Nāgārjuna and Sthiramati on the Nature of Bodhićitta: Some Reflections
By Prof. Adarasupally Nataraju
Head, Department of Philosophy.
Dependent co-arising or Pratītya-samutpāda and second and third Noble-truths or Ārya- Satya are inter related. This being that arises, goes to show that the genesis of suffering in the human lives has certain reasons as its cause. The Truth revealed to the Buddha was that desires are at the root of human suffering. Knowing this relation between Pratītya-samutpāda and second and third Noble-truths is the way forward in ending existential suffering.
This paper is focusing upon the Buddhist path way that leads to peaceful co-existence of the peoples that inhabit this beautiful planet. That there is ‘himsā pravrtti’ or violent tendency in nature is a fact of our experience. That we are all contributing to the sustenance of violence directly or
indirectly. This paper, by understanding the nature of Bodhicitta and its relation to Dharmakāya, would try to argue that peace on earth is not a static entity, and that peace has dynamics of its own. Understanding of Pratītyasamutpāda becomes even more important because of this dynamic nature of peace. The
interconnected nature of cosmos and the interdependent arising of events and things makes a fascinating study in itself. Mahā-karuna-ćitta or ‘compassionate consciousness’ is a byproduct of this understanding of the interplay of the cosmic forces. Understanding of second and third noble truths
i.e., origin of suffering and causes of suffering, is equally important in order that human heart is filled with compassionate feelings for the fellow beings. The absence of hatred in the human heart is the best thing that can happen to us. The transcendental relation established between Dharmakāya and Bodhicitta raises a few questions. It is hard to get away with speculative metaphysical questions. Bodhicitta is a metaphysical pre-requisite for the realization of Bodhisattva-hood.
Both Nagarjuna and Sthiramati have thrown some light on what is termed in Buddhist Philosophical circles as ‘Bodhicitta’ . The unconditioned consciousness (citta can be translated as mind, heart or consciousness, it stands for internal organ in general and in Hindu philosophy citta stands for memory tape. Antahkarana or internal organ in Hindu philosophy is a complex entity consisting of manas or mind, buddhi or intellect, citta or memory tape and ahamkara or ego) is a metaphysical pre-supposition before we can contemplate anything on peaceful co-existence on the earth.
What are the factors that cause the conditioning of human consciousness? What does the Buddhist literature say on the characteristics of Bodhicitta? What is the relation between Dharmakaya and Bodhicitta? Is ‘Bodhicitta’ a transcendental notion? How come metaphysical questions have crept in to the existential philosophy of the Buddhists? What is Nagarjuna’s and Sthiramati’s understanding of Bodhicitta vis a vis its relation to peace? Is Bodhicitta a
preparatory stage for becoming Bodhisattva (avalokiteshwara)? These are some of the questions that I would like to critically examine in this paper. Though I belong to the school of Advaita Vedanta philosophy (one of the schools of Indian Philosophy), the similarities and dissimilarities between Vijnanavada school of Buddhism and Vedanta philosophy have always attracted the attention of scholars working in either of the fields of research. Hence, my attraction to Buddhist philosophy is but natural.
This paper would focus on two aspects to be precise-one is the nature of Bodhicitta and its relation to peace, and the other is the transcendentality of Bodhicitta and its relation to Dharmakaya. It is interesting to note that the Buddhist literature considers Bodhicitta as a reflection of Dharmakaya in the human heart. The individual consciousness reflects the universal consciousness within itself. This has more of metaphysical implication apart from
theological. What surprises a close onlooker is that in spite of the distaste that the Buddhist philosophers show toward metaphysical questions, they also fall in the snares of metaphysical speculation. I am reminded of the concept of Rta from the Upaniśadic philosophy. Rta is a designated word symbolically
pointing at the cosmic order. The individual aspect of this cosmic concept is dharma. The reflection of Rta in human life takes the shape of dharma, which in turn depends necessarily on karma or human actions. Another theory from the Hindu philosophy is that the internal organ or antahkaraña is inert or jada. Because of its proximity to consciousness it appears to be active. In fact, the reflection of consciousness makes inert mind functional.
The reflection of Dharmakāya or the universal principle of purity and loving kindness, which is beyond all the categories of human intellect, in the human heart creates Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is beyond all categories of elements of existence i.e., 05 skandhas, 12 āyatanas, 18 dhatus and 75 dharmas. Nāgārjuna and Sthiramati on the nature of Bodhicitta
According to Nāgārjuna , ‘the Bodhicitta is free from all determinations, it is not included in the categories of the five skandhas, the twelve ayatanas, and the eighteen dhatus. It is not a particular existence which is palpable. It is non-atmanic, universal. It is uncreated and its self-essence is void or sunya. Continuing ‘the Discourse on Transcendentality of Bodhicitta’ Nagarjuna says, “the Bodhicitta is the highest essence”, one who understands the nature of Bodhicitta sees everything with a loving heart, for karuna is the essence of Bodhicitta. The Bodhicitta abiding in the heart of sameness creates individual means of salvation.
The understanding of this, Nagarjuna feels, would make oneself kind-hearted toward all fellow creatures. Sthiramati in his ‘Discourse on the Non-duality of Mahayana Dharmadhatu’ maintains the same position as that of Nagarjuna—“Nirvana, Dharmakaya, Tathagata, Tathagata-Garbha, Paramartha, Buddha, Bodhicitta or Bhutatathata—all these terms signify merely so many different aspects of the same reality. Bodhicitta is a name given to a form of Dharmakaya as it manifests itself in human heart, and its perfection, or negatively its liberation from all egoistic impurities, constitutes the state of nirvana” (this summery is from D.T. Suzuki’s work ‘Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism’, 1908).
Sthiramati further elaborates his point, “it is free from compulsive activities, it has no beginning, it has no end, it cannot be defiled by impurities, it cannot be obscured by egoistic individualistic prejudices, it is incorporeal, it is the spiritual essence of the Buddhas, it is the source of all virtues earthly as well as transcendental. It is constantly becoming, yet its original purity is never lost”. one can see the message loud and clear. It is that
the sin and impurities and all other modes of passion arising out of ego-centric behavior sometimes may darken the light of Bodhicitta. Even though Bodhicitta may appear to have been tainted with impurities, defilements, in essence it is not different from the universal intelligence of which it partakes its essence. Bodhicitta shares its essential behavior with that of Dharmakaya.
The transcendental notions have crept in to the minds of the Buddhist philosophers with this understanding of Dharmakaya and Bodhicitta. They also talk about not only the negative ending of pain, but the positive bliss of Bodhicitta. This need not come as a surprise, because these philosophers like
Nagarjuna, Sthiramati come from the land of India, which is the home of Vedanta philosophy. Many of them are trained under Brahmanical teachers. The influence of Hindu philosophical thinking cannot be ignored. Nirvana is only cessation of suffering. There is no positive bliss involved. Vedantic notion
of Mokśa is a state of positive bliss or ānanda. To read that Bodhicitta radiates bliss and that it is a transcendental aspect of human life need not surprise us. It is believed that Digńāga extended the use of momentariness to final reality as well. Buddha’s silence on transcendental reality was
interpreted as absence of any such reality. What is denied in Buddha’s teachings is the empirical self or ego which is illusory. Mahāyana school tried to revive and correctly interpret Buddha’s teachings. The inability of intellect to comprehend Reality beyond categories is understandable, but that does not
require claiming absence of any such reality. Extending momentariness to final Truth was the turn for the worst in Buddhist world of thought. There are several such concepts that hint at the Truth beyond phenomenal realm. There are several words that are used such as Bodhi, sambodhi, Vijñāna and Bodhicitta.
The investigation in to Bodhićitta lands us with the question: How do we realize Bodhicitta in our life? when does Bodhicitta reflect the Dharmakāya without any impediments? The answer is by no means simple. With my limited understanding of Buddhist Mahāyāna philosophy, let me list a few steps-this list by no means is exhaustive.
3. By contemplating on nirvāña.
10. That in its fullest expression it becomes anuttara-samyak-sambodhićitta—supreme intelligence.
I have listed above ten steps that can lead to the realization of Bodhicitta based on my readings of the Buddhist texts. However, the best way as shown by Nāgārjuna, Sthiramati, and Vasubandhu is the understanding of the principle of dependent co-arising, its relation to second and third noble truths. One
more important upāsana could be contemplation on the nature of Buddha. In spite of all the defilements of the human heart, still it is not different of that of Buddha in essence. From vyavaharika perspective, the impurities have significance not from the pāramarthika.
It is interesting to note the transcendental aspect of Bodhicitta. That it is the reflection of Dharmakāya in the human heart. We are told by the Buddhist thinkers that it does not fall under the categories of five skandhas, twelve āyatanas, and eighteen dhātus. Six subjective and six objective bases of cognition—āyatanas.
18. Non-sensuous—mano vijnana dhatu
Out of 75 dharmas –ten of these dhatus contain one dharma each, 12th dhatu contains sixty four dharmas (forty six chaitta, fourteen citta-viprayukta, three asamskruta, and avijnapti) consciousness though represents one dharma is split in to seven dhatus.
An understanding of interconnected behavior of cosmos makes one exhibit mahākaruna citta. The galaxies, the planetary systems, the stars, the Sun and the Moon are all interdependent. This connected existence, if I can call, exhibits a matrix of multi dimensional variations, which are invariably dependent on
each other. The very realization of this fact of our existence or rather the existential reality of the cosmos, makes one sit and take notice of the dependent co-arising of events and things. This very realization at deeper levels of human consciousness, prepares it to reflect the cosmic principle of Dharmakaya. This is a transcendental aspect of Bodhicitta.
Mahākaruña-ćitta or supreme compassionate intelligence dawns upon such a soul, which is but a reflection of Maha-Dharmakaya or cosmic intelligence. What we need to mark here is the standpoint of Buddhist philosophers that Bodhicitta is anātman without the essence of the Self. The finest expression of human consciousness is but compassion toward fellow beings.
Theresa Der-Ian Yeh in her paper ‘The Way to Peace: A Buddhist Perspective’ summerises succinctly the notion of dependent co-arising, “Nothing can exist on its own, and everything is dependent on other things. All elements, all entities, all phenomena are thus related directly or indirectly to one other in
the universe. Things can exist only in relation to everythinelse. If the causes of its existence disappear, then it ceases to exist. Any change in the the compound of this existence would definitely, eventually exert influence on everything else”. This network is named ‘the Indra’s Net’ in Avatamsaka Sutra.
The notion of Brahmaviharas cannot escape our attention at this point. The four Brahmaviharas or mental faculties to be cultivated by all Bhikkus or Bhikshus are—maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha. Holiness consists of cultivating these faculties. The Dhammapada 178 verse says, “Better than sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven, better than lordship over all worlds, is the reward of the first step in holiness”.
Rhys Davids in his work ‘The Religious Systems of the World’ observes, ‘Men overlook the fact that they are really no more separate than a bubble in the foam of an ocean wave is separate from the sea, or than a cell in a living organism is separate from the organism of which it forms a part’.
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan in his work, Indian Philosophy, Vol.I shows the connection between second and third noble truths and pratityasamutpada, ‘ the coming in to being of life which is suffering, as well as its cessation, is accounted for by the doctrine of Pratītyasamutpada.’ This understanding is the pre-requisite for peace at individual level and also for peace in the life-world around us.
Peace as presented in the Buddhist literature is a dynamic principle, since the changing nature of causal forces and interconnectedness is a dynamic process in itself. There is no static permanent peace in an individual’s life nor in the world at large. The violence caused at every moment in varied
cultural contexts, in a matrix of multidimensional variations i.e., hatred expressed through words, deeds and injustice in socio-economic arenas, does result in violence. Hence, the necessity to contemplate on the Pratītyasamutpāda thesis. That there is suffering is an existential reality confronting each one of us in our daily life. This suffering has a genesis in desires and in turn in ignorance. It is not the silence of violence that is desirable but
cessation of himsā which is a byproduct of a deeper understanding of working of principles of nature which is symbolically represented by Dharmakāya. The dawn of ‘anuttara-samyak-sambodhicitta’ or supreme intelligence is beyond the categories of elements of existence, and is transcendentally connected to Dharmakāya. It reflects and partakes the nature of Dharmakāya. Though metaphysical questions are avoided by the Lord Buddha himself, his followers could
not resist the temptation of entering in to speculative metaphysics. That the transcendental questions haunt a philosopher is a bitter unavoidable truth only to be digested in silence. All the trouble is because we could not retain the silence of the Buddha on metaphysical questions. A silence that is born out of ‘Mahākaruna-citta’. What is denied is empirical ego and not the supreme intelligence.