What is meant by the soul as suchness (bhûtatathatâ), is the oneness of the totality of things (dharmadhâtu), 2 the great all-including whole, the quintessence
of the Doctrine. For the essential nature of the soul is uncreate and eternal.
All things, simply on account of our confused subjectivity (smrti), 1 appear under the forms of individuation. If we could overcome our confused subjectivity, the signs of individuation would disappear, and there would be no trace of a world of [individual and isolated] objects. 2
Therefore all things in their fundamental nature are not namable or explicable. They cannot be adequately expressed in any form of language. They are
without the range of apperception. [They are universals.] They [things in their fundamental nature] have no signs of distinction. [They are not particulars.] They possess absolute sameness (samatâ). [They are universals.] They are subject neither to transformation, nor to destruction. They are nothing but the one soul, for which suchness is another designation. Therefore they cannot be [fully] explained by words or exhausted by reasoning. 1
While all words and expressions are nothing but representations and not realities, and their existence depends simply on our confused subjectivity, suchness has no attribute [of particularity] to speak of.
But the term suchness is all that can be expressed in language, and through this term all other terms may be disposed of.
In the essence of suchness, there is neither anything which has to be excluded, nor anything which has to be added. 2
Now the question arises: If that be so, how can all beings conform to and have an insight into [suchness]?
The answer is: As soon as you understand that when the totality of existence is spoken of, or thought of, there is neither that which speaks nor that which is spoken of, there is neither that which thinks nor that which is thought of; then you conform to suchness; and when your subjectivity is thus completely obliterated, it is said to have the insight.
Again there is a twofold aspect in suchness if viewed from the point of its explicability. The first is trueness as negation (çûnyatâ), 1 in the sense that
it is completely set apart from the attributes of all things unreal, that it is the real reality. The second is trueness as affirmation (açûnyatâ), in the sense that it contains infinite merits, that it is self-existent.
And again by trueness as negation we mean that in its [metaphysical] origin it has nothing to do with things defiled [i.e., conditional], that it is free from all signs of distinction existing among phenomenal objects, that it is independent of unreal, particularising consciousness.
Thus we understand that suchness (bhûtatathatâ) is neither that which is existence, nor that which is non-existence, nor that which is at once existence and non-existence, nor that which is not at once existence and non-existence; that it is neither that which is unity, nor that which is plurality, nor that which is at once unity and plurality, nor that which is not at once unity and plurality. 1
In a word, as suchness cannot be comprehended by the particularising consciousness of all beings, we call it the negation [or nothingness, çûnyatâ].
The truth is that subjectivity does not exist by itself, that the negation (çûnyatâ) is also void (çûnya) in its nature, that neither that which is negated [viz., the external world] nor that which negates [viz., the mind] is an independent entity. 1
By the so-called trueness as affirmation, we mean that [as soon as we understand] subjectivity is empty and unreal, we perceive the pure soul manifesting itself as eternal, permanent, immutable and completely comprising all things that are pure. On that account we call it affirmation [or reality, or nonemptiness, açûnyatâ]. Nevertheless, there is no trace of affirmation in it, because it is not the product of a confused subjectivity, because only by transcending subjectivity (smrti) can it be grasped.
55:2 S. Beal in his English translation of Açvaghosha's Buddha-carita (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XIX., p. 324, footnote) considers dharmadhâtu to be "the mystic or ideal world of the Northern Buddhists" and says it means literally the "limit of dharma." The interpretation is evidently wrong, not only because dhâtu according to the Madhyanta-vibhâga-çastra by Vasubandhu p. 56 (two Chinese translations: one by Paramârtha A. D. 557-569, and the other by Hsüan-tsang A. D. 691) means root, base, cause, or principle; but because Dharmadhâtu, fa kai in Chinese, is not used by the Northern Buddhists in the sense that Beal gives. It means on the other hand this actual world considered from the point of its forming the basis of the law; or, to use modern scientific terminology, it is existence in its organised totality. Açvaghosha uses the term here in this sense.
56:1 The term is usually rendered by recollection or memory, but Açvaghosha uses it apparently in a different sense. It must mean subjectivity, or the perception of particularity, or that mental activity which is not in accordance with the suchness of things; if otherwise, the whole drift of the present Discourse becomes totally unintelligible. Smrti is in some degree obviously synonymous with Avidya (ignorance) which is more general and more primordial than the former. Ignorance appears first and when it starts the world-process, "subjectivity" is evolved, which in its turn causes particularisation to take place. Particularisation does not annihilate suchness, but it overshadows the light of its perfect spiritual wisdom.
56:2 Schopenhauer who says, "no subject without object," seems to express a similar idea that without subjectivity, "the objective world," i.e., "the world as Vorstellung, as representation of objects" would vanish.
57:1 If I understand Açvaghosha correctly, he intends to say that to the sentient subject the world consists of a number of isolated objects. The nature of subjectivity is sense-apperception; and in sense-apperception the particular things are represented in the particularity only, not in their suchness as momentarily materialised universals. We must overcome subjectivity in order to discover suchness; but when suchness is recognised, it is at once understood to constitute the essence and only true reality of things.
57:2 The older translation has: "In the essence of suchness, there is nothing to be excluded, for all things are true; nor is there anything to be added, for all things are such as they are. Be it known therefore that as thus all things are undemonstrable and unrepresentable [by our confused understanding], they are called suchness."
58:1 The term çûnyatâ which means literally void or emptiness, has suffered a great deal of misunderstanding by those who are not well acquainted with Buddhist phraseology. If Mahâyânists used the term, as imagined by some critics, in the sense of absolute nothingness, denying the existence of everything conditional as well as unconditional, relative as well as independent, how could they speak about the highest truth (paramârthasatya) or the most excellent perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksambodhi) which all conveys the sense of affirmation? What the Çûnyatâ doctrine positively insists on, is the denial of sensationalism, and the annihilation of the imagination that weaves a dualistic world-conception. If this could be called a nihilism, every intellectual attempt to reach a unitary view of the universe would be nihilistic, for it declares the untenability of a separate existence of matter and thought, me and not-me, etc. It is odd enough that such a self-evident truth should have escaped the keen observance of Christian critics. Açvaghosha here states that the bhûtatathatâ is at once çunya and açunya. It is çunya because it transcends all forms of separation and individuation; it is açunya because all possible things in the world emanate from it. Even Nâgârjuna p. 59 who is supposed to be the founder of the nihilistic Prajñâpâramitâ system by Christian students of Buddhism, says in his Mâdhyamika-çâstra, Chap. XXII., that the idea of çûnyatâ and that of açûnyatâ are both wrong, but that from the deficiency of language to denote the exact state of things he has made use of these terms. (Observe that Açvaghosha says the very same thing in the preceding passages.) Nâgârjuna therefore apparently had something in his mind to define, but that something having nothing in common with things we daily encounter in our sense-world, he designated it çûnya, empty, and he hoped by thus abnegating all phenomenal existences, we could reach the highest reality, for ignorant minds are deeply saturated with wrong affirmations and false judgements.
59:1 Cf. Nâgârjuna's "Eight No's" doctrine which says: "There is no production (utpâda), no destruction (uccheda), no annihilation (nirodha), no persistence (çâçvata), no unity (ekârtha), no p. 60 plurality (nânârtha), no coming in (âgamana), no going out (nirgama)." The statement means that pure truth (paramârtha) transcends all modes of relativity. (See the first chapter of the Mâdhyamika-çâstra.)
60:1 In the Kantian sense of ''things in themselves." The Mâdhyamika school would say they are all Atyanta-çûnyatâ, complete void, meaning that things are subject to transformation and have no absolute existence.