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The Unitive State in Buddhism

Professor Andrew Wilson

Unification Theological Seminary
from Readings from World Scriptures

Early Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism
Prajnaparamita tradition - Diamond Sutra
Prajnaparamita tradition - Heart Sutra
Tibetan Buddhism - Milarepa
Ch'an / Zen Buddhism

Early Buddhism

Rooted in Nibbana, the holy life is lived.  Nibbana is its goal, Nibbana is its end.
Samyutta Nikaya iii.188

Mahayana Buddhism

Prajnaparamita tradition

Diamond Sutra

Buddha said, "Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing.   This is altogether everywhere, without differentiation or degree."
Diamond Sutra 22-23

(Cf. Mulamadhyamakakarika 25, pp. 91f. Lankavatara Sutra 78, p. 182.  Katha Upanishad 2.1.10-11:

The Heart Sutra

Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the lovely, the holy!

Avalokita, the holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the wisdom which has gone beyond.  He looked down from on high, he beheld but five heaps, and he saw that in their own-being they were empty.

Here, O Shariputra, form is emptiness, and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form.  The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Here, O Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

Therefore, O Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element [and so on to] no mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance [and so on through the twelve links of the chain of dependent origination to] there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death.  There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment, and no non-attainment.

Therefore, O Shariputra, it is because of his indifference to any kind of personal attainment that a bodhisattva, through having relied on the perfection of wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings.  In the absence of thought coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.

All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time [are] fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment because they have relied on the perfection of wisdom.

Therefore one should know the perfection of wisdom as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell, allayer of all suffering, in truth--for what could go wrong?  By the Perfection of Wisdom has this spell been delivered.  It runs like this, "Gone, Gone, Gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all hail!"

This completes the Heart of perfect wisdom.

It is said that this short sutra gives the essence of the pefection of wisdom.  'Heaps' in the first paragraph are the skandhas: form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.  These, the five constituents of human personality, are declared to be in reality empty.  Their emptiness is described in the paradoxical dialectic: 'form is emptiness... emptiness is form,' which also describes the transcendental unity of subject and object, self and world, samsara and nirvana that is realized by the bodhisattva coursing in perfect wisdom.  The 'dharmas' in the third paragraph refer not to 'things' or 'laws' but to a group of 75 mental and experiental factors enumerated in Buddhst Abhidharma philosophy; many are listed in the following paragraph: the five skhandhas, six sense-organs, six sense-objects, six corresponding forms of consciousness, twelve links of the chain of causation, Four Noble Truths, gnosis, and attainment of the fruits of meditation.  They are likewise declared to be empty.  The final 'spell' or mantra, delivered by Wisdom personified, describes the experience of awakening to the realization of this wisdom. The reader is referred to the excellent commentary on this sutra in Edward Conze, Buddhist Wisdom Books (New York: Harper, 1972).  Cf. Lankavatara Sutra, p. 155.  Mumonkan 18:

Tibetan Buddhism


Veiled by ignorance,
The minds of man and Buddha
Appear to be different;
Yet in the realm of Mind Essence
They are both of one taste.  Some-
Time they will meet each other
In the great Dharmadhatu.

The 'Dharmadhatu' is the world of Reality, unclouded by temporal phenomena or grasping for existence, as perceived by those who have attained enlightenment.  Cf. Sutra of Hui Neng 3, p. 218; 6, p. 536; Seng Ts'an, pp. 221f.; Surangama Sutra, p. 546; Isha Upanishad 15-16, p. 74.

Tibetan Buddhism

Ch'an / Zen

Gettan Osho said, "Keichu, the first wheelmaker, made a cart whose wheels
had a hundred spokes.  Now, suppose you took a cart and removed both the
wheels and the axle.  What would you have?

Mumon's Comment, "If anyone can directly master this topic, his eye will
be like a shooting star, his spirit like a flash of lightning."

       When the spiritual wheels turn,
       Even the master fails to follow them.
       They travel in all directions above and below,
       North, south, east, and west.

Mumonkan 8

'The wheels and the axle' means the body and mind.  Cf. Sutta Nipata 1072-76

A monk asked Tozan, "What is Buddha?"  Tozan replied, "Three pounds of flax!"
Mumonkan 18

This Zen koan stresses the folly of definition.  You do not define the truth; you enter into it.  If you think you can simply understand this koan to mean that the Buddha nature enters into everything, what do you make of Mumonkan 1,?  Cf. Chuang Tzu 22,., and Mumonkan 21,

external link The Infinite Possibility - Six Vajra Verses


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Unitive State

page uploaded 21 December 1999, last modified 20 September 2005