Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Brian Brown

Toward a Buddhist Ecological Cosmology

Confronted by the severity and scope of planetary degradation, humanity haltingly moves to assume responsibility for the protection of the earth. Yet, the response will prove inadequate if it is motivated merely by the narrow confines of human self interests. Instead, the formulation of ethical principles that will enhance and maximize the integrity of the whole earth community must be informed by an adequate cosmology. Human commitments to biodiversity, natural habitats, and the preservation of planetary air, waters, and soil will be appropriate and consistent to the degree that they are grounded in an understanding of the universe as a coherent, self emergent reality. Only when the human species knows the fundamental organic continuity between the universe, the earth, the emergence of life in its rich plenitude and the evolution of human consciousness can humanity properly know itself and be appropriately guided in its future relationship with the planet. If in the past the human species has assumed a proprietary and exploitive dominance over the natural world, it has largely been a function of a radical ignorance of its own coherence with, and derivative status within, the unfolding story of the universe.[1] Not until humanity knows its own significance as the self conscious modality of the universe will it be sufficiently dynamized to assume the decisive changes required to halt the ongoing deterioration of the earth community A functional cosmology in which the universe as primordial self expressive reality is as much a psychic spiritual as well as physical material process which becomes conscious of itself in human thought, is the necessity of the present moment. [2]

Within Mahayana Buddhism, the complementary traditions of the Tathagatagarbha and Alayavijnana represent a cosmology and correspondent anthropology that is strikingly contemporary. Together, they define a coherent understanding of the Buddha Nature, the Mahayana belief in the inherent potentiality of all animate beings to attain the supreme and perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood. As such, they provide the rationale for and description of the Buddhist path as the process in which individual consciousness is transformed into perfect wisdom. The content of that wisdom is reality as a dynamic totality of mutually interdependent causes and conditions, an integral universe of innumerable, mutually interpenetrating, diverse forms and expressions of 'wondrous Being' or Suchness (Tathata).[3]

Such an understanding had been deeply rooted and consistently emphasized from the earliest inception of the Buddhist tradition. The principle of pratityasamutpada or 'the together rising up of things'.[4] conveyed the notion that the appearing and standing forth into being, the existence, of any particular thing is a dynamic, collaborative process of many other things. Nothing exists in and of itself, but only as a context of relations, a nexus of factors whose peculiar concatenation alone determines the origin, perpetuation, or cessation of that thing. A line from the Pali canon, revered by all the schools of the Buddhist tradition as an original statement of the enlightened founder himself, pithily formulated the fluid contingency which is the very nature of the phenomenal world:

This being, that becomes;
from the arising of this, that arises;
this not becoming, that does not become;
from the ceasing of this, that ceases.[5]

In such a universe, any element is the combined shape and apparent form of a specific number of other elements; its unique nature is to have none; its identity can only be defined as the expressive manifestation, the conditioned representation, of those other elements. Thus it was that the Buddha and the Abhidharma school of his followers taught that the world of persons and things were just so many clusters, groupings, or literally 'heaps' (skandhas) of five basic psycho physical elements. Rupa, or material form, is the first and includes the four primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air, as well as the five sense organs and their respective sense objects. The second is vedana, representing feelings, while the third, samjna, refers to all possibilities of perceptual experience. The fourth cluster, samskara, includes all good, bad, or indifferent dispositions, tendencies, volitions, strivings, impulses, and emotions. Finally, the fifth basic element is vijnana, or consciousness, as either pure awareness or the process of ideation and thought.

Through the skandhas, early Buddhism identified existence as a thoroughly contextual process: no person or thing is an independent, self subsisting reality, but comes into being, persists, and deceases as a given function of other factors; life perdures only as a complex aggregation of multiple conditions.

From its origin, then, the Buddhist tradition reflects a conceptual framework rooted in the central intuition of an ecological perspective where nothing exists in autonomous isolation, but where everything is defined as the composite derivative and collaborate synthesis of other elements.

The failure of the human mind to adequately grasp the truth of pratityasamutpada remained the consistent concern of Buddhist analysis. Ignorance persisted on the one hand in the projection of the ego as the discrete, self consistent, self individuating, and self directing centre and end of the individual personality. On the other hand, it manifested a tenacious belief in the autonomous status and independent sufficiency of all other entities or things. The painful alienation (dukha) between oneself and the world of persons and things is a function of that primordial ignorance which imputes a false self derived and self contained identity to persons and things.

The object of Buddhist soteriology was to bring that ignorance to an end. Through philosophical analysis and meditative wisdom the tradition never departed from its goal of exposing the radically contextual nature of reality, exposing the component parts, the heap of relations that alone give a thing its identity. A striking example of the relentless focus applied by Buddhism to reveal the mutual interdependence and combined aggregation that defines the existence of all phenomena is the Path of Purification (Visuddhimaga) by the fifth century monk, Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa. One of the most influential scholastic commentaries, exhaustively detailing the types and methods of meditational praxis, the text intensively discloses the feature common to its otherwise various subjects. Specifically, the manual contains innumerable references to, and precise instructions for, meditations on the inevitability and experience of old age, sickness and death; on the subdivision of the human body into thirty two parts, each with a specific function and relationship to the others; meditation on varieties of physical decomposition and decay; on the minute details of breathing and eating; and a comprehensive correlation of each of the thirty two parts of the body (both human and non-human) with one of the four primary elements of air, earth, fire and water. But whether the meditations involve the macabre concentration upon a bloated and festering corpse or the more refined attention to the inflow and outflow of breath, all such exercises share a common purpose: to see reality as it is, namely as a realm in which nothing arises and stands forth into being of its own power but whose origin and persistence is a function of conditions, factors which are themselves products of other factors. Unifying the rather peculiar and at times exotic meditations is the universality of organic process. Whether it be the process of breathing, the process of age, disease, and dying, or the processes of decomposition and decay, the Visuddhimaga's unremitting exposure of phenomena as organic aggregations of multiple constituent elements is designed to pierce the illusion of a world populated by autonomous beings and entities, extraneous and unrelated.

With the subsequent emergence of the Mahayana tradition and the elaboration of the complementary notions of the Tathagatagarbha and Alayavijnana.[6], the ecologically sophisticated description of reality in the principle of pratityasamutpada assumed the status of a coherent cosmology. The earlier Hinayana tradition had identified the precise delineations of phenomenal reality as contingent and dependently co arisen But while the intense reductive analysis of persons and things into their clusters of component elements (skandhas) accurately reflected the web of multiple conditions which together define the identity of any particular phenomenon, the tradition never addressed the universe as a cohesive, unified reality.

The focus was individual liberation of the mind from the ignorance which projected an illusory significance onto persons and things as absolute, unconditional realities in and for themselves. Freedom from the suffering and unhappiness (dukha), rooted in the subsequent attachments to those erroneously conceived phenomena, was the goal of the path.

With the evolution of the Mahayana schools, Buddhist reflection matured to a more expansive interpretation of the path and the nature of wisdom revealing the truth of pratityasamutpada. Incorporating the doctrine of Emptiness (Sunyata) of the Madhyamika and Prajnaparamita traditions, the Ratnagotravibhaga.[7] became the authoritative source for the theory of the Tathagatagarbha. Translated as 'the embryo of the Tathagata', the term signifies the inherent capacity of all animate beings to attain the supreme perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood; all beings are embryonic Buddhas (Tathagatas) by virtue of their innate endowment with the Tathagatagarbha.

An earlier sutra, traditionally credited as introducing the theory of the Tathagatagarbha.[8] had defined it as a beginningless, uncreated, unborn, undying, permanent, steadfast and intrinsically pure reality which, when liberated from the defilements of ignorance that conceal it, becomes manifest as the cosmic body of the Buddha (Dharmakaya); put otherwise, the cosmic. body of the Buddha (Dharmakaya) is referred to by the term Tathagatagarbha when it remains obscured by ignorance.[9] The implication of this identification of Tathagatagarbha as Dharmakaya is critical for articulating an adequate contemporary cosmology from within the resources of the Buddhist tradition. While enhancing the role of human consciousness, primary subjectivity is now understood as grounded in the universe itself in its religious symbolization as the cosmic body of the Buddha, the Dharmakaya. The Buddhist path could now be interpreted as more than the mere individual struggle to overcome erroneous misconceptions and extricate oneself from the pains of ensuing attachments. With the theory of the Tathagatagarbha, the path assumed its macrophase significance while simultaneously intensifying the value of its earlier microphase dimension. The universe, religiously conceived as the cosmic body of the Buddha (the Dharmakaya), journeys to perfect self consciousness as that totality, in and through the human mind. The progressive insights of the human mind into the nature of reality are the embryonic maturations in ever more exact self-awareness of that cosmic body (the Dharmakaya).

Without changing that basic cosmology, the Ratnagotravibhaga specified the ontological identity of the Tathagatagarbha and the Dharmakaya as but variant modalities of one and the same unconditional, indeterminate, all inclusive and non-differentiating 'wondrous Being', or Suchness (Tathata). The designations of Tathagatagarbha and Dharmakaya are merely linguistic distinctions referring to Tathata as ultimate reality. When Tathata is fully self conscious of its own integral totality as the primordially pure, immaculate essence (dhoti) of all things, is perfectly self aware as universal body, it is referred to as the Dharmakaya. Until it attains that ultimate self disclosure, Tathata is fully present in all sentient beings (as the Tathagatagarbha) in various embryonic stages of self-realisations. The movement which characterises Tathata from Tathagatagarbha to Dharmakaya is the necessary emergence of itself to itself in perfect self-knowledge. Indeed, the Ratnagotravibhaga characterizes Tathata through Cittaprakrti as the innately pure Mind present in all animate beings through which it recognizes itself as the wholeness of reality in the plurality of its forms.

The wisdom which perfects that ultimate self recognition is nothing other than the truth of pratityasamutpada now informed by the doctrine of non-substantiality or Emptiness (Sunyata). Here the Mahayana tradition is consistent with the original insight of, and scholastic development by, the Hinayana tradition into the nature of phenomena as dependently derived and conditionally produced as the expression of multiple, interdependent factors. But the Mahayana does not uncritically assume, but creatively incorporates and significantly nuances, the earlier articulation. In advancing its reflection on 'wondrous Being' or Suchness (Tathata), the Ratnagotravibhaga reviews different classes of human beings whose respective insights into the nature of reality represent the acuity with which Tathata as the innately pure Mind (Cittaprakrti) moves from embryonic self awareness (i.e., as the Tathagatagarbha) to perfect self consciousness as the essential nature of all things as one cosmic body (i.e., as the Dharmakaya)..[10]

Beginning with 'ordinary beings' whose crass materialism seizes upon persons and things as independent, discrete, self subsisting entities, Tathata's self understanding is utterly opaque. Without any clue as to the conditional status of phenomena (as constituted by the skandhas) such persons define themselves in terms of substantial egohood (ahamkara) and their relation to other persons and things is largely a function of their craving and possessive self reference, i.e., their sense of 'mine' (mamakara). Since those ordinary beings lack any sensitivity to the relative, determined and conditional status of phenomena, the notion of nonsubstantiality, or Emptiness (Sunyata), is scarcely conceivable. Among persons with such a degree of ignorance, Tathata as Cittaprakti remains fundamentally obscure to itself.

Turning to the classical position of the Hinayana understanding of the doctrine of pratityasamutpada as discussed above, the Ratnagotravibhaga credits its analytic reflection on, and critical awareness of, phenomena as dependent and provisional. Differing from the gross superficiality of ordinary beings, representatives of the Hinayana, (the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas) attained a genuine perception into the truth of reality. As fundamentally qualified by a whole series of causes and conditions, persons (pudgalas) and things (dharmas) in and of themselves were correctly understood by the Hinayana adherents as totally lacking (sunya) the permanence and substantiality accorded them by the majority of ignorant persons.

But despite their initial success in overcoming the illusion of the gross substantiality of existent elements, the Hinayana adepts became entrapped by the very categories of their analysis. Having reduced phenomena to their major classifications of the five heaps, (skandhas), the twelve sense fields (ayatanas), and the eighteen elements (dhatus), they unequivocally devalued phenomenal reality as essentially marked by impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukha), absence of ego (anatma) and impurity asubha), and regarded it as a repulsive source of pain and sorrow. Initially more sophisticated and accurate in its insight into the nature of phenomena as derivative and dependent upon multiple constitutive factors, the Hinayana erred by denigrating the conditionality and relativity of existence as itself unconditional and absolute. By absolutizing the classifications of its own analysis (i.e, the skandhas, ayatanas and dhatus) and its consequent descriptions of phenomena (as anitya, dukha, anatma and asubha) into ultimate facts, the Hinayana tradition never perfected the intuition of universal non-substantiality or Emptiness (sunyata). In such persons, the self comprehension of Tathata as the originally pure, undivided essential nature of phenomenal reality is aborted. Blocked by an ignorance which fragmented existence into certain fundamental, irreducible units, Tathata never conceives of itself as the undifferentiated coherence of the universal whole.

Turning to its own tradition, the Ratnagotravibhaga censures the ignorance of certain Bodhisattvas who are novices to the Mahayana. Unlike the 'ordinary beings' and the followers of the Hinayana path, these Bodhisattvas formally acknowledge, though incorrectly understand, the doctrine of non-substantiality (sunyata). Among this group are those who misapprehend sunyata a some unconditional reality, transcendent and separate from the realm of conditioned phenomena. Reified as something to be attained outside of and beyond mundane reality, such a conception of sunyata implies the denigration of phenomenal existence. Misunderstood and clung to as a reality existing absolutely and independently of the five skandhas and the entire conditioned world that is coextensive with them, such a sunyata becomes yet another expression of ignorance.

An even more serious delusion occurs when the Mahayana doctrine of sunyata is misapprehended as signifying utter nihilism. Assuming the emptiness of sunyata mean the actual unreality of phenomena, dismissing their appearance as the mere products of an illusory imagination is a perverse distortion of the revelatory nature of sunyata. When images are applied by the Prajnaparamita literature to the emptiness of phenomena as stars, magical apparitions, clouds, dew drops, bubbles, lightning flashes, or reflections of the moon in water, by no means do they postulate the absolute non-existence of those things.[11] The purpose of those similes is only to deny the status of phenomena as independent, self subsisting entities; the similes are comparative statements indicating a certain degree of reality and are not unqualified assertions of a total nullity. Rather than deny their existence, the emptiness implied by such images reveals the reality of phenomena as opposed to how they are perceived by the ignorant.

Like stars, things, appearing as so many independent, ultimate realities, are distant, unreachable, unattainable, insignificant, and seen only in the darkness of ignorance; like magical apparitions, their semblance of individual, ultimate significance is a deception and the fraudulent pretence of ignorance; like dew drops, their existence is temporary and evanescent; like bubbles, the factors of experience, while actual, are insubstantial, and lasting but a moment; they are like a flash of lightning and as impermanent as clouds.

By disclosing the emptiness of an independent self subsistence in all dharmas, sunyata does not imply the absolute nullity, or non-existence, of things. As the true nature of phenomena, sunyata does not diminish the value of anything, but is the very mode by which their essential nature as a mutually interdependent, co-originating whole becomes manifest.

In the mind of the more mature Bodhisattva, skilfully avoiding the errors of conceiving sunyata as some ultimate reality existing independent from, and transcendent to, phenomenal existence, or as suggesting a total nothingness, Tathata attains a precise self-awareness. As Mind innately radiant (cittaprakrti), Tathata becomes actually so in the Bodhisattva who, knowing all things as empty of all specific characteristics or determinations that define them as essentially distinct and separate particularities in themselves, understands their coherence and totality as one cosmic body, the Dharmakaya.

The Ratnagotravibhaga's clarification of Tathata in its dual modalities as Tadiagatagarbha and Dharmakaya is important to a Buddhist ecology. It was initially noted above that an adequate environmental ethic must be grounded upon a cosmology capable of rendering the universe as a coherent whole in which human consciousness is an intrinsic self expression of that larger reality. Human concern for, and protection of, the earth community will be more carefully informed and appropriately guided when human consciousness comprehends its own significance as evolved from, and dependent upon, the entire cosmic process That the universe may understand its entirety in its innumerable particularities defines a clear purpose and singular responsibility for human thought and behaviour. Such a cosmology and attendant ethic is indicated by the Ratnagotravibhaga's general analysis of Tathata. In the text, Buddhism suggests that 'wondrous Being' or Suchness, is the movement toward its own self revelation. It must come to recognize itself as the essential nature of all things. It can do so in and through the human mind which, grounded upon and informed by Cittaprakrti (the noetic determination of Tathata and an alternate designation of the Tathagatagarbha), attains an ever more exact insight into the nature of reality. From the gross materialism of 'ordinary beings' through the more refined analysis into conditional relativity of the Hinayana tradition, past the mistaken notions of Emptiness (Sunyata) of some within the Mahayana, the inherent tendency of Tathata to know itself as the perfectly pure essence, the Suchness of all things, embryonically moves toward perfect self realization as one universal reality or Dharmakaya.

The notion of reality as a self reflecting whole and the status of human consciousness as intrinsic to that process became all the more defined in the Vijnanavada, or 'Consciousness Only', tradition. The Ratnagotravibhaga delineated Tatahata as the universal, immaculate essence of phenomenal existence which as embryonically present in all animate beings is referred to as the Tathagatagarbha. That the nature of Tathata is to determine itself as perfect wisdom and recognize itself in the coherence of its universal integrity was indicated by Cittaprakrti as a cognate expression of Tathagatagarbha. That designation became explicit in the Lankavatara Sutra's identification of the Alayavijnana, or Absolute Consciousness.[12] The Lankavatara Sutra, in turn, became a critical source for the development of the Vijnanavada as exemplified, for the present essay, by the Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun of Hsuan Tsang. .[13]

According to Hsuan Tsang's treatise, the universe in the plurality of its forms is the self-manifestation of the Alayavijnana (Tathata as Absolute Consciousness). More specifically, the Alayavijnana contains universal seeds (bijas) which, as archetypal self-determinations, are actively and persistently projected by the Alayavijnana as the innumerable forms of the phenomenal universe; the physical shapes and contours of the cosmos are in fact the universal self particularizations of consciousness. The apparent solidity and uniform stability of those forms by no means invalidates their origin in, and persistence as, mere consciousness. The abiding character of matter attests to the uninterrupted continuity of the Alayavijnana's self manifestation. The 'consciousness only' of the Vijnanavadin tradition does not impugn physical consistency and concrete tangibility. Because it is ideal, does not mean that the empirical world is subject to no laws; idealism is not to be construed as the negation of precise and rigorous spatial temporal determinations. Instead, they are the very forms in which Absolute Consciousness (the Alayavijnana) manifests itself. It is not the material solidity of empirical phenomena, but only the notion or idea of their externality (apart from consciousness) that is disputed by the doctrine of 'consciousness only'. .[14] The universal bijas as the innate self determinations of the Alayavijnana are actively and persistently projected by it as the multiple forms of the phenomenal universe. Since the Alayavijnana is the seat of the primordial a priori category of objectivity, specified in the general categories of space and time, and since it (the Alayavijnana) is the grounding principle of phenomenal consciousness, .[15] to perceive those forms is to perceive them as objective.

The error is to misunderstand this fundamental function of the Alayavijnana (i.e., the projection and objectification of phenomena) and to interpret the perceived objectivity of things as evidence of their independent self subsistence. Yet that is what happens. Due to an inherent ignorance, individual phenomenal consciousness regards itself as an independent autonomous ego. [16] While evolving out of, and grounded upon, the Alayavijnana, phenomenal consciousness fails to understand its own derivative status as essentially dependent upon the Alayavijnana. Instead of recognizing the Alayavijnana as the unconditional reality, the universal Absolute Consciousness, the generic animating principle of all sentient life, the phenomenal mind misapprehends the Alayavijnana as the uniquely particular centre of its own discrete self-identity (i.e., as an atman). This mode of self delusion (atmamoha) is accompanied by a correspondent self conceit (atmamana) and self love (atmasneha) in which the individual considers itself superior and lofty to all others in its possession of a unique selfhood, to which it develops a profound attachment.

That persistent misapprehension of the Alayavijnana by the phenomenal consciousness and its consequent distortion of its own identity as an independent, self subsistent reality, in turn, pervades its perception of all other persons and things. Its constant self regard as an autonomous ego instinctively transfers to its apprehension and interpretation of the phenomenal world which is invested by it with a similar degree of self reality. If the psycho-physical organism is considered to be a discrete, self determining centre of unique personal identity (an atman), it is so, over and against a plurality of similarly unrelated egos and a world of unconnected, self standing objects and things (dharmas). This co-ordinate form of ignorance which interprets the phenomenal universe as constituted by innumerable discrete particularities, independent from one another and from consciousness, represents the Vijnanavada's continuity with the central intuition of pratityasamutpada that had animated the entire development of Buddhist thought from its earliest expression. While earlier traditions had identified the dynamic through which all things come into being as derivatively dependent on a host of multiple conditions, the Vijnanavada stressed that their contingent interdependency is rooted more fundamentally in the ultimacy of Absolute Consciousness (the Alayavijnana) which projects and sustains the phenomenal universe as its own ideal manifestation and transformation.

But if phenomenal consciousness is dependently originated from, and actively sustained by, Absolute Consciousness, the reverse is no less true: the Alayavijnana attains its plenary self-awareness as the indeterminate, unconditional nature of all things in and through the human mind. Collectively, the forms of the phenomenal universe and of human individuality are the images (nimitta).[17] in and through which Absolute Consciousness appears to and recognizes itself. Since the structure of the phenomenal consciousness evolves from immanent, archetypal self patternings (bijas) of the Absolute Consciousness, and since that phenomenon .[18] the perceptions of the phenomenal consciousness are the perceptions of the Alayavijnana.

Thus, in the cosmology expressed in the complementarity of the Tathagatagarbha and Alayavijnana, the significance of human consciousness is paramount. Even though the human mind has an instinctive tendency to fragment reality into discrete, unrelated particularities of persons and things as noted above, that inherent ignorance is not the essential nature (svabhava) nor the essential mode of activity (akara) of phenomenal consciousness. Rather than being an absolute and definitive state, ignorance is but a qualified condition or 'an associated mental activity' (caitta) of the human mind.[19] While human consciousness may be originally deluded about the nature of itself and the universe, it is not itself essentially delusive; it may well be the vehicle through which ignorance is manifested and perpetuated. but it is, at the same time, the very locus within which wisdom realizes its perfection. Just as the structure of human consciousness originates and assumes its form from the innate self determinations (bijas) of the Absolute Consciousness, so too does the ignorance which accompanies it germinally develop from within the very ground of the Alayavijnana. But concomitant to, and simultaneous with, the seeds of ignorance, there likewise exist innate seeds of wisdom.[20] which actively inform the mind through five stages of progressive illumination.[21]

Moving from the initial 'stage of moral provisioning' through the stages of 'intensified effort' and 'unimpeded penetrating understanding', wisdom embryonically matures, instructing the mind in the true nature of all things as pratityasamutpada: a universe of mutually interdependent coexistences, emerging from, and actively sustained as, the ideal self transformations of Absolute Consciousness. Deepening its understanding of the non-substantiality (Sunyata) of persons and things, the mind refines its comprehension of, and response to, reality as 'consciousness only' (Vijnaptimatrata) in the stage of 'exercising cultivation' through the final stage of 'ultimate realization'.

In this process, wisdom perfects itself as it transforms phenomenal consciousness in a twofold form. The tenacity of ignorance in its projection of a multiplicity of independent, autonomous entities dissipates through the mature illumination of the Universal Equality Wisdom (Samatajnana) and the Profound Contemplation Wisdom (Pratyaveksanajnana).

What is critical is that human consciousness is a product neither of ignorance nor of wisdom; its natural condition is, rather, the very interplay of their mutual presence. As indicated in the theory of the Tathagatagarbha, Absolute Reality must come to know itself in the totality of its plenitude as the unconditional, indeterminate Suchness of all things. It can do so, because, as Absolute Consciousness (the Alayavijnana), it projects the plurality of the phenomenal universe as its own self determinations which it then recognizes as itself in, and through, human consciousness. Thus, the human mind, itself derivative and conditioned by the Alayavijnana, assumes its status as the self conscious modality of the Absolute. That the Alayavijnana 'seeds' the mind with both ignorance and wisdom suggests that phenomenal consciousness is defined as the active interplay between the two. Fundamentally oriented toward, and engaged in, the understanding of the universe of which it is a part, human consciousness realizes itself in the necessary dialectic between an ignorance which perceives oneself and the plurality of all other persons and things as essentially discrete, self subsistent realities, and the Wisdom which delineates the emptiness and non-substantiality (sunyata) of all things, comprehending their innumerable mutual interdependencies in their integrity as one universal body (the Dharmakaya). This movement of the mind from ignorance to wisdom, from crass materialism to the universe as sacred body, is the very movement of Absolute Consciousness from an implicit to an explicit self-awareness. Such a cosmology, defining the coincidence of human understanding of reality as the self intuition of that reality, resonates from within the Buddhist tradition with the indications of contemporary physics and biology. It confirms their image of a primary reality that actualizes a concrete self awareness in human reflection. Together with them, it advocates an urgent challenge that humanity free itself from a distorted arrogance, and recognize itself as originated in dependence upon a reality more than itself, that it is conditioned by, and coexists in, dynamic interdependence with all things. Such a cosmology. grounded in universal Emptiness, would reinvigorate the human in an ethic of reflection upon and care for life in its entirety, as the species which can identify the integrity of the whole in the richness of its diverse particularities.


1 Thomas Berry is a seminal thinker who has interpreted human cultural history and indicated its future development within the larger dynamics of the universe. See, for example, 'The New Story' and his other penetrating essays in The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books 1988).

2 See ibid.

3 Generally translated as 'Suchness' or 'Thusness', Tathata has been more recently rendered as 'wondrous Being' by Masao Abe in his profoundly instructive collection of essays, Zen and Western Thought (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 1985).

4 Routinely translated as 'dependent origination' or 'conditioned co-production', the term has been rendered, more literally and dynamically, by Thomas Berry.

5 Majjhima-Nikaya, 2:32; Sayutta-Nikaya, 2:28

6 The doctrine of the Tathagatagarbha is found in the Srimala Sutra and elaborately developed in the Ratnagotravibhaga. The Lankavatara Sutra and the later Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun define and explain the concept of the Alayavijnana.

7 Jikido Takasaki, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhaga (Uttaratantra), Serie Orientale Roma, vol.33 (Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Madio ed Estremo Oriente, 1966).

8 The Lion's Roar of Queen Sri-Mala: A Buddhist Scripture on the Tathagatagarbha Theory, trans. Alex Wayman and Hideko Wayman (New York: Columbia University Press 1974).

9 See ibid., 104-5.

10 See chapters 10 and 11 of the Ratnagotravibhaga and Brian Edward Brown, The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathagatagarbha and Alayavijnana (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 1991), chap.6.

11 See, for example, Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita, in Buddhist Wisdom Books, trans. Conze (New York: Harper & Row 1972), 68. See also, Brown, The Buddha Nature, 150-51.

12 See Brown, The Buddha Nature, 179-81.

13 Hsuan Tsang, Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun: The Doctrine of Mere-Consciousness, trans. Wei Tat (Hong Kong: Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun Publication Committee 1973).

14 See Brown, The Buddha Nature, 204-05; see also Asok Kumar Chatterjee, The Yogacara Idealism (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 1975), 74-75.

15 According to the Vijnanavadin tradition, human consciousness consists of a seven-fold modality The first five sensorial consciousnesses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching represent the simple awareness of the respective data appearing before consciousness. It is the sixth, manovijnana, or mind consciousness, which is the unifying principle or that raw sense information as apprehended by the first five. It accounts for the constitution of objects within consciousness and intelligibility or rationality. As the consciousness that 'perceives ideas', it is the faculty of formal conceptionalization. Intellection proper is attributed to the seventh consciousness, the manas. It systematically categorizes information and acts upon it, pondering, calculating, and directing means to specific ends. Thus, it is the organ of conative intentionality and the source of ego identity, with its attendant craving, thirst, and desire. All seven modes of consciousness are grounded upon, and evolve from, the Alayavijnana

16 This form of ignorance, atmagraha, is peculiar to the manas. See Brown, The Buddha Nature, 215ff.

17 For a more detailed explanation of nimitta as the self-manifested images of the Alayavijnana, see ibid., 217ff.

18 According to the Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun, the Alayavijnana and the seven-fold empirical consciousness are said to be simultaneous with, and mutually present, to each other, and thus are neither identical to nor different from one another. See Hsuan Tsang, Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun, 131 33

19 For a clarification of the distinction between svabhava and caitta as applied to consciousness in the Lankavatara Sutra and the Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun , see Brown, The Buddha Nature, 223 24

20 See Hsuan Tsang, Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun, 531-33

21 For a detailed explanation of the five stages, see ibid., 665-809.

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