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Lions Roar : May 2017
So the farmers can see things that the visitor cannot yet see. We say that there isn’t a sunflower here because we cannot see all the latent causes and conditions lying in wait. We have the tendency to think that as long as we can’t see the sunflowers, they don’t exist, and that once we can see the sunflowers, they suddenly do exist. The words “do not exist” are not really correct, but the words “do exist” are not correct either. When something has not yet manifested, we tend to think that it’s in the realm of nonbeing, and when it manifests we say that it’s in the realm of being. But the two categories of being and nonbe- ing do not correspond to reality. That is why we shouldn’t wait until we see big yellow flowers blooming in the fields to say that the sunflowers are there. They are there, just hidden, and whether or not we see them is only a matter of time and latent conditions. Our body is also a conditioned thing. It is a manifestation, and there are causes and conditions that need to come together for it to manifest. Like the sunflowers, if one of these elements is not yet there, the body will not yet manifest. The Buddha teaches very clearly that when something manifests it does not come from anywhere, and when it no longer manifests it does not go anywhere. It is not born. It does not die. It does not pass from the realm of being into the realm of nonbeing. The Ultimate and the Relative We can speak of two levels of truth: relative (or conven- tional) truth and ultimate (or absolute) truth. Ideas of birth and death, being and nonbeing, above and below, coming and going, sameness and differ- ence, defilement and purity, increasing and decreasing, can all be called conventional truths. They are concepts that we use in daily life, and they are useful in the historical dimension, at the level of conventional truth. If we do not have a birth certificate prov- ing our date of birth, how can we get a pass- port or an identity card? So birth and death are important. Above and below are important. Left and right are important. Politically you have to know whether you are on the right or on the left. If you are following your GPS, you need to know that left is not right and right is not left. At the level of conventional truth, these pairs of opposites are everywhere. There is “you” and “me,” there is “father” and “son.” Father and son are not each other; they are distinct from each other. People are different from animals. Animals are different from plants. Plants are different from minerals. At the level of conventional truth there is discrimination and separation. Things are outside of each other. One thing is not another. But when we observe more closely, we see something differ- ent. We see the ultimate truth that things are really inside of each other. We think that father and son are two different people, but there is really no boundary between them. The father is the con- tinuation of the son into the past, and the son is the continuation of the father into the future. This is the realm of the ultimate, where everything is in everything else. Everything interpene- trates, so the notions of inside and outside do not apply. The same is true for the notions of above and below. If we are standing in front of an elevator, we need to know if we are going up or down. We need the notions of above and below in order to know whether we will stay on the tenth floor or go to the ground floor. The ground floor must be below and the tenth floor must be above. But if we ask people in Japan sitting on the other side of the Birth and death, being and nonbeing— in order to touch the true nature of phenomena we need to find a middle way between these opposites. CALLIGRAPHYBYTHICHNHATHANH LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 38