16. The Three Delicate Marks

Having discussed that “neighbor-to Emptiness dust” is equivalent to the scientific epiphenomenon and the precise intersecting point between Buddhism and science, we talk about the significance “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” plays in Buddhism by discussing Buddha’s doctrine known as The Three Delicate Marks (Chinese = 三細相). The marks are delicate because they gather on a single “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust,” whose lifespan is extremely short, which Buddha describes as “born here, also annihilated here.”

Let’s start with the sutra, Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (Chinese=大乗起信論), “an influential Mahayana Buddhist treatise for East Asian Buddhism.”

In Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, it is written, “from enlightenment, there is unenlightenment, three marks arise, inseparably (Chinese=依於覺故,而有不覺,生三種相, 不相捨離). 

The descriptions of the Three Delicate Marks are:

1) Mark of The Non-Luminous Karma (Chinese=無明業相). 

According to Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, the Mark of The Non-Luminous Karma is “the karma from the unenlightened motion of mentality.” Furthermore, “There is no motion when enlightened. Where there is motion, there is suffering. Because fruition is inseparable from causation.” (Chinese=依不覺心動為業,覺則不動,動則有苦. 果不離因故).”

2) Mark of Ability to Observe (Chinese=能見相): 

According to Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, “the motion of mentality leads to the ability to observe an external realm. Without motion, there is no observation” (Chinese=以心動能見境界 = 不動則無見).

3) Mark of A Delusional Realm (Chinese=妄境相):                       

According to Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, it sprouts forth “because of the ability to observe; a delusional realm is manifested.” “Without observation, there is no realm (Chinese=依能見, 妄境相現. 離見則無境).” 

“From enlightenment, there is unenlightenment” obviously refers to the transition from the enlightened realm of the Ultimate Reality, where mentality is quiescent, to the unenlightened realm of non-luminosity, where mentality fluctuates incessantly.  

But what can “three marks arise, inseparably” mean? Where can these three marks be gathered inseparably in the fluctuating field of mentality? In an environment of nothing but waves, ripples are indeed the only reasonable targets for them to do so.

It is where Dr. Wiczek’s comment, “epiphenomena, they are kind of ripples on the deep structure,” plays its critical role. 

By linking the scientific epiphenomena to ripples in the field of quantum energy fluctuations, Dr. Wiczek’s comment makes it possible to link Buddha’s version of epiphenomena, the “neighbort-to-Emptiness dust,” to ripples in non-luminosity. With a direct link between “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” and non-luminosity established, we can be sure that the Three Marks arising from non-luminosity are gathered inseparably on a single “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust.” Furthermore, since “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” is the fluctuation of mentality, it is consciousness. In Buddha’s universe, consciousness begins with the “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust.”

In addition to the origin of consciousness, when the three marks are considered together, one understands that many of Buddha’s core teachings, such as karma, causation, fruition, the dualistic separation of the observer from the observed, and an external realm that Buddha deems delusional, and suffering, all debut on a single “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust.” Without mentality moving, none of them exists. It is another example of Citta working as the First Principle of Truth in Buddhism, which is that all phenomena can be explained by whether mentality fluctuates or not. 

With “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” being conscious and the building block of the universe, humans inherited consciousness from it. However, while “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” gives humans their consciousness, humans also inherit causality, karma, and fruition. Additionally, in Buddha’s book, if you ever consider what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch as real, you are delusional. With delusion, you automatically enter the cycles of determinative birth and death and the suffering they cause. 

Indeed, in Buddhism, one does not get to eat an apple or do anything fun before becoming unenlightened. Instead, unenlightenment is inherent and the state of being for all humans. Fortunately, however, enlightenment is humanity’s ultimate state of being. As Adyashanti said, “You and your awareness are not two different things.” Once anyone becomes enlightened, his suffering will disappear. 

However, enlightenment is not easy. So, how does one face the inevitable sufferings from the cycles of determinative birth and death before enlightenment? 

The answer is Causality. You must have faith in Causality to adjust your intentions when doing anything to lessen the pain.

Today, Causality is no longer just a Buddhist teaching but also a scientific certainty. Scientists now recognize that, in Einstein’s Theory, one can “find the immutable ordering of cause and effect” and that “one person’s past may be another’s future.” 

Buddha’s Causality is simple: good deeds lead to good fruition, and bad deeds beget bad fruition. However, the important thing to know about Buddhist Causality is that it is driven by mentality. The intention behind one’s action determines the quality of his fruition. Therefore, be mindful of why you do what you do, and you can improve the quality of your future lives.  

With the Three Delicate Marks doctrine, Buddha solves some of the most challenging yet-to-be-solved problems in science. 

  • Is Consciousness the Ultimate Reality?” The short answer is no. In Buddhism, consciousness is not the Ultimate Reality because, with mentality always moving, the “realness” of what one is conscious of changes with every movement. Instead, awareness is the Ultimate Reality in Buddhism. With imentality always still, the reality it represents never changes. Therefore, awareness can be the Ultimate Reality.
  • Why is Consciousness so Mysterious?” Consciousness is mysterious because it originated from a single “neighbor-to-Emptiness dust” in the scientific quantum realm. The conscious universe begins in the scientific quantum realm. 

Mystery, like conventional truth, is relative. A mystery is mysterious when one does not understand. Once understood, the mystery is gone. In a future post, we will discuss another mystery Buddha solves in the Three Delicate Marks: the Observer Effect deemed the central mystery in quantum mechanics.   

The Consciousness-Only School, in a doctrine known as the Four Divisions of Consciousness (Chinese=唯識四分), has a detailed listing of consciousness that covers both the unconditioned and conditioned realms of reality.

1) Division of the Observer (Chinese=見分): 

It is the same as the Mark of Ability to Observe. In the observer-observed duality, the Division of the Observer represents the observer’s consciousness.  

2) Division of the Manifested (Sanskrit=laksana, Chinese=相分): 

The Division of the Manifested represents the consciousness of the external realm, equivalent to the observed in the observer-observed duality. 

3) Division of Self-Consciousness (Chinese=自証分): 

The Division of Self-Consciousness is similar to the modern concept of proprioception and represents the self being conscious of himself. 

4) Division of the Awareness of the Self being Awareness (Chinese=証自証分): 

The Division of the Awareness of the Self being Awareness belongs to Citta of the Ultimate Reality. Given that Citta is quiescent, there is no external realm to be conscious of. However, Citta is aware of the “Self.” Given that Citta is spread throughout the universe, Citta’s “Self” is the universe. 

Like a person is aware of himself, Citta is aware of the events occurring naturally in the universe. These events represent “all objects of knowledge,” the “experiential content” that an enlightened person can perceive directly and understand.