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and Śūnyatā in the Early and Developed
Vietnamese translation: Bồ tát và Tánh không trong kinh tạng Pāli và Đại thừa
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The Identity in Pāli Nikāyās and Mahāyāna Sūtras
The differences in the concepts of Bodhisatta / Bodhisattva(菩 薩) and Suññatā / Śūnyatā (空 性) in Pāli texts (杷 厘 經 藏) and Mahāyāna canon (大 乘 經 典) are not merely verbal but real. In Pāli Nikāyas, the Buddhist gospel is represented in a simple style easily understood by all. On the contrary, the themes are expressed in elaborated manner and ornate style, often polemical in their presentation and uncolloquial form. The simple ways of Pāli Nikāyas appear very near the oral transmissions of the early ages of Buddhism. It is a matter of serious consideration if the gospel of the Pāli sūtras is more akin to the original teachings of the Buddha. But it cannot be doubted that the Mahāyāna works are definitely of a developed stage in which metaphysical reasoning is super-imposed on the customary doctrines. The negative delineation of the doctrine of emptiness (Śūnyatā) in Prajñā-Pāramitā literature (般 若 波 羅 密 經) and the multi-symbolism of Mahāyāna literature call up on a more profound study of the canon and its commentaries to follow the sophisticated style and basic formularies of the later school of thought.
In general, such verbal distinctions have led the scholars to form opinions in their own way about the identity in Pāli Nikāyās and Mahāyāna Sūtras such as:
* The doctrines (法 話) of Mahāyāna Sūtras, along with those of the Pāli Nikāyas are essentially the same in origin (同 原), nature (同 本 質) and purpose (同 目 的), because what are often distinguished as Prajñā pāramitā literature (般 若 波 羅 密 經), the Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka (妙 法 蓮 花 經), Laṅkāvatara (楞 伽 經), Lalitavistara (神 通 遊 戲 經), Samādhirāja (三 妹 王 經), Daśabhūmi (十 地 經), Sukhāvatī (無 量 壽 經), Vimalakīrti (維 摩 詰 經)... always have their reference in the Early Buddhist literature - Pāli Nikāyas.
* The doctrine of Absolute Emptiness(Śūnyāta, 空 性) in Mahāyāna is indeed came from Suññatā in Pāli Nikāyas which is also the first basic lesson of Non-self (anātman, 無 我) and Dependent-origination (Pratītyasamutpāda, 緣 起 , 因 緣 生 起). Thus, Suññatā (Śūnyāta) means nothing but Non-self, Dependent-origination, the Four Noble Truths and the way of Sīla - Samādhi - Prajñā (戒 定 慧) are those which are very fundamental and original for all different forms of Buddhism. All other Buddhist ideas stemmed out or developed from these doctrines in order to suit different characters and temperaments of all walks of life. * Anātma and Paṭiccasamuppāda in Pāli Nikāyas are referred to as true Reality of all phenomena in Mahāyāna Sūtras. * The way of Boddhisattva practices of ten Pāramitās (十 波 羅 密) in Mahāyāna texts is the same ten Pāramīs in Pāli scriptures. In other words, the six Pāramitās (六 波 羅 密) of Boddhisattva-caryā (菩 薩 行) which most of the Mahāyāna Sūtras mention and advocate, is none other than the traditional way of Sīla-samādhi-prajñā (戒 定 慧) with the Thirty-seven Dharmas conducive to Enlightenment (三 十 七 助 道) in Pāli texts. * The conception of Ten Bhūmis (十 地) of Mahāyāna is correlative with the simplicity, popularisation of the spiritual process of nine Jhānas (九 禪) mentioned in Pāli Nikāyas.754
The roots of Mahāyāna doctrines predominantly lie in the sūtras of the early school of Theravāda. Hence, it is not correct to say that Mahāyāna(菩 薩 乘) is superior or greater in appraisal to Śrāvakayāna (聲 聞 乘). A grosser change of more generous tendency of liberation in Mahāyāna as compared with the so-called selfish endeavor of emancipation in Śrāvakayāna must be discarded at once. What is to be accepted is that Buddha taught according to the capacity and temperament of men and women. He never herded all into a particular wisdom. And this leaves no ground for disbelief into the sublimity of the two ideologies. The Mahāyāna scriptures are as sublime as the philosophy of Pāli Nikāyas.
As a matter of fact, the Dharma was expressed by Buddha is not a doctrine of philosophy, if it is anything at all, it is therapeutic device cleansing of men’s innate coarse or subtle clinging. Just as when a patient is cured i.e. freed from clings, then what the Buddha taught becomes useless and abandoned behind as ‘a raft’:
"Just as a raft, after being fashioned out of grass, sticks, branches and leaves, serves to cross over great stretches of water and is then abandoned, so the Dharma, by means of which we ferry over the water of birth and death to the other shore, nirvana, is not something to be taken with us but something to be left behind".
"Ye Bhiksus, should know that the Dharma expounded is likened to a raft. Even the Dharma should be cast aside; how much more so the Not-Dharma".(汝 等 毘 丘 ！ 知 我 說 法 ， 如 箋 喻 者 ， 法 常 應 捨 ， 何 況 非 法). 755
Therefore, if Mahāyāna or Hīnayāna is merely therapeutic device, skillful means(Upāya-kauśalya, 方 便) to develop spirituality to highest perfection, or the Buddha’s teaching is only one aim to liberation as the sea’s taste has only one – salt, then there is not any higher or lower. In this regard, we would like to suggest that Buddhist terms of Hīnayāna (小 乘) and Mahāyāna (大 乘) should be transferred to the words of Early Buddhist Tradition (初 期 傳 統 佛 教) and Developed Buddhist Tradition (後 期 / 發 展 傳 統 佛 教).
The Application from the Concept of Boddhisattva
The Doctrine of Boddhisattva in the Individual and Society Improvement
The one common motif of the Boddhisatta in Pāli scriptures or Bodhisattva in Mahāyāna texts is the sublime way of inducing in men, the urge for living and letting others live. For inculcation of this higher aspiration in both these systems the same ideas of self-reliance, self-examination, self-awareness, self-responsibility are made to work. The urge is for being earnest, optimistic, thoughtful and careful in every situation.
The ideal of the Bodhisattva impinges on a constant and dynamic watch over one’s action for realization of the goal. The ideal closely pursued gives spiritual strength and wisdom by which one must cross the shore of misery.
The Bodhisattva is a compassionate being. He teaches one to be kind to all other sentient beings. The cause of human degeneration is selfishness, born of ignorance and conceit that destroy the sacredness of our destined role. It is not understanding the way of extricating oneself from the mire of brutal systems that we fall prey, again and again, to our helpless state of misery. If we could imbibe the ideal of the Bodhisattva in our customary life we can awaken our hidden energy to many useful purposes. It is we who can manage the state in a viable way to make our future bright.
The Doctrine of Boddhisattva in the Gnosiology
A knowledge of the Pāli Nikāyas and Mahāyāna Sutras is as much necessary to live up to the Bodhisattva ideal as the Mahāyāna texts on Prajñā Pāramitā where a simple study does not satisfy the nosegies of a learned person. We can study the themes from every corner of semantics and symbolical analysis as well as awaking them. This is also the requirement of persons who are engaged in propagation of Buddhist teachings.
The Application of the Concept of Śūnyatā
The Doctrine of Śūnyatā and the View of Individual and Universe
The signification of Śūnyatā which was taught by the Buddha, lies in the doctrine of anatta and Pratītyasamutpāda. It has been for us a perfect view about the individual and world. Therefore, it is an undisputed fact that Buddhism never pessimistic and weary in any circumstances of ages, regime in the past, present or future, in the West civilization or our Asian countries. Following the doctrine of Śūnyatā, Buddhism usually opens a way to liberation. Buddhism does not promise man heaven or a remote paradise or sin realm. Buddhism only guides man should know clearly who he is, why he gets suffering and shows him the way of freedom. According to Buddhism, deliberation does not mean that it helps man to escape from this life to dream to the promised lands, liberation in Buddhism is to guide man face daily life, himself, five aggregations to reflect on them, to unveil their form of true reality. It means that the liberation is built on the enlightenment and comprehension of true wisdom. With such a wisdom, a Bodhisattva freed from all bonds, gains more determinable, effort, enthusiastic to work and serve mankind without hope or desire for any reward or return from his noble action.
As far as progress of material-civilization is concerned, man can fly up to the moon, the Mars or dive to the bottom of the ocean, invent the atom-bomb, scientific-technology, computer-space-scientific-technology. The more achievements they gain in the world, the more crisis men suffer in life.
If the history of humankind is the history to seek for the object of the freed and bliss truth, then the doctrine of Śūnyatā is the very object for that purpose.
The doctrine of Śūnyatā is the basis, the great confidence not only for the 21th century but also for next ones in the view to build, upgrade and improve man and society as well as return to man and society whatever was lost by their unintention or intention.
Śūnyatā is a door for us to abide in deliberation, true nature.
The Doctrine of Śūnyatā and Science
It is very interesting to note here that having studied the concept of Śūnyatā in Buddhism, the scientists come to admit the fact that Śūnyatā corresponds with science, because both of them have some similar views.756
It is said that the nuclear scientist who discovered the principle that matter can be harnessed into energy and that energy and matter appear to be two, but they are one unit, had the truth known from the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. That substantiates impermanence.
A comparative study of the doctrine of Śūnyata and some specific nuances of science evince remarkable similarity. It is a great success of the modern scientist in his long career of dealing with movement and change to have evolved the principle of interchangeability of matter into energy. This is like the affirmation of the Hṛdaya Sūtra which rationalises that ‘rūpa’ is not different from arūpa or ‘Śūnyata’, the form and emptiness being identical: ‘Form (rūpa) is no different from the void (sūnya), nor the void from form. Form is identical with the void (and) void is identical with form’(色 不 異 空 , 空 不 異 色 . 色 即 是 空 ， 空 即 是 色).757
Modern science accepts ‘matter’ as ‘energy’ and ‘energy’ means ‘material object’. This is metaphorically illustrated in the example of the power of waterfall running turbine to generate electricity. Electricity furnishes the amount of energy for propulsion of electronic appliances. This principle in Buddhist idiom strengthens the conviction that we owe our existence in the world to our naturalness in the reality of emptiness, as Nāgārjuna emphatically asserts:
"With Śūnyatā, all is possible; without it, all is impossible."758
Mahāyāna holds that all phenomena has two signs: (i) one is inward, (ii) the other is the outward. The outward sign is open to our five-fold internal organs. The sixth sense reveals the inward essence. The immense varieties and dimensions in the world’s compass have their inherent nature of undiluted reality, the perceptive suchness (Tathātā). When we apply this to interaction of electricity, we see it into basic nature neither appearing nor disappearing, but remaining appearing and disappearing in accordance with the Causal Law.
In the successive stages in the progress of science since the time of Anaxagoras, the stellar society and numerous cosmic systems are vividly told in Buddhist books. The new science has acceded to a dynamic concept of matter against static law of old classical physics. A vitalistic view in science in opposition to Darwin’s hypothesis has come to uphold all evolutionary processes, reaching from the lowest to the highest organism that illustrates a gradual unfolding in the sensuous world of a pre-existing power of mind.759
The Doctrine of Śūnyatā in Mutual Understanding among Religions
All theological religions take the ultimate reality in the substantival godhead, the omniscient, the omnipotent and the omnipresent God. In Judaism, he is called Yahweh; in Islam, he is Allah, Iśvara (Śiva, Viṣṇu, Brahmā) are his designations in Hinduism. The Christians know him as Father in heaven. These are the emanations of the Primordial Buddha or fundamental principle of life (Sambhogākāya, the divine attaining ultimate Reality).
It is to be conceded that the ultimate truth in all these universal religious orders which is designated by different names in their systems are supposedly formless, unlimited, without colour or emptiness (Śūnyatā).
A study of the various theological systems and the Śūnyatā doctrine, as in Mahāyāna Buddhism leads one to comprehend the ground for a dynamic unity in religious pluralism without even discarding absolutism of each theological system.
The absolute Śūnyatā does not deny but rather allows each religious claim to obsoluteness in terms of the godhead. It is to be relied up on that the various religious ways are grasped as manifestations of the radial absolute emptiness doctrine.
It would be easy to transfix a ground for all religions as the basis for a dynamic universal unity, the condition for it being the breaking through their traditional form of personal God-Centeredness and acceptance of emptiness to be the underlying unitary principle of life, such as Brahman. Instead of wrangling for formalism, it behooves to reason that a thorough historical and cultural understanding is evolved to smother conflicts among religious systems.
A sound proposal is offered by the Buddhist trikāya doctrine and the absolute Śūnyatā principle as the summum bonum of dharma-kāya which alone must develop real mutual understanding among religions.
Philosophy today inclines all perceptive men to dissolve their superficial differences, born on account of their traditional formalism and share the vision of relativity of inner awareness and manifestation of appearance to foster better understanding and spiritual unity on earth.
754See Ch.VII, p. 295.
755金 剛 般 若 波 羅 密 經 , 佛 學 業 書, 台 鸞, 一 九 九 八, pp. 113-4.
756See Buddhism and Science, Buddhasa P. Kirthisinghe ed., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, Rpt. 1996, pp. 8-11, 17 ff., 40 ff., 92ff., 103ff., 146ff.
757般 若 波 羅 密 多 心 經 , 佛 學 業 書 , 台 鸞 , 一 九 九 八 , p. 134.
758The Middle Treatise (T 1564 in Vol. 30, tr. by Kumārajīva in 409 A.D.), xxiv: 14; Nāgārjuna’s Twelve Gate Treatise, viii, Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1982; also see Empty Logic, Hsueh Li Cheng, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, p. 43.
759C. Egerton, Buddhism and Science, Sarnath, 1959, p. 9.
Sincere thanks to Bhikkhuni Gioi-Huong for giving the digital files (Binh Anson, 07-2009).