In All These Spiritual Teachings We Hear The Echo Of The “Outside” And “Inside” Becoming One

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Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, Buddhist Awakening-It’s All About Absolute Freedom

The Hindu Class Essay Concluded

Well that’s about all I have to say about Uddalaka and Yajnavalkya. I do have a few more observations, though. In lieu of our past conversations, it seems to me that something is going on here that needs more attention. I can’t help but feel that I’m in the middle of that “elephant thing.” You know, where one blind guy holds the trunk, and the other blind guys hold the leg and tail, respectively. They all “see” an entirely different animal, but what they’re really “seeing” is just one big elephant.

Paraphrasing from Hopkin’s descriptions of Brahman, consider the following: The ancient sages of India perceived no chasm between nature, humanity, and divinity. For the wise among them, all existence was the manifestation of the universal principle—Brahman, the source of all being, the producer and sustainer of all reality. Brahman was the eternal that created the temporal; it was the uncountable waves of an incomprehensible ocean.

In Nishitani’s Mahayana Buddhism (and Nishida, his teacher), something quite similar to the “Brahman idea” is going on. For instance, just as when Yajnavalkya found at the seat of free will, atman, Nishitani, put absolute freedom at the core of self. For Nishitani, free will emerged from and returned to, absolute nothingness. On the surface, absolute nothingness and Brahman appear to be opposites—empty and full. But are they really?

Brahman, the Absolute, is beyond all categories of time, space, and causality. In short, it has no measure other than the fact that it transcends all measure. Yet, if we believe the sages, Brahman can be realized and therefore experienced. Nishitani’s absolute nothingness, like Brahman, permeates all things. If the “ripples of Brahman” vanish back into the “timeless, spaceless, and causeless ocean of Brahman,” then how is that any different from Nishitani’s nothingness that permeates all things? In the reciprocal case the same holds true. Waves exist because of the ocean—Brahman. All things depend on nothingness for their existence—Nishitani. Where’s the difference?

The sages in the Upanishads (as does the Buddha) call for the eradication of all ignorance. We are told that when ignorance is dispelled, “the infinitely great outside of us becomes the infinitely great within us,” which is another way of saying that our inner self, atman, merges with our outer self, Brahman. In the Buddhist philosophy of Nishida’s self-awakening, we hear pretty much the same refrain. He says, “When the ego awakens to its radical finitude–its nothingness, realization occurs.” In all these spiritual teachings we hear the echo of the “outside” and “inside” becoming one. Again, “at the point of total openness and freedom,” says Nishida, “the self is no longer separate from, but realizes its oneness with all the myriad things of the universe.” When the ego realizes the illusion of its “I,” “me,” “mine,” identity, and stops seeing itself as an independent entity, it looks straight through itself and sees “wholeness.” The realization that atman equals enlightenment, the realization that “nothingness of self” equals enlightenment. Are we really talking about two different things here? In the Chandogya Upanisad, we hear once again, –upon the realization of atman, “the formed and the unformed, the mortal and the immortal, the abiding and the fleeting, the being and the beyond” all become one with Brahman. In the absolute nothingness of self, says Nishitani, “you find the convergence of opposites—self and non self, being and nonbeing, the personal and the impersonal, the unique and the universal.” How often do we have to hear this refrain before the connection becomes obvious? In Brahman, we find the realization of the unity of reality. In the “nothingness of the self,” according to Nishitani, we find the dissolution of “all contradictions of the world, such as inside and outside, one and all, evil and good.” In the yogi’s “moksha,” and the Buddha’s “nirvana,” enlightened experience all, where is the difference? Maybe it– the difference– lies in getting there.

The Upanishads teach that liberation will not be found “in outward movement into the world.” It is the inward journey into the self that permits liberation. According to the teachings of the Upanishads, it is the longing for meaning and purpose, plus a desire to end human restlessness that leads a person down the path toward enlightenment.

The Bhagavad-Gita, gives us another approach to liberation. “He who knows Atman overcomes sorrow,” and here, overcoming sorrow means practicing yoga. The Gita tells us that the final liberation, the state where the self-imposed boundaries of individuality are transcended, is the goal of yoga. In the Upanishad’s the yogi is called away from society, but in the Gita, in order to progress spiritually, the aspirant is called to duty, in honor of society. The practices of Karma Yoga and/or Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of duty and love, respectively), if done whole-heartedly, bring liberation. In the Bhagavad-Gita the god, Kishna, told Arjuna, the warrior prince, that his “jiva self,” his mind-body self, was not his atman. But, if he did his duty, if he met the Pandavas, his cousins, on the battlefield (while remaining unattached to the “fruits” of his actions), then he would realize his atman and win release (moksha). It was no longer necessary, taught the Gita, to renounce the world
to achieve Brahman. It should be noted that although the Gita emphases the practice of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, it was not critical of other forms of yoga, e.g., Hatha, Laya, Raja, etc. In that regard, its teachings remained consistent with the earlier Upanishadic teachings.

To the best of my knowledge, yoga was not a necessary part of the Buddhist tradition. To attain nirvana, the practices of disciplines, both mental and physical, were necessary, however. All dharma’s led to the eightfold path, the last of the Buddha’s four noble truths. In addition to “right knowledge,” the eightfold path called for ethical behavior and meditative disciplines. Although some would argue that the concepts of permanence and immortality were anathemas to the Buddha, when it came to self-realization, the rejection of illusion, the elimination of cravings, and the avoidance of narcissistic preoccupations, the teachings of the Buddha were quite similar to their Upanishad counterparts. But something else of interest brings these two traditions together, something not generally talked about.

Brahman, as the innermost essence of reality and the cause of all diversity, is the source and ground of being, yet it stands absolutely transcendent to being. As the vitality of the cosmos, Brahman’s dynamic self-expression is an affirmation of the Absolute manifested in both the individual and the world. For the sage, the claim that Brahman and atman are one is an identity claim, but, at the same time, Brahman remains the ground of being while being transcendent to being. How can this be? The enlightened look to the self, to others, and to the whole universe and rejoice in Brahman—“Tat tvam asi (That art thou).” But what is “thou?” For the most part, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, “thou” is left as a paradox. It is not within the grasp of language, but it is not out of reach of the self, either. The comprehension of self (atman in Hinduism, not-self in Buddhism) implies the comprehension of the universe as a whole—moksha in Hinduism, nirvana in Buddhism. Knowledge and being are identical here, and, I believe, by taking a closer look at Nishida’s self-awakening philosophy, we will better understand why this is so.

Nishida went looking for “pure experience” and found it. In a pure awakened state there is no distinction between transcendence, immanence, and freedom. The “absolute free will,” for Nishida, is at the center of the creative world and lives through the “pulse of creative nothingness.” He used his own logic to characterize this claim. To be fair, Nishida did not think of this logic in an analytical sense, it was more a logic of existence. He called this logic basho, and for me at least, this basho seems to be describing three different levels of interconnectivity—the interconnectivity of three different pulses of freedom.

Freedom is not a manifestation of being, it is the other way around; out of creative nothingness arises the manifestation of being. According to Nishida, everything that is, is within the interconnectivity of the basho, and is at bottom, the basho of “absolute nothingness.” In all bashos a dual purpose is at work. As the ground of everything, the logic of basho, works to support and restrict all beings. Absolute nothingness becomes the heart and soul of all beings, but tied to this basho is an invisible basho, the basho of relative nothingness. “It,” says Nishida, “exists only in relation to the basho of being. It is the idea that nothingness is understood in terms of its opposite: the notion of being.” Interconnected with all bashos– relative nothingness, being, and absolute nothingness—is the pulsing, creative nothingness that emerges from and returns to the basho of absolute nothingness. I’m trying to understand this. I’m not there yet. Here is a description of Nishida’s basho as stated by Masaaki:

Nishida defines basho as “a predicate of predicates,” a truly universal, transcendent “place” in which subject and predicate are mutually inclusive. Only the basho of “absolute nothingness” is truly transcendent and truly universal. It is the place where the authentic self turns around and becomes the “self without self.” That means that the “self as the basho” can reflect objects just as they are by truly emptying itself, and can see things “by becoming things.” Thus the self as basho identifies itself with all beings in the absolute contradictory mode of the world.

In this vision, we get a “feel” for how to resolve the paradox—the paradox of how something–pure experience–can be both the source and ground of being while at the same time been absolutely transcendent. The being and the beyond distinctions that are present in the Hindu and Buddhist distinctions of the Brahman/atman, self/not-self, are dissolved in Nishida’s basho. “When self-consciousness is completely extinguished in the basho” says Nishida, “then the newborn ‘self as the basho,’ embodying the ‘unifying force’ of absolute nothingness from within, can fully exert its intrinsic nature as instrument to become a creative force in the world.” In the all-inclusive interconnectivity of Nishida’s basho, distinctions like inside/outside, whole/part, cease to be meaningful.

It seems to me at least, according to what I am trying to understand form the above, when everything is seen in full relief “just as it is,” in its suchness, there is an awakening. When all beings are seen reflected in the absolute creative nothingness of the basho, there is an awakening. In the experience of the absolute interpenetration of nothingness with all the particular existents in the universe, there is an awakening to the “eternal now.” There, the distinctions Brahman/atman, self/not-self, have no place. There, the newborn “self as the basho,” “self as absolute nothingness,’’ wakes to perfect freedom, perfect wisdom and perfect bliss. The fact that language will not (can not) permit a description of “enlightened being,” hasn’t made the paradox any less paradoxical. It’s still there, with or without language. I admire Nishida because of his struggles to get beyond that paradox. However, I suspect that enlightenment—pure experience—is necessary before “empty” and “full” can become one, before nirvana and moksha can become one!

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