The Truth of Dualism in Madhyamaka Buddhism
Nagarjuna’s point of view
Nagarjuna is an Indian Buddhist philosopher, the founder of the Madhyamaka school.
What is Madhyamaka?
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
"The Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, the followers of which are called Mādhyamikas, was one of the two principal schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, the other school being the Yogācāra.
The name of the school is a reference to the claim made of Buddhism in general that it is a middle path (madhyamā pratipad) that avoids the two extremes of eternalism—the doctrine that all things exist because of an eternal essence—and annihilationism—the doctrine that things have essences while they exist but that these essences are annihilated just when the things themselves go out of existence."
The non-dual doctrine of the middle way lies beyond these two extremes. Non-dualism is closely related to the notion of sunyata or emptiness.
"The central tenet of Madhyamaka Buddhism, that samsara is nirvana, is difficult to understand in any other way except as asserting the two different ways of perceiving, dually and non-dually. The dualistic perception of a world of discrete objects (one of them being me) which are created and destroyed constitutes samsara." When dualistic perceptions do not arise, there is nirvana. Put another way, "nirvana is the non-dual 'true nature' of samsara."
As Jigme Lingpa states: "Another way of distinguishing the two truths is to say that there is the "way things appear" and the "way they are."
The Two Truths
Mahayana proposes that everything exists in both an absolute and relative or conventional way. In the absolute, all phenomena are one, but in the relative, there are many distinctive phenomena.
In this sense, phenomena are both one and many. We can't say there is only one; we can't say there is more than one. So, we say, "not two."
Sambhogakaya or "The Enjoyment Body"
Sambhogakaya or "The Enjoyment Body" refers to the idea of "conventional truth."
That which is conventional in our perception of things at first existing separately from us (subject-object dualism), or the concept of the independence and interconnection of those things that one can see and name. Sambhogakaya is visible only to those who achieve high states of realization.
While Sambhogakaya is "conventional truth," Paramarthasatya refers to the "ultimate truth" or the doctrine of Emptiness (sunyata). The ultimate truth is the independently arising nature of all phenomena, including oneself. As Jigme Lingpa states: "Another way of distinguishing the two truths is to say that there is the "way things appear" and the "way they are."
As it mentioned in The Prajnaparamita Sutra: "Transcendent wisdom is to be understood and meditated upon. It is by such thorough meditation that the unsurpassable result is gained. Thus the ultimate truth for Bodhisattvas is Transcendent Wisdom."
Thus Tibetan Buddhist logic essentially renders the positivist notion of absolute truth elusive. As our understanding of the world is limited to our perception, even the most vital fact is not complete but relative.
While Buddhist doctrine illustrates two truths, it doesn't attribute "existence" to either. Impermanence, interdependence, and Emptiness are "truths" in that they characterize all that we perceive.
Jigme Lingpa states: "Generally speaking, at present, all the great beings who uphold the Madhyamaka declare that the way the phenomena of samsara or nirvana appear is the mere imputation of thought; they are without real existence."
The world is limited to our perception, even the most vital fact is not complete but relative.
The fascinating part about it is not the notion of Emptiness that had been imputed logically by reading books or observing reality. Instead, it is experienced directly through visualization and meditation. And the sacred religious art takes a big part in it. During meditation and visualizations, the mind abides in a non-duality state, without a notion of existence or non-existence. It is believed that in this state, meditators experience Emptiness in its full.
Emptiness empowers the unrestricted radiance of intrinsic consciousness. Vajrayana devoted practitioners can obtain it through an experimental state of pristine cognition and a comprehension of the mind's actual nature that can be experienced through meditation when the veils of emotions, ideas, and concepts have been cleared away.
Lingpa, Jigme, and Commented by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche. Treasure of precious qualities. Book one: Sutra teachings. Translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Boston & London, Shambhala, 2010.
Lingpa, Jigme. Treasury of Precious Qualities. Book 2: Vajrayana and the Great perfection. Translated by Padmakara translation group, Boston & London, Shambhala, 2013
Nagarjuna's Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika