2. A Few Fundamental Concepts

In the previous post, we discussed Buddha’s journey to enlightenment, stopping when the previous prince became enlightened, started to teach, and was given the honorific title Buddha. In this post, we discuss a few key concepts in his teachings, such as Buddha, enlightenment, and Buddhism, which are all important in understanding the core teachings of Buddha.  

1) Buddha, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit and Pali;” awakened one” or “enlightened one; “… meaning to “awaken” or to “open up” (as does a flower,) and thus traditionally etymologized as one who has awakened from the deep sleep of (non-luminosity) and opened his consciousness to encompass all objects of knowledge.”

The essential thing to understand about a Buddha is that to “encompass all objects of knowledge” requires him to open his consciousness to awake from “the deep sleep of (non-luminosity).” In other words, a Buddha’s knowledge does not come from attending school, doing science, learning mathematics, or obtaining a few advanced degrees. Rather, it is from “opening his consciousness.”

The significance is that opening one’s consciousness to gain knowledge represents a groundbreaking deviation from the traditional human approach to gaining knowledge through studying. This epistemological innovation sets Buddhism apart from all the other teachings or “-isms” in the world because no one else can claim to have realized the independently verifiable Ultimate Reality of nature as Buddha did. Understanding this uniqueness is so essential to a complete understanding of Buddhism that any serious followers of Buddha must first comprehend it before they can genuinely understand why Buddha’s teachings are incomparable. Therefore, Epistemology will be the first Category to be discussed after the Introduction Category.

2) Bodhi, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit and Pali; “awakening,’ “enlightenment.” These two terms, awakened and enlightened, are often used synonymously.

The thing to understand about Buddhist enlightenment is that it is a precise mental state defined by Buddha and one that anyone desiring enlightenment must achieve. Indeed, those who deem “What exactly constituted the Buddha’s awakening is unknown” simply lack a good understanding of Buddhism.

According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in the Astasahasrika-Prajnaparamita-Sutra (Chinese=道行般若波羅蜜經), Buddha defines enlightenment as the “thought of enlightenment is no thought since in its essential original nature thought is transparently luminous.”

Obviously, “no thought” does not mean that enlightenment can only be realized when the electroencephalogram shows a straight line upon a person’s death. Rather, “no thought” refers to an inactive mind, i.e., the mind must be so still as to be not thinking.

Samadhi is a term used in Buddhism to indicate the role that quiescent mentality plays in enlightenment.

Samadhi (Chinese=三昧), according to The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, is “a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing “subject” becomes one with the experienced “object” – thus is only experiential content. This state of consciousness is often referred to as “one-pointedness of mind;” this expression, however, is misleading because it calls up the image of “concentration” on one point on which the mind is “directed.” However, Samadhi is neither a straining concentration on one point, nor is the mind directed from here (subject) to there (object), which would be a dualistic mode of experience.”

So, enlightenment means the union of the “no-thought” consciousnesses of the subject and the object to form a non-dualistic state of consciousness.

So, what is the object and subject?  

  1. Object refers to the “no thought” quiescent mentality of the Ultimate Reality that permeates the universe. Because of its inactivity, the mentality of the Ultimate Reality qualifies as “no thought” and represents the realm of enlightenment, as defined by Buddha. Future posts will discuss the Ultimate Reality in detail. For now, this discussion serves as just an introduction to explain the role cosmic mentality plays in enlightenment.  
  2. Subject refers to the “no thought” quiescent mental state that a seeker of enlightenment must achieve to be one with the cosmic mentality.

Enlightenment happens when the seeker’s mind is so calm that it stops thinking. When that happens, his mentality can become one with the enlightened cosmic mentality to form a non-dualistic state of consciousness. The seeker is then considered enlightened, according to Buddha’s definition.

When the mind of the enlightenment seeker becomes one with the quiescent mentality of the cosmos, the seeker is said to have opened his consciousness, which allows them to “encompass all objects of knowledge.”

So, what are “objects of knowledge?”

“Objects of knowledge” is the same as the “experiential content” mentioned in the definition of Samadhi. They represent the information embedded in the mental constructs of nature that can be realized or directly perceived without going through the medium of thought. In other words, these are empirical facts that inform the enlightened person about how things stand in themselves in nature. This topic will be expounded on when discussing epistemology.

3) Buddhism, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is the “closest equivalent” to the Sanskrit word Buddhadharma, meaning “the teachings of Buddha.”

Indeed, Buddhism is education on how things stand in themselves in nature based on what our historical Shakyamuni Buddha realized upon his enlightenment.

Upon his enlightenment, our historical Shakyamuni Buddha learned “all objects of knowledge” by “opening his consciousness.” Indeed, the content of his teachings, Buddhism, is about “all objects of knowledge” to be learned from nature, about how things stand in themselves in nature.

In his descriptions of nature, Buddha never offers personal opinions. Instead, Buddha is like an honest reporter reporting on what he has witnessed.

Diamond Sutra “is a Mahāyāna (Buddhist) sutra from the genre of Prajñāpāramitā sutras. Translated into a variety of languages over a broad geographic range, the Diamond Sūtra is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras in East Asia, and it is particularly prominent within the Chan (or Zen) tradition, along with the Heart Sutra.”

In Diamond Sutra, Buddha promised that, like all tathagatas of the past, he is “a speaker of the truth, a speaker of veracity, a speaker of thusness, a non-deceptive speaker, and an uncontradictory speaker.”

As with any other educational system, Buddha’s education also has grades of enlightenment, each delineated by the amount of “all objects of knowledge” the enlightened person realized.

In Mahayana Buddhism, there are three significant levels of enlightenment: Arhat, Bodhisattva, and Tathagata Buddha.

1) Arhats are those who are enlightened and realize the “Emptiness” of everything in the universe.

It is a major celebratory milestone in Buddhism because Arhats have removed their afflictive obstacles, such as greed, hatred, and foolishness, resulting from their misunderstanding of reality. By removing their afflictive obstacles, arhats are free from afflictions caused by samsara, the repeated cycles of determinative birth-and-death.  

However, Arhats still suffer from cognitive obstructions, i.e., hindrances that result from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality that caused the afflictions. In other words, while Arhats understand that everything is Empty, they have yet to know why it is so. They do not know why everything is Empty, nor do they understand where and how the cause of their afflictions begins. They have not yet fully comprehended “all objects of knowledge” nature offers.

2) Bodhisattvas are those who have bodhicitta.

According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, bodhicitta is “in Sanskrit, “thought of enlightenment,” or “aspiration to enlightenment:” the intention to reach the complete, perfect enlightenment of the buddhas, in order to liberate all sentient beings from suffering.” A bodhisattva practices the middle way of living by practicing altruism, helping the self by helping others. At the same time, they long to be enlightened like a Tathagata, like Shakyamuni Buddha, by achieving the highest level of enlightenment, known as anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “unsurpassed (anuttara), complete (samyak) and perfect enlightenment (sambodhi).”

3) According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, a Tathagata is “in Sanskrit and Pali, lit. “one who has thus come/gone.” Furthermore, “the secondary denotation of the term is to “understand” things “as they are” (tatha.).

Our historical Shakyamuni Buddha is a Tathagata because he achieved Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi and understood “all objects of knowledge” nature has to offer. Because he encompassed “all objects of knowledge,” Shakyamuni Buddha understood “things as they are,” nature as nature is.

Lotus Sūtra “is one of the most influential and venerated Buddhist Mahāyāna sūtras. It is the main scripture on which the Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, and Nichiren schools of Buddhism were established. It is also influential for other East Asian Buddhist schools, such as Zen.”

In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha clearly states his soteriological aspirational goal,

“I initially vowed.

To make all sentient beings my equal without a difference.

Now that I have fulfilled this vow

That I made in the past.

I can transform them.

So they all enter the path of Buddhahood.”

While Buddha desires all sentient beings to be like him and be a Tathagata, he can only teach them how to achieve this. The journey to Buddhahood, however, is necessarily a personal one.

Furthermore, since the natural event that causes the delusional misunderstanding of reality does not change, correcting the misunderstanding must also be done at the same natural event where it began. Buddha teaches that the misunderstanding of reality is deeply buried in what scientists call the quantum realm, known in Buddhism as non-luminosity. Since meditation is the tool to perceive nature directly, becoming a Tathagata takes much longer than becoming an Arhat because achieving Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi requires a more profound meditative state.

There is no shortcut in the journey to eliminating the root cause of delusion. Consequently, Buddha teaches that there is only one dharma vessel to accomplish that goal, a vessel being a metaphor carrying one yonder.

In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha says:

“In Buddha-lands of ten directions,

There is only one dharma vessel,

No two or three,

Except for Buddha speaking expediently.

In other words, bifurcating Buddhism, such as into Theravada from Mahayana, should only be done for expediency’s sake. Arhathood certainly is not the end of the journey because, as stated earlier, the natural event that causes the misunderstanding of reality is deeply rooted in a natural event in the quantum realm. Since that natural event never changes, the goalpost of where the journey in Buddhism ends never changes either. While one can choose not to continue the journey for personal reasons, the goalpost of nature will not shift for personal reasons.

Furthermore, Buddha adds that “all exalted ones of the past, speak one dharma vessel.” According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Exalted One is “one of the standard epithets of a Buddha.”

All Buddhas of the past have transmitted the same message because, as indicated before, nature does not change.