For the past two weeks in class, we have read about and analyzed two of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma: emptiness and consciousness (or mind-only). As we have discussed, followers of Mahayana Buddhism believe that the second turning, that of emptiness, is the definitive teaching of the Buddha. According to the Mahayana tradition, there is no discernible essence of the world on which all things are dependent. Instead, all phenomena are interdependent and could not exist otherwise. In the Mind-Only school of thought, however, it is believed that nothing exists independently of the mind; that is, the mind is the underlying essence of all phenomena that exist and occur in the world.
After reading Nāgārjuna’s philosophy of emptiness, then Vasubandhu’s Treatise of the Three Natures and finally Candrakīrti’s rebuttle to the argument for an emphasis on mind, I find myself more persuaded by the teaching of emptiness as the definitive teaching of the Buddha. Like others in our class, I at first pushed back against the suggestion that I might be essenceless – a totally dependent function of other dependent functions. However, as I tried to identify a part of myself that did not form based on some other phenomenon I had experienced, I found the task impossible.
Although Vasubhandu would argue otherwise, even our minds are dependent, for without anything to perceive, a mind does not exist to do the perceiving. Moreover, to enlightened beings, form does not exist therefore mind has no form. In Candrakīrti’s words:
(91) Within the context of everyday affairs, all five psychophysical constituents taken for granted in the world do exist. However, none of the five appears to a yogi who pursues illuminating knowledge of reality.
Therefore, seeing as this is so,
(92a-b) If form does not exist, then do not cling to the existence of mind; and if mind exists then do not cling to the nonexistence of form.
The message in these verses is: if you plan to become enlightened, don’t count on mind sticking around as the foundation of the universe if it has no form. But these verses also show that mind is dependent on form, and that alone means it cannot be the underlying, independent essence of the universe.
So after coming to terms with emptiness and beginning to understand myself as just another interdependent being, void of essence and therefore, as I understand, without a self, I started to think about uniqueness. Does our interdependence and lack of self mean we are no longer individuals? Certainly interdependently occurring phenomena can come together in different ways to form different types of people, making every separate person unique. But doesn’t the existence of uniqueness undermine the concept of no-self?