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Three Jewels - Chapter 11 The Nature of Existence

by Sangharakshita

The Nature of Existence Seminar

Chapter Eleven of “The Three Jewels” by Sangharakshita
[Second ‘Transcriptions’ Edition - January 2001]
Venue: Sukhavati, East London
Date: June 1982
Those Present: [There were four different sessions for this seminar and various people came for one session
or all of them. Not all of them are included in this listing]
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Ratnaketu, Graham Stephen, Sagaramati, Ruchiraketu, Hridaya, Jinapriya,
Kulamitra, Mangala, Nagabodhi, Vairocana, Kulananda, Darren DeWitt, Vajrachitta, Alan Vero.
[Numbers in square brackets refer to the page numbers of the first edition. These original page numbers
are still used in the ‘Unedited Seminar Index’, available separately from Transcriptions]
Session One
Sangharakshita: All right then, ‘The Nature of Existence’, page 82 [Note from Silabhadra (your
transcriber): These were the page numbers of the edition used in 1982. You will find that later editions have
different page numbers - but ‘The Nature of Existence’ is still Chapter Eleven!]
Now that we have explored the universe of Buddhism as it exists in space, time and spiritual
depth. as well as seen the way in which consciousness is involved in a process of perpetual
objectification of itself to itself as one or another modality of sentient being, it is time to
consider the ‘marks’ which attach to all conditioned existence and which express its true
This is, as it were, connective tissue, one might say. It very, very briefly summarises the ground covered in
the previous sections. ‘Now that we have explored the universe of Buddhism’ - that is to say the universe
as depicted in Buddhism, in Buddhist thought, ‘as it exists in space’. We saw that Buddhism posits the
existence of an infinitude of worlds - ‘time’ - spans infinite time - and ‘spiritual depth’. Do you remember
what that was to do with? What does ‘spiritual depth’ signify, do you think? You’ve got space, time and then
spiritual depth. What does that refer to?
Vajrachitta: Lokas?
S: The different lokas. That refers to the sort of hierarchical structure of existence. That is to say, as
comprising the kamaloka, the rupaloka, arupaloka, and then transcending those three, the Unconditioned,
that is to say Nirvana. So that is what one refers to as comprising the ‘spiritual depth’ of the universe of
Buddhism. One has to take into account not only space and not only time, but spiritual depth. In other words
the Buddhist universe is, so to speak, three-dimensional, or one might even say four-dimensional. [Pause]
...‘as well as seen the way in which consciousness is involved in a process of perpetual objectification of
itself to itself’. This is to say, individual consciousness. This refers in fact to karma and karma-vipaka,
doesn’t it? ‘... consciousness is involved in a process of perpetual objectification of itself to itself’. Because
it is in accordance with your mental state, in accordance with your volitions, that you are born possessing
a physical body, for instance, in contact with a physical universe. In this way you objectify yourself to
yourself. According to the nature of your present body, your present bodily experience, you can infer the kind
of mental state, the kind of volitions that you must have indulged in, in the past. [2]
Kulananda: Would you say there was a one-to-one relationship between the two? There weren’t other
factors involved?
S: I mean there are other factors involved but from the point of view of the karmic process or process of
karma and karma-vipaka, one takes into account only that particular factor. So here one is concerned with
that actual objectification of oneself to oneself, on this particular level, or in this particular context and
‘objectification of itself to itself as one or another modality of sentient being.’ - that is to say as a human
being of a particular kind or even as a deva and so on. So having considered all that, having explored all that,
‘it is time to consider the “marks” which attach to all conditioned existence and which express its true
nature.’ I mean, so far one has considered the conditioned universe according to Buddhism, considered it
‘as it exists in space. time and spiritual depth’, has seen the way in which consciousness is involved in this
process of ‘perpetual objectification of itself to itself’. But it’s now time to take, as it were, a more general
look at the universe of Buddhism. It’s now time to try to see its general characteristics; characteristics which
apply to the universe of Buddhism as it exists in space and in time and in spiritual depth and to consciousness
involved in this process of perpetual objectification of itself to itself. It’s time to look at the ‘marks’, the
characteristics, which characterise conditioned existence as such. Formerly the treatment has been more
detailed. Here it’s going to be much broader. We’re going to consider the characteristics which all these
things have in common, which this whole world of Buddhism, or universe of Buddhism, has in common. So
that’s just as it were, as I said, connective. One comes from the specific to the particular. If you like, from
the concrete to the abstract.
Alan: Why are there single inverted commas around ‘marks’?
S: Well ‘marks’ translates laksanas and one has not to take the translation itself too literally.
Besides provisionally distinguishing between samskrta- and asamskrta-dharmas, the
Conditioned and the Unconditioned, Buddhism, like the great metaphysical idealisms of the
West, also distinguishes the conditioned as it exists in reality from the conditioned as it
appears, that is, as presented to the senses and interpreted by the unenlightened mind.
If I was writing now I’d split that up into two sentences. So first of all there is this distinction - yes? -
between samskrta and asamskrta-dharmas. This is quite basic to traditional Buddhism. I usually translate
this, following Conze, as conditioned and unconditioned dharmas. That is a little misleading actually, this
particular translation, if one takes it too literally. It is really.... well, an alternative translation is
‘compounded’ but even that is not really [3] satisfactory. The most literal translation which I can think of
is ‘confected’ - ‘confected’ and ‘unconfected’ dharmas.
Voice: [Inaudible]
S: Well, what do you think ‘confected’ means? It is a quite standard English word. In what context do we
usually encounter this word?
Kulananda: Wouldn’t it mean ‘blended together’?
S: Blended together, yes. I mean you’ve all heard of confectionery. So what does confectionery mean really?
Kulananda: A combination of ingredients.
S: Yes, a combination of ingredients. It’s essentially a combination, a putting together of a number of
different elements. So asamskrta-dharma is not so much a conditioned dharma; it’s a dharma which is put
together from a number of different elements. Do you see what I mean? Though in that sense it is
compounded. But if you translate as ‘compounded’ that isn’t perhaps quite so clear, not quite so forcible as
‘confected’. So there is this basic distinction in traditional Buddhism between those things which are
composite inasmuch as they’ve been put together, confected from a number of elements, and those things
which are not compound, not compounded, not confected but which are in fact simple - simple in the strict
sense of the term, that is to say indivisible, impartite, because they have not been put together from any other
things. The incomposite or the unconfected is necessarily the simple, in the philosophical sense. Yes?
Kulananda: Then it would have its own self nature using another .... [inaudible]...
S: Yes and no. That raises another question, we’ll come to that later on. But, I mean, this is the basic
distinction between those dharmas, those elements which are samskrta and those which are asamskrta.
Kulananda: Sounds like a very different translation to conditioned and unconditioned. [S: Yes!] The
meaning is very different.
S: Yes. Anyway, it’s important to grasp this distinction. Though it may seem or it may sound a rather odd
one to us but it is very basic in traditional Buddhist thought, not only in the Abhidharma but in Mahayana
thought, in the Madhyamika, in the Yogachara and so on. So something which has been put together [4] can
be taken apart. So it’s quite obvious from this that that which is compounded, that which is confected, is also
the transitory. The uncompounded, the unconfected, inasmuch as it does not consist of parts, has not been
put together from parts, inasmuch as it is the simple, cannot be taken apart. It is impartite, hence unchanging,
hence eternal. So the distinction between the samskrta and the asamskrta is also the distinction between the
changing or the changeful, the transitory, and the unchanging, the eternal, the Absolute.
Kulananda: So we have to write our ‘Simple’ with a capital S because it’s only one thing, so not many...
S: Yes, yes, it is the same throughout so to speak. It is not made up of ...

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