370. Buddha Nature (2)

Buddha Nature is said  to  exist  in  two  forms. When it’s covered over  by kleshas,  the defilements, it’s called tathagatagarbha—Buddha embryo or womb.

When  those defilements  don’t exist anymore,  it’s called Dharmakaya. Dharmakaya  is the universal  body of the Buddha, the Body which encompasses  all of existence. The Dharmakaya is  said (in the Nirvana sutra for instance) to have four qualities: self, bliss, eternity  and purity. 

When we hear that,  it doesnt sound like Buddhism. In fact, it sounds like the  complete opposite of. everything  that  we’ve been taught about no self, impermanence  and  suffering. Indeed those four  qualities are the opposite of the four qualities which we’re told  characterises samsara: suffering, the belief in a personal, continuing  self,  impermanence  and the kleshas,-—the  mental impurities. 

In her book ‘Buddha Nature’, Sallie King says   that the Dharmakaya isn’t  about establishing a new self. Rather, it’s a creative and appropriate response  to Nagarjuna. Her argument is  that  Nagarjuna’s method  of subjecting all concepts  to  destructive analysis  leaves us with a  conception of emptiness  which is negative.

In his time – and now too – Nagarjuna  is often criticised (unfairly and incorrectly) as a nihilist,  because  the  positive  side of his teaching  is ignored, because it’s not explicit in his principal writings. It’s there by  inference.

In that way, it’s quite similar  to  the Buddha, who  doesn’t describe  the  state  that the meditator is in  when they leave their  misconceived  conceptual world—when they leave  their adherence to a fixed sense of self—it’s simply  left  for the practitioner to  discover, because explication would leave the practitioner still mired in a conceptual position. 

Likewise, when  Nagarjuna clears away  all the  erroneous,  conceptual structures he doesn’t tell  us  what  the ground, which is left, looks like. The suggestion Sallie King makes is that after Nagarjuna, the emerging Mahayana tradition took a  turn towards  talking about emptiness  in positive terms to remedy this misunderstanding which led to nihilism. Compassion was further emphasised, for the same reason.

The various sutras that we associate  with that  were turbocharged in impact because of the fortunate coincidence (for  them) of their appearance in the  early centuries of the common era. This coincided with the reception of Buddhism  in China.  Because the  positive language of those sutras  was much more in keeping with the positive view the Chinese had of the world (rather than  a quite pervasive  view  in the Indian spiritual traditions that  the world was something that we require  to be liberated from), these sutras thrived in their new environment.

Careful analysis of  the texts has made it clear that people no one thought that the Dharmakaya or the Tathagatagarba  was a ‘something’, contravening  emptiness. Rather, it was a positive  interpretation of emptiness, so for  instance, in the Buddha Nature Treatise, there’s the following passage,”Buddha Nature  is the thusness  revealed by the dual emptiness of person  and things.  If one does not speak of Buddha Nature then one does not understand emptiness.” The author is clear that you need to  see these concepts  through the lens of Emptiness. 

And if we also see these concepts  through the lens of  Practice  then it seems to  me that  Dharmakaya, the universal  body of the Buddha, is an experientially accurate way  of describing our experience  sometimes in Zazen—of non-separation, of the the split  between  ourselves and the world  and the internal splits that we have dropping away, which Isso Fujita calls one piece Zen.