How can we understand a verse like this?
From the Lankavatara Sutra XXXII
Nothing exists at all
And 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:
1. Naming – our consciousness gives something a name
2. Elaboration - then we elaborate into a story with our memory, our futuring, and our projections
3. Clinging – then we become attached to our story
4. Opinion or belief - then we become attached to our stories being “right”
5. And I add – war – then we fight for our “right” belief
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.