Enlightenment – Chapter 52: In Praise of Reality

Buddhism is renowned for the doctrine of no-self, the assertion that among the constituents of the person there is nothing that is permanent, independent, or ultimately real. It is said that the mistaken belief in an autonomous self is the most fundamental form of ignorance, and hence the root cause of all suffering, and that the understanding that there is no self is the highest form of wisdom, leading to liberation from suffering. The early doctrine of no-self developed in some of the Mahayana sutras into the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) (as seen in the previous chapter), which declares that just as there is not self in the person, so all phenomena in the universe are devoid of any essence or intrinsic existence; indeed, it is the very absence of such an essence that is the true nature of things. Emptiness was expounded most famously by the Indian monk Nagarjuna (who probably lived in the second century ce) in such works as his Treatise on the Middle Way (Madhyamakasastra). Nagarjuna’s followers called themselves Madhyamaka, followers of the Middle Way. This was not the simple middle way between indulgence and asceticism recommended by the Buddha in his first sermon, but the middle way between existence and non-existence.

There also developed in the Mahāyāna a doctrine that appears to be at odds with the notion of emptiness. Generally referred to as the tathagatagarbha or ‘buddha-nature’, it holds that all beings (or, according to some interpreters, most beings) possess within them the seed of enlightenment. In many texts, this buddha-nature is described as something real and substantial, something very much like a self. This problem was evident to a number of the great Indian commentators, who went to some lengths to explain why the buddha-nature was not a self; some stated that it was the very absence of a self that was the true buddha-nature.

There were other terms in the Buddhist lexicon to name the nature of reality; one of the most famous is dharmadhatu, a difficult term to render into English. Dharma, as we have seen, carries a wide range of meanings, including ‘phenomenon’, ‘doctrine’, and ‘law’. Here it seems to mean ‘reality’ or ‘truth’. Dhatu can mean ‘element’, ‘realm’ or ‘sphere’. Thus, dharmadhatu might be translated as ‘sphere of reality’, that truth which, when understood, brings enlightenment. The proponents of the Madhyamaka tended to regard dharmadhatu as another synonym for emptiness, while others saw it as a more substantial reality, eternal and pure, something worthy of devotion and praise.

A renowned text extolling the dharmadhatu is translated below, entitled simply Dharmadhatustotra (or Dharmadhatus-tava), ‘Hymn to the Dharmadhatu’. Those who regard him as the relentless critic of all forms of essentialism may be surprised to know that this hymn is attributed to Nagarjuna Scholars are divided as to whether this text is, in fact, also the work of the author of the Treatise on the Middle Way.

In Tibet, however, there is no controversy on the matter of authorship; instead, a long and often contentious debate sought to reconcile Nagarjuna’s six works on emptiness (referred to as his *logical corpus) with this and four other hymns (referred to as his *devotional corpus’). Regardless of its authorship, the *Hymn to the Dharmadhatu’ is a famous and widely quoted work, especially in Tibet. It is also a difficult text, written in ornate poetry, made ail the more difficult because only a few passages from the original Sanskrit are extant as quotations in other texts; the translation below is from the Tibetan version. The difficulty and richness of the text preclude any possibility of adequate commentary here. Yet even without comment, the text remains evocative of the hidden yet indestructible reality that is said to lie within each being in the universe, waiting to be uncovered.

Hymn to the Dharmadhatu

Homage to the youthful Manjusri

Homage to the dharmadhatu, which surely abides in all sentient beings, who, completely ignorant of it, wander in the three realms, (1)

[And] to the purity [that comes] from cleansing the cause of samsara, just that is nirvana;just that is also the dharmakaya. (2)

Because it is mixed with milk, the essence of butter is not evident. Because it is mixed with the afflictions, the dharmadhatu is not seen. (3)

By purifying milk, the essence of butter becomes untainted. By purifying the afflictions, the dharmadhatu becomes utterly untainted. (4)

A lamp placed in a pot is not perceptible. The dharmadhatu placed in the pot of the afflictions is not seen. (5)

Wherever you make holes in a pot, the nature of light appears in that direction. (6)

When the pot is broken with the diamond of samadhi, it shines to the limits of space. (7)

The dharmadhatu is not produced, it never ceases, it is unafflicted at all times, it is stainless in the beginning, middle and end. (8)

Although the vaidurya jewel is always luminous, its light does not shine if it is inside a stone. (9)

In the same way, although the dharmadhatu obstructed by the afflictions is utterly unstained, the light does not shine in samsara; the light shines in nirvana. (10)

If the element is present, through the effort [of digging] you will see the purest gold; if the element is absent, it only causes pain. (11)

Because it is covered by the husk, the unhusked grain is not asserted to be the rice. Because they are covered by the afflictions, they are not called ‘buddhas’. (12)

When it is freed from the husk, the rice appears; when it is freed from the afflictions, the dharmakaya shines fully. (13)

‘The banana tree has no essence’ is used as an example in the world. But just as we eat its sweet fruit, which is its essence, (14)

So, when one is separated from the cage of the afflictions in essenceless samsara, the essence, which is its fruit, becomes ambrosia for all embodied beings. (15)

In this way, then, from every seed comes a fruit similar to its cause. What intelligent person could prove that there is a fruit without a seed? (16)

That very element which serves as a seed is held to be the basis of all the qualities [of a buddha]. Through gradual purification one attains the rank of a buddha. (17)

Although the sun and moon are stainless, they are blocked by the five obstacles, such as clouds, mist, smoke, eclipses and dust. (18)

In the same way, the mind of clear light becomes blocked by the five obstructions: desire, enmity, laziness, agitation and doubt. (19)

When a fireproof garment, stained by various stains, is placed in fire, the stains are burned but the garment is not. (20)

In the same way, the mind of clear light is stained by desire. The stains are burned by the fire of wisdom; just that clear light is not. (21)

All the sutras setting forth emptiness spoken by the teacher turn back the afflictions; they do not impair the element. (22)

Just as the water in the earth remains untainted, wisdom is within the afflictions, yet remains unstained. (23)

Because it is the dharmadhatu, it is not self, not female, not male. Free from all conceptions, how could it be construed to be the self? (24)

All phenomena are free from attachment; among them, female and male are not perceived. In order to subdue the blindness caused by desire, [the terms] ‘female’ and ‘male’ are taught. (25)

The mind is purified by [contemplating] the three: ‘impermanent, suffering and empty’. The quality that purifies the mind best, however, is the absence of intrinsic nature. (26)

Although there is a child in the belly of a pregnant woman, it is not seen; the dharmadhatu, covered by the afflictions, is not seen. (27)

The four conceptions – the conceptions of I and mine, [and those] due to the recognition of names and to signs – arise from the primary and the secondary elements [and can therefore be removed]. (28)

Even the prayers of the buddhas are invisible and signless; they are fused with analytical knowledge; a buddha has the nature of eternal reality. (29)

The horns on the head of a rabbit are imagined but do not exist; all phenomena are imagined but do not exist. (30)

The horn of an ox also does not exist because its nature is subtle particles. As it was for the former [the horn of a rabbit], so it is for the latter [the horn of an ox]. What [difference] can be discerned? (31)

Because of arising dependently and ceasing dependently, not one thing exists as imagined by fools. (32)

With the example of the horns of a rabbit and an ox, the Sugata proves that all phenomena are in the middle [between extremes]. (33)

The form of the sun, moon and stars are seen reflected in a clear vessel of water. The perfect nature [of all things] is like that [that is, appearing but not existent]. (34)

That which is virtuous in the beginning, middle and end, which is infallible and constant, that is selfless. How can one imagine that to be I and mine? (35)

In the summertime you say that water is warm [but] in the winter you say that the very same water is cold. (36)

So when covered by the nets of the afflictions, it is called ‘sentient being’; when just that is free from the afflictions, it is called a ‘buddha’. (37)

In dependence on the eye and a form, a stainless perception occurs; through non­production and non-cessation the dharmadhatu is known. (38)

In dependence on sound and the ear, there is pure consciousness; the dharmadhatu, without characteristic, is heard conceptually. (39)

In dependence on the nose and fragrance, [there is] smell, the example of the formless. In the same way, the nose consciousness discerns the dharmadhatu. (40)

The nature of the tongue is emptiness, the constituent of taste is also absent; because it has the dharmadhatu as its nature, the tongue consciousness is without location. (41)

The entity that is the pure body and the sign of the tangible object [that serves] as a condition, [when] freed from conditions are called the dharmadhatu. (42)

Abandoning conceptions and designations about phenomena that commonly come to mind, meditate on the lack of intrinsic nature of phenomena as the dharmadhatu. (43)

When the yogin understands seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and phenomena in that way, the characteristics [of the dharmadhatu] are complete. (44)

The six pure sources of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and, likewise, mind, just this is the characteristic of reality. (45)

The nature of the mind is seen in two ways: as the mundane and the supramundane. When it is taken to be the self, samsara; where there is analytical knowledge, reality. (46)

Through the extinction of desire, nirvana; through the extinction and cessation of hatred and obscuration, buddhahood, the refuge of all embodied beings. (47)

Through understanding and not understanding, everything is in this very body.

Through one’s own conceptions, there is bondage; through knowing reality, there is liberation. (48)

Enlightenment is not far and not near, it neither goes nor comes; just this, encaged in the afflictions, is seen or is not seen. (49)

Through abiding in the light of wisdom, one becomes supremely serene. Therefore, it is stated in the collection of sutras, ‘Always abide in oneself.’ (50)

By virtue of the ten powers, childish beings are blessed. Like the new moon, afflicted sentient beings do not see the Tathagata. (51)

Just as hungry ghosts see the ocean to be dry, so the ignorant, due to obstructions, imagine that the buddhas do not exist. (52)

What can the Tathagata do for deficient beings of deficient merit? It is like placing a precious jewel in the hand of a blind man. (53)

For sentient beings who create merit, the clear light and glorious thirty-two marks blaze; they stand before the Buddha. (54)

The form body of the protector abides for many aeons [and then passes away]. In order to tame disciples, the single dhatu [appears] to be different. (55)

Having understood the objects of the mind, awareness enters into that [dharmadhatu]. When analytical knowledge is pure, the bhumis [stages of the bodhisattva path] abide in nature of that [dharmadhatu]. (56)

The sublime form of the great lord [i.e., sambhogakaya], [his pure land] the beautiful Akanista, and the consciousness [of his attending bodhisattvas]; I declare that these three are mixed into one. (57)

All that is known among childish beings; the variety [of attainments] among aryans, the lifespan of aeons of the great lord Amitayus. What is the cause of these? (58)

What is it that protects the life that lasts for aeons in the outer realm of sentient beings? What is the cause of living beings remaining alive? (59)

It is the inexhaustible [dharmadhatu] itself, whose effect is inexhaustible. One enters into it for the sake of wisdom, specifically through non-perception. (60)

Do not think that enlightenment is far away, do not think that it is near. [When] the six objects are not perceived, one comes to know reality just as it is. (61)

A goose drinks the milk from a vessel in which milk and water are mixed; it does not [drink] the water, which remains. (62)

In the same way, wisdom is covered by the afflictions and remains as one [with them] here in this body; the yogin extracts the wisdom and discards the ignorance. (63)

One thinks, ‘I’ and ‘mine’, and so imagines that there are external objects. Seeing the two types of selflessness, the seeds of existence are destroyed. (64)

[The dharmadhatu] is the basis of buddhahood, nirvan;a, purity, permanence and virtue. Fools imagine them to be two. Therefore, yogins abide in their non-duality. (65)

Various ascetic deeds of giving, ethics gathering the welfare of sentient beings, patience benefiting sentient beings, these three increase the element. (66)

Enthusiasm for all doctrines, placing the mind in concentration, constant steady wisdom, these increase enlightenment. (67)

Wisdom together with method, pure prayers, wisdom which abides in power, these are the four qualities that increase the element. (68)

It is wrong to say, ‘I do not bow down to bodhicitta.’ Where there are no bodhisattvas, there will be no dharmakaya. (69)

There are those who want pure sugar but hate the suger-cane seed. Without the suger- cane seed, there will be no sugar. (70)

Through protecting the suger-cane seed, attending and establishing it, suger-cane juice, sugar, and refined sugar will come from that. (71)

Similarly, through protecting bodhicitta, attending and establishing it, the arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and buddhas are born and arise. (72)

As a farmer protects the rice seed, those who aspire to the supreme vehicle are protected by the leaders. (73)

On the fourteenth day of the waning moon, the moon is just barely visible. So the body of the Buddha barely appears to those who aspire to the supreme vehicle. (74)

The new moon is seen to increase by intervals. So those who abide on the bhumis see [the dharmakaya] increase stage by stage. (75)

On the fifteenth day of the waxing moon, the moon becomes full. So on the final bhumi, the dharmakaya is full and clear. (76)

Through steady and constant admiration for the Buddha, dharma and sangha, they perfectly produce that mind [of enlightenment] and it comes to be perfectly irreversible. (77)

Through completely abandoning the dark base and keeping to the bright base, it is understood with certainty; it is called ‘joyful’. (78)

That which is constantly stained by various stains, such as desire, is purified to be stainless; it is called ‘stainless’. (79)

Through completely ending the nets of affliction and fully manifesting wisdom of the stainless, because limitless darkness is cleared away, [it is called] ‘luminous’. (80)

Constantly illuminating with pure light, it is surrounded by the light of wisdom of one who has abandoned the din of worldly affairs. Thus, that bhumi is asserted to be ‘radiant’. (81)

Because all the sciences, arts, trades and the various concentrations triumph over the afflictions so difficult to overcome, it is asserted to be ‘difficult to overcome’. (82)

When there are the three types of enlightenment, the gathering of all that is excellent, and the cessation of production and disintegration, that bhumi is asserted to be ‘manifest’. (83)

Constantly playing with webs of light formed into circles, he crosses the swamp of the ocean of samsdra. Therefore, it is called ‘gone afar’. (84)

Definitely cared for by the Buddha, abiding in the ocean of wisdom, effortlessly spontaneous, it is [called] ‘immovable’ by Mara’s hosts. (85)

When the yogin has completed the instructions on spreading the teaching of the dharma [through] all [four] analytical perfect knowledges, that bhumi is called ‘auspicious intelligence’. (86)

In the body of this [bhumi] whose nature is wisdom, stainless, like the sky, and holding the buddhas’ [teachings]; the ‘cloud of dharma’ forms. (87)

The abode of the buddhas’ qualities holds the fruit of practice. Therefore, [the abode] completely transformed, is called the dharmakdya. (88)

Freedom from predispositions is inconceivable; the predispositions of samsdra are conceivable. You are completely inconceivable. Who can understand you? (89)

I bow down to and praise, as is appropriate, that which is beyond the range of speech, beyond the range of the senses, understood with the mental consciousness. (90)

Through this very system of gradual entry, the most renowned children of the Buddha come to see the empty dharmatd with the wisdom of the cloud of dharma. (91)

At that time, because their minds are thoroughly bathed, they pass beyond the cage of samsara to a cushion whose nature is a lotus. There, they rest, (92)

Completely surrounded by many millions of lotuses with desirable anthers with the light of many jewelled petals. (93)

Replete with the ten powers, perfectly satisfied with the fearlessnesses, they do not fall from the inconceivable, inexpressible qualities of a buddha. (94)

Just as the full moon is encircled by stars, those who have amassed merit and wisdom through all the well-done deeds are completely encircled (95)

With stainless jewels blazing in the sun of the Buddha’s hand. He bestows consecration to his foremost children. (96)

Abiding there, the greatyogin sees with the divine eye worldly beings debased by obscuration, disturbed and frightened by suffering, (97)

And from his body rays of light spontaneously appear and open the doors of those who abide in the darkness of obscuration. (98)

Those in the nirvana with remainder seek the nirvana without remainder. Here, the actual nirvana is the mind which has become stainless. (99)

Its sphere is also the unreal nature of all sentient beings. He who sees [that] is the lord of bodhisattvas. He is the completely stainless dharmakaya. (100)

In the stainless dharmakaya, the ocean of wisdom rolls in [bringing] a variety of jewels, and so fulfilling the aims of sentient beings. (101)

This completes the Hymn to the Dharmadhatu by the master Arya Nagarjuna. It was translated by the Indian abbot Krsna pandita and the translator and monk Tshul khrims rgyal ba.

Translated by Donald Lopez from the Dharmadhatustava by Nagarjuna, Derge edition of the Tibetan canon, Bstod tshogs ka, 63b5-67b3, Beijing edition, Bstod tshogs ka, 73a7-77a8. The translator relied in places on the commentary by Sakya mchog ldan (1428-1507) entitled Chos kyi dbyings su bstod pa zhes by a ba’i bstan bcos kyi mam par bshad pa chos kyi dbyings mam par nges pa in Collected Works of Gser-mdog Pan-chen Sakya-mchog-ldan, vol. 7 (ja) (Thimphu: Kunzang Tobgey, 1975-1978), pp. 303-92,.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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