14. Citta (i): The Ultimate Reality

In this post, we discuss Buddha’s teaching on Ultimate Reality.

Let’s start with the Romanized Sanskrit terms for the two concepts to be discussed.  

Citta (Chinese=心), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “mind,” “mentality,” or “thought.” Furthermore, “Citta is contrasted with the physical body and materiality.”

As discussed in Post 9, Rupa (Chinese=色), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit and Pali, “body,” “form,” or “materiality,” viz., that which has shape and is composed of matter. More generally, rupa refers to the materiality, which serves as the object of the five sensory consciousness (vijnana): visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile.” In other words, rupa represents what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, i.e., everything in the phenomenal universe.

The sutra that will be used in this discussion is Mohe Zhiguan.

Mohe Zhiguan (Chinese=摩訶止觀) is a “”voluminous” and “comprehensive Buddhist doctrinal summa which discusses meditation and various key Buddhist doctrines. ….. It is particularly important in the development of Buddhist meditation….”, and “a major focus of the Móhē zhǐguān is the practice of Samatha (止 zhǐ, calming or stabilizing meditation) and Vipassana (觀 guān, clear seeing or insight).”” Most importantly, Mohe Zhiguan “is founded firmly on scripture; every key assertion of the text is supported by sutra quotations.”

With “every key assertion of the text supported by sutra quotations,” Mohe Zhiguan is not only comprehensive but also highly credible and authoritative.

One doctrine that Mohe Zhiguan teaches is “The Ten Vessels for Insights into Principle (Chinese=十乘之理觀).” The name “ten vessels of insight into principle” carries two important meanings.

The “vessels” are metaphors that represent ten levels of increasingly profound meditative states. Each higher level provides deeper insights into the nature of reality, guiding practitioners towards higher states of enlightenment.

As will be discussed when discussing the Two Truths, “principle” and mentality are exchangeable in Buddhism. In other words, “The ten vessels of into principle” is to be understood as “the ten vessels of insight into mentality.”

At the tenth, the pinnacle, level of the meditative state, Mohe Zhigua teaches that one gains “insight into the Inconceivable Realm (Chinese=觀不思議境).” The Sanskrit term for inconceivable is acintya.

Acintya (Chinese=不可思議), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, inconceivable, a term to describe the ultimate reality that is beyond all conceptualization.” However, the reason the Ultimate Reality is “beyond all conceptualization” is because its only constituent, mentality, is “beyond all conceptualization.” So, inconceivability should apply to both realms of “Such is the Way of Dharma.” Both realms are “Nothing but Mentality.” Their difference is whether mentality fluctuates. Like when we discussed Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s enlightenment experience in Post 10, the Bodhisattva had to reach the “perfection of wisdom” to realize that mentality and rupa are the same, we can expect that when one pierces into the Inconceivable Realm at the most profound meditative state, one should get a similar understanding.

Before we expound on the details, please allow me to introduce the texts Dharma Master Jing Kong (Chinese=淨空法師) uses in this discussion.

The lecture notes that he used are known as “The Chapter on the Ten Vessels of Insight into Reality in Tripitaka by Numbers, taken from Mohe Zhiguan (Chinese=三藏法數十乘條: [出摩訶止觀]).”

Tripitaka (Chinese=三藏), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “three baskets,” one of the most common and best known of the organization schema of the Indian Buddhist canon. The three baskets were Sutrapitaka (Chinese=經藏) (basket of discourses), Vinayapitaka (Chinese=律藏) (basket of disciplinary texts), and Abhidharmapitaka (Chinese=論藏) ( [alt. “Sastrapitaka] (basket of “higher dharma” or “treaties.“)

Mohe Zhiguan belongs to the basket of Sutrapitaka.

Tripitaka by Numbers (Chinese=三藏法數) is a well-known Chinese Buddhist encyclopedia that arranges Buddha’s teachings by numbers. For example, the doctrine, The Ten Vessels of Insight into Reality, would be categorized under ten.

So, what insight can one expect to realize when meditatively piercing into the Inconceivable Realm?

First, a rhetorical question is asked:

What insight can be had?”

The answer:

“Nothing outside of rupa and citta.”

“Rupa originates from citta.”

“All are ontologicall Citta.”

If we substitute rupa with “everything in the phenomena universe” and citta with “mentality,” one gets the following plain-language translation.

“What can you understand when perceiving the Inconceivable Realm?

The answer:

“Nothing but everything in the phenomenal universe and mentality.”

“Everything in the phenomenal universe originates from mentality.”

“Mentality is the nature of existence of everything in the phenomenal universe.”

These three lines from Mohe Zhigua are critical in understanding what Buddha realized using direct perception of how the universe originated and why all realities are “Nothing but Mentality.”

The following are some of the attributes of Citta as the Ultimate Reality.

1) Citta as the Ultimate Reality

So, what is the difference between the ultimate and non-ultimate reality if they are both mental? In Buddhism, their difference is if the “realness” of the reality is permanent.

To be the Ultimate Reality, the “realness” of its reality can never change.” While both realms of “Such is the Way of Dharma” share mentality as their only constituent, only the realm where the mentality is quiescent can be the Ultimate Reality. If its mentality ever fluctuates, its “realness” changes with every fluctuation. Therefore, while the fluctuating mentality is a reality, it cannot be the Ultimate Reality.

So, Buddha’s answer to the question, “Is Consciousness Ultimate Reality?is no because the conscious mentality fluctuates and is not permanent . The answer to the question, “Is Consciousness Fundamental?” is yes, but only in our conscious world, where mentality fluctuates incessantly.

While consciousness is the state of fluctuating mentality, awareness is quiescent and, by Buddha’s definition, enlightened and luminous.  

To avoid confusion, Citta, with a capital c, will be used to indicate the quiescent mentality of the Ultimate Reality, and consciousness will be used to indicate the fluctuating mentality in our future discussions.

2) Citta as the Originator of the Universe

The teachings in Mohe Zhiguan clearly indicate Buddha’s view that the universe was not created as if it were something from absolutely nothing. Instead, the foundation of our universe is the conscious realm of fluctuating mentality, which has existed since time immemorial. When the conditions (Romanized Sanskrit=pratyaya) were right, and science tells us they were right about more than thirteen billion years ago, our conscious universe arose. With an eternally conscious realm as the foundation, many other conscious universes may have existed before ours, which is what Buddha tells us. Having a pre-existing realm of reality is also good news for scientists who think there is a multiverse. It makes it unnecessary for them to wonder how a multiverse can originate from our lone universe.   

3) Citta as Emptiness

Emptiness (Romanized Sanskrit=shunyata/sunyata; Chinese=空), according to The Dictionary Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, also known as “void,” is a “central notion of Buddhism….Shunyata is often equated with the absolute in the Mahayana since it is without duality and empirical forms.” Indeed, mentality is without an empirical form.

4) Citta Spread Throughout the Universe

In Post 11, when discussing Mentergy, it was suggested that “energy in scientific doctrines can help explain Buddha’s corresponding doctrines taught using consciousness.” Here is another example. While energy is pervasive in science, it is mentality that is spread throughout the universe in Buddhism.

According to this article, in the Vajrasekhara Sutra (Chinese=金剛頂經), Buddha teaches that the Ultimate Reality is spread throughout the dharmadhatu.

Dharmadhatu (Chinese=法界), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “dharma realm,” viz., “realm of reality,” or “dharma element:” a term that has two primary denotations.

  • In the Abhidharma tradition, dharmadhatu means an “element of dharma,” or the “reality of dharma.
  • In the Mahayana, dharmadhatu is used primarily to mean “sphere of dharma,” which denotes the infinite domain in which the activity of all dharmas takes place – i.e., the universe.”

With the proper understanding of “Such is the Way of Dharma,” we now understand that the “dharma realm,” viz., “realm of reality,” is a three-body system in Buddha’s cosmos rather than just “the universe.”

5) Religious Attributes

  • Citta, being spread throughout the universe, can be considered omnipresent.
  • Citta, being spread throughout the universe, can be considered omniscient.
  • Citta, being the originator of the universe, can be considered omnipotent.

In some religions, these three features are often associated with divinity. However, in Buddhism, they are associated with nature.

6) Philosophical Attributes

German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. He was well-known for his doctrine of Noumenon. Noumenon, he posited, was “an object that exists independently of human sense” and was “generally used in contrast with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to any object of the senses.” Furthermore, he proposed the idea of the “Thing-in-itself,” which is “closely related to Kant’s concept of noumena or the objects of inquiry, as opposed to phenomena, its manifestations.” His definition of the Thing-in-self “is the status of objects as they are, independent of representation and observation.”

Kant’s ideas of a Noumenon and the thing-in-itself closely resemble Buddha’s bifurcation of the universe. Indeed, Buddha’s Ultimate Reality “exists independently of human sense” and was “generally used in contrast with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to any object of the senses.” Also, Citta, existing unconditionally, uncompounded, and inconceivably without an empirical form, fits Kant’s definition of “thing-in-itself” because the status of Citta is as mentality is.

The essential difference between Buddhism, religion, and philosophy is that religious and philosophical teachings are neither directly nor independently verifiable. Buddha’s teachings are, as shall be discussed in the Verification Category.

In the next post, more attributes of Citta will be discussed.

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