"This verily, is the
person consisting of the essence of food.
Verily, other than and within the one consisting of the essence of food,
is the Self consisting of breath.
Verily, other than & within the one consisting of breath, is the Self
consisting of mind.
Verily, other than & within the one consisting of breath, is the Self
consisting of understanding.
Verily, other than & within the one consisting of breath, is the Self
consisting of bliss."
Taittirîya Upaniśad, 2.2,3,4 &
"By the Dharmakâya and all the visible kâyas, the Sun of
omniscience rises in the sky, which is the very heart of enlightenment, to
shed light beams of wisdom on beings."
Arye Maitreya : Uttaratantra Śastra, chapter 4.
Pluralism in Hindu thought
Hylic Pluralism, from "hyle" or "matter", is the
philosophical view accepting a plurality within matter, i.e. subdivisions
conceived as a multiplicity of layers of matter, from ordinary (coarse) to
finer, subtle strata of decreasing density. Hence, besides the gross,
coarse four-dimensional form of matter (known to conventional science), spiritual
technology reveals the presence of various subtle forms or layers of matter. Each
layer accommodate the expression of certain higher functions of consciousness,
like physical action, life-breath, emotion, concrete thought, abstract
thought, intuition & bliss. These higher levels of matter are the
functional basis of the "siddhis", the so-called "perfect abilities" or
"miracle-powers" attained by the accomplished yogi.
In Sâmkhya & Vedânta, the absolute, inherent existent higher Self, called
"puruśa" or "âtman", is covered by 3 sheaths :
the gross body
: "sthûla-śarîra", "annamaya-kośa" (food body) ;
the subtle bodies
: "sûkśma-śarîra", also called "linga-śarîra", made up of "prânamaya-kośa"
(breath body), "kâmamaya-kośa" (feeling body), "manomaya-kośa" (thought
body), "âtimamaya-kośa" (abstract thought body) & "vijñanamaya-kośa"
(intuition body) ;
the sheath of bliss
: or "kârana-śarîra", also called "ânandamaya-kośa" (bliss body).
in Hindu thought
The term "hylic pluralism" was coined by J.J.Poortman
in his Vehicles of Consciousness (1978). In these magisterial five
volumes, he traced its presence in
Greek Mysteries, Ancient
Assyria & Babylonia, Ancient Persia, Vedic India,
China, etc. In the
Western Tradition, based on the
theoretical framework of the
Qabalah, hylic pluralism engenders
correspondences between the various elements functioning on these planes,
Hylic pluralism can be understood from the side of the object or from the
side of the subject.
As a cosmological thesis, various levels, planes or strata of the
world-system are considered. Each plane features a particular kind of
rarefied matter. In general, the world-system is divided up in seven
planes. The physical plane contains nominal, ordinary matter and a more
subtle physical stuff, called "etherical" and related to "prâna"
(vital energy, "winds" or "ch'i").
As a psychological thesis, each material plane accommodates the functions
of a "vehicle of consciousness". Each vehicle is an instrument
used by consciousness to express itself in the world in a particular way.
Besides the coarse body (or "annamaya-kośa") and its etheric double (the
energy-matrix sustaining the ordinary body or "prânamaya-kośa"), finer,
less dense vehicles are postulated. The etheric double is used in
alternative healing practices like acupuncture & homeopathy, as well as in
Ch'i Kung, and is a sheet or "double" covering the physical body. The vehicle
allowing consciousness to express emotions & feelings is called the
"astral body" ("kâmamaya-kośa"). The vehicle to express concrete thought
is the "mental body" ("manomaya-kośa"). The vehicle of abstract thought is
the "causal body" ("âtimamaya-kośa"). The vehicle of direct intuition or
"vijñanamaya-kośa" is followed by the vehicle of bliss or
"ânandamaya-kośa". These bodies involve manifestation and so are
not yet the "Body of Truth". They are merely very subtle & subtle
manifestations or enjoyments, connecting the highest with the lowest.
In the pyramid stairway (Ancient
Egyptian religion), the
Tetraktys of Pythagoras
Pythagorism), Jacob's Ladder (Qabalah),
the liturgy of the
Eucharist, the "scala perfectionis" (Christian
mysticism) and the Mi'raj of the Prophet (Sufism),
the workings of these esoteric vehicles appear in various similar
Hylic pluralism provides an explanation for the many extraordinary,
spectacular, even miraculous features of spiritual life (the powers or
parapsychological feats). It is always
present in systems featuring spiritual exercises and explains these feats
in naturalistic terms, albeit meta-nominal.
The "supernatural" should not cover up ignorance, in this case the absence
of knowledge about how subtle matter and the co-relative vehicles work on
their own, as well as together. This eliminates the "super" and makes all
"siddhis" part of the "natural" world. Hence, instead of distinguishing
between the natural and the supernatural, the crucial ontological division
is between the natural & the supramundane, as Buddha understood.
Miracle-powers & parapsychological faculties are all mundane and so
In Buddhist philosophy, the distinction known as the
Two Truths is
crucial. Absolute, transcendent, ultimate truth or reality is
nondual and beyond all possible positive, conceptual designations. It is
nirvanic. Supramundane, it transcends the world, beyond any
possible duality ("pârarûpa"). Buddhas, having eliminated all obstructions
to omniscience, directly and completely experience absolute truth
permanently, i.e. halt substantial instantiation completely & irreversibly. Relative, conventional truth is dual and designated (posited,
imputed) by a contaminated mind (rendered unwholesome). It is
samsaric. Buddhas also experience the conventional world as it
appears to sentient, deluded beings, but
when witnessing a phenomenon, they -with perfect nondual
cognition- simultaneously perceive its emptiness. That is why they are no
longer sentient beings. The Buddhadharma does not
advocate nihilism or the idea there is nothing real "out there" and/or "in
eternalism, positing enduring, independent substances or essences. In the
Great Middle Way, all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence, and this
fundamental nature of all conventional things is their ultimate truth.
The Two Truths point to the distinction between mundane & supramundane.
The latter is "entered" as soon as all afflictive emotions and mental
obscurations (the two kinds of obstructions) have been completely
eliminated from the continuum of the mind. Stopping afflictions leads to
while ending self-grasping results in
Buddhahood. In Shentong, or other-emptiness, the natural state of the mind
is already enlightened. So according to this view,
Buddha-nature ("tathâgatagarbha") needs not
to be retrieved or gained. It is not lost. Ripping off dirty coverings is
all what is to be done. In
Dzogchen, this Buddha-nature is the natural
state of the mind, and this from the very beginning inseparable from the ultimate
truth, the emptiness or non-substantial, process-like nature of all things
samsaric & nirvanic. These views, born out of valid
meditative experiences, have been thoroughly criticized by
One should not conceive of the supramundane
(emptiness) as another "realm" or "world". It is beyond all possible
positive designation. This is the emptiness of emptiness, the fact every
emptiness (namely the emptiness or ultimate nature of every object) is
also without "self" or substantial features of its own. It transcends
affirmation and denial and cannot be grasped at or posited by the
consciousness of a sentient being. Trapped in cyclic existence, beings may
as another reality "out there" or "in here" or "yesterday" or "tomorrow".
But this is erroneous. Ultimate truth is not "beyond" the physical world,
like a Platonic world of archetypal perfections or numerous Peripathetic
"forms" hidden away in matter.
Ultimate truth is ineffable and object of un-saying.
Absolute truth or emptiness (the universal absence of inherent existence) is the object of the so-called "Dharmakâya", "Truth
Body" or perfect wisdom-mind, whereas relative truth is the object of the "Form Bodies", the
"Sambhogakâya" or Enjoyment Body and the "Nirmânakâya" or Emanation Body.
The former is the ultimate reality, as conceived by the enlightened mind,
whereas the latter are enlightened vehicles generated by this bodhi-mind to liberate sentient beings.
These Form Bodies ("Rûpakâya") are the enlightened body & the enlightened speech of an enlightened one, a Buddha, while his enlightened mind equals the "Dharmakâya". Ordinary beings possess
one body, while a Buddha has three simultaneously. The Emanation
Body can be seen by ordinary beings. The Enjoyment Body can be seen by
those of higher realization only. The Truth Body are only seen by Buddhas. In meditative equipoise on emptiness, these
supreme beings only apprehend the pure,
space-like absence of inherent existence.
1. The Dharmakâya
This direct, nondual, non-conceptual cognitive experience of absolute,
ultimate truth by a Buddha
implies he or she realized the Truth Body or "Dharmakâya". This body is called
"Truth Body" and has two parts, namely Nature Body & Wisdom Body,
i.e. ultimate true cessation and ultimate true path respectively. It is
the supramundane base, the ground of all existence ("dharmadhatu") and the natural state of
Ultimate true cessation (Nature Body) is the natural state of
the enlightenment principle of the mind, its Buddha-nature, i.e. the
emptiness of the mind. Ultimate true path (Wisdom Body) is the
irreversible nature of the levels of purification of the Bodhisattvas,
meditating on this emptiness of the mind and by doing so generating Buddha
qualities (Rangtong) or eliminating adventitious material and therefore
allowing the qualities of a Buddha to manifest (Shentong).
The Nature Body is of two types : the naturally pure Nature Body,
referring to the absence -since beginningless time- of inherent existence
in the transcendent sphere of Buddhahood (the nature of mind is always
naturally free from inherent existence) and the adventitiously pure Nature
Body, or absence of stains (afflictive obstructions & obstructions to
omniscience) through the application of antidotes (right practice). The
latter refers to the mind actually cleaning all contaminations.
TWO PARTS :
absence of the
stains of inherent existence
Wisdom Body or
The Nature Body has no production, duration or
disintegration, no beginning, middle or end. It is not a different entity
from phenomena, and does not fall into the extremes of existence or
non-existence. Pure of all obstructions & unconditional it is unknowable by the conceptualizing,
The Wisdom Body is the final, perfect wisdom, cognizing the mode of
existence of phenomena as their are, i.e. empty of inherent existence or
substance. In other words, it
perceives all conventionalities, i.e. the varieties of phenomena, as
having no substantial, independent, inherent existence, devoid of
substantial instantiations. This "body" is the
omniscient consciousness of a Buddha, i.e. his omniscient eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body & mental consciousnesses. It cognizes the emptiness of
everything in a nondual way, covering past, present & future instantly
(omniscience) and beyond designation (omnipresence).
The Truth Body is not contaminated and so does not belong to "samsâra".
It is supramundan.
In terms of hylic pluralism, this means it is altogether beyond matter and
the world-systems. It can therefore be identified with the "pârarûpa" of
Hinduism, albeit in a desubstantialized format (in the same way it relates
to the "hyper-being" of negative theology, i.e. a station-of-no-station
beyond the four extremes of "existence", "non-existence", "existence &
non-existence" or "neither existence nor non-existence").
It is the absolute in its absoluteness.
2. The Sambhogakâya
The Truth Body is formless and supramundane
(transcendent). The other two bodies (the Enjoyment Body & the Emanation
Body) possess form and manifest in the world (immanent). They do so to
liberate and awaken sentient beings, viewed as the only good reason to "exit" the
unsurpassed bliss of "nirvâna".
If the Truth Body is the base of the principle of supramundane emptiness,
then the Enjoyment Body or "Sambhogakâya" is the base of the principle of
all-pervading awareness in actual experiential events or the experience of
clarity or Clear Light. According to Rangtong, this clarity does not inhere in the Truth Body (as
other-emptiness claims), but is generated while meditating on the
emptiness of the mind itself.
Tantra, the Enjoyment Body is also called
the "illusionary body" because it possesses arms, legs etc. but is
insubstantial and not made of ordinary flesh, blood, etc. It can only be
perceived by advanced, clairvoyant practitioners.
In terms of hylic pluralism, the illusionary body is a subtle body and
encompasses "kâmamaya-kośa" (feeling body), "manomaya-kośa" (thought
body), "âtimamaya-kośa" (abstract thought body), "vijñanamaya-kośa"
(intuition body) and "ânandamaya-kośa" (bliss body).
Although impermanent, the Enjoyment Body continuously displays the same
type of lightbody and so, as a permanent kinetography, is immortal. It accommodates the activities of
compassion, the basic motivation for its generation.
3. The Nirmânakâya
For a Buddha, when the nondual, ultimate
"Dharmakâya" is related to the dual, conventional dimensions (the
supramundane in touch with the mundane), it is the "Sambhogakâya", and when these
two relate to a physical body ("annamaya-kośa" & "prânamaya-kośa"), it is
the "Nirmânakâya" or Emanation Body. Without the world, there could only
by the Truth Body, no Enjoyment Body and no Emanation Body. The
"Sambhogakâya" is thus "the light" of the "Dharmakâya" communicated to the
"Nirmânakâya". This happens because of the aim of the Buddhas to enlighten
all sentient beings. For Critical Mâdhyamikas, as
Tsongkhapa argued, this "clarity" is not
inseparable from the Truth Body "from the very beginning", as it were
inhering in it, as Dzogchen, Shentong & Mind-Only claim, but is generated
as the fruit of meditative equipoise on the emptiness of the mind itself
Responding to the needs of sentient beings, Emanation Bodies appear,
performing their task without effort. As long as space exists, the
activities of the Buddhas come into existence spontaneously,
continuously. Insofar as sentient beings are fortunate, they may notice or
not notice these Emanation Bodies displayed by the Enjoyment Bodies of the
The Sûtras describe 31 distinct "planes" or "realms"
of cyclic existence into which sentient beings can be reborn during their
long wanderings through "samsâra". These range from hell all the way up to
the blissful heaven worlds. In all these realms, existence is impermanent
There is no eternal hell or eternal heaven. Beings are born in these
worlds as the result of the law of "karma" or "action", and they cease to
exist there when their "karma" is exhausted, i.e. when the conditions
causing their presence are gone. Then, as long as they do not realize all
these phenomena do not exist from their own side, they continue to migrate
"up and down" and do not irreversibly escape suffering.
These 31 planes are divided in the 11 planes of the Desire Realm
("kâma-loka"), the 16 planes of the Form Realm ("rûpa-loka") and the 4
planes of the Formless Realm ("arûpa-loka").
It is unmistaken these planes refer to the hylic pluralist notion of
various levels of cyclic existence. In Buddhism, the ultimate nature of all these
is the same, namely emptiness or absence of substantiality, process-like. The difference between a celestial deity of
the highest heaven and a hell being of the lowest hell is therefore not ontological,
but cognitive, i.e. related to the state of mind of the sentient being in
Ordinary human personality is
made up of five aggregates, groups or heaps ("skandhas").
There is no inherently existent, monadic, substantial & independent
soul ("âtman"), as Hinduism and the substantial traditions at large
claim ; under ultimate analysis,
such a "self" cannot be found. Corporal sensations, emotions &
feelings, thoughts, volition & consciousness constitute Buddhist
psychology. In general, the "body" is identified with corporal sensations,
while the other heaps are identified as "mind". All aggregates are
impermanent, unsatisfactory and devoid of a permanent substantial core.
Hence, Buddhahood, true cessation, is without heaps. Buddhahood is at
the aggregates have no more fuel to burn, unable to cause more craving &
aversion, desire & hatred, grasping & rejecting, uprooting the root :
ignorance, or the state of mind experiencing itself and others as
independent entities, existing from their own side as self-powered
substanties endowed with inherent own-power ("svabhâva").
Hînayâna Sûtras, renunciation,
equanimity and the wisdom realizing the emptiness of self, the true
nature of the mind, allow for a slow purification of body, speech &
mind, the three "doors" of the subject of experinece. This process ends in
from cyclic existence, the personal state of the Arhat. The latter has
thoughts & feelings etc. but none of these ever get permanently
established in his mind.
Mahâyâna Sûtras, mindful renunciation,
great compassion (Bodhicitta) and the wisdom realizing the emptiness of all phenomena, the
true nature of all of existence, cause the path to be finished sooner,
ending in full enlightenment, awakening or the universal state of
The element of "speech",
clearly distinguished from "mind", cannot be properly understood
without hylic pluralism, for
explains how out of speech/wind springs the
"illusionary body", the Body of Enjoyment of a Buddha. Moreover,
there are obvious correspondences between cosmological
(macrocosmic) & psychological (microcosmic) levels.
Tantra seeks to transform the body, speech & mind of an ordinary
human being into the enlightened mind ("Dharmakâya"), the
enlightened speech ("Sambhogakâya") and the enlightened body
("Nirmânakâya") of a Buddha, performing enlightened actions. The
very subtle wind (acting as the mount for the very subtle mind)
residing in the central channel in the "indestructible drop" at
the centre of the sixfold knot at the heart-wheel, is the
effective cause of
the Enjoyment Body. This wind is called the "continuously residing
body" and the very subtle mind the "continuously residing mind".
Both are continuous life after life. Both are impermanent (for not
inherently existent), but
immortal (for a continuous, unending well-ordered dynamism or
kinetography). They have never separated and will never separate. Their
power to communicate is the very subtle speech.
Without the Enjoyment Body, the Form Body cannot
be constituted. Without the Form Body there would be no
manifestations of the Enlightened Ones in the world-systems. To
free ourselves from suffering permanently, Tantra changes the
basis of imputation from contaminated heaps to uncontaminated