least, the doctrine or teaching of Sunyata is never our of
place, never innapropriate, never out of date. But that is not to say that one needs,
necessarily, to be acquainted with all the highly technical, purely metaphysical, almost
philosophical in a Western sense, expositions of the teaching or tradition of Sunyata. One has
to bear in mind quite firmly what it actually is all about, and what the point of it really is.
Especially from a, so to speak, practical ...

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