Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra...you find statements like, "No mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of living beings, no mark of a life," or "All conditioned dharmas are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows, like dew drops and a lightning flash: contemplate them thus," or, as in the
Avatamsaka Sutra, "Everything is made from mind alone." And in the
Heart Sutra as well, which they recite here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas every day, there are sections of it which go, "There is no form, no feeling, no perception, no mental formations, no consciousness, no ignorance, no birth, no aging, no death, no suffering, no attainment and no Way." What this is doing is stepping out of the whole conditioned realm, putting the whole conditioned realm into perspective - do not seek for liberation, for certainty, for security in that which is inherently insecure, inherently bound and tied up with time, self, birth and death. As long as we are seeking for happiness in the conditioned sensory world, then we are bound to be disappointed. We cannot possibly find it there. And things like birth, death, self, other, suffering - these are relative truths and ultimately there is no suffering, no one is ever born, no one ever dies. All there is is "Suchness" or "The Wonderful" or "Universal Mind" or anyone of a number of terms that are used.
The interesting thing is you don't find this just in the Mahayana or Vajrayana texts. It is fully explained and spelled out by the Buddha also in the Theravadin scriptures, although it may not get emphasized enough. You even get teachers who say that anatta should not be taught, that it is a dangerous teaching. After a talk that Ajahn Sumedho gave once, a well-known Buddhist teacher who was there was incredibly upset and disturbed that Ajahn Sumedho was teaching anatta to lay people. He thought this was most irresponsible (although he himself was a lay person!). Also I've been told of an eminent monk in Thailand who feels the same way; he thinks that anatta is too potent a teaching to pass on to all of you ... people, but I don't think so [laughter...]. This is the supremely liberating teaching, and you find a lot within the Theravada that is glossed over, that does continually push the mind to this point of ultimate wisdom.
For example, there is an inquiry made to a monk called Anuruddha where he's questioned by some Brahmin scholars on "What is the nature of an enlightened being after death?" "What happens to a Tathagata, an enlightened one, after the death of the body?" "Do they exist?"
The monk replies, "This is not spoken of by the Enlightened One."
He is asked, "Well, do they not ... exist?"
"This is not spoken of by the Enlightened One."
"Well, do they both ... exist and not ... exist?"
"This is not spoken of by the Enlightened One either,"
"Then, do they neither ... exist nor ... not exist?"
"This, too," he says, "is not spoken of by the Enlightened One."
So they say to him, "You must be a fool or one who is newly gone forth. You obviously do not understand the Buddha's teaching or you would be able to give us a decent answer."
Then he goes to the Buddha and tells the Buddha of the conversation he had with these people, and he asks, "Did I answer in the right way?" And the Buddha said, "Yes, Anuruddha you answered well."
"Do you see the Tathagata as being ... the five khandhas [Editor's Note: The five psycho-physical elements that make up the illusion of the "self"] ... ?"
"Do you see the Tathagata as having ... the five khandhas ... ?"
And he says, "No, Lord."
"Do you see the Tathagata as not... having the five khandhas ...?"
And he says, "No, that's not true either."
"Do you see the Tathagata as being within ... the five khandhas ... ?"
"Do you then see the Tathagata as being separated from ... , outside of, the five khandhas ... ?"
He says, "No, not that either."
"Correct!" said the Buddha, "Just so - what I teach, both now and formerly, is suffering and the end of suffering."
The Buddha advises us not to try to define the enlightened in conceptual terms because any conceptual definition can only fall short, can only be relatively true. The Buddha made very clear in the Theravada teaching just as much as in the scriptures of the Northern school that the ultimate perspective on things is the perspective of no fixed position, of actual realization ... of Truth, abiding in that position of Awareness, rather than taking any kind of conceptual or idealistic position. That is our Refuge. Taking Refuge with Buddha is being that Awareness. So that we see that everything to do with our body, our feelings, our personality, our age, our nationality, our problems, our talents, all of these are simply attributes of the conditioned world that arise and pass away and there is awareness of those. The whole point of the practice is to constantly abide in that quality of Awareness.
To be continued