Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh (4)

Further expansion of Bát Nhã
As we've mentioned previously, the first 2 verses summarize the gist of Bát Nhã teaching. The following verses are further expansion of Bát Nhã.

Xá-Lợi-Tử! Thị chư Pháp không tướng, bất sanh bất diệt, bất cấu bất tịnh, bất tăng bất giảm.

(Xá Lợi Tử, mọi sự đều là không, chẳng sanh chẳng diệt, chẳng dơ chẳng sạch, chẳng tăng chẳng giảm.)

(Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. They are not borrn, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure, and they neither increase nor diminish).

This is the second and last time Xá-Lợi-Tử is addressed directly by name in Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh. This time is to indicate the major shift of không from human being to all things in existence. Recall in the first verse, we have ngũ uẩn giai không (five skandhas are emptiness) and ngũ uẩn indicates human being. In this verse we have chư pháp không tướng (all dharmas are emptiness). Chư pháp means tất cả các pháp, all things in the universe--both in the universe of the mind and in the external universe. Thus, now Bát Nhã expands its territory to affirm that not only human being but everything else in the universe is không.

Recall, previously in the example of my coming into the world and death, we have said "From the universe I come, and back to the universe I go," and from that we change to "From không I come, and back to không I go." The same thing can be said about everything else in the universe. From không the stars come, and back to không the stars go. Stars are born from không, and in due time, stars burst and disappear back to không.

But the universe itself, although serving as a good example to understand không, is not không yet, because we still can see the universe with our eyes and our mind—the universe itself is dharma (pháp) and all dharmas are không. We need to push our logic further, to its ultimate limits, to the absolute—all universes, both externally and in the mind, come from không and back to không they go. Không is the true nature of all things, and everything is only a fleeting manisfestation of không, just like waves are fleeting manifestation of water.

Here we can see the relationship between "substance" and "phenomenon." Water is the substance, wave is the phenomenon. Subtance and phenomenon are not 2 different things; substance and phenomenon are just 2 different ways to talk about the same thing. Wave is not different from water, water is not different from wave; wave is water, water is wave. Everthing is not different from không, không is not different from anything; all things are không, không is everything.

Standing on the beach to watch the sea, if we look at the waves, we can see that some new waves are born, some old waves are destroyed, some waves are muddy, some waves are clean, some waves increase, some waves decrease. However, the water is just water, always there, not born, not destroyed, not dirty, not clean, not increasing, not decreasing. Thus, when we look at all things in the universe, we see comings and goings and all kinds of movements and changes. But if we look at the substance of all things, which is không, then không is just không, always there, never born, never destroyed, never dirty, never clean, never increasing, never decreasing. That is the meaning of "Thị chư pháp không tướng, bất sanh, bất diệt, bất cấu, bất tịnh, bất tăng, bất giảm."

So now we have the defining characteristics of Không:

1. Không is the substance of all things in the universe (and everything in the universe is the manifestion of Không).

2. Không is absolute—always there, never born, never destroyed, never dirty, never clean, never decreasing, never increasing, etc.

This concept of Không is somewhat similar to the concept of God in theist religions, with one major difference: God has an active personality that actively engages in human life and the life of the universe, while Không is absolutely neutral.

Thị cố không trung, vô sắc, vô thọ, tưởng, hành, thức; vô nhãn, nhĩ, tỷ, thiệt, thân, ý; vô sắc, thinh, hương, vị, xúc, pháp; vô nhãn giới, nãi chí vô ý-thức-giới.

(Cho nên, trong không chẳng có sắc, chẳng có thọ, tưởng, hành, thức; chằng có mắt, tai, mũi, lưỡi, thân, ý; chẳng có màu sắc, âm thanh, hương thơm, vị nếm, xúc cảm, các pháp; chẳng có nơi để nhìn, cho đến chẳng có nơi để ý thức.)

( Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness; no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or dharmas; no field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness).

From this verse on, Bát Nhã presents a list of all fundamental teachings by the Buddha himself. These teachings are the foundation of Buddhism. They make up Buddhism. However, Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh starts to negate all teachings, one by one.

At this time, we need to keep in mind these points:

First, in Bát Nhã language, negation and affirmation are the same. Sắc bất dị không, không bất dị sắc; sắc tức thị không, không tức thị sắc.

Second, không is the substance of all things, including all teachings, all practices. Like everything else, teachings and practices are merely phenomena--fleeting manifestation of không.

Third, if we observe the sea and focus our thinking on the water, we can say that only the water exists and the waves do not really exist—they are just movements of water. Similarly, when we focus our thinking on the substance of all things in the universe—không—we can say in không nothing really exist; everything is just fleeting manifestation of không. That is why in this verse that we are examining, Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh says, "In không, there is no…"

And then Bát Nhã lists a full list of Buddhist teachings. The question is "Why does Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh take the trouble to list an entire list of teachings, just to negate them one by one? What is the purpose of this careful negation?"

We will answer this question, but before that we have to know what teachings are listed and negated. Let's examine the list.

Ngũ uẩn (sắc thọ tưởng hành thức—five skandhas: form, feeling, perception, mental formation, consciousness) are what make a human being. Bát Nhã now negate five skandhas.

Lục căn (nhãn nhĩ tỷ thiệt thân ý—sáu gốc: mắt tai mũi lưỡi, thân ý-- six roots, six sensing organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind): These are the gate, the interface, between the external world and the world of our mind. Without these we do not exist, both physically and mentally. But Bát Nhã now negates lục căn.

Lục trần (sắc thanh hương vị xúc pháp—six dusts or six gunas or six sense objects: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, and dharmas). Lục trần correspond to lục căn in the preceding paragraph. Lục trần make up the entire universe. The first five (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch) make up the physical universe, the last one "dharmas"—all things (that the mind can sees)--makes up the mental universe.

Lục trần (six dusts) from outside enter our boby and mind through lục căn (six roots) and will give us sensations, which will make us desire, and from desire all troublesome things come. That is why these six things are called six dusts (lục trần). The act of lục trần entering our body through lục căn is called lục nhập (six entrances).

Lục trần is another fundamental Buddhist teaching. Lục trần make up the universe. But Bát Nhã now negates lục trần.

Vô nhãn giới, nãi chí vô ý thức giới. Chẳng có nơi để nhìn, cho đến chẳng có nơi để ý thức. No field of the eyes, up to and including no field of mind-consciousness.

Here we are talking about lục giới (six realms of six sense organs), starting with nhãn giới (realm of the eyes), to nhĩ giới (realm of the ears), tỉ giới (realm of the nose), thiệt giới (realm of the tongue), thân giới (realm of the body), all the way to ý thức giới (realm of the mind). Bát nhã uses the short way of mentioning only the first (eyes) and the last realm (mind) to indicate all six realms.

These six realms make up the entire universe—tangible universe of the first five sense organs and intangible universe of the mind. But again, Bát Nhã negates all six realms.

Tran Dinh Hoanh, Esq., LLB, JD
Washington DC