By Gong Buo:
A few days ago, I accidentally saw an article on the study of Buddhism written by a layperson with the last name of Xue who is a scholar in Hong Kong. The article gave a brief introduction to the topics of “conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature” and “prajna.” The main opinions expressed include: “The dharma of conditional arising is the foundation of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Buddha-dharma and represents Buddhism’s view of the universe. The essence of the teaching of Buddhism was established in the Theory of Conditional Arising, or the dogma of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature, that Sakyamuni created.”
The author further stated that “Taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations are seen in the rituals of Brahmins. The concepts of samsara, karmic forces, and liberation were described in detail in books of ancient India. Sakyamuni Buddha only created and developed the theory of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature. Simply speaking, Buddha-dharma is prajna; prajna is Buddha-dharma; and Buddha-dharma is the wisdom of prajna. However, Sakyamuni Buddha did not expound Buddha-dharma.”
After discerning these views deeply, I found that this scholar seems to have read several sutras and commentaries but actually does not understand the essence and meaning of the sutras at all. This person not only interpreted the sutras out of context and with confusion but also has no knowledge or understanding about the history and lineage of Buddhism and the essence of Buddha-dharma. The article simply spoke nonsense, trying to mislead the great masses with evil statements and is slandering the Buddha and Buddha-dharma everywhere. I hereby give a preliminary analysis in the following:
Was the Concept of Conditional Causation and Emptiness of Self-Nature Invented by Sakyamuni Buddha? Was Sakyamuni Buddha the Leading Offender of Pirating the Rituals of Heretics?
It can be concluded for certain that the statement by Layperson Xue “The essence of the teaching of Buddhism was established in the Theory of Conditional Arising” obviously indicated this person’s total ignorance of the absolute truth of “conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature.” This is not just an issue of having a mistake in one’s view. Rather, it is completely out of touch with the subject.
Conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature is the fundamental source, principle, and characteristic of impermanence and the absence of self-nature of everything in both the sentient world and the material world of the universe. However, this concept did not come into being by the Buddha’s creation. As stated in Discourse 12 of the Samyukta Agama Sutra, “The Buddha told the monks that the dharma of conditional arising was not made up by the Buddha, nor by others. It has always been in the dharmadhatu regardless of whether the Buddha was in the world or not. The Tathagata became naturally aware of the dharma and as a result attained perfect enlightenment. The dharma is then expounded to different living beings through development and manifestation.” That is to say, conditional arising is not made up by someone and is not a result of an invention. Whether before or after the Buddha came to the world, conditional arising has always been there and in the same manner. That is the meaning of conditional arising. “Because of the karmic condition, existence is due to the cause of the existence; Because of the karmic condition, absence is due to the cause of the absence;” is an invariable principle. The principle applies everywhere and at all times regardless of whether the Buddha stated it or not and whether the time was before the Buddha’s coming to the world or afterwards.
That is to say, conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature was not formulated by the Buddha. Nor is conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature from the analysis of impermanence. Rather, it is the characteristic of the original source and the truth of the universe. Conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature represents the absolute truth of emptiness being inherent that has been realized by all Buddhas in the ten directions. The reality of the truth is that, before Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in the world, conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature has already been in existence naturally in the universe. It is not true that conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature, the absence of self-nature in all phenomena, and impermanence came into being after Sakyamuni Buddha. The truth of the universe exists as the universe’s fundamental source or origin and has nothing to do with Sakyamuni Buddha. Nor does it has anything to do with the primordial ancient Buddha Dorje Chang Buddha, because it exists as the fundamental source. The original dharmakaya Buddha Samantabhadra Tathagata is the original entity of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature. This original dharmakaya Buddha has no shape or form, and has always been empty at all times. That is why the truth of the universe, which is the dharmakaya Buddha, has no shape or form. The formless dharmakaya Buddha perfectly generated the first primordial sambhogakaya Buddha with form, Dorje Chang Buddha, who began to teach, transform, and liberate living beings with the truth of the universe.
Furthermore, the Madhyama Āgama Sutra said, “When there is this, there is that. With the arising of this, that arises. When there is not this, that cannot be; when this ceases, so does that.” This is the definition of conditional arising at a certain stage. In other words, conditional arising, which means all phenomena arises from karmic conditions. However, we should know that, when Sakyamuni Buddha expounded the Agamas, the teaching had not turned from teaching with emphasis to teaching with perfection (the time of expounding Agamas was the period of “teaching about the Lesser Vehicle but hiding Mahayana” when the dharma was expounded with emphasis). The karmic condition was that the World-Honored One Sakyamuni Buddha was teaching the contemplation of emptiness by decomposition with the targeted audience consisting of practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle. Conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature was expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha for cultivators at the beginner’s level. It is analogous to curriculum for students in elementary school. This level involves the doctrine that things arise from the congregation of karmic conditions and undergo the process of formation, abiding, degenerating, and vanishing and is only at the stage of the contemplation of emptiness by decomposition. This is not the ultimate definition of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature, and is not the teaching for attaining the ultimate liberation or the supreme perfect truth of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature.
The true and ultimate concept of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha is not the emptiness that can only be achieved after eliminating existence. Rather, it is the emptiness that is fundamental and inherently empty. This is mainly the understanding based on prajna and the Mahayana’s view of the inherent oneness of the dharma nature. The “contemplation of emptiness by comprehension” for realizing inherent emptiness is “referring to the fundamental and inherent emptiness of all phenomena without analysis or deducing. It is realized by having one’s thought returning to the truth to become aware of the inherent emptiness. That means realizing that what inherently exists belongs to emptiness. This is the contemplation of emptiness by comprehension.” (Quoted from Commentaries on the Heart Sutra by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III)
The above has the same meaning as the true enlightenment through the emptiness of self-nature expounded in the Heart Sutra, “Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.” This doctrine is neither achieving emptiness after eliminating existence nor having no form left after attaining emptiness. Rather, emptiness and form are unified as one entity. “Knowing that form and emptiness are not different from each other is the view of enlightenment and will not fall into the two oppositely radical views of annihilation and permanence. This reasoning explained that true emptiness is more than having nothing and possesses abundant wonderful existence. On the other hand, wonderful existence is not true existence because the entity being considered is inherently and always empty.” (Quoted from Commentaries on the Heart Sutra by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III) This is the enlightenment attained by turning the biased dharma of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature for beginning practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle to the perfect dharma of Mahayana prajna, and is the ultimate conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature that Sakyamuni Buddha realized.
Such meaning of “inherent emptiness of all phenomena” is the reality that those unenlightened ones at the level of elementary school cannot possibly comprehend. It is even more ridiculous that this scholar used the approach of following small branches and picking leaves to pursue emptiness and unsurprisingly does not know the true meaning of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature. However, this person even made such a statement regarding “conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature,” “The so-called ‘taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations’ are seen in the rituals of Brahmins. The concepts of ‘samsara, karmic forces, and liberation’ were described in detail in books of ancient India. Sakyamuni Buddha only created and developed the theory of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature.” This is an explicit slandering insult to state that the World-Honored One pirated taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations from Brahmins and that concepts of samsara, karmic forces, and liberation were stolen from books of ancient India by Sakyamuni Buddha.
What is this scholar up to by combining conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature that represent the fundamental source, principle, and characteristic of everything in the universe with the processes of taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations as well as the concepts of samsara, karmic forces, and liberation? Are you trying to say that, because of the conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature of everything in the universe, samsara, karmic forces, and liberation also belong to emptiness? Or, do you intend to express: “taking refuge, receiving precepts, initiations, and transmitting the dharma” have nothing to do with Sakyamuni Buddha or even with Buddha-dharma but Sakyamuni Buddha “pirated” or “borrowed” Brahmins’ rituals and complied them as Buddha-dharma? Or, are you saying, “Actually the refuge rituals of Buddhism including that of receiving precepts with the importance of ‘treating the precepts as the master’ are the same as the heretical rituals of Brahmins and therefore belong to heretics”? Or, are you accusing Sakyamuni Buddha as a leading offender of pirating the rituals of heretics? I am not sure whether I should call you a Buddhist scholar or an idiot to Buddhism!
Regardless of how the above statement of this scholar is interpreted, it belongs to the evil view of defaming the Buddha and slandering Buddha-dharma by putting the supreme and profound Buddha-dharma of ultimate liberation and heretical practices in the same category. As a matter of fact, “taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations are seen in the rituals of Brahmins. The concepts of samsara, karmic forces, and liberation were described in detail in books of ancient India” stated by this scholar is definitely unrelated to Sakyamuni Buddha and is not the “taking refuge, receiving precepts, and initiations” taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. In other words, this is not a situation that Buddhism only has what was recorded in those books and does not have anything that is not found in those books. Taking refuge, receiving precepts, initiations, and other rituals taught by the Buddha are basically the methods of spreading and propagating Buddha-dharma for teaching and transforming living beings with the cultivation and practice. Furthermore, these methods have no connections at all to the rituals of Brahmins and heretics in terms of ceremonial processes, mantras, mudras, yidam for contemplation, dharma protectors, and other aspects, and are totally unrelated to what was recorded in the books of ancient India.
Is Buddha-Dharma the Wisdom of Prajna? Does Buddhism Mean Atheism?
First we need to know clearly what the wisdom of prajna is. The wisdom of prajna “is the supreme and unsurpassed subtle wisdom due to determination and judgment by the self-nature and is not the worldly wisdom based on differentiation within the mind consciousness. Prajna distinguishes and defines the differences between transcendental unconditional dharmas and worldly dharmas and can immediately reveal the original appearance of everything. Prajna serves the role of illuminating life and impermanence, illusionary and conditional phenomena, and the unconditional nature of human life and the universe as well as the original appearances of everything with it. Prajna can also lead to attaining the two types of instant and gradual enlightenment. Prajna is a sword of wisdom that can sever the fundamental cause of birth and death and helps cultivators to realize the original appearance and the state of reality. Prajna is the mother of being liberated from birth and death and becoming a holy one.”
“With such holy meaning, state is also wisdom and wisdom can also be a state. This is how we should clearly understand the wisdom of prajna and the state of ultimate reality. Living beings in the six realms of existence, as well as all beings that have lives, all possess, perfectly and equally, the wonderful wisdom of prajna and the state of ultimate reality. What they possess is not any different from the wisdom and the ultimate reality of prajna of a Buddha. However, being blocked by ignorance and affliction, living beings are unable to acquire the knowledge or attain the realization. That is why they are driven by differentiation and transmigration induced by the sense states. They regard what is false as true and use their knowledge of illusions to determine true or false, right or wrong, and good or bad. Thus, they fall into the worldly wisdom, cleverness, and intelligence and undergo the process of formation, abiding, degenerating, and vanishing.” (Quoted from Dharma expounded by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III)
Simply speaking, prajna is the ultimate truth of no producing and no annihilation that holy ones can realize. However, prajna is not Buddha-dharma. Rather, Buddha-dharma is the methods that living beings use to realize prjana. Moreover, having Buddha-dharma alone cannot lead to the realization of prajna. In addition to using Buddha-dharma, one must also cultivate. Only then can one realize prajna, break and exterminate the blocking impediment of ignorance and affliction, and realize the dharma nature and true such-ness. The absolute truth realized by all Buddhas is not any different from the dharma expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha.
It is unfortunate that this Mr. Xue does not understand Buddha-dharma at all and even puts up the erroneous theory of “Buddha-dharma is prajna and prajna is Buddha-dharma” to confuse prajna and Buddha-dharma with each other. His fallacy is easy to show with this analogy. Suppose someone wants to go from Hong Kong to Beijing. If we regard the destination Beijing as “prajna”, the transportation tools used and the journey taken by this person to travel from Hong Kong to Beijing resemble Buddha-dharma and the process of cultivation. Now we can see that the statement of “Buddha-dharma is prajna and prajna is Buddha-dharma” is mixing and confusing the goal and the methods, and is a very silly and ridiculous serious mistake caused by pretending to know what one does not know.
It is even more ridiculous that this scholar borrowed Sakyamuni Buddha’s statement “Even after expounding the dharma for 49 years, there is actually no dharma to expound” to continue his erroneous arguments. He stated, “Buddhism is atheism. Buddha-dharma does not establish a dharma, nor negate a dharma. …… Sakyamuni Buddha never expounded Buddha-dharma.”
We should know that Sakyamuni Buddha’s statement “Even after expounding the dharma for 49 years, there is actually no dharma to expound” refers to the essence of the nature of emptiness and true such-ness. In the context of the nature of emptiness and true such-ness, Buddha-dharma reveals that the four great elements are all empty. All conditional dharmas (worldly phenomena) undergo the process of formation, abiding, degenerating, and vanishing, belong to impermanence, and have no self-nature. Thus, Buddhism is not only “atheism,” but also can be “the doctrine of no Buddha,” “the doctrine of no Buddha-dharma,” “the doctrine of no living being,” and “the doctrine of no Buddha-land or hell,” just as Sakyamuni Buddha stated, “there are no Buddhas to become above and there are no living beings below to be saved.”
However, Sakyamuni Buddha strived to realize the ultimate truth of human life and the universe. He began the monastic life at the age of 19. Then he spent five years of search and visiting and six years to practice ascetics. At the age of 30, He attained from self-realization the perfect and bright enlightenment of prajna. Later, He expounded Buddha-dharma for 49 years to manifest the 84,000 dharma gates in accord with living beings’ karmic conditions and rewards of good fortune and to compassionately teach and transform various living beings based on available opportunities. The Buddha taught living beings to practice the ten kinds of goodness, the four limitless states of mind, and the six transcendental practices. Aren’t these the dharmas expounded by Sakyamuni Buddha? Could it possibly be that the various dharmas of exoteric and esoteric Buddhism and the various dharmas of Vajras and Bodhisattvas all be false dharmas?
Also, in the sutras, you can see everywhere descriptions of Vajras, dharma-protecting deities, local deities, land deities, river deities, mountain deities, and other holy deities in the ten directions. Could it be that these local deities, land deities, river deities, mountain deities, and the eight types of celestial beings recorded in the sutras were all false? Did Sakyamuni Buddha spoke falsely to deceive people? I would like to ask this scholar, are you more proficient in Buddha-dharma than Sakyamuni Buddha?
Therefore, we can see that “Buddhism is atheism. Buddha-dharma does not establish a dharma, nor negate a dharma. …… Sakyamuni Buddha never expounded Buddha-dharma” is a totally and absurdly erroneous fallacy stated by one who does not know Buddhism at all and openly negates the 84,000 dharma gates and the principles of using available opportunities to let living beings learn Buddha-dharma to attain accomplishment and liberation.
This scholar who put up the sign of Buddhism indirectly insulted Sakyamuni Buddha to such an extent that he even dared to libel that Sakyamuni Buddha only founded the concept of conditional causation and emptiness of self-nature and nothing else in Buddhism belongs to Sakyamuni Buddha. The libel accused Sakyamuni Buddha for pirating the rituals, initiations, and other things from Brahmins to fake contents of Buddhism. This person has committed a huge sin with his view of annihilation. This sin can cause him to descend into the uninterrupted hell!!! Now that we already know his deeds of openly and directly slandering and insulting Sakyamuni Buddha, if we continue to work with him or even support him, we would definitely share the sin and dark karmas to meet the consequences of having very bad luck, facing vicious karmic retributions, and undergoing suffering in the lower realms. I must reminder Buddhist disciples to caution.
That Scholar with Wrong Views, Do You Clearly Understand the Essence of Buddha-Dharma?
The world of Buddha-dharma is as vast and deep as an ocean. The wondrous subtleties in the differences between the three aspects of faith to Buddhism, the study of Buddhism, and Buddha-dharma are definitely not what you can understand by reading a few sutras and having the title of a great dharma master or a great scholar. Based on your view that was revealed in the article, you are far from that, are piteously shallow, and have not even entered the door yet. However, the reality in today’s society is that there are many scholars with great fame who think they have read and understood the sutras and know the essence of Buddha-dharma clearly. They began to write books, establish their own formalisms, and give discourses everywhere. They think that they are spreading and propagating Buddha-dharma to benefit living beings. However, they do not know that Buddha-dharma is the method that requires concrete cultivation and true realization. Before realizing the nature of emptiness and true such-ness, one’s speech and statements are either from evil views or full of errors. What was said is just like counting other people’s treasure or transcribing and piecing together sentences from different places in the writings of ancient virtuous ones.
Take this scholar Mr. Xue for example. Though having read a few sutras, he actually does not understand the essence of Buddha-dharma at all. That is why even a short article is full of errors and too miserable to read. However, living beings do not know much about Buddha-dharma either. They “rely on persons, not the dharma.” Just because of some scholars’, dharma masters’, and rinpoches’ fame and halos, people would regard what they said as the essence of Buddhism and devote their entire lifetimes to follow and cultivate diligently. In the end, there isn’t any beneficial effect of Buddha-dharma to speak of. The cause is that they were misled and harmed by the hollowness, ignorance, or even evil views of these scholars and evil masters.
To this scholar with wrong views, do you clearly understand what the essence of Buddha-dharma is? Think about a fact. When your life is about to end, no matter how you recite the hollow theories you have learned before or how you try to spell out “Sakyamuni Buddha only created the concept of conditional arising and the emptiness of self-nature”, “the Buddha did not talk about supernatural powers,” or other words of slandering the Buddha, can you stop the arrival of the death? At that time, even if Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear before you, you still will not have even a little bit of supernatural power to climb onto the lotus seat or unify with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the end, the four great elements in you will decompose, your breath will stop at the stage of bardo, and you will be arraigned to the after-death world. There, your sins of discoursing hollow theories, defaming the Buddha and slandering the sutras, and other evil conduct will be settled. At that time, even if you become dawned suddenly, it will be too late. What awaits you will be suffering in the hell realm for countless eons.
Such a situation actually represents some common problems for some so-called Buddhist scholars in today’s world. They emphasize scholarly study but overlook concrete cultivation and true realization. They pretend to know what they actually do not and love to pose as teachers to other people. Consequently, they made many jokes to Buddhists that are analogous to covering the eyes with a piece of leaf, groping an elephant by a group of blind people, taking out of context, and so on. Some of them have already committed huge sins of slandering the Buddha and the sutras without being aware and are still indulged in self appreciation of reciting poetry and composing songs. Buddhist disciples should wake up and be vigilant to such a situation.
It was well said by a holy and virtuous one, “One’s ignorance is not lamentable. What is lamentable is when one refuses to recognize one’s own ignorance. The Buddha handed down 84,000 dharma gates. As a cultivator, how many of these do you know clearly? Those precious and profound dharmas that we never heard of before are not non-existent. It is pitiful of us that we never heard of them before. Moreover, the conduct of total rejection and negation and refusal to entering the matter deeply due to one’s having never heard of it before is like blocking one’s own eyes and covering the ears when stealing a ringing bell and is actually placing the weak view of an ordinary person above the ultimate truth governing the vast and boundless universe. Eventually, this is just harming oneself. Our purpose of cultivating Buddhism is not for killing time under the inertia of formality, grabbing fame, or being intoxicated between birth and death. Rather, it is for being liberated from birth and death! We must always remember this sole and ultimate purpose, to avoid being deluded by any useless debating or formality. Then we can approach the truth directly and become liberated expediently.”
Therefore, I sincerely suggest this scholar to enter deeply into the sutras. Otherwise, without substance, where can superficiality lie? It is not as simple as you quote a few poems to be a fake poet. You must not deceive yourself and others!
I am not going to borrow from other people’s poems to show as my learning. I will compose two poems of mine to end this article.
“During this dharma-ending era evil spirits emerged to cause demons mixing into humans. Some mundane being without learning plays with holy doctrines. I only worked a little bit with my pen, to reveal his original appearance under the vast sky.”
“Transcribing a few words from reading Buddhist scriptures to pirate the contents and pretend to be a holy one, this person wrote an article to slander the Buddha. No pollution can be caused by the extremely evil sentences. The sin of causing confusion can be seen explicitly, however.”