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Sunday, May 10, 2015


Two levels of reality as per Sri Buddha:-

Like Upanishads, Buddha has admitted two levels of the same truth/reality[1] and expressed about them directly or indirectly in certain occasions. Let us quote a frequent claim of Buddha from Brahma Jwala Sutta.

“These, O brethren, are those other things, profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, tranquillizing, sweet, not to be grasped by mere logic, subtle, comprehensible only by the wise, which the Tathagata, having himself realized and seen face to face, hath set forth; and it is concerning these that they who would rightly praise the Tathagata in accordance with the truth, should speak.[2]

In this Sutta, it is said that there is ‘something’ that is very difficult to understand, beyond the logic and comprehensible only to the wise. This assertion indirectly points to the two levels of the reality. One of them is comprehensible only to the wise and difficult to comprehend by the ‘others’. Buddha has achieved it, as per Brahma jwala sutta. I.e., Buddha has ‘realized[3]’ that, which is difficult to comprehend for the un-wise and who uses logic to apprehend things and theories. So the Buddha was not in the plane of reality in which ‘others’ reside. Buddha is in a higher plane. Then in which plane of reality, the common man, (who are not competent to achieve the reality that Thathagata has achieved) resides. Of course, they will be in a lower plane to which Buddha has achieved. Thus there must be two level of reality[4].

The second proof for the existence of two planes of reality is the indication about the ‘nama-rupa’. The Thathagata had discoursed about nama-rupa (Name and Form) many times. As per this, the objects that we see in the mundane world exist just as nama-rupa. Everything in the world is in constant flux. They are in ‘coming into’ and ‘passing by’ state always. So they have no ultimate existence. They are devoid of essence. Because of these reasons the mundane world is expressible only in name and form (nama-rupa). In the ultimate sense the mundane world is surely in the low plane of reality. Then where is this continuously changing mundane world is rooted? There must be such an ultimate plane of reality upon which the mundane plane exists and here, we again get two planes of ultimate reality[5].

The Upanishads also says that the external world exist as name and form only. Upanishads give a simile for this. There are many things made up of clay like pot, bowl, etc. But we know, the pot and bowl are mere names decided by their form, and the thing by which the pot and bowl were made up of is clay. So clay is the root or substratum of all things that are made up of clay, and by knowing clay we will know the essence of everything made up of clay. This indicates that the cause (clay) and effects (pot, bowl, etc.) are same and the transformation happened to the cause is able to indicate by a name, by noticing the form of transformation. This transformation is known as ‘effect’. In fact, cause is not different from effect. This is the idea narrated in the Chandogya Upanishad between the conversation between Uddhalaka Aruni and his son Svetaketu.

“Through which, the unheard of becomes heard, the un-thought of becomes thought of, the unknown becomes known?’ (Svetaketu asked,) ‘O venerable sir, in what way is that instruction imparted?’

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of earth, all things made of earth become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Earth as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of gold, all things made of gold become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Gold as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a nail-cutter, all things made of iron become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Iron as such is the reality. O good looking one, thus is that instruction.”

The idea of nama-rupa is mentioned in many other parts of Upanishad collection. It is such a well established doctrine and this also indicates that there are two planes of ultimate reality.

The root of nama-rupa as per Buddhism and the Upanishads:-

Which is the root of nama-rupa, as per Buddhism? This question also answers to another unavoidable question - ‘where the mundane world has its seat?’ In this case, the Upanishads are clear on their stand that Brahman is the substratum of the external world and objects, known by the nama-rupa. According to Buddha, in the Kevaddha sutta, Avidya/ignorance is the root of nama-rupa.

“Once upon a time, Kevaddha, there occurred to a certain brother in this very company of the brethren, a doubt on the following point: “Where now do these four great elements – earth, water, fire, and wind – pass away, leaving no trace behind ?”

The Bhikkhu seeking the answer went to the great kings, king of kings. i.e, Sakka, great gods and finally to the Great Brahma. But everyone was helpless. Then the Great Brahma send the Bhikkhu to the Gotama, the Buddha and the exalted one answers to the Bhikkhu thus:

“Now the question, brother, should not be put as you have put it. Instead of asking where the four great elements cease, leaving no trace behind, you should have asked:

Where do earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find?
Where is it that both name and form,
Die out, leaving no trace behind?

On that the answer is: “The intellect of Arhatship, the invisible, the endless, accessible from every side --

‘There is it that earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find.
There is it that both name and form
Die out, leaving no trace behind.
When intellection ceases they all also cease.’

Thus spake the Exalted One. And Kevaddha, the young householder, pleased at heart, rejoiced at the spoken word.”

The name and form do not find footing in the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ and when intellect ceases, everything cease, Kevaddha Sutta says. So when name and form exists, and so do the external world, its footing should be on the Intellect (which contains ignorance) of common man, before he acquire Arhatship. Here a question arises. What is the specialty of the ‘Intellect of Arhatship’ compared to the intellect of others who have not attained the Arhatship? Obviously both person's Intellect can’t be same. Since the nama-rupa is in mundane world, the nama-rupa must die out in ‘something’, that is trans-mundane. Nama-rupa cannot die out in anything that is not trans-mundane. So the ‘Intellect of the arhatship’ must be transcendental, trans-mundane and beyond the realm of logic and senses.

The mundane world and the objects contained in it are composed of the four primary elements, viz earth, water, fire and air. Kevaddha Sutta says that the four elements do not find their footing in ‘Intellect of Arhatship’. This implies that prior to attaining arhatship, for a bhikkhu, four elements (and mundane world) have their root on the intellect, or on something that co-exist with intellect, of the Bhikkhu. But a Bhikkhu’s intellect is not like the Intellect of the Arhat. The former has the intellect with ignorance co-exists with it. Due to this, the four elements and the mundane world find their foot on the ignorance. However, when the Bhikkhu attains Arhatship, the ignorance cease to exist and only pure intellect shines forth from the Arhat (Bhikkhu). Then the mundane world, nama-rupa and the four elements die out.

This whole discussion means, prior to arhatship attainment Nama-rupa has its root in the ignorance/avidya of the Bhikshu. But Avidya cannot exist alone because it is a dependent factor; an unreal factor. All unreals have to depend on a real. So Avidya must exist with an ultimate reality (Nirvana). When avidya becomes exhausted and die out, then Nama-rupa also cease to exist and only Intellect shines forth then.

What will happen after the mundane world and four elements die out in intellect? We may assume that, from the time of Arhatship achievement, nothing more found their foot on the Intellect (of Arhat). Only pure Intellect shines forth. Arhat experiences / realizes supreme bliss, thereon.

If we replace the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ with Consciousness, we will get the doctrine of Upanishads[6]. It is stated in many Upanishads that external world and everything has its existence in Brahman. (The thing to note here is that, when we suppose the Brahman as the substratum of everything, we get an Absolutist theory and when we suppose Intellect as the substratum of everything, we get an Idealistic theory).

“It is this heart (intellect), and this mind that were stated earlier. It is sentience, ruler ship, secular knowledge, presence of mind, retentiveness, sense-perception, fortitude, thinking, genius, mental suffering, memory, ascertainment, resolution, life-activities, hankering, passion, and such others. All these verily are the names of Consciousness.”

“This one is (inferior) Brahman; this god Indra, this is Prajapati; this is all these gods and this is these five great elements, viz earth, air, ether, water, fire; and this is all big creatures…… those that are born of egg, of wombs, of moisture and of the earth, viz horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all creatures that moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all these are impelled by consciousness; all these have consciousness as the giver of their reality; the universe has consciousness as its eye, and consciousness is its end. Consciousness is Brahman.[7]

In the first stanza it is said that all of the mental phenomena, that falls in the domain of consciousness includes the Intellect[8]. The second stanza says that what all we sees in the world have their root in consciousness, which include the Intellect as per previous sloka.

In the Upanishads Brahman and Intellect are distinguished separately, by Advaitins. But not so, with other Vedantic schools. The above Aitareya sloka have been rendered in a different meaning in some translations.

This god Brahma, and this god Indra, …… these five great elements (earth, air, ether, water, fire), …… creatures born from the egg, from the womb, and from perspiration, sprouting plants, horses, cows, men, elephants, and whatever breaths, whether moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all this is led by Intellect, and is supported on Intellect. The world is led by Intellect. Intellect is the support. Intellect is the highest reality.[9]

This is a different rendering of meaning from the non-advaitic standpoint and we know that there were different opinions on the exact teaching of the Upanishads as to whether it is professing non-duality or duality. This example indicates that the difference merely did not confine to the non-dual – dual aspect. Instead differences have been cropped into other areas also.

Here we may safely suggest that, Buddha might have been initiated into the Vedic teaching in the early days of his boyhood and studentship because that was the common custom among the nobles. This brings him in touch with the Upanishad doctrine. So there are ample reasons to propose that the Buddha may have substituted the unchanging Consciousness of Upanishads with the Intellect because the ‘unchanging character’ of the former is not in line with his doctrine of dependent origination[10]. Intellect cannot be argued as unchanging, making his theory safe and intact. On the other hand, the Buddha made the consciousness in complementary with the nama-rupa[11].

Anyway there is no hard and fast distinction between the Upanishadic doctrine regarding nama-rupa and Buddha’s doctrine about nama-rupa and its footing on the Intellect. Both are similar in the outlook and the minor difference, if someone feel, are due to the peculiar presentment of the doctrine in the Buddha’s discourse.

Buddha on indestructible consciousness:-

Potthapada Sutta is very interesting in many respects. It comments about the ten uncertainties to which Buddha did not answer and the soul – consciousness theory of the heretics is also touched upon. Then there is interesting long discussion on Consciousness and it states; passing consciousnesses. At the end of the passing consciousnesses Buddha assumes a ‘summit of consciousness’ which will not pass away, instead will remain unaffected.

In Potthapada Sutta, Buddha states several states of consciousness which passes away after the attainment of a higher level consciousness than current one. This process goes on as follows:-

1st, Consciousness due to the detachment[12].
2nd, Consciousness born of concentration[13].
3rd, Concentration of the bliss of equanimity.
4th, Consciousness of the absence of pain and ease.
5th, Consciousness of being only concerned with the infinity of space.
6th, Consciousness of everything being within the sphere of the infinity of cognition.
7th Consciousness of unreality as the object of his thought.

And at the end come the description about the final consciousness, which ends in a trance.

“So from the time, Potthapada, that the Bhikkhu is thus conscious in a way brought about by himself (from the time of the First Rapture), he goes on from one stage to the next, and from that to the next until he reaches the summit of consciousness. And when he is on the summit, it may occur to him: “To be thinking at all is the inferior state. There better not to be thinking. Were I to go on thinking and fancying, these ideas, these states of consciousness, I have reached to, would pass away, but others, coarser ones, might arise. So I will neither think nor fancy anymore.” And he does not. And to him neither thinking any more, nor fancying, the ideas, the states of consciousness, he had, pass away; and no others, coarser than they, arise. So he falls into trance[14]. Thus is it, Potthapada, that the attainment of the cessation of conscious ideas takes place step by step.”

The steps that Buddha described are almost similar to the steps of Yoga and Meditation practice, existed before him, and elaborated by Buddhist masters. In the summit of consciousness, the trance, into which the Bhikkhu falls in, may be akin to the state of Samadhi, as told by Yogins. In the Upanishads, consciousness is equated with Brahman in many places.

This summit of consciousness is not at all akin to the consciousness that is complementary to the nama-rupa. Then, is this akin to the consciousness mentioned in the Upanishads? No way to get an answer because such a question is not touched upon. Not just this question, but in the bulk collection of the discourses, that Buddha had with disciples, the word ‘Upanishads’ is mentioned nowhere!

[1] Corresponding to the Paramarthika and Vyavaharika Satya of Advaita Vedanta.
[2] Ironically enough, in Tevigga Sutta, Sri Buddha says, ‘Because none of the Brahmins have seen the Brahman face to face, how can we believe that there is such an entity?’. This teaching has lost its all weight as he himself says that he realized something which is beyond the grasp of logic and can realize only for the wise. Or was Buddha really criticizing the Upanishadic Brahman in Tevigga Sutta?
[3] Buddha did not achieve this highest truth, instead he realized it. That mean, he did not attain anything from outside to get into this highest level. He just realized something which is already present in him! Upanishads also says everything is divine and we have to ‘realize’ it.
[4] “The teaching of Buddha is based on two truths, the mundane and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction between these two truths do not understand the profound meaning in the teaching of the Buddha.” (XXII. 15 6)
[5] The two planes of ultimate reality are mere logical. It is not a real distinction. There are no two levels for the Ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is single.  
[6] In Buddhist Suttas nama-rupa and consciousness are complimentary. One cannot exist without the other.
[7] Aitareya Upanishad. III.i.2-3. (This is a translation from the Advaitic standpoint).
[8] Purely psychological factors are mentioned in the Upanishads.
[9] ‘A history of Indian Philosophy: The creative period’ – S K Belvalker and R D Ranade.
[10] Buddha cannot propose an unchanging consciousness in which nama-rupa find its foot because that will shake his very theory of ‘constant flux’ and ‘momentariness’. Whenever the Buddha talked about consciousness, the Thathagata made consciousness in complimentary with the nama-rupa, without which it cannot exist and sustain, thus keeping his dependent origination theory intact. When we assign intellect as the root of nama-rupa, there is enough gap to escape from the eternalism.
[11] “What must there be , in order that there may be name and material form? Whence come name and material form? – consciousness must be in order that there may be name and material form; from consciousness come name and material form. – What must be there In order that there may be consciousness? Whence comes consciousness? Name and material form must be, in order that there may be consciousness; from name and material form comes consciousness. Then my disciples, the Bodhisatti Vipassi thought: consciousness conversely depends on name and material form: the chain goes no farther.” --- Mahapadhana Sutta, Digha NIkhaya.
[12] “……Then that idea, (that consciousness) of lusts that he had before passes away. And thereupon there arises within him a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, and he becomes a person to whom that idea is consciously present.”
[13] “……Then that subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, that he just had, passes away. And thereupon there arises a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace born of concentration.”
[14] Trance means ‘ecstatic delight’.

1 comment:

  1. Final part will discuss the doctrine related to origination and cessation of Pain in Buddhism and the beginning of meditation practice in ancient India.