Saturday, August 27, 2011

Metaphysical Realism

Metaphysical Realism
by Scott Bradley

Most books I read about Zen, logically enough, trace its philosophical evolution through a discussion of its patriarchs to the Japanese greats, Dogen and Hakuin. What I have discovered is that the more refined that philosophy becomes, the less it appeals to me. For one thing, with refinement comes exclusiveness—“this is the only way". And then there is my aversion to all metaphysics and cosmologies, generally. It was refreshing then, to find myself nodding appreciatively at Heinrich Dumoulin's (Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meaning) discussion of Dogen's "metaphysical realism".

Dogen took exception to some basic Mahayanist doctrines, though he was careful to express it by way of re-interpretation, rather than denial. The shift which had me nodding in agreement was from idealism to realism, terms that would probably leave both camps shaking their heads in bewilderment.

It is no easy thing, of course, to actually say definitively what Mahayana Buddhism 'believes' since one can pick and choose his way through the sutras to arrive where he wishes, but a certain 'metaphysical idealism' seems prevalent. What is this? "The three worlds are One mind. Nothing exists outside the mind." (Avatamsaka Sutra) Things in their concreteness become less real than Mind, which is beyond the concrete. This material world is all a dream, an illusion, maya.

But Dogen said, No, this is dualism. The concrete suchness of things is the Buddha-nature (Reality) — there is nothing outside Reality. Dumoulin quotes Dogen: "You should know that the Buddha Dharma from the first preaches that body and mind are not two, that substance and form are not two." He then comments: "There is no separation between body and mind; no substance lies behind or beyond the phenomenal world. Phenomena and essence are the same; all things are Buddha-nature." This is it! Find it here. You are it now.

A corollary to this Mahayanist doctrine is the idea that the Buddha-nature (Reality) exists as a seed of potentiality within every thing. It is something that we must nurture and grow — realization becomes attainment. But again Dogen says, No, the totality is the Buddha-nature. There is nothing to become, because it already is. There are no conditions to meet to be Reality, only to experientially realize it.

Dumoulin calls this "metaphysical realism"; I call it Yes!

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. I call it " "

    So while we seem to agree maybe we are opposing sects and should fight this out to the death :)


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