Ichinen-sanzen (part two)

In this episode, we continue our conversation on ichinen-sanzen, but take the conversation up a notch. We’re wrestling with some difficult issues in Buddhist philosophy; namely, if we understand samsara to be the realm of delusion and defilements and nirvana to be a purified realm, how do we reconcile this dichotomy with a generally non-dualistic perspective in Buddhism? And what is the mechanism by which we can transform ourselves from one state to another? In Mahayana thought, this issues is dealt with by focusing on the identity of samsara and nirvana; to borrow a phrase, form is emptiness and emptiness if form. In this view, samsara and nirvana are two sides of the same coin. But Tientai takes this even further by suggesting that there aren’t two sides; it’s all the same thing. Thus, both samsara and nirvana totally interpenetrate. This perspective, though, has profound implications on ethics and how we judge whether our actions are good or bad, right or wrong. We suggest that Buddhism at its best is critical, that it forces us to critically examine our subjective perspectives on what we think we know while (hopefully) leading us toward better wisdom and compassion.