Posted by: Soh

Sam said...
"What interests me nowadays is the complete and total termination of the taints, clinging, karmic propensities, the complete and total termination of suffering."

I totally agree. I hope to see your future posts regarding this and how the experiences and realizations so far have been or will be useful for this.

This post is written to address the blog comment above in the topic My Thoughts on The Four Noble Truths. Readers should look into that post first to get the context for this posting.

First of all we have to understand that taints, clinging, karmic propensities are empty. But it is not empty in the sense of being non-existent, rather, it is empty of inherent existence due to dependent origination. For example we may think that craving exists somewhere in our 'minds' that we must somehow 'get rid of it'. This is having an inherent view. This is like looking into the mirror and trying to destroy the person appearing in the mirror by punching the mirror and cracking the mirror in order to "destroy the person inside the mirror" (as if there is a person living inherently inside the mirror, where in reality what's reflected is a dependently originating, non-arising appearance). That would be totally silly, and likewise trying to destroy afflictive emotions conceived as inherently existing somewhere "in us" without discerning its causes and conditions would be totally silly. If you want to remove the reflection, you have to discern the whole chain of dependencies which leads to that, and those afflictive causes are to be remedied. To have insight into the emptiness and dependent origination of our afflictive condition is to realize the Total Exertion of Karmic Tendencies

Likewise, thankfully our suffering is not inherently existing but arises due to dependent origination, and what is arising is fundamentally non-arising and free from extremes. Precisely because of this, we can discern the whole chain of dependent origination whereby ignorance depends on taints, taints depends on ignorance, setting the whole chain of suffering. If we understand this, we don't focus our efforts on the wrong place. Things don't exist inherently - they manifest due to dependent origination, and when the causes and conditions are present, no effort or will can prevent them from arising, that is the nature of manifestation. If we fail to understand emptiness in the context of dependent origination, we will fall into a non-Buddhist or nihilistic version of emptiness, and it will not liberate us.

In the path of Buddhadharma, since we understand dependencies, we do not attempt to get rid of afflictive emotions by hard will, or by dissociation (which strengthens the fundamental delusion of an inherently existing subject and an inherently existing object), or other ways based on the view of inherent existence - which is akin to punching the mirror to get rid of the reflection. At the same time, we are not saying "they are purely an illusion, nothing to work on" (let's try that tactic when your clothes catch fire!). What we're saying is that by directly penetrating the dependent origination and emptiness of taints, precisely because they are illusory and not inherently existing, we can understand the necessity to apply the right remedy which cuts the basis for suffering (the 12 links from ignorance... to death). What path? The engagement in right view and right practice, in which integral conduct allows the arising of integral samadhi which allows the arising of integral wisdom, which results in the cessation of ignorance and the chains. With the arising of wisdom, the chain of afflictive dependent origination is released.

As Nagarjuna pointed out, it is precisely because of emptiness that the soteriological values of Buddhadharma can work at all. This is nicely explained in :


Nagarjuna's Critique of the Dharma

In chapter XXIV of the Karikas, NAgarjuna continues his attack on the Abhidharma philosophers by analyzing the Four Noble Truths, and argues that-like causality, impermanence, suffering, and bondage-they, too, are "empty." The problem of this chapter needs to be seen against the background of the preceding section. If the Abhidharma views of causality are "empty," as Nagarjuna says they are, and if causality is a central feature of Buddhist praxis, then Nagarjuna seems to undermine everything that is vital to Buddhism. He begins chapter XXIV by expressing the Abhidharma position in the following way:

If all of this is empty,
Neither arising nor ceasing,
Then for you, it follows that
The Four Noble Truths do ont exist.

If the Four Noble Truths do not exist,
Then knowledge, abandonment,
Meditation and manifestation
Will be completely impossible.


If these things do not exist,
The four fruits will not arise.
Without the four fruits, there will be no attainers of the fruits.
Nor will there be the faithful.

If so, the spiritual community will not exist.
Nor will the eight kinds of person.
If the Four Noble Truths do not exists,
There will be no true Dharma.

If there is no doctrine and spiritual community,
How can there be a Buddha?
If emptiness is conceived in this way,
The three jewels are contradicted.
(Garfield 1995, p.67)

In the passages above, the Abhidharma opponent is saying that if Nagarjuna is right about "emptiness," then the very practices that make Buddhism soteriologically efficacious will be destroyed. That is, if it is true that the Four Noble Truths are "empty," then there is no such thing as the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, no such thing as impermanence, "non-self," and nirvana, and the practices that supposedly lead to liberation will be destroyed. Nagarjuna responds to the opponent by saying that he has misunderstood "emptiness":

We say that this understanding of yours
Of emptiness and purpose of emptiness
And of the significance of emptiness is incorrect.
As a consequence you are harmed by it.
(Garfield 1995, p.68)

Because the opponent has taken "emptiness" to signify the nonexistence of the Four Noble Truths, he is "harmed by it"-in other words, he sees "emptiness" as destructive. But his reason for thinking of "emptiness" in this way is that he thinks that a "correct" meditation on causality, the aggregates, and the Four Noble Truths is necessary for liberation.

Nagarjuna responds to this assumption by reversing the tables and saying, in effect, that it is not "emptiness" that destroys practice, but the very idea that such things as causality, the aggregates, and the Four Noble Truths are "inherent," essential, or necessary:

If you perceive the existence of all things
In terms of svabhava,
Then this perception of all things
Will be without the perception of causes and conditions.

Effects and causes
And agent and action
And conditions and arising and ceasing
And effects will be rendered impossible.
(Garfield 1995, p.69)


Nagarjuna goes on to say that the reason essences militate against causal conditions, arising, ceasing, agency, and so forth is that the idea of essence entails independence, and if things are by nature independent then it is impossible for them to interact causally. If this is true then there is no "dependent arising," and without "dependent arising" it is impossible to make sense of the ability to cultivate a virtuous life. In other words, without the process of change the whole idea of cultivating the "fruits" of a Buddhist life is rendered nonsensical. Nagarjuna responds by saying that Buddhist praxis must be "empty" if we are to make any sense of the Four Noble Truths:

If dependent arising is denied,
Emptiness itself is rejected.
This would contradict
All of the worldly conventions.

If emptiness is rejected,
No action will be appropriate.
There would be action which did not begin,
And there would be agent without action.

If there is svabhava, the whole world
Will be unarising, unceasing,
And static. The entire phenomenal world
Would be immutable.

If it (the world) were not empty,
Then action would be without profit.
The act of ending suffering and
Abandoning misery and defilement would not exist.
(Garfield 1995, p.72)

Nagarjuna has thus shifted the debate. Whereas the Abhidharma thinker begins with the assumption that a "correct" meditation on the Dharma is a necessary prerequisite for liberation, Nagarjuna undercuts this by saying that if one takes the Dharma as essential, that is, as necessary, then the very essence of Buddhism is undermined. Like the first chapter on causation, Nagarjuna is reminding the Abhidharma philosophers here about nonattachment. The Four Noble Truths are supposed to be medicinal "rafts" that help specific sentient beings overcome their attachments, but if one becomes attached to the practices of nonattachment then one has missed the entire point of Buddhism. Thus, Nagarjuna says that the Dharma-which includes causation, impermanence, suffering, bondage, and liberation-is "empty."

Now, after the awakening of twofold emptiness, we simply engage and meet conditions to allow the latent tendencies to self-liberate without modification. Practice becomes practice-enlightenment, where every engagement in daily activities becomes an opportunity to release our deeply held clinging - I, me, mine, inherent existence. (Practice-enlightenment is a term in Soto Zen to denote the path as the actualization of one's wisdom, so one's practice is no longer 'for' enlightenment but an 'actualization' of enlightenment in every mundane activities from sitting to walking to talking.. etc)

For example when I talk with people, there is no I, no others, only the situation and activity that is totally exerted... no clinging to center, self, mine... this allows the afflictions to dissolve. This is only possible after anatta and emptiness, if we merely rest in clarity of 'Awareness', it would not be sufficient to dissolve the bonds.

To understand why insights into anatta and emptiness help we have to understand that all our afflictions are rooted in the view of an inherently existing I, me, mine, in inherently existing self and things and ownership. For example if someone's child is lost or dies, you may not feel mentally afflicted, but when it comes to your sons and daughters, you may feel afflicted, because there is ownership, I and mine making involved, which results in holding onto someone as 'dear to me'.

To address this question more thoroughly let me just quote some people including myself here:

"We cannot get rid of suffering by saying, "I will not suffer." We cannot eliminate attachment by saying, "I will not be attached to anything," nor eliminate aggression by saying, "I will never become angry." Yet, we do want to get rid of suffering and the disturbing emotions that are the immediate cause of suffering.
The Buddha taught that to eliminate these states, which are really the results of the primary confusion of our belief in a personal self, we must get rid of the fundamental cause.
But we cannot simply say, "I will not believe in the personal self." The only way to eliminate suffering is to actually recognize the experience of a self as a misconception, which we do by proving directly to ourselves that there is no such personal self. We must actually realise this. Once we do, then automatically the misconception of a self and our fixation on that "self" will disappear.
Only by directly experiencing selflessness can we end the process of confused projection. This is why the Buddha emphasized meditation on selflessness or egolessness. However, to meditate on egolessness, we must undertake a process that begins with a conceptual understanding of egolessness; then, based on that understanding, there can be meditation, and finally realization."

- Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Pointing Out the Dharmakaya

"Though worldly beings cultivate meditative stabilization,
They do not destroy the discrimination of self.
They are greatly disturbed by the return of afflictive emotions,
As was the case of the cultivation of meditative stabilization by Udraka.

If phenomena are individually analyzed as selfless
And what has been analyzed is meditated upon,
That is the cause for attaining the fruit, nirvana.
Through any other cause one does not go to peace..."

- King of Meditative Stabilizations Sutra

"Monks, when a monk’s mind frequently remains acquainted with the recognition of selflessness in what is unsatisfactory, his mind is rid of “I-making” and “mine-making” with regard to this conscious body and externally with regard to all representations, and has transcended conceit, is at peace, and is well liberated."

AN 7.49 Dutiyasaññā Sutta

"When our own self is involved, we emphasize that connection: now it is "my body," "my stuff," "my friends," or "my car." We exaggerate the object's attractiveness, obscuring its faults and disadvantages, and become attached to it as helpful in acquiring pleasure, whereby we are forcibly led into lust, as if by a ring in our nose. We might also exaggerate the object's attractiveness, making something minor into a big defect, ignoring its better qualities, and now we view the object as interference with our pleasure, being led into hatred, again as if by a ring in our nose. Even if the object does not seem to be either agreeable or disagreeable but just an ordinary thing in the middle, ignorance continues to pervail, although in this case it does not generate desire or hatred. As the Indian scholar-yogi Nagarjuna says in his Sixty Stanza Reasoning:

How could great poisonous afflictive emotions not arise

In those whose minds are based on inherent existence?
Even when an object is ordinary, their minds
Are grasped by the snake of destructive emotions.
Cruder conceptions of "I" and "mine" evoke grosser destructive emotions, such as arrogance and belligerance, making trouble for yourself, your community, and even your nation. These misconceptions need to be identified by watching your own mind.

As the Indian thinker and yogi Dharmakirti says in his exposition of Buddhist thinking:

In one who exaggerates self
There is always adherence to "I."
Through that adherence there is attachment to pleasure.
Through attachment disadvantages are obscured.
And advantages seen, whereby there is strong attachment,
And objects that are "mine" are taken up as means
of achieving pleasure.
Hence, as long as there is attraction to self,
So long do you revolve in cyclic existence."

- H.H. Dalai Lama, "How to See Yourself as You Really Are"
Also in 2009:

(10:17 PM) Thusness: though anatta is a seal, it also requires one to arise the insight to feel liberated.

(10:18 PM) Thusness: when a practitioner realizes the anatta nature of manifestation, at that moment without the sense of observer, there is no negative emotions.
(10:19 PM) Thusness: there is only vivid sensation of the all arising as presence

(10:27 PM) Thusness: when u r angry, it is a split
(10:28 PM) Thusness: when u realized its anatta nature, there is just vivid clarity of all the bodily sensations
even when there is an arising thought of something bad, it dissolves with no involvement in the content
(10:29 PM) Thusness: to be angry, a 'someone' must come into the content
(10:29 PM) Thusness: when there is no involvement of the extra agent, there is only recoiling and self liberations
(10:33 PM) Thusness: one should differentiate arising thought from the active involvement of the content
(10:34 PM) Thusness: a practitioner that realizes anatta is only involved fully in the vivid presence of the action, phenomena but not getting lost in content

Kyle also informed me last year:

The anatta definitely severed many emotional afflictions, for the most part I don't have negative emotions anymore. And either the anatta or the strict shamatha training has resulted in stable shamatha where thoughts have little effect and are diminished by the force of clarity. I'm also able to control them, stopping them for any amount of desired time etc. but I understand that isn't what is important.
Can I fully open to whatever arises I would say yes. I understand that every instance of experience is fully appearing to itself as the radiance of clarity, yet timelessly disjointed and unsubstantiated.."

And I wrote last year:

"I remember Kyle telling me how since the realization of anatta it has severed many emotional afflictions, for the most part he doesn't have negative emotions anymore. In my experience this has also been the case. It wasn't always the case as I used to be capable of anger, throwing temper, and so on. This just doesn't happen nowadays... since anatta I've noticed large chunks of emotional afflictions not just anger has sort of disappeared.

It's like the habitual way of seeing and relating with the world through dualistic and inherent view as independent, separate beings interacting with independent, separate others along with its stories have disappeared. There is just impersonal and totally exerted actions and experiences experienced in vivid clarity, without needing to leave traces.

So perhaps the most ultimate advice for overcoming afflictions is: work hard contemplating and practicing insight and calm-abiding in tandem, those can really make permanent changes to your patterns of emotional afflictions that are not meagre."
1 Response
  1. Sam Says:

    Very useful post. Thank you!