Sunyata as a Remedy for Ignorance and Suffering

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Sunyata as a Remedy for Ignorance and Suffering

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Tue Jun 08, 2010 8:29 pm

Sunyata as a Remedy for Ignorance and Suffering

Ignorance

Motivated by compassion, the wise teach sunyata as a remedy for suffering. According to Madhyamika, the root of all suffering lies in the ignorance of clinging, the error of mistaking the relative for the absolute, the conditioned for the unconditioned. We take imagined separation as real, supposed division as given. By virtue of self- consciousness, we have an awareness of the unconditioned reflected in our conditioned nature, a sense of the real. But under ignorance we do not discriminate between the unconditioned and conditioned, causing us to confuse them and take the relative as absolute. "The error of misplaced absoluteness, the seizing of the determinate as itself ultimate, is the root-error."[116] Sunyata is the antithesis to this error, the antidote for suffering.

The most important instance of this error of misplaced absoluteness is with regard to our own selves: "The intellect, owing to the operation of ignorance, wrongly transfers its sense of unconditionedness which is its ultimate nature to itself in its mundane nature."[117] Thus, inherent existence is wrongly applied to the mind-body complex; we take our determinate, conditioned existence as unconditioned and self-existent. In this way there arises the false sense of "I" and the belief in an eternal soul as a particular entity. This error "makes the individual unrelated to the organic, dynamic course of personal life and deprives the latter of all significance."[118] For with the positing of an absolute "I" there is the necessary "not-I" to oppose it. The individual is then forever divided from and in conflict with the world. Since this separation is taken as absolute, their relation is inconceivable and there is no hope for reconciliation: we are bound to a life of continual conflict and frustration.

Following the pattern of this error which gives rise to the false sense of "I," the intellect then posits substantiality upon every object it finds. It distinguishes objects and invents distinct names for them, then takes the apparent difference it has created as a real given. "To seize the determinate is really to allow oneself to be misled by names; it is to imagine that different names mean separate essences; this is to turn relative distinctions into absolute divisions."[119] As a result, not only is the individual person in conflict with the world, but the world is now in conflict with itself. The parts, conceived as independent entities, are isolated from each other and the organic unity that relates them in harmony is lost.

To complete the fall, the intellect mistakes its own relative views and conceptual systems as unlimited and absolute, putting it at war with itself. For the dogmatic assertion of a single point of view necessarily excludes other views: the former as true is divided from the others as false and conflict results. Furthermore, every view, taken as exclusively true, ultimately ends in self-contradiction. Clinging to extremes, one is necessarily led to contradictions and dead ends. Then we either swing from extreme to extreme or reject the whole enterprise of thought altogether, subjecting ourselves to self-exile in a philosophical wasteland. But in both cases we are lead to our suffering by the same root-error.

The error of misplaced absoluteness which is the root of all ignorance and suffering takes two general forms: the error with regard to the mundane truth and with regard to the ultimate truth. The error with regard to the mundane truth is, as we have been discussing, to take the conditioned as unconditioned, to cling to the fragmentary as complete. This error results in (among other things) dogmatic views and the false sense of self. Sunyata, as a remedy for this error with respect to the mundane, teaches the relativity of all things, the dependent arising of determinate entities. As mundane truth, sunyata means that all things are empty of inherent existence.

But if one were to take this understanding of the emptiness of things as itself absolute, this again would be clinging: clinging to sunyata. This mistake is the error not with regard to the mundane nature of things but with regard to their ultimate nature. It is to take the conditionedness of the conditioned as itself unconditioned. But "this would mean an absolute division between the conditioned and the unconditioned, the divided and the undivided, the permanent and the impermanent, and in this case the undivided would not be the truly undivided, as it would be divided from the divided."[120] Thus one teaches the sunyata of sunyata: in the ultimate truth even sunyata is empty of absoluteness. Ultimately, even the division between the conditioned and the unconditioned is not absolute. Therefore we are not forever bound to our conditionedness because we, as conditioned entities, already are (in our ultimate nature) the unconditioned reality. In short, there is an end to ignorance and suffering.Ignorance

Motivated by compassion, the wise teach sunyata as a remedy for suffering. According to Madhyamika, the root of all suffering lies in the ignorance of clinging, the error of mistaking the relative for the absolute, the conditioned for the unconditioned. We take imagined separation as real, supposed division as given. By virtue of self- consciousness, we have an awareness of the unconditioned reflected in our conditioned nature, a sense of the real. But under ignorance we do not discriminate between the unconditioned and conditioned, causing us to confuse them and take the relative as absolute. "The error of misplaced absoluteness, the seizing of the determinate as itself ultimate, is the root-error."[116] Sunyata is the antithesis to this error, the antidote for suffering.

The most important instance of this error of misplaced absoluteness is with regard to our own selves: "The intellect, owing to the operation of ignorance, wrongly transfers its sense of unconditionedness which is its ultimate nature to itself in its mundane nature."[117] Thus, inherent existence is wrongly applied to the mind-body complex; we take our determinate, conditioned existence as unconditioned and self-existent. In this way there arises the false sense of "I" and the belief in an eternal soul as a particular entity. This error "makes the individual unrelated to the organic, dynamic course of personal life and deprives the latter of all significance."[118] For with the positing of an absolute "I" there is the necessary "not-I" to oppose it. The individual is then forever divided from and in conflict with the world. Since this separation is taken as absolute, their relation is inconceivable and there is no hope for reconciliation: we are bound to a life of continual conflict and frustration.

Following the pattern of this error which gives rise to the false sense of "I," the intellect then posits substantiality upon every object it finds. It distinguishes objects and invents distinct names for them, then takes the apparent difference it has created as a real given. "To seize the determinate is really to allow oneself to be misled by names; it is to imagine that different names mean separate essences; this is to turn relative distinctions into absolute divisions."[119] As a result, not only is the individual person in conflict with the world, but the world is now in conflict with itself. The parts, conceived as independent entities, are isolated from each other and the organic unity that relates them in harmony is lost.

To complete the fall, the intellect mistakes its own relative views and conceptual systems as unlimited and absolute, putting it at war with itself. For the dogmatic assertion of a single point of view necessarily excludes other views: the former as true is divided from the others as false and conflict results. Furthermore, every view, taken as exclusively true, ultimately ends in self-contradiction. Clinging to extremes, one is necessarily led to contradictions and dead ends. Then we either swing from extreme to extreme or reject the whole enterprise of thought altogether, subjecting ourselves to self-exile in a philosophical wasteland. But in both cases we are lead to our suffering by the same root-error.

The error of misplaced absoluteness which is the root of all ignorance and suffering takes two general forms: the error with regard to the mundane truth and with regard to the ultimate truth. The error with regard to the mundane truth is, as we have been discussing, to take the conditioned as unconditioned, to cling to the fragmentary as complete. This error results in (among other things) dogmatic views and the false sense of self. Sunyata, as a remedy for this error with respect to the mundane, teaches the relativity of all things, the dependent arising of determinate entities. As mundane truth, sunyata means that all things are empty of inherent existence.

But if one were to take this understanding of the emptiness of things as itself absolute, this again would be clinging: clinging to sunyata. This mistake is the error not with regard to the mundane nature of things but with regard to their ultimate nature. It is to take the conditionedness of the conditioned as itself unconditioned. But "this would mean an absolute division between the conditioned and the unconditioned, the divided and the undivided, the permanent and the impermanent, and in this case the undivided would not be the truly undivided, as it would be divided from the divided."[120] Thus one teaches the sunyata of sunyata: in the ultimate truth even sunyata is empty of absoluteness. Ultimately, even the division between the conditioned and the unconditioned is not absolute. Therefore we are not forever bound to our conditionedness because we, as conditioned entities, already are (in our ultimate nature) the unconditioned reality. In short, there is an end to ignorance and suffering.


Copywrited Thomaas J. McFarlane 1995
Read the full essay here: http://www.integralscience.org/sacredsc ... nyata.html
Ngawang Drolma
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