From the archives of some theosophical e-mail lists.English
Subject: Nagarjuna and Theosophy From: Leo Bartoli
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001
... [some stuff cut out from the e-mail]
This is a good discussion. I also like her [H.P. Blavatsky] "Nirvana" definition as being equivalent to "the state of absolute existence." This is in keeping with my definition of samsara as the 4 lower planes (relativity) and nirvana as the upper 3 planes (absolute).
LB: That phrase, "absolute existence", strikes me as somewhat illogical, sort of like a square circle. Of course, it all depends on how the coiner defined "absolute" and "existence". Speaking for myself, a thing can either exist or not exist, one or the other, there's no third choice. It's not like things exist by percent, with 100%-existing equal to "absolute existence". So I'm not so sure what is being said here.
Furthermore, the only way a thing can exist is in opposition or in contrast to some other thing(s), call it 'not-thing'. Together thing and not-thing make up the totality. Things exist in the realm of duality, so to speak, in relativity. In contrast, the "absolute" is "not relative to anything else, independent", in my F&W dictionary.
I wouldn't mind seeing the whole passage, if someone would be kind enough to post it.
Subject: RE: Nagarjuna and
From: "Gerald Schueler"
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001
LB: That phrase, "absolute existence", strikes me as somewhat illogical, sort of like a square circle. Of course, it all depends on how the coiner defined "absolute" and "existence".>>
HPB meant that samsara is relative and nirvana is absolute, which is pretty much how many Tibetans would argue. Non-Buddhists think that nirvana is nothingness, but this is nihilism, warned against by Nagarjuna through Tzongkapa. The Middle Way teaches that Truth is neither relative nor absolute, but rather a transcendence of both into a non-dual Ground.
<<Speaking for myself, a thing can either exist or not exist, one or the other, there's no third choice. It's not like things exist by percent, with 100%-existing equal to "absolute existence". So I'm not so sure what is being said here.>>
What is being said it that things exist conventionally and/or relatively, but not ultimately - no thing has inherent existence and thus no thing is permanent. Buddha taught that Truth was not existence nor non-existence, nor both, nor neither. Thus to beleive in the duality of existence and nonexistence is similar to the belief in good and evil. Seeing things that black-white way is easy, but naive and false.
<<Furthermore, the only way a thing can exist is in opposition or in contrast to some other thing(s), call it 'not-thing'. >>
Exactly why both are untrue. Any thing with inherent exisence has to be independent. Because things are all dependent on conditions and on other things, they cannot have inherent existence.
>> In contrast, the "absolute" is "not relative to anything else, independent", in my F&W dictionary.<<
Such a thing is impossible. Absolute requires relative for it to have any meaning. Even nirvana is empty of inherent existence, and so even the absolute is not permanent.
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001
Author: Grigor Vahan Ananikian
Subject: Re: Nirvana
In a message dated 2/11/01 10:16:25 PM Eastern Standard Time,
Jerry Schueler writes:
> All nirvana is the extinction of tanha. It is not equal to enlightenment
> (bodhi) nor planes of existence.<<
> **** >
> Actually, I believe that most Buddhists would define nirvana as the
> extinction of suffering rather than of desire.
Not if they are scripturally literate Buddhists. Dukkha is the
of samsara (as ulterior cause, or secondary karana) x tanha (as proximate cause or primary karana). Tanha is not a general word for desire. It is a name for a special desire for egotistical control, power, security, and permanence where there is none. So, according to the standard Buddhist Philosophical Lexicon, tanha means delusive desire, lust (lust is not sexual per se, but is that dirve that regards all things as fodder or raw material or mere objects to be exploited for my ego project, whether sexual, political, fame, riches, etc), or feverish insanity that nirvana extinguishes. Tanha is the fire quenched by nirvana in all Buddhist texts. Thus, indirectly, samsara (which is not intrinsically evil but is the flowing nature of things, thusness, when not obscured by clinging) is no longer the ulterior cause of suffering because the primary cause is destroyed and its karmic legacy exhausted. What is bypassed, if one reads carefully the Sanskrit or Tibetan (instead of Evans Wentz or Alan Watts), by one seeking to become a Bodhisattva is not nirvana. Nirvana, extinction of tanha, must and has to be realized first as a pre-requisite. What is bypassed is the option desired by a solitary-realizer or arhant to get out, period. Even Pali scriptures say there is a lower path of arhants who do not wish to become enlightened (bodhi), and thus, Buddhas. And there is the higher path of those who seek to become Buddhas. This option, according to Buddhaghosa, Shantidevi, Takpo Tashi Namgyal, and Gampopa, to be either arhat or be a Buddha is presented as an option only for those who have already realized nirvana (in Zen, again, in the original sources - instead of sloppy American reading and passing on badly comprehended material, the distinction is between satori and kensho - satori is not enlightenment, rather it enlightened is perfected into kensho, satori is like direct initiation into rigpa, Kensho is development of rigpa into a permanent mastery). Having realized nirvana, one can either opt out or one can renounce arhantship to become enlightened and a Buddha. One who picks the latter course begins to trend either the sutra or tantra (on, in one view, Dzog chen - if seen as beyond tantra) path of the Bodhisattva.
Grigor Vahan Ananikian