Professor Gunapala Dharmasiri
Head, Department of Philosophy & Psychology,
The contention of the Buddhist idealists is that the world is a dream. Therefore the ontological status of the world becomes similar to a dream. As the objects of the dream world are neither existent nor non-existent, it becomes difficult to apply predicates to those objects. The situation is exactly similar in the so-called waking state as well. According to the Tibetan Buddhism the best way to realize this point is to imaginatively experience the moment of death and then to look back on our life. That shows how this world also becomes a dream.
Another way is to really remember that that this present life of ours is really a Bardo state or an Intermediate State of existence that dawns on us soon after our death. We are actually passing from one form of existence to another, as in the Bardo state. Therefore, this has no real authentic or realistic significance. That makes this life, again, a dream.
A dream is neither existent nor non-existent. Therefore, we cannot speak about the existence or non-existence of the dream objects. They are not predicable. If so, we cannot use logic in speaking about them. When we start using logic about them, logic becomes absurd. Hence, absurd logic.
According to the doctrine of the two truths in Buddhism, though logic can be a valuable tool in the conventional world, in the absolute world, it becomes an absurd exercise. This is similar to the concept of causation which is meaningful in the conventional world though it becomes totally meaningless in the absolute or the real world.
However, conventional logic is necessary for absurd logic for an important reason. For absurd logic to exist, there should first be ordinary logic to prove the absurd logic. Thus, in a sense, ordinary logic is a presupposition on which absurd logic is based. In other words, it is through ordinary logic that we reach absurd logic. Therefore, there would be no absurd logic without conventional logic.
Absurd logic could be regarded as the metaphysics of logic because it deals with, and questions the basic assumptions of, ordinary logic.
Absurdity of logic is based on the fact that the concepts we use are absurd or meaningless, because the whole exercise of thinking is absurd. (However, we should not forget that this conclusion is arrived at through the power of thinking!)
Nagarjuna was the foremost thinker who conclusively proved the relative and the consequent contradictory nature of concepts. Lankavatara and the other basic Mahayana Sutras explain the reasons or the grounds that lead to this disastrous or the suicidal nature of thinking. We will examine some of those arguments as detailed specially in the Lankavatara Sutra and then briefly look at the Diamond Sutra.
"Further, Mahamati, according to the teaching of the Tathagathas of the past, present and future, all things are unborn. Why? Because they have no reality, being manifestations of the Mind itself (Svacittadrsya), and, Mahamati, as they are not born of being and non-being, they are unborn. Mahamati, all things are like the horns of the hare, horse, donkey, or camel, but the ignorant and simple-minded who are given up to their false and erroneous imagination, discriminate things that are not; therefore, all things are unborn." Lankavatara Sutra, Nanjio: 62; Tr., Suzuki, pp. 55-56
"Again, Mahamati, all things are never annihilated. Why? For this reason that the individual signs that make up the self-nature of things are non existent, and all things are beyond reach. Therefore, all things are said never to be annihilated. Again, Mahamati, all things are not eternal. Why? Because the rising of individual signs is characterised with non eternality. Therefore, all things are said not to be eternal. Again, Mahamati, all things are eternal. Why? Because the rising of individual signs is no-rising and is non-existent; and all things are eternal because of their non-eternality. Therefore, Mahamati, all things are said to be eternal." Nanjio, pp.115-116; Suzuki, p.100
"Further, Mahamati, the thesis: 'All things are unborn', is not to be maintained by the Bodhisattva Mahasattva as valid. Why? Of this thesis it is to be stated that anything of which something is asserted partakes thereby of the nature of being, and that the reason for this thesis is characterised with the quality of birth; while it is being asserted by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva that all things are unborn, the very assertion destroys his thesis. The thesis that all things are unborn acts against the one who holds it because it is born of the principle of mutuality. Even when this thesis of no-birth is to be maintained within the extent of existence itself, the notion of no-birth cannot hold itself in it, and the statement, the thesis, that all things are unborn is destroyed since it is dependent on the members of the syllogism. As regards the thesis maintaining the no-birth of being and non-being, Mahamati, this thesis, to be valid, must be within the limits of existence itself; but there is no aspect of existence which can be regarded either as being or as non-being. If, Mahamati, the no-birth of all things is to be asserted by this thesis of no-birth, the very attempt defeats the thesis itself. Therefore, this thesis is not to be upheld. Because many faults come out in connection with the members of the syllogism, and because in these syllogistic members there is a mutual mixing-up of reasons, this thesis is not to be upheld." Nanjio, pp. 166-167; Suzuki, p. 144
"Further, Mahamati, the ignorant and simple-minded keep on dancing and leaping fascinated with their wrong reasonings, falsehoods, and self-discriminations and are unable to understand the truth of self-realisation and its discourse in words; clinging to the external world which is seen of the Mind itself, they cling to the study of the discourses which are a means and do not know properly how to ascertain the truth of self-realisation which is the truth unspoiled by the fourfold proposition." Nanjio: 171; Suzuki: 148
"Again, Mahamati, those who have gone beyond being and non-being, no more cherish the thought that the hare has no horns; for they never think that the hare has no horns because of mutual reference, nor do they think that the bull has horns because no ultimate substance is to be obtained however minutely the analysis of the horns may go on even to the subtlest particle known as atom: that is, the state in which noble wisdom is realised is beyond being and non-being. …
"… the non-existence of the horns has no reference to the non-rising of discrimination. Why is it not so? Because there is discrimination owing to the idea of the horns. Indeed, depending upon the idea of the horns, Mahamati, discrimination takes place. And because of this dependence of discrimination upon the idea of the horns, Mahamati, and because of this relationship of dependence and apart from the anyananya relationship, one talks of the non-existence of the hare's horns, surely not because of the reference to the horns of the bull. If again, Mahamati, discrimination is different (anya) from the hare's horns, it will not take place by reason of the horns and therefore the one is not different from the other; but if it is not different (ananya), there is a discrimination taking place by reason of the horns and therefore the one is different from the other. However minutely the atoms are analysed, no horn-substance is obtainable; the notion of the horns itself is not available when thus reasoned. As neither of them [that is, the bull's nor the hare's] are existent, in reference to what should we talk of non-existence? Therefore, Mahamati,the reasoning by reference as regards the non-existence of the hare's horns is of no avail. The non-existence of the hare's horns is asserted in reference to their existence (on the bull; but really a horn itself has no existence from the beginning); have therefore no discrimination about it! Mahamati, the dualism of being and non-being as held by the philosophers does not obtain as we see in the reasoning of horns. …
"It is the same with the hare's horns, Mahamati, whose non-existence is asserted in reference to the bull's horns. But, Mahamati, when the bull's horns are analysed to their minutest atoms, which in turn are further anlysed, there is after all nothing to be known as atoms. The non-existence of what, is to be affirmed in reference to what? As to the other things, too, this reasoning from reference does not hold true." Nanjio: 53-54; Suzuki, 47-48.
In conclusion, Lankavatara summarizes the basic points: "Except for discrimination, there is neither Samskrta (or things made) nor Asamaskrta (or things not made); the ignorant hold on to them as a barren woman does to the child of her dreams; what fools are they?" Nanjio: 266; Suzuki, 227
"These things are empty, without self-nature, and unborn, like Maya, like a dream, and their being and non-being is unobtainable." Nanjio: 267; Suzuki: 228
"This mind is the source of the triple world; when the mind goes astray there appears this world and that; recognising the world as such, as it is non-existent, [a wise man] does not discriminate a world." Nanjio: 268-269; Suzuki: 229
"If things are regarded as existing by themselves, they exist because of their being so designated in words; if there were no words to designate their existence, they are not." Nanjio: 289; Suzuki: 235
Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, the celebrated Vietnamese Mahayana thinker, explains things more, with the help of the teachings of the Diamond Sutra: "The A Which Is Not A Is Truly A: In the Vajracchedika Pragnaparamita we find many expressions given in the form 'The A which is not A is truly A'. Let us take these examples: 'What the Tathagata calls a living being is not in essence a living being. That is why it is called a living being.' 'Subhuti, what is called a conception of dharmas is not a conception of dharmas. That is why it is called a conception of dharmas'. This means that reality is only reality when it is not grasped conceptually. What we construct through our concepts is not reality. 'This flower which is not a concept, is truly a flower.' Here again is the rejection of the principle of a permanent self and of the tendency to see things by means of the go-between of conceptualization." (Zen Keys, New York: Double Day Anchor, 1995) p. 112 [I think, this Diamond Sutra formula is open to other possible interpretations. Therefore, we should devote some good time to study it carefully]
He concludes that what is required is the wisdom of non-discriminating awareness: "The expression 'wisdom of non-discriminating nature' indicates the ability of an enlightened person to penetrate to the heart of reality itself [Tathatâ], without being paralyzed by duality." p. 135
I think that the point to note is that logic could aid and abet this duality. But the truth is that we cannot get out of this duality without the help of logic. This is a nice paradox and we should not miss this chance to remember that paradox is the nature of Tathatâ.
Samadhi Bouddha Statue - Anuradhapura - Sri Lanka IV-Ve Siècle