Re: Buddhism & Non-Dualism
Oct 18, 1995 07:41 PM
I make no claim to being a Buddhist "scholar" but your suggestions seem very
much along the lines in which I have been taught both as a student of
Buddhism and a student of Theosophy.
"Emptiness" is a very loaded word in Buddhism, there is a book nearly 1,000
pages long by Bob Thurman discussing the subtleties, confusions and shades of
meaning conveyed by the term.
The great mistake of scholars in the West last century was to assume that
"emptiness" meant ABSOLUTE VOID and that reaching the state of "emptiness"
(nirvana) meant annihilation.
This is a big mistake, and shows a misapprehension of fundamental Buddhist
ideas and goals. How can a system, which promulgates the ideal of the
Bodhisattva, the incarnation of compassion and wisdom, be aiming for the
complete destruction of all life and consciousness.
The Buddha supposedly reached Nirvana at age 35. He continued teaching until
the age of 80. Clearly, the experience and state of nirvana did not
annihilate him, nor was being in the state of "emptiness" destructive in his
life and work.
Nirvana literally means "blowing out," like a candle flame extinguished.
This is the passions and desires of the personal man/woman, finally,
permanently left behind. The question is asked by Buddhists, "where does the
flame go when blown out?" The answer is "nowhere." Meaning, it ceases to
manifest, to exist on the objective plane.
"Emptiness" usualy refers to a thing or state being "empty" of our false
notions, conditions, limitations, mental fabrications, mis-conceptions, etc.
Nirvana, and ultimately all things, Buddhism teaches, are not what they
appear to be to the deluded (namely us) but in fact are beyond words, beyond
concepts, beyond imagination. They must be experienced "as they are" which
is empty of selfness, empty of mental baggage, empty of anything we might lay
upon them. Achieving the realization of "emptiness" is insight (vipasyana in
Sanskrit, vipassana in Pali), literally "seeing into" something.
The highest virtue of the Buddhist path is PRAJNA, "wisdom." This wisdom
consists in non-duality, non-conception, non-discursive thinking. All
Hindus often use positive terms, like "atman," "Brahman" etc. Verbally,
Buddhism and Hinduism seem opposed, on the exoteric plane.
HPB uses both negative and positive terms, and to my way of thinking
reconciles both traditions. Non-duality is another way of saying "unity,"
no-self is another way of saying "Absolute consciousness" etc.
Some Buddhists would not agree with this analysis, many would. The question
is, what do we as Theosophists choose to make of Buddhist and Hindu sources
of insight? I for one think they are very valuable, but HPB is no less
worthy of a guide than they are, and in some sense is far more valuable
because she communicates in ways specially formulated for the Western mind.
For that, I am very thankful.
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