To Realize Nirvana Is To Realize The True Self - Buddhist Realism and Its (Ultimately) Inherent Sympathy With Advaitic Idealism
To Realize Nirvana Is To Realize The True Self - Buddhist Realism and Its (Ultimately) Inherent Sympathy With Advaitic Idealism
Traditional Buddhism (in all its forms, and especially in its original, or classical, formulation) is based upon an analysis of conditional existence.
And that analysis is associated with two key propositions. The first of these two key propositions is that the fundamental characteristic of conditional existence (or conditional being) is (inherently, and necessarily) that of suffering. And the second of these two key propositions is that suffering (and, therefore, conditional existence, or conditional being, itself) can be made to cease (or to become un-“caused”).
The Buddhist proposition that conditional existence is (itself, or inherently) suffering is not based merely on the practical observation that life can be difficult, and pain can be suffered, and eventual death is inevitable for all. Rather, the Buddhist equation of conditional existence and suffering is based on the summary insight (founded on constant observation) that conditional existence (or every moment and kind of conditional being or event) is only conditionally existing (or existing due to some, necessarily transitory, “cause”). Therefore, according to the Buddhist analysis, conditional existence is (in addition to being always, and inherently, characterized by suffering) also (and always, and inherently) characterized by change (or impermanence) and by the lack of “self” (or of substantively real, rather than merely apparently real, independence and separateness, or separability). That is to say, because conditional existence is always only conditionally existing (or existing only as a “caused effect”), no form or state of conditional existence is permanent (or eternally existing), and no conditionally existing thing or conditionally existing being substantively exists independently, or separately, or separably, or absolutely (as if it were not a “caused” and temporary and utterly dependently arising “effect”).
The purpose (or intended result) of this “realistic” Buddhist analysis of conditional existence is not despair but disenchantment (or release from un-“realistic” illusions about conditional existence). And, for those who are deeply convinced of the fundamental factuality (or undeniability) of this analysis, the Buddhist philosophical systems offer a “solution” to the “problem” of conditional existence. That “solution” (in each and all of its traditional forms) is the “Dharma” (Law, Teaching, Way, or Process) of un-“causing” (or ceasing to “cause”) conditional existence (or conditional being) itself.
The Ultimate Message of traditional Buddhist Dharma is not merely that conditional existence is conditional (or “caused”, and, therefore, incapable of either permanency or Ultimate Fulfillment), but that conditional existence is not necessary. That is to say, traditional Buddhist Dharma affirms that whatever is “caused” can be un-“caused” (or cease to be “caused”). Thus, the Buddhist Way is (fundamentally, and always) about understanding and (via understanding, and its various associated means) releasing the fundamental “cause” of conditional existence. And, according to the traditional Buddhist analysis, the fundamental “cause” of conditional existence—or, more precisely, the fundamental “cause” of conditional being, as a human (or otherwise dependently arising and conditionally, or phenomenally, “self”-aware) “entity”—is desire (or craving, or clinging).
Thus, fundamentally, traditional Buddhist Dharma is (in any of its forms) a philosophically proposed “method” for the elimination (or the un-“causing”) of desire. And the result sought by this “method” is both the peace of desirelessness (or inherent freedom from either clinging or avoidance relative to the positives and negatives of life) and the Awakening to the Ultimate (or “Nirvanic”) Condition—Which Condition is Prior to all “causes” and all “effects”, and Which Condition is (therefore) inherently without connection to (or limitation by) conditional existence (and the categories, characteristics, and “experiences” of conditional existence).
The Realization of the “Nirvanic” Condition is the Ultimate Goal of traditional Buddhism (in all its forms). In fact, positively descriptive references to the “Nirvanic” Condition do appear even in the earliest Buddhist texts—wherein, for example, the “Nirvanic” Condition is described as “the Unborn, the Unoriginated, the Unmade, the Uncompounded”, “infinite consciousness” and “final bliss”, and “Consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere—here the material elements do not penetrate . . . but here it is that the conditioned consciousness ceases to be”. However, especially the classical (or Hinayana) form of Buddhism is, in general, rather characteristically associated with a refusal to positively describe (or to propose direct descriptions of) the “Nirvanic” Condition—because (according to the “point of view” of classical Buddhist “realism”) any direct conceptual description of the “Nirvanic” Condition would necessarily be based on the inherently limited (and limiting) categories of conditional mind, and would (therefore) tend to be misleading, or (at least) not fruitful relative to the actual attainment of the “Nirvanic” Condition. Therefore, especially the classical formulations of Buddhism rather rigorously confine themselves to a “realistic” analysis of conditional existence—as a “caused” (or dependently arising) process, characterized by suffering (or the inherent lack of capability for Ultimate Fulfillment), and by change (or the inherent lack of capability for permanence), and by utter dependency (or “emptiness”, which is the inherent lack of capability for substantive “selfness”, or independence, or separation from the stream of “causes” and “effects”). And, on the basis of right application to that analysis (which the, especially classical, Buddhist schools recommend be made the subject of a profoundly meditative, or “mindful”, observation of “experience”), it is traditionally presumed that the inherently indescribable “Nirvanic” Condition will, in due course (and without recourse to any “idealistic”, or positively descriptive, propositions), be Realized.
However, because of their characteristic reluctance to positively (or directly) describe the “Nirvanic” Condition (Itself), the proponents of traditional (especially classical) Buddhism tend to exhibit a rather dogmatic (and apparently non-comprehending) attitude when confronted by the more “idealistic” (or positively descriptive) philosophical propositions of other traditions (and of the more “idealistic” schools within the general tradition of Buddhism itself). And the principal doctrine that is the usual justification for the non-comprehending resistance of (especially classical) Buddhism to other (generally “idealistic”, or positively descriptive) propositions about the Nature of the “Nirvanic” Condition (or the Ultimate, or non-“caused”, Reality) is the doctrine of “anatta” (or of the “no-self” characteristic).
The Buddhist doctrine of “anatta” (or of the “no-self” characteristic) is, simply, an extension of the basic Buddhist perception that what arises conditionally cannot be made either perfect or permanent, but that it can, by a right (and tacit) understanding, be transcended. Thus, the Buddhist doctrine of “anatta” thoroughly insists that whatever is conditionally arising and changing and passing away cannot be “self”—because whatever is “self” must, by definition, be inherent (rather than “caused”) and unchanging (or of fixed characteristics), and all that is “self” must be within the “self’s” own power of determination. Likewise, the Buddhist doctrine of “anatta” (which is inseparably connected to the Buddhist doctrines of “suffering” and of “impermanence”) is “rooted” in a characteristic feeling-presumption that it is both ignorant and futile (and entirely an unnecessary bother) to make efforts to perpetuate what is not “self” (or, in other words, to cling to whatever is conditional, impermanent, and incapable of Ultimate Fulfillment), but that it is always both intelligent and auspicious (and conducive toward the Realization of Inherent “Nirvanic” Freedom) to discipline and relinquish the motive and effort to perpetuate (or even to indulge in) whatever is not “self”.
The doctrine of “anatta” is, simply, that portion of the original Buddhist analysis of conditional existence that is associated with the observation that no conditionally existing being is self-originated (or non-“caused”, eternal, and substantively separable, separate, and independent), but all conditionally existing beings are (as conditionally existing beings) dependently arising (or “caused”), and they are thoroughly dependent (for their conditional existence) on the totality of even all “causes”. In fact, that proposition (of “anatta”) is only one particular (and inseparable) portion of a larger argument—which is that conditional existence is always and only conditional (or “caused”, and limited, and changing, and dependent). And the purpose of that larger argument is to provide a foundation (of disenchantment) upon which the ultimate Buddhist argument may be found to be convincing. And that ultimate Buddhist argument is that “caused” existence can cease to be “caused”, such that “Nirvanic” (“Unborn”, or Most Prior, and not at all “caused”) Existence may be Realized.
Therefore, the doctrine of “anatta” is simply (or specifically, and only) a “realistic” proposition about phenomenal (or conditional) being. The doctrine of “anatta” is not (itself) an “idealistic” (or even metaphysical) proposition. Rather, the doctrine of “anatta” is an inseparable part of a consistently “realistic” argument that, characteristically, refuses to make “idealistic” (or even metaphysical) propositions. Therefore, the doctrine of “anatta” is not an inherently metaphysical (or negatively “idealistic”) statement such as: “There is no Absolute Atman (or Ultimate Absolute Nature of Being).” Rather, the doctrine of “anatta” is, simply (or specifically, and only), intended to be a “realistic” argument for the relinquishment of desire for conditional existence. And, because that relinquishment is proposed (in the classical Buddhist formulation) to be the very means whereby the “Nirvanic” Condition may be Realized, it can (rightly) be said that the doctrine of “anatta” is a “realistic” Buddhist means for proposing (or pointing toward, but not conceptually defining) the “Nirvanic” Condition (or the Ultimate Absolute Reality Itself).
Many proponents of the classical formulations of Buddhism argue that the doctrine of “anatta” is a specific denial of the Truth or Reality of the Brahmanic Atman (or the Ultimate and Non-dual and inherently non-“caused” Reality, as described in the schools of traditional Indian Advaitism, and suggested, using different technical terms, in many of the Mahayana schools, including the Vajrayana schools, of traditional Buddhism). However, the dogmatic refusal to (at least tacitly) affirm or comprehend the Brahmanic Atman (and other positively descriptive, or “idealistic”, propositions of the Ultimate Absolute Condition) is immediately transcended as soon as there is a fully correct understanding of both the “anatta” doctrine and the “Brahmanic Atman” doctrine (and of the likenesses to the doctrine of the “Brahmanic Atman” that are to be found even in the more “idealistic” schools of the Buddhist tradition itself).
The Advaitic doctrine of the true (Brahmanic, or Ultimate) Atman is a description of the Ultimate Absolute Condition That Is Identical to Brahman (the Non-“caused”, or Self-Existing, and Ultimate, and Infinitely Self-Radiant Reality That Is the Perfectly Subjective Source-Condition of conditional existence). That Ultimate (or Brahmanic) Atman (Which Is the Most Prior, and Realizable, Self-Condition of every apparent, or conditionally existing, being) is not a part of the conditional “self”, but It Is the Absolute and Non-conditional State (or true Self-Condition), in Which the conditionally manifested being (or dependently arising psycho-physical “entity”) is (apparently) arising. Indeed, the Brahmanic Atman corresponds (in Reality, and by definition) to the Buddhist definition of true “self” (properly, spelled with a capital “S”). Therefore, the proposed Atman That Is Brahman Is, by means of an “idealistic” (or positively descriptive) conception, the Very and Same Reality That is (even via such “realistic” Buddhist conceptions as the “anatta” doctrine) referred (or pointed) to as the “Nirvanic” Condition.
The Brahmanic Atman is inherently empty of conditionality, separateness, change, limitation, suffering, and desire. Therefore, it is not possible to “cling to” the Brahmanic Atman (Itself). The Brahmanic Atman can be Realized only by transcending the conditional “self” (and all clinging to conditional existence). Therefore, the Brahmanic Atman can be Realized only As the “Nirvanic” Absolute (Inherently Most Prior to conditional existence). For this reason, there is an inherent Sympathy (and a necessary equation to be made) between the Buddhist proposition of the “Nirvanic” Condition and the Advaitic proposition of the Brahmanic Atman. This Sympathy (and this equation) is obvious to all actual Realizers (whatever their tradition may be) of That Which Intrinsically Transcends conditional existence. And all others (not yet Thus Realized) are best served if they (most tolerantly) regard the doctrine of “anatta” (which appeals to the “realistic” logic of “causation”) and the doctrine of the “Brahmanic Atman” (which appeals to the logic of Prior Being) as two distinct but (fundamentally) compatible (and even complementary) arguments (one “realistic” and the other “idealistic”) for the Realization of the Non-conditional Reality That Is Obvious When the conditional reality is transcended.