How can we understand a verse like this?
From the Lankavatara Sutra XXXII
these are nothing but words
Studying the Lankavara sutra is bringing together a lot of
the ideas I have repeated in my teaching over the years.
I have often taught that language is the not the essence,
but it may point to the essence.
Yet we still have the importance in our life of language.
The teaching of signlessness means that the sign (the name,
the character) is not the thing.
The word is not the essence.
One of the teachings I have taught repeatedly is how we build up our
conceptualization and get farther and farther from suchness. After the solidification of our
opinions, we end up defending our beliefs as if they are real.
This teaching on the deception of language goes like this:
– our consciousness gives something a name
- then we elaborate into a story with our memory, our futuring, and our
3. Clinging –
then we become attached to
4. Opinion or belief
- then we become attached to our stories
I add – war –
then we fight for our
In studying the Lankavatara Sutra, this teaching on naming
and projections have been explained with quite a bit of nuance.
Though in Buddhism, we do not destroy the world of our
construction, our karmic life, or what we might call our ordinary world, in
order to find freedom or happiness.
The Buddhist’s claim
to freedom is based on the breaking up of our false identification with these
projected stories. We can have
them, but we have to understand them in order to be free of them.
Our words are based on our projections and our projections
are based on a false reality. To
know the truth behind words requires seeing through the falsehood of our
projections or our constructions of our storied life.
In the Lankavatara sutra, it says that the four kinds of
word projections source back to the Eight Consciousness, which I have written
about in a recent blog.
The First projection is called Object Projection, which sources from the first five sensory
consciousnesses. This is an
attachment to forms and their characteristics, which we perceive through our
sense gates – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body.
The second projection is called Dream projections, coming from the 6th consciousness
(mind, thought, and mind consciousness). This is thought or conceptual consciousness. Dream words arise from recollecting
previously experienced realms that upon waking are found to be nonexistent.
The third projection is called Word for attachment to erroneous projection. This is related to the 7th
consciousness, which is called Manas. I spoke about erroneous projections in the previous
blog- a self, a person, a living being, a life span. Manas is the consciousness that circulates all the other
consciousnesses (our senses and our thoughts) around a “self”. It is our ego consciousness or “I”
consciousness. In the sutra it
says, words for attachment to mistaken
projections arise from recollecting previous acts of hostility. Why hostility? Because whenever the ego is involved,
we feel we need to protect the non-existent “I”. Hostility and not kindness is the operant emotion in
defense. Why is there no “I”? Because everything is constantly
changing and everything is interrelated.
The truth about our “I” is that it is porous and based on interbeing.
The fourth projection is called Words for projection without beginning. This projection comes from the 8th consciousness –
the storehouse consciousness. Words for projections without beginning arise
from the habit-energy of the seeds of past attachments to beginning-less
projections. The storehouse
consciousness is beginning-less.
You cannot really find a root cause. The net of causes and conditions for that which arises is
beyond our thinking and our conceptualizations.
Labels: Eight Consciousnesses, Lankavatara Sutra, signlessness, The use of language in Buddhism