Monthly Archives: July 2013

Citta and Emptiness

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Theravada Tradition:
Ajahn Maha Bua sees the essential enduring truth of the sentient being as constituted of the indestructible reality of the citta (heart/mind), which is characterized by the attribute of Awareness or Knowingness. This citta, which is intrinsically bright, clear, and Aware, gets superficially tangled up in samsara but ultimately cannot be destroyed by any samsaric phenomenon. Although Bua is often at pains to emphasise the need for meditation upon the non-Self (anatta), he also points out that the citta, while getting caught up in the vortex of conditioned phenomena, is not subject to destruction as are those things which are impermanent, suffering, and non-Self (aniccadukkhaanatta). The citta is ultimately not beholden to these laws of conditioned existence. The citta is bright, radiant, and deathless, and is its own independent reality:
‘Being intrinsically bright and clear, the citta is always ready to make contact with everything of every nature. Although all conditioned phenomena without exception are governed by the three universal laws of anicca, dukkha, and anattã, the citta’s true nature is not subject to these laws. The citta is conditioned by anicca, dukkha, and anattã only because things that are subject to these laws come spinning in to become involved with the citta and so cause it to spin along with them. However, though it spins in unison with conditioned phenomena, the citta never disintegrates or falls apart. It spins following the influence of those forces which have the power to make it spin, but the true power of the citta’s own nature is that it knows and does not die. This deathlessness is a quality that lies beyond disintegration. Being beyond disintegration, it also lies beyond the range of anicca, dukkha, and anattã and the universal laws of nature. ….’[6]
The fundamental problem that besets human beings, according to Bua, is that they have taken fake and false things as their true self and lack the necessary power to be their ‘own true self’; they allow the wiles and deceits of the mental defilements to generate fear and anxiety in their minds. Fear and anxiety are not inherent within the citta; in fact, the citta is ultimately beyond all such things and indeed is beyond time and space. But it needs to be cleansed of its inner defilements (the kilesas) before that truth can be realised. Bua states:
‘Our real problem, our one fundamental problem—which is also the citta’s fundamental problem—is that we lack the power needed to be our own true self. Instead, we have always taken counterfeit things to be the essence of who we really are, so that the citta’s behavior is never in harmony with its true nature. Rather, it expresses itself through the kilesas’ cunning deceits, which cause it to feel anxious and frightened of virtually everything … As a result, the citta is forever full of worries and fears. And although fear and worry are not intrinsic to the citta, they still manage to produce apprehension there. When the citta has been cleansed so that it is absolutely pure and free of all involvement, only then will we see a citta devoid of all fear. Then, neither fear nor courage appear, only the citta’s true nature, existing naturally alone on its own, forever independent of time and space. Only that appears—nothing else. This is the genuine citta’.[7]
Bua goes on to attempt to describe the inner stages and experience of the cleansed citta. When its purgation of defilements is complete, it itself does not disappear – only the impermanent, suffering, and the non-Self disappear. The citta remains, experientially abiding in its own firm foundation, yet ultimately indescribable:
‘Once the Citta has become so well-cleansed that it is always bright and clear, then … even though the citta has not ‘converged’ in samãdhi, the focal point of its awareness is so exceedingly delicate and refined as to be indescribable. This subtle awareness manifests as a radiance that extends forth in all directions around us. We are unconscious of sights, sounds, odors, tastes, and tactile sensations, despite the fact that the citta has not entered samãdhi. Instead, it is actually experiencing its own firm foundation, the very basis of the citta that has been well-cleansed to the point where a mesmerizing, majestic quality of knowing is its most prominent feature.
‘Seeming to exist independent of the physical body, this kind of extremely refined awareness stands out exclusively within the citta. Due to the subtle and pronounced nature of the citta at this stage, its knowing nature completely predominates. No images or visions appear there at all. It is an awareness that stands out exclusively on its own. This is one aspect of the citta.
‘Another aspect is seen when this well-cleansed citta enters meditative calm, not thinking or imagining anything. Ceasing all activity, all movement, it simply rests for awhile. All thought and imagination within the citta come to a complete halt. This is called “the citta entering a state of total calm.” Then, the citta’s essential knowing nature is all that remains. Except for this very refined awareness—an awareness that seems to blanket the entire cosmos—absolutely nothing else appears… Distance is not a factor. To be precise, the citta is beyond the conditions of time and space, which allows it to blanket everything. Far is like near, for concepts of space do not apply. All that appears is a very refined awareness suffusing everything throughout the entire universe. The whole world seems to be filled by this subtle quality of knowing, as though nothing else exists, though things still exist in the world as they always have. The all-encompassing flow of the citta that has been cleansed of the things that cloud and obscure it, this is the citta’s true power.
‘The citta that is absolutely pure is even more difficult to describe. Since it is something that defies definition, I don’t know how I could characterize it. It cannot be expressed in the same way that conventional things in general can be, simply because it is not a conventional phenomenon. It is the sole province of those who have transcended all aspects of conventional reality, and thus realize within themselves that non-conventional nature. For this reason, words cannot describe it.
‘Why do we speak of a “Conventional” Citta and an “absolutely pure” citta? Are they actually two different cittas? Not at all. It remains the same citta. When it is controlled by conventional realities, such as kilesas and ãsavas, that is one condition of the citta. But when the faculty of wisdom has scrubbed it clean until this condition has totally disintegrated, the true citta, the true Dhamma, the one that can stand the test, will not disintegrate and disappear along with it. Only the conditions of anicca, dukkha, and anattã, which infiltrate the citta, actually disappear.
‘No matter how subtle the kilesas may be, they are still conditioned by anicca, dukkha, and anattã, and therefore, must be conventional phenomena. Once these things have completely disintegrated, the true citta, the one that has transcended conventional reality, becomes fully apparent. This is called the citta’s Absolute Freedom, or the citta’s Absolute Purity. All connections continuing from the citta’s previous condition have been severed forever. Now utterly pure, the citta’s essential knowing nature remains alone on its own….
‘Since this refined awareness does not have a point or a center, it is impossible to specifically locate its position. There is only that essential knowing, with absolutely nothing infiltrating it. Although it still exists amid the same khandhas with which it used to intermix, it no longer shares any common characteristics with them. It is a world apart. Only then do we know clearly that the body, the khandhas, and the citta are all distinct and separate realities…’[8]
Some of the notions found here are reminiscent of the Tathagatagarbha tradition – although the latter posits an original, primordial purity to the mind, whereas Bua sees that purity as needing to be established through mental and moral cultivation.[9]
Mahayana Tradition:

THE HEART OF PRAJNA PARAMITA SUTRA

When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita, he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.
Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics. They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure; and they neither increase nor diminish. Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness; no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas; no field of the eyes up to and including no field of mind consciousness; and no ignorance or ending of ignorance, up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death. There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way, and no understanding and no attaining.


Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva through reliance on Prajna Paramita is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana! All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi through reliance on Prajna Paramita. Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is a Great Spiritual Mantra, a Great Bright Mantra, a Supreme Mantra, an Unequalled Mantra. It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false. That is why the Mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:

Gaté Gaté Paragaté Parasamgaté

Bodhi Svaha!