Zen Dualism

The Denial of the possibility for  

Attaining Buddhahood in the Physical Reality

Mahayana Buddhism teaches the possibility for each individual to reveal the state of Buddhanature, through the practice of Bodhisattva.  If this Mahayana concept is valid, then - along the long history of humanity - there must have been some individuals who attained the highest level of mind.  As a thought experiment, suppose that you would one day become a fully enlightened human being, and in this case: how would you express this level of mind?

Being among the people who are in immense struggle and sufferings, an enlightened person would act with wisdom, courage and compassion to help in removing people's suffering and imparting joy.   Action is required to manifest the Buddhanature, and action is expressed in reality by the two components of speech and behaviour.  It is speech and behaviour in the physical world - that are the expressions of the mind of Buddha, when it manifests in reality.

Zen implied denial of Mahayana Buddhism

Naturally, a mind of person who attained enlightenment, expressing compassion and wisdom, communicates and conveys messages through speech.  But if - according to Zen - words are incapable of expressing the Buddha's mind, then the Buddha cannot use language to comunicate his/her mind to people. The implication is then that a Buddha cannot exist in reality, because living in a human reality requires speech of language, which - according to Zen - cannot convey the Buddha's mind.

If a Buddha cannot convey a message through words and voice, then Buddhahood - as a state of mind - cannot materialise in form of a human being.  Buddhahood then is not possible to attain.  This is the central idea of Zen, that it is futile to aim for Buddhahood, as Zen master Dogen plainly teaches:

          “Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. ..Have no design on becoming a Buddha”.  


Here is a clear case, in which the founder of "Zazen way of Zen" does not see a reason for having a design or determination for becoming a Buddha, being the greatest treasure of mind and the highest state of life.  

In the same time of "Have no design on becoming a Buddha" - Zen teaches its followers the "Bodhisattva Vows" and practice, the Bodhisattva practice, which - according to Mahayana Buddhism - is necessary for attaining Buddhahood.  If the Bodhisattva stage - by definition - is aimed at becoming a Buddha, then why would Zen teach the Bodhisattva Vows, while it also teaches of having no desire to become a Buddha?  

Zen masters are not consciously bluffing, they really believe in what they say or write, and what they say or write is just an expression of a confused mind.

The Three aspect of the Buddha: Trikaya

Mahayana Buddhism teaches the concept of Trikaya, the Three Aspects (or Three Bodies of a Buddha):  

           Trikaya, (Sanskrit: “three bodies”), in Mahāyāna Buddhism,

          the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha:

          the dharmakaya (body of essence), the supreme state of absolute knowledge;

          the sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode; and

          the nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the earthly mode, the Buddha as he appeared on earth.

          The concept of trikaya applies not only to the historical Buddha, Gautama, but to all other buddhas as well.


In other words, there are three aspects of Buddhahood:

           - the aspect of perceiving the truth, or the Dharma (the Law of reality of life),

           - the aspect of Wisdom to enjoy freedom from sufferings, and

           - the aspect of Action in the physical reality, to help people.

Shakyamuni Buddha fulfilled the three aspects: he perceived the truth of the Law of Life, attained wisdom and emancipation and - most importantly for us - appeared in this physical reality among the people, compassionately acting for their salvation.  The Trikaya is an expression of the principle of Oneness of the Mental and Physical, because perceiving the aspect of the Law and experiencing the joy of Wisdom - both represents the mental nature of Buddha, while his action in reality represents the physical nature of Buddha.  

According to the Trikaya, a Buddha is a human being, having physical and mental aspects.  Zen literature, however, presents a struggle in understanding what is "Buddha":

          Damei once asked Master Mazu, “What is buddha?” Mazu answered, “Mind is buddha.”     


This statement that Mind is Buddha, Buddha is Mind  - views a Buddha as a mental construct.  For Zen, a Buddha cannot exist in the physical reality, because if a Buddha exists in reality then he or she would express his or her mind through behaviour and speech, which Zen denies.


Author: Safwan Zabalawi (Darshams)

Dualism: the basic perspective of Zen