Elucidates notions crucial to Buddhism and points out key differences between Western philosophical individualism and the serenity of Eastern metaphysics.
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The following excerpt is taken from the beginning of the first chapter of Treasures of Buddhism
Treasures of Buddhism When we contemplate a landscape, we absorb its main features without being distracted by details which, if they were too near, would imprison us as it were in their own special nature; in the same way, when we consider one of the great spiritual traditions in order to obtain a general understanding of its fundamental characteristics, none of its essential features escapes us and none hides the others from our notice.
Thus, when we come to contemplate the spiritual system that is Buddhism, we may discern at its base a message of renunciation and at its summit a message of mystery; in another, so to speak "horizontal," dimension we see a message of peace and one of mercy.
The message of renunciation is like a framework for all the other messages; it is seen to be the very body of Buddhism, while the element of mystery is its heart; the latter element has found its most direct expression in the Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese forms of the original Dhyana teaching. As for the message of peace, it pervades the whole Buddhist tradition; its central and culminating crystallization is the sacred image of the Buddha, which is found in the Buddhism of the South as well as in that of the North and, within the setting of the latter, in Tibetan as well as in Sino Japanese Buddhism. As for the message of mercy, it finds general expression through the doctrine of the Bodhisattvas, and a particular and quintessential expression in the doctrine of the Buddha Amitabha; this is the message of "the faith that saves," and it provides a complement of fervor or intensity which harmoniously rejoins the serene detachment that Buddhism propounds in the first place; opposition exists in appearance only, for all spiritual realities are united in their common root.
Because modern men live almost entirely for the things of the senses and from that very fact remain ignorant of the human condition in its totality and in its ultimate purpose, it is difficult for them to comprehend the meaning of an attitude seemingly as negative and senseless as that of renunciation; they will regard it merely as a wholly unnatural superstition. In reality it can easily be seen that renunciation is not self explanatory; far from being an end in itself, it only supplies provisional support for the development of an awareness infinitely greater than our ego. Renunciation would be purposeless were it not a case of grasping with our whole being and not with the mind alone what we really are, and above all of understanding what total Reality is, that "something" by virtue of which we exist, and from which we cannot for a moment escape. Renunciation aims at preventing man from becoming imprisoned in an ephemeral illusion, from identifying himself with it and finally perishing with it; it aims at helping him to free himself from the tyranny of dreams that leave no outlet. A sage never loses sight of the universal context of life; he does not give himself up to fragments of consciousness such as events agreeable or disagreeable, joyful or sad, for he is perpetually conscious of the whole, so much so that in the end the question of "renunciation" does not even exist for him any longer; he has ceased to be involved in fragmentary experience, he is not bound by it, he does not identify himself with it, nor is he consumed by it. Here it might be objected that man, being alive, cannot avoid psychic or sensual experience; the answer is that in spiritual "alchemy" there always is, and must be, a sufficient margin for "the consolations of the senses," and this in two ways or for two reasons. Firstly, all life and therefore all effort is subject to rhythm; everything proceeds in waves, by repetition, alternation and compensation, in the soul as in the world; no way can afford to be too negative, for an overstrung bow will snap. Secondly, when a certain degree of awareness of total Reality or of the "Void" has been reached, things themselves will allow that Reality to shine through them, despite themselves. The "consolations of the senses" can conceal Truth and lure us away from it, but they may equally well reveal it and draw us nearer to it, and they cannot help but do so in proportion to the spiritual quality of our perception. This is true, not only of the beauties of nature or of sacred or even simply traditional art, which speak for themselves, but also of bodily satisfactions, insofar as they remain in balance with regard to Heaven and the Dharma.
To the mentality predominating today the idea of peace of peace interior and transcendent is no more accessible than that of renunciation. The message of peace refers metaphysically to Pure Being, of which we are as the foam; It is the Substance, we are the accidents. The canonical figure of the Buddha shows us "That which is" and that which we "should be," or even that which we "are" in our eternal reality: for the visible Buddha is what his invisible essence is, he is in conformity with the nature of things. He is active, since his hands speak, but this activity is essentially "being"; he has an exteriority, since he has a body, but it is "interior"; he is manifest since he exists, but he is "manifestation of the Void" (shunyamurti). He personifies the Impersonal at the same time as the transcendent or divine Personality of men. Once the veil is torn, the soul returns to its eternal Buddha nature, just as light refracted by a crystal, returns to undifferentiated unity when no object is any longer there to disperse its rays. In each grain of dust there is Pure Existence and it is in this sense that it can be said that a buddha, or the Buddha, is to be found in it.
That which dwells at the heart of things is peace and beauty. Things as such remain "outside themselves"; if they could dwell completely "within themselves" they would be identified with the Buddha, in the sense that they would be immutable and blessed Substance; immutable because escaping all opposition, all causal constraint, all becoming, and blessed because enjoying the essence of every conceivable beauty and every happiness. The natural symbol of the Buddha is the lotus, this contemplative flower open to the sky and resting on water unruffled by any breath of wind.
He who says peace says beauty. Beauty is like the sun: it acts without detours, without dialectical intermediaries, its ways are free, direct, incalculable; like love, to which it is closely connected, it can heal, unloose, appease, unite or deliver through its simple radiance. The image of the Buddha is like a drop of the nectar of immortality fallen into the world of forms, or like the sound of that celestial music which could charm a rose tree into flowering amid the snow; such was Shakyamuni for it is said that the Buddhas bring salvation not only through their teaching but also through their superhuman beauty and such is his sacramental image. The image of the Messenger is also that of the Message; there is no essential difference between the Buddha, Buddhism and universal Buddhanature. Thus, the image indicates the way, or more exactly its goal, or the human setting for that goal, that is, it displays to us that "holy sleep" which is watchfulness and clarity within; by its profound and wondrous "presence" it suggests "the stilling of mental agitation and the supreme appeasement," to quote the words of Shankara.
Such was Shakyamuni, we said. Two opinions are indeed unacceptable: to pretend that the life of the Buddha is merely a solar myth, and to pretend that knowledge of the historical Buddha is without importance; in both cases, this is tantamount to admitting that there can be effects without a cause. Historically, the life of Shakyamuni is too recent and is much too important to be dismissed as mere legend; its points of resemblance with more ancient symbolisms serve only to confirm its sacred character. The fact that the Hindus themselves regard the Buddha as an avatara of Vishnu is additional evidence of his transcendent nature, without which there could be no question of the efficacy of his Law or of the saving power of his Name. Traditions emerge from the Infinite like flowers; they can no more be fabricated than can the sacred art which is their witness and their proof.
He who says peace says beauty; the image of the Tathagata together with his metaphysical and cosmic derivatives and concomitants shows that beauty, in its root or essence, is compounded of serenity and mercy; formal harmony appeals to us because it bespeaks profound goodness and inexhaustible wealth, appeasement and plenitude.
Like a magnet, the beauty of the Buddha draws all the contradictions of the world and transmutes them into radiant silence; the image deriving therefrom appears as a drop of the dew of immortality fallen into the chilly world of forms and crystallized into a human form, a form accessible to men.
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