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  • Writer's pictureRudy Bauer

The Second Epoch: The Absence of Self and The Presence of Self in Buddhist History:

An Existential Phenomenological View

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies

The focus of this paper is the absence of self and the presence of self in the unfolding of the early history of Buddhism from the view of contemporary Existential Phenomenology. This paper focuses on the Second Epoch. This second epoch is the evolutionary phase of the luminous Nagarjuna in 2nd Century AD. This is the opening of Mahayana and Madhyamika Traditions. This is the opening of the bringing forth of the path of Bodichitta or the path of the great compassion. The great compassion is the very nature of the openness of Sunyata and is the power of transmission of the light. The path of great compassion is the union of Sunyata and Karuna.

This second epoch of Buddhism reflects the luminous liberating influence of Nagarjuna and Nagarjuna’s opening of the Mahayana and Madhyamika traditions. Our understanding of Nagarjuna is opened and deepened and radicalized by the work of the scholar Nancy Mc Cagney. Her wonderful book is “Nagarjuna and The Philosophy of Openness”’ Her text opened for me, a vast and radicalized understanding about Nagarjuna. Her book further opens for me, the understanding of the vast influence of Nagarjuna in philosophy, his vast influence in the many different cultures of Buddhism and his foundational opening of the future unfolding of Buddhism as found in later centuries.

Nancy Mc Cagney understands that the term sunnata of the early Pali Canon is often translated as emptiness. She further understands that Nagarjuna contextually and experientially understood Sunyata as Openness. Sunyata for Nagarjuna was the experience of spaciousness, sky like awareness, and unbound openness. This spaciousness, this openness is experienced and expressed in the early Prajnaparamita text and most especially the Astasahasrika. Mc Cagney understands the Akasa signifies not a void or vacuum but spaciousness and openness as the luminous field of Being. Sunyata is an ontological experience and not simply a psychological mind based experience. Nargarjuna opens ontology and the profound experience of Being within Buddhism. Nargarjuna opens the possibility of the convergence of the sense of Being and the ontological sense of self. Of course as St. Thomas reminded us many centuries ago “whatever is received, is received according to the mind of the receiver”. This is infinitely true of my reading of her text as my understanding and interpretation is definitely in light contemporary existential phenomenology.

Sunyata as Emptiness or Sunyata as Openness

The sunyata of Nargarjuna has over time been translated as emptiness or void-ness. Mc Cagney strongly suggests that sunyata is often mistranslated as emptiness. The great scholar and translator of Tibetan Buddhism, Herbert Guenther also suggest that shunyata (synonymous with sunyata) is mistranslated as emptiness. The great Tibetan Tantric Master Chogyam Trungpa also suggests that Shunyata is often mistranslated as emptiness.

This language of emptiness as sunnata (Pali language) does in fact reflect the Being-less experience of early Buddhism with its preoccupation with the absence of Being and the emptiness of form and emptiness of existence. Here sunnata means empty as empty of something such as an empty bottle or empty box. Sunnata also means abyss like emptiness and abyss like nothingness.

The translation of Sunyata as openness of Being and spaciousness of Being reflects the direct experience of the openness and spaciousness of Being. Nagarjuna was experiencing this understanding and gave it form philosophically. Nagarjuna contextualized the luminous spaciousness of unbound openness of the field of Being. Emptiness given the historical roots and historical understanding of early Buddhism can easily imply nihilism and the baseless lack of source, the absence of Being.

Guenther and Trungpa

In the chapter The indivisibility of Openness and Compassion in their great book the Dawn of Tantra (1975 published) Herbert Guenther and Chogyam Trungpa both express that “Shunyata is usually translated as emptiness or void. These translations are thoroughly misleading, because Shunyata is a highly positive term. Unfortunately, the early translators were not sophisticated and allowed themselves to be misled by the sense of shunyata in ordinary everyday language. In this popular language if a glass had no water in it, it could be called shunya. But this is not at all the sense of Shunyata in our understanding of Buddhist philosophy. When we are speaking of Shunyata we are speaking about the open dimension of Being.”

Guenther and Trungpa continue in their discussion of shunyata and in their describing shunyata as the openness of the field of Being. They described how we can attend (through our mind) to the forms of objects. This reflects a description of a mind alone knowing forms. Guenther and Trungpa then describe how these objects or forms are perceived within the field, within the field of Being. Guenther and Trungpa point out how our attention of our mind can be directed to the concrete forms of objects, and how we can simultaneously focus our attention of our awareness on the field of Being in which these forms are situated.

In our Shunyata experience the knowing our awareness is on the field of Being and our mind’s knowing is on the forms within the field. This open dimension of Being is the basic meaning of Shunyata. This Tantric view of mind knowing form and our awareness knowing the Being of the form reflects the existential phenomenological view of the simultaneous knowing of mind of forms and the direct knowing of awareness of the field of Being. In this union of our mind and our awareness as the one knower we can know the Being of a form and the form of Being . Being and the form of Being is known simultaneously by the one knower.

You may have noticed that we use two different spellings for Sunyata or Shunyata. Sunyata is the spelling that Mc Cagney uses in her text and Shunyata is the language that Guenther and Trungpa use. The spellings reflect the difference in Indian and Tibetan language traditions.

Guenther and Trungpa continue to describe how this openness is present in, and is actually presupposed by our experience of determinate form. Every determinate entity evolves out of this indeterminate field. Every determinate form evolves or manifests out of this indeterminate field of Being which is experienced by and through our awareness. This experience of indeterminacy reflects Nagarjuna’s deconstruction of concrete like cause and effect thinking and his opening up of our understanding of the indeterminacy of karmic action and the systemic openness of all phenomena.

Through this language of spaciousness and openness we can sense the subtle roots of the Great Perfection of Dzogchen that comes into fruition within the 8th century Tibet. Longchenpa the great Dzogchen master of the Nyingma tradition writes many foundational Dzogchen text in the 14th century. His most important foundational text is called the “Basic Space of Phenomena.”

The Basic Space of Phenomena reflects the view of openness and spaciousness as described by Guenther and Trungpa in their chapter on the ‘Indivisibleness between Openness and Compassion’ in The Dawn of Tantra. The language of primordial openness and primordial spaciousness is described as being more reflective and more attuned to the wording of Shunyata then the language of emptiness with its nihilistic implications about the emptiness and absence of Being.

Karuna and Openness

In their text The Dawn of Tantra Herbert Guenther and Chogyam Trungpa integrate the great compassion of Karuna with the primordial openness of Shunyata by bringing forth both the source and the medium of Being of the great Compassion. Guenther and Trungpa describe the field qualities of Being as compassion and luminous openness. Yang Thang Rinpoche, the late contemporary Nyingma master described the great compassion as our capacity to extend and transmit our compassionate awareness into the present moment of another person and into the past of the person, and into the future of the person. From timeless awareness in time, we can extend the light of our own awareness into the present moment of a person, into the past of a person and into the future of the person. Dudjom Rinpoche in his great text the invoking of the Guru from Afar describes how we as human beings can take the power of compassion and openness and experience the power of the transmission of compassion through our own awareness.

Phenomenologically, this foundational sense of the spaciousness of primordial awareness brings to mind Heidegger’s DASEIN which means that human beings have a natural openness to Being itself, as Being itself. Mc Cagney’s study “Nagarjuna and the Philosophy of Openness” opens us to the vastness and wonder of Nagarjuna’s wide open understanding and his luminous vision of being a human being. This openness is actually the openness of the field of Being and the manifestation of the field of Being. Our experience of the field Being is embodied as Sunyata. The experience of Sunyata is the experience of our self as unbound openness. This openness is the openness of our awareness which is the openness the field of our Being, which is the field of Being.

Openness of Being

The Openness of Being is primordial awareness. Awareness is the Openness of Being, Awareness is the knowing of Being. Being knows Being through awareness. In this ontic ontological understanding, mind is the knowing of form and awareness is the knowing of Being. Awareness is Being’s knowingness. In the integration of the knowing of mind within the knowing of awareness, then the Being of form and the form of Being is experienced. When there is an integration of our mind within our awareness we can know the Being of our own form and the form of our own Being which is our direct sense of our self.

Mc Cagney’s study radicalizes our understanding of Nagarjuna’s experience of Sunyata as openness, as luminous spaciousness, and as direct gnosis or jnana. This jnana is direct knowing of the openness and unbounded spaciousness of Being. Her work takes us beyond the orthodox early Buddhist understanding of emptiness as the absence of Being into the understanding of Sunyata as the openness of Being. Sunyata is the Spacious Luminous Openness of Being. This understanding deepens our experience and understanding of our awareness of Being and our awareness as Being. Our knowing opens for us the experience of different dimensions of Being such as the Dharmakaya dimension, the Sambogakaya dimension and the Nirmanakaya dimension. The Mahayana opens our understanding and our experience of Being that is multidimensional. Our existence is multidimensional.

Mc Cagney elaborates in her wonderful and adventuresome text a number of themes about the philosophy of Nagarjuna. I will also elaborate some of these philosophical themes in the light of existential phenomenology. My existential phenomenological interpretation will not necessarily reflect her expression, experience and or understanding.

Coming into Existence

In the second century AD. Nagarjuna came into existence in India. He is considered the second Buddha. He should be. He was initially a Hindu and he became a Buddhist. He brought forth the radical transformation of Buddhism from Sutra into Tantra. He transformed Buddhist philosophical understanding not only for Indian Buddhism but for Buddhism throughout the many cultures of the world. Nagarjuna lived in brilliance. Mc Cagney describes Nagarjuna as elaborating Buddhism as a “systemic process of unending openness.” What a great phrase! Buddhism as a systemic process of unending openness! Nagarjuna was an alchemical master, a master of the elemental archetypal energies and light.

Nagarjuna was the expanding and opening force of the Mahayana and the Madhyamika traditions. Mahayana opens up the manifestation of the archetypal dimension of the realm of the Sambogakaya dimension. Mahayana brings forth the understanding of the cosmological source as the Dharmakaya. Dharmakaya is the dimension of pure potentiality. Nagarjuna brings forth within the Mahayana the understanding of the realm of ordinary life dimension of the world as Nirmanakaya. The dimension between the ordinary life world of the Nirmanakaya and the source of the Dharmakaya as pure potentiality. Sambogakaya is the realm of rapture and archetypal energies and archetypal light that manifest the ordinary life world.

The Mahayana unveils human existence as multidimensional existence. Human beings are multidimensional Beings. Mahayana expresses the nature of Being as multidimensional. Mahayana expresses the nature of our own Being as multidimensional. Mahayana expresses the nature of awareness as multidimensional. Direct Knowing is a multidimensional experience. Gnosis is multidimensional. Jnana is multidimensional. Sunyata is multidimensional existing-ness.

Beyond Extremes and Beyond Dissociation: The Middle Path of Madhyamika

Moreover, Nagarjuna opens the Madhyamika view of the Middle path. The Middle path is beyond the realm of extremes. Nagarjuna made most explicit the experience of oneness within difference and difference within oneness. Nagarjuna brought forth the middle way. The middle way implies that we can experience difference within oneness and oneness within difference. We can experience the duality of beings within the non-duality of Being. We can also experience the non-duality of Being within the duality of beings.

Nagarjuna radicalized philosophical understanding, and he expanded the openness of Buddhist understanding and Buddhist praxis . He liberated the fixated and reified patriarchal dogmatic concrete configuration of early Buddhism. He deconstructed early Buddhism as a locked in patriarchal belief system and its preoccupation with concrete and dissociative thinking.

Dissociation Between Oneness and Difference

Within early Buddhism there is a dissociation between oneness and difference. There is a dissociation between the duality of beings and non- duality of Being. There is a dissociation between oneness and difference. This dissociative splitting of the extremes is not the path of the Middle way. Today in many transcendental spiritual traditions a person can only be in the non-duality that is beyond the duality of phenomena, because duality is considered as a delusion. In these spiritual transcendental traditions a person can be in non-duality but not within duality. So too, in many materialistic traditions, a person can be in duality and not in non-duality, since non-duality is considered a delusion.

There are various forms of splitting human reality. And most importantly within the path of immanence a person can be within the duality of beings within non-duality of Being. And within the path of immanence, a person can be within the non-duality of Being within the duality of beings. Both the duality of beings and non-duality of Being are the actual indivisible dimensions of human existence.

Going Beyond The Nihilistic Formulations of Buddhist Thought

Nagarjuna was completely attuned to Gautama’s teaching. Nonetheless, Nagarjuna went beyond the limitations of the early nihilistic formulations of Buddhist thought. Nagarjuna liberated Buddhism from Ontological Nihilism.

Nagarjuna makes explicit the ongoing conflictual drama between the experience of Being and the experience of non Being. Nagarjuna elaborated the Middle way which unfolded as the path of Madhyamika. Some described the middle way of Madhyamika as “ both and.” He takes Buddhism beyond the extremes of frozen Being and frozen Change . The conflicted source of early Buddhism was permanence and impermanence. In western philosophical context, Nagarjuna goes beyond Being as unchanging and beyond everything as unceasingly changing. The brilliance of Nagarjuna was his brilliance in seeing, understanding and articulating the Middle Way. Nagarjuna brings Buddhism beyond its preoccupation with dissociation, splitting ,and detachment as the fundamental means of experiencing the existential drama of human existence. He brings Buddhism beyond the simplistic aspiration of cessation!

Middle Way and Change

For Nagarjuna “ Within Being is Change and within Change is Being.” He could see and know and experience the middle of the extremes. He could know stillness in movement and movement within stillness. He understood the actuality of potentiality, and the potentiality of actuality. He could know timelessness within time and time within timelessness. His thinking and understanding goes beyond concrete splitting and dissociation and foreclosing of differences. He was not bound in concrete thinking. He was not concretely locked in the pairs of opposites. He did not use splitting and dissociation as a skillful means.

Within this period of time, Mahayana appears as the dramatic unfolding of the cosmological understanding of Nagarjuna. Within early Buddhism there was no cosmological medium or cosmological base. There was no cosmology. There was no ontology. There was no Being. This second epoch reflects the beginning phase of the Mahayana and Madhyamika phase of Indian Buddhism. Nagarjuna opens this cosmological understanding in which there is this vast profound unbound experience of openness, cosmological openness, cosmological spaciousness, cosmological light ,and cosmological knowingness. This is the direct experience of Cosmological Source. This is the experience of Dharmakaya. This Dharmakaya is the experience of Pure Being. This Dharmakaya is the experience of Buddha Nature.

The early Buddhist tradition was a psychological experience that was without Being, and that was without cosmological context. Early Buddhism was ontic but not ontological. Within this cosmological context of Mahayana, the archetypal realm becomes manifest. The Mahayana focused on the archetypal dimension of experience. The opening to this archetypal dimension is experienced through the doorway of the unbound multidimensional openness of Sunyata. Sunyata is the experience of open awareness. Sunyata is the experience of the openness of the field of Being. Sunyata is the Openness of Being.

Unbound Openness

This unbound openness of Sunyata is the spaciousness of Being and the Light of Being. This openness of Sunyata is not simply a concrete psychological state of mind. This openness is the openness of Being. The openness of Sunyata is the openness of Being. There is the simultaneous experience of the openness of the knower and the openness of phenomena. The knower of Nagarjuna is not simply and only a psychological mind. This spacious openness of the one knower and the spacious openness of all phenomena is co-emergent. This knowing is the field of luminous spaciousness that is within the knower and within the known. This spacious openness is indivisible between the knower and the known.

Openness to Being

In the later Dzogchen traditions this spacious openness and this luminous spacious knowingness is named as primordial awareness or ground awareness. As the Dakini said to Dudjom Lingpa in the late 19th century . “You and I are indivisible”. This is the experience of oneness within difference, and difference within oneness. This luminous openness is also expressed in Existential phenomenology as DASEIN. Dasein is the human being’s openness to Being itself. A human being is the openness of human being to Being.

Shunyata as Unbound Openness

Nagarjuna’s experience and understanding of the openness of the knower and the openness of all phenomena is intrinsic to his understanding of Shunyata. Shunyata is the unbound openness of spacious knowing. This openness is sky like luminous spaciousness. Shunyata is knowingness. The knowingness of the knower is Shunyata . Shunyata is of focal importance to Nagarjuna. For Nagarjuna, Shunyata is best not to be expressed as emptiness, because of the nihilistic connotations of emptiness of Being as elaborated in early Buddhism.

The emptiness of early Buddhism was the emptiness of Being, the absence of Being. The emptiness of presence, is the lack of the presence of the radiance of Being. This early formulations of emptiness was emptiness as lack. The lack of what? The absence of Being. This absence of Being is also the absence of self. The experience of self and the experience of Being are convergent. This early formulations of emptiness was absence. The experience of Reality was absence.

Shunyata is best translated and best understood as vast openness, the vast luminous spaciousness of openness. Shunyata is this sky like primordial spaciousness. This openness is luminous. Shunyata is Gnosis. Shunyata is direct inside to inside knowingness. This openness is not what the mind thinks, feels, senses or conceptualizes.

This is the Opening of Direct vast knowing, this is Gnosis. Ultimately, this knowing is awareness. This awareness knows Being. This knowing is not the knowing of the mind alone. The mind knows form and awareness knows Being. This understanding becomes a fundamental distinction in the tradition of Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhism. This is also a fundamental distinction in Kashmir Shavism. This is also a fundamental distinction Existential Phenomenology. This is also a fundamental distinction in Existential Psychoanalysis as well as in Experiential Psychotherapy.

Ultimately, this openness is the openness of Being . Nagarjuna understood Shunyata was Wisdom Knowingness. Shunyata is unbound and unending spaciousness . Shunyata is unbounded openness without limits. Shunyata is unending limitless open knowing spaciousness which passes through limits and beyond limiting experience. Shunyata is timeless awareness in time.

This Shunyata is not emptiness as in lack. Shunyata is filled with luminous light. This light is the light of illumination and creativeness. This is the light of the radiance of manifestation. This is the light of Being becoming beings. Being is not a being. Being is openness, spaciousness, luminosity and radiant wisdom.

Shunyata is No-Thingness Rather Then Nothingness

This open spaciousness is no-thingness. No-thingness is not nothingness. Being is not a thing. Knowingness is not a thing. Nagarjuna described how Perfect Wisdom is like space . Perfect Wisdom cannot be grasped with mind alone and does not have form. The Goddess of Wisdom of the Prajna paramita is symbolizes as the sky. Sky like awareness! This Goddess is the archetypal Great Mother, the source of everything and anything. This space is not described as empty because this spaciousness is filled with clarity, filled with radiant luminosity, filled with clear light. This space is the perfection of Wisdom Knowingness. This is the space of pure potentiality.

The Goddess

Wisdom Knowing is direct non conceptual knowing. The Goddess is like the sky, the wide open sky. The Goddess is the cosmological openness of openness. The Goddess is the infinite Source. As we embody the Goddess we practice openness that does not foreclose or ignore the world. The Goddess is not in a state of vacancy, her eyes are open to the world and she is active for the sake of others. This is the practice of Perfect Wisdom, this is the praxis of the Bodichitta which is the great compassion. This is the praxis of the great compassion as source and medium of the world. The great compassion is an act of self-manifestation. Compassion is the transmission of compassion from one person to another through action.

Shunyata is the Experiential Non Conceptual Sense of Self

Nagarjuna actually names the knower as the Knower of the field. He uses this word Ksetrajnasya. This open spaciousness is the field. This open spaciousness is the source of becoming. This open spaciousness of knowing is the self. There is becomingness. Being is becoming. Being is becoming beings. The self is becoming. There is no conflict between becoming and Being . Some Buddhists still dissociate Being and Becoming. This splitting is not the Middle way.

In Nagarjuna’s understanding there is the one knower who knows through mind and knows through the power of awareness. There is knowing of mind and the knowing of awareness. The knower is Shunyata. You are Shunyata. Shunyata is not simply a mental view. Shunyata is not a view or a belief. Shunyata is not an experience of mind alone. Shunyata is you, and simultaneously Shunyata is the Cosmos expressing itself through you You are not simply a psychological moment of randomness; you are a cosmological event of the manifestation of Being. You are Shunyata embodied in time and in space. You are not simply the mental event of the mind knowing forms.

Shunyata is the Knower of the field, The Very Knower of the Field is Self.

Shunyata is the knower of the field. Shunyata does not exist as a thing . Shunyata is no thingness. Our self is not a thing. What does exist is Shunyata becoming becoming. Between existing and not existing is becoming. Shunyata is the spaciousness, openness of becoming, the spaciousness of potential. There is only becoming.... ‘bhavanti’. The knower of the field is named ‘ksetrajnasya’. Our self is Shunyata. Our located-ness is Shunyata. We are embodied Shunyata. We are the embodiment of Shunyata. Each person is the singular experience and expression of Shunyata.

In early Buddhism Shunyata was the emptiness of Being and for some Shunyata was the expression of the absence of Being. Within the illumination of Nagarjuna, Shunyata becomes the language of unbound spontaneous openness, luminous oneness, and the luminous creativity of Being as well as the luminous openness of individual beings. This Shunyata is the openness of Being, and the luminosity of Being. The nature of Being is the nature of everything and anything. Our Self is not a thing. Our self is unfolding process of primordial openness.

Knowing of Shunyata and Knowing of Mind

The time of Nagarjuna was an amazing transitional moment from Sutra into Tantra. This is the amazing transition from absence of Being to the presence of Being itself. The sense of the self is the sense of embodied Shunyata. My sense of my embodiment of Shunyata is different, then your sense of your embodiment of Shunyata. My openness in time and space, my openness within my embodiment, and my mind is different than your openness in your body and mind. Our self is knowing openness. This knowing openness is not the same knowing of thinking ,feeling, remembering, and sensate mind. The knowing of Shunyata and knowing of mind simultaneously exist and are indivisible. This is the path of non-dual self- liberation.

Going Beyond

Nagarjuna elaborates the going beyond incoherent causality of early Buddhism. Nagarjuna emphasizes the necessity of going beyond the early Buddhist understanding of the concrete causality of the immediacy of cause and effect. Nagarjuna deconstructed the concrete notions of causality as incoherent. He deconstructed the simplistic cause and effect concrete operational notion of causality. Within his deconstruction of causality he deconstructed the corresponding incoherent understanding of karma that was expressed in primitive reward and punishment frame. Nagarjuna deconstructed the cause and effect framing of reincarnation. Without any logic the early Buddhist frame of reincarnation of self is based on the opposite of the sense of self. Early Buddhist reincarnation was based on the anatman and absence of self. Absence reincarnating as absence is incoherent. Non self reincarnates as a non self is incoherent. This is idea of reincarnation of absence is the imposition of Patriarchal imagination.

Reincarnation In Light of the Absence of Self

Incomprehensively, in early Buddhism a person who has no self and who is the absence of self and who is not really a who, this absence reincarnates according to the simplistic logic of concrete causality and concrete effect.

Since in early Buddhism the person is without self and is non self ,and is without who-ness, there is no self to reincarnate. The person as non self, does not have self-agency. A non-self cannot reincarnate as non self! It is amazing and bewildering that some think a non- self reincarnates as non- self since there is no self. This view of reincarnation as Nagarjuna suggests is incoherent. Some early Buddhist text suggest that it is not the non-self that reincarnates but the conditions of the non-self that are reincarnated by another non-self. This would be an extremely strange kind of random reincarnation of circumstances and conditions within absence of self. This understanding is incoherent and farfetched.

Absence cannot Reincarnate as Absence

The anatman cannot reincarnate as absence. Absence cannot reincarnate as absence? Personhood without Being-ness of self does not reincarnate! Without self, there is no personhood. Without self, there is no self to reincarnate as self. There is no who, who reincarnates as a who. There is only the lack of who-ness. This view would make reincarnation a random non- event!. Nagarjuna understood this non-self-reincarnation is completely incoherent.

In Nagarjuna’s systemic philosophy the non- self-reincarnating as non-self is philosophically incoherent. What remains in this understanding of non- self-reincarnation ? What remains is this intensely concrete assumption that if you do bad actions you are going to suffer bad consequences in your next life or lives. This is not a grounded philosophical position, but rather a Patriachal Position of dominance and power of authority of the One who knows.

Patriarchal Imposition

This Anatman context of reincarnation has no meaning and is incoherent. The Anatman context of reincarnation is not a true philosophical posture but is the patriarchal position imposing and threatening the living with reward and punishment. If the living do not follow the patriarchal framing of the law of actions, the they will suffer life after life and death after death.

The early Buddhist understanding of karma and reincarnation is not a coherent philosophical position, but rather a political requirements of a patriarchal culture. When Buddha died, the absence of his authority was replaced with a Patriarchal authority of dogmatic culture. In truth Buddha did not take positions on reincarnation or on what happens after death. He considered such teachings as speculative and political.

Shunyata and True Reincarnation

Nagarjuna attempted to liberate Buddhism from thoughtless elaboration on reincarnation and concrete causality. Nagarjuna understanding of Shunyata offered a true basis for the understanding of human reincarnation. Shunyata is the indestructibleness of human awareness . Human awareness was elaborated as the “vajra” within the unfolding the Vajrayana Tantras. Vajra means indestructible. Shunyata is unborn and undying. Shunyata is without parts to use Buddhist thought. The Shunyata that I am, is unborn and undying. As Shunyata I live life after life, and death after death. Shunyata is indestructible Being manifesting as my own Being as Openness. The body mind dissolves and Shunyata remains. I am Shunyata in singularity. The Allayic field is a reflection of the dimension of the Shunyata-Mind union. Shunyata is endless openness. Shunyata is timeless awareness in time. My self is timeless awareness in time.

Openness and Indetermination

For Nagarjuna all phenomena is openness. All phenomena is the openness of Being. All phenomena is unfixed and all phenomena is indeterminate. The unfolding of phenomena is an indeterminate process. All unfolding events are indeterminate. Events happen and exist in becomingness and as becomingness. The word karma simply means action. Karma is co-emergent action in an infinite indeterminate context.

Nagarjuna would consistently teach that the view of cause and effect is incoherent and lacks the Wisdom of Gnosis. Early cause and effect thinking focusing on life after life is an incoherent political patriarchal fixation. When events are arising and manifesting there is within the potentiality of Becoming the indeterminateness of the self-arising of phenomena. Karma is an indeterminate experience. Action is an indeterminate manifestation within openness. Knowledge is action. All action is a function of self-manifestation of Dharmakaya. The actuality of Shunyata is the true source and true medium of true reincarnation life after life and death after death.


Our open knowing of openness is always becoming and always unending. The sense of self is our knowing and is our becoming. Our self is Shunyata. Shunyata is not a view. Shunyata is our self as openness. Our self is unbound openness. Our self is spaciousness. Our self is gnosis, and our self is direct knowingness. Nagarjuna presents this subtle and exquisite illumination of the indeterminacy of experience and continuous continuity of the experience of openness as our knowingness. Shunyata is Being manifesting as Being as us. This openness of knowingness is self. This Being of knowingness is our Being as knowingness in time. What is the difference between myself and yourself. My self is my openness as knowingness in time. And your sense of self is your sense of your openness of knowingness in time.

My Living Experience is Different Then Your Living Experience

My living experience is my experience and your living experience is your experience. Our experience may be similar , but we are not having the same experience. My experience is my experience and your experience is yours. Shunyata is both cosmological and singular in expression and singular in experience. Shunyata is both oneness and difference. Shunyata is both personal and cosmological. Shunyata is both ontic and ontological.

Unchanging and Changeableness

For Nagarjuna Existence is not Stasis. Being is not static. Being is becoming. Being is always self-manifesting Being as beings. Shunyata as Dharmakaya is timeless awareness. Within the Dharmakaya there is the radiance of light. There is the self-manifestation of the Dharmakaya as Sambogakaya and self-manifestation of the Sambogakaya as Nirmanakaya. Timeless awareness is always becoming time. All appearance are the Dharmakaya. This is the great prayer of Dzogchen. “May I experience all appearance as the Dharmakaya”

Experience is the openness of Shunyata. This experience of becoming is the Radiance of the Dharmakaya. There is Shunyata of the Dharmakaya. There is Shunyata of the Sambogakaya. There is Shunyata of the Nirmanakaya. There is one Shunyata within the different dimensions of Being. All appearance is changing and becoming. Being is both timelessness and time. Being is both oneness within difference and difference within oneness. Being is both stillness and movement. Being is both is-ness and the self-manifestation of beings. Being is not a being, but Being self- manifests as infinite numbers of being. Being is the Beingness of all the beings

The Fixation of Views

For Nagarjuna the language-ing of experience as concepts and as views easily becomes a fixation. Fixations limit experience. Fixations limit the openness of Shunyata. Belief creates mental fixations that narrow our experience of the openness and depth of phenomena. All phenomena is openness. All phenomena is a form of spaciousness. All knowing has an experiential dimension of direct knowingness. Nagarjuna considers conceptualization a distancing from direct knowing and the direct experience of what phenomena is non conceptually manifesting, All views are opinions. The sense of opinion does not necessarily fixate openness, but can easily do so.

Shunyata is the Sense of Self as the Sense of Being.

Our sense of Being is the Field of Openness and Luminous Spaciousness. The sense of self is our sense of knowing. Our sense of self is our openness, our sense of self is our spaciousness . Our sense of our self is no thingness. Our sense of self is our self-openness in and as the field of openness. Our sense of self is our sense of Being and our sense of self is our ongoing sense of becoming.

The universe is profound openness, infinite openness. Surprisingly Nagarjuna bring us into the realm of immanence and transcendence. Nagarjuna’s teaching is the simultaneous path of transcendence and immanence. The lucidity of unbound openness is liberation itself. This spacious openness is simultaneously ontic or ontological. This Shunyata as spacious knowing openness encompasses this distinction of ontic and ontological. Shunyata also encompasses the three kayas. The three multi-dimensions of human existing-ness are Nirmanakaya, Sambogakaya and Dharmakaya.

Nagarjuna Brings Being into Buddhism

Openness is form and form is openness. The appearance of Being as beings manifesting as infinite Openness. This is the openness of openness. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In a way, a more accurate language would be to say form is openness and openness is form. Emptiness is less emphasized because emptiness can have the sense of negation or non-existence or absence of Being. Form is openness and openness is form. Form is Being and openness is Being. Being is not a thing, Being self-manifest as form. Being is openness, pure openness. Being manifest beings. Being manifest as the form of a being.

This profound move is the vast and in depth introduction of Being into Buddhism. Nagarjuna ‘s language is the openness of form as the openness of Being. Form is Being and Being manifests as forms. This understanding opens the tradition of immanence and the embodiment of Being. This understanding opens the Vajrayana tradition of the Tantras.

Multidimensional Experience of Multidimensional Syunyata

Mahayana opens up the multidimensional nature of existence and the multidimensional nature of Shunyata. Our experience of Shunyata is manifest in the Nirmanakaya as the ordinary natural life world. Our experience of Shunyata is manifest as the Sambogakaya dimension of archetypal energies , and light and the rapture of the Divine Manifestations. Our experience of Shunyata is the source of the Dharmakaya as pure potentiality manifesting Being as all the beings.

Dependent Origination and The Experience of Shunyata

Shunyata is within the realm of dependent origination. All phenomena are open ended ,indeterminate and interdependent. Multiple conditions infuse the infinity of causality. Simplistic cause effect causality is incoherent. Concrete causality reflects a very limited and childlike understanding of the convergent manifestation of events. From a Piagetian developmental psychological view point, this form of concrete operational cause effect thinking reflects a latency age childhood stage of intellectual development. Nagarjuna understanding of Shunyata as Openness is deeply reflective of interdependent arising.

Non Dogmatic Buddhism

Nagarjuna presents a Non Dogmatic Understanding of a Non Dogmatic Buddhism. Nagarjuna declares that Gautama as the Buddha did not teach any doctrines. Neither a self or a non-self are pointed out by the Buddha. Neither Being nor non being is ascribed. Gautama as the Buddha was the embodiment of compassion and because of compassion taught the teaching of the purpose of abandoning all views. Reified factualness does not occur since becoming is always occurring. All phenomena are open ended and indeterminate. Shunyata defines becoming as ‘Bhavati’.

The Sense of Our Human Self Reappears as Shunyata

There is a sense of the self that emerges from within the Shunyata of Nagarjuna. The sense of my self is Shunyata. Each person has their own experience as Shunyata. My experience of Shunyata is my experience and your experience of Shunyata is yours. I am Shunyata and you are Shunyata. We are different within our experience of Shunyata and we are still within the oneness of Shunyata. Shunyata is oneness within difference and difference within oneness.This Shunyata is the openness of our self which is the openness of Being. Our openness of our Being is the openness of our self. Our sense of self is our field of awareness as the field of Being embodied.

Through the openness of Shunyata: the Archetypal Dimension of Sambogakaya- Self Luminosity of Shunyata

Shunyata is self- luminous and Shunyata is not made up of parts. Shunyata is unborn and undying manifests itself. The great Mother of Wisdom is Shunyata as source. Shunyata is the potential space as Dharmakaya. Shunyata is a multi-dimensional experience of the kayas. Shunyata manifests within the human experience of ordinary life world of Nirmanakaya. Shunyata is our sense of open awareness within phenomena. Shunyata manifests within the Sambogakaya elements in luminous self-manifestation. Shunyata manifests within the Dharmakaya as pure potentiality.

Because of liberation of Shunyata within Shunyata, we are able to experience the seeds of Buddha Nature within us as our very own self. Buddha nature is the essence of all sentient Beings. Buddha nature is our self- nature. This is the opening of the Third Epoch. This is the epoch is the epoch of the Uttara Tantra. The Third Epoch is the phase of understanding that Buddha Nature is the essence of all sentient Beings. This Epoch of the Uttara tantra will be discussed in a following paper focusing on the Third Epoch.

Rudolph Bauer Ph.D. Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.

The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies

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