Unity of Three Truths and Three Forms of Creativity: Lotus Sutra and Process Philosophy
Journal of Chinese Philosophy v.28 (December, 2001) p449-456
Blackwell Publishers on behalf of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy
Oxford, England [UK] (http://www.blackwellpublishers.co.uk/default.htm)
How are we to conceive reality? Reality is constant change, and the question is whither comes the change. Just as the story of two children arguing on the motion of a flag tells us, the motion of a flag can be regarded as due to the flag itself or due to wind and even possibly due to our perception by mind as Hui Neng suggested  Similarly, the source of motion and change in the world could be seen as inherent in the nature of a thing or as imposed on a thing from an outside force or simply as a matter of mental construction. But which is the truth of the matter? Nagarjuna states in his treatise, Madhyamika, that "All dharmas are born out of conditions and therefore are empty and their names are false covers." On this basis he proposes the truth of the middle way, which consists in not subscribing to the appearance of things in change as real nor holding things as absolutely unreal or empty. We simply have to stay unattached and nonclinging, and this is what he calls the truth of the middle way.
From this point of view, we can see that things are apparently real and yet are essentially unreal (empty in lacking a self-nature or substance due to co-origination or yuanqi). We may even put it in another way: Things are essentially unreal or empty, but they appear to be real. There seems to be a simultaneous correspondence and unity of the two aspects of a thing from an enlightened point of view. Hence, there could be two truths of a thing: the customary or conventional truth of reality of the thing in change and the reflective and genuine truth of emptiness of the thing. Neither of them obstructs the other nor hides the other from an enlightened eye. Thus we have the doctrine of "Integration of Two Truths" (erdi yuanrong) in Ji Zang (549-623).
From the doctrine of Integration of Two Truths we see that we must acknowledge that our mind has come to such an enlightened understanding by reflection and that such an enlightened understanding presupposes a transcendence from both truths. In other words, the middle way is to not accept the customary truth nor accept the genuine truth as
a correlative truth of the former. Based on this nonacceptance we see things as neither empty nor substantial, and thus come to see the truth of this nonacceptance as the middle truth. Acknowledgement of this middle truth enables us to recognize the two truths as one and as nonobstructing to each other. Their being one also leads to our enlightened view of the middle truth. This then suggests that the two truths, the customary and the genuine, are together entailing the middle way truth just as the middle way truth entails the oneness of the customary and genuine truths. This is how Zhi Yi (538-597) comes to hold the Integration of Three Truths in his Mohozhiguan (Great Cessation-Meditation) treatise.
To elaborate further on the implication of the middle truth based on the two truths, we can even come to a recognition of the Integration of Four Truths. This is because we have to recognize that the middle truth must transcend itself in two basic ways to avoid clinging or attachment:
(1) to transcend by denying the position of neither reality nor emptiness and hence coming to a position of either reality or emptiness, and/or (2) to transcend by also accepting the two truths as a conjunction of both reality and emptiness. In this regard we come to see how the transcendence of the middle way comes about in a full circle in returning to reality and its emptiness by seeing a ceaseless alternation and cancellation of being and nonbeing, which could not allow formation of any clinging. We may indeed express the five alternatives in succession as follows:
A (A being any thing or any dharma) (There is A)
-A (A is empty)
-A and --A (There being A is empty and A being empty is empty)
-(-A and --A) ( = A or -A) (There being A is empty and A being empty is empty is empty) (= There is A or A is empty)
(A and -A) and -(-A and --A) (There is A and A is empty, and so forth)
Given the above, we may note the following: We may see that the Buddhist enlightenment—coming to achieve supreme wisdom or prajna— eventually and theoretically consists in the following steps:
Step one: To see A as A
Step two: To see A as empty
Step three: To see A as A and to see A as empty
Step four: To see to seeing neither A as A nor A as empty
Step five: To see to seeing both A as A and A as empty and to see to seeing neither A as A nor A as empty
In fact, we may theoretically define degrees of enlightenment according to different steps. If we use a scale of 5 degrees as a full spectrum, it may appear that step one represents 0-degree of enlightenment, step two represents 1-degreee of enlightenment, step three represents 2-
degrees of enlightenment, step four 3-degrees of enlightenment, and step five, the supreme, or full, enlightenment.
The key to enlightened understanding apparently is to transcend both affirmation and negation in order to embrace both affirmation and negation. This is to realize or enact a positive realization of emptiness in a particular instance of A, where A is also seen as an occasion for making this realization possible. This represents what is suggested by Hui Neng as "in the form of a thing (xiang) we come to depart from the form of a thing" (zaixiang er lixiang) in the Platform Sutra (Tanjing). This is a way of seeing the formlessness (wuxiang) of a thing,
Following this we are able to form no thought of a thing (or reality at large) because the moment we form a thought of a thing, we shall see no form of a thing: We form no thought of a thing at the thought of a thing (wunian). We can also see that we cannot abide by nor fixate on any thing (or any reality thus revealed in the process of seeing) because as soon as we come to abide by our thought we come to have nothing to abide by. Hence, there is no abiding by or no fixation of anything (wuzhu). If the thought of death is formed, it will be unformed, unthought, and nonabiding or unfixated. If there is death happening as an event, it will not be realized as a death event, because as soon as death occurs, death becomes transcended and human consciousness transcended as consciousness of unconsciousness as well as unconsciousness of consciousness. In a sophisticated sort of reflection, one can suppose that there is an invisible seeing of all these alternations in an endless loop and circle coming back to itself, and this may be regarded as an ultimate realization of the Dharmakaya or the Buddhahood of a person. This would be a state of Bodhi-Nirvana and Nirvana-Bodhi of the person, if we can speak of the person at all.
In reaching a full enlightened understanding of reality and self-reality or self-nature, we have to recognize that in the absence of the ultimate enlightenment ( whether through a chosen form of explanation of yuanqi or not), and even in the presence of ultimate enlightenment, one would still witness and perhaps see or experience the actuality of the reality as reality or the becoming of reality as reality. There seems to be no escape from affirming the seeing of reality or seeing the becoming of reality as part of the process of seeing toward enlightenment or at the moment of enlightenment, or after full enlightenment. This reality or the becoming of this reality is the ultimate thing, which needs to be explained and illuminated in some postenlightenment or preenlightenment understanding and reason. We have to see reality or the becoming of reality as reality as an occasion for realizing our enlightenment, which would consist of coming to see reality as emptiness. To see reality as reality is therefore a challenge to achieving enlightenment in our mind. Hence, reality becom-
ing reality or the coming into being of things in the world or the forming of the world as world is an occasion and a challenge to endeavoring our mind to become enlightened and, hence, to overcome reality as reality into reality as emptiness.
As a matter of fact, we may even wish to say that we as human persons come into existence in order to be able to search for and try out a process of enlightenment or an enlightened transcendence of reality as we know it in common sense. The human process is in essence a process of enlightening ourselves into seeing and realizing the unreality of reality and the reality of unreality so that we can fully realize the full measure of enlightenment and wisdom: herein consists the mystery of life and death and the ultimate meaning of life and death. We may be reborn again and again or we may eventually, or even occasionally, return to a state of permanent equilibrium where there is perfect enlightenment and where no stirring toward birth and life will take place; this state has been described by the Buddhists as Nirvana without Residue (wuyu niepan).
In reflecting on the historical development of Buddhism as a philosophy, we can see that Buddhism has gone through a series of stages of development corresponding to the series of steps toward ultimate enlightenment. We see the formation of Theravada Buddhism in the early days after Buddha's passing, which is characterized primarily by seeing A as -A. Then we see development of the Madhyamika strain in the Mahayana Buddhism of Nagarjuna in the second century, which is characterized by transcending both A and -A. Then we see the development of the Yogacara strain in the Mahayana Buddhism of Asanga and Vasubandhu in the fourth century, which roughly corresponds to step five of the process of enlightenment. Not until the development of Chinese Buddhism in T'ien-t'ai (seventh century), Hua-yen (seventh century), and Chan (seventh century), in this order, were the Madhyamika and Yogacara insights fully integrated and realized in unison.  Even though T'ien-t'ai (as represented by Zhi Yi ) and Hua-yen (as represented by Fa Zang 643-716) differ in their approach toward enlightenment and their evaluation of steps of enlightenment, they had shared sufficient agreement to show that enlightenment can be described in a plurality of ways and can be approached in a plurality of ways.
The T'ien-t'ai school focused on the Lotus Sutra for showing the ultimate representation of ultimate truth, whereas the Hua-yen school highlighted the Avamtasaka ( Flower Splendor Sutra) to show the consummate representation of the supreme wisdom of Buddha. As both point to the ultimate manifestation of truth and wisdom in Buddha's full enlightenment, they may be said to be equal to each other in essence even though their understandings are expressed in different ways. It is easy to see that in Chinese Buddhism the Dharmadhatu of Hua-yen and the Buddhahood
of T'ien-t'ai turn out to be the same thing, and each makes the other meaningful in each other's light. Together they bring out a reality and a process of realizing a fully enlightened mind and a thoroughly illuminated world.
But even more important than this is that each has come to recognize reality as reality, not just as emptiness, nor just has come to recognize just emptiness as emptiness but emptiness as reality. Whereas T'ien-t'ai shows how anyone could aspire to and achieve Buddhahood because anyone has Buddhahood in the original beginning of things, Hua-yen shows how the world of reality will manifest itself in its true nature of comprehensive concreteness and comprehensive interrelatedness and harmony under the light of enlightenment. Hence, it is in the development of the two that we see a complete picture of the enlightened mind and the enlightened world.
It must be pointed out that it is not until the development of Chan Buddhism that the wisdom of T'ien-t'ai and the truth of Hua-yen become immediately realized in the most concrete instances of reality and in all and every possible concrete instances of life and common and mundane affairs. In Chan Buddhism (later in Japanese Zen) we see a bold and direct affirmation of reality as reality, so that we can bring our insights into the nature of reality to bear on reality right away, that is, we can see reality as emptiness and emptiness as reality in reality as reality. In Chan and/or Zen we see that the reality of this world and reality of life is not only the best occasion for realizing our enlightenment, but it is the best evidence of realization of our enlightenment if we have realized enlightenment at all. If a person has realized enlightenment, how would he live his life? Will he spend his life in still meditation or does he commit his life to life?
Hui Neng (636-713) raises the idea of "meditation in action" (yixing sanmei), for one cannot abandon life in order to achieve enlightenment. One has to seek enlightenment while living one's life. For Chan and Zen there is no limitation of enlightenment in one form or by one method. The lively practice of gongan ( koan, in Japanese) queries and dialogic exchanges demonstrates how enlightenment can be achieved in various ways and how it can be brought to bear on the realities of life in various ways. The Southern School of Sudden Enlightenment (throughout the eighth and ninth centuries), which stresses immediacy and directness of enlightenment, has made a most important point: namely, reality as reality and life as life have an intrinsic characteristic of enlightenment and we come to realize this at the very prompting of the presentation of life as life and reality as reality. This is not to deny the importance of constant cultivation and gradual improvement, but the full disclosure of life as wisdom and truth requires the presence or co-presence of insights that are represented in the various steps of enlightenment. In Chan we
see that the five steps of enlightenment become one identity and this is because they are originally one identity, just as reality as emptiness and emptiness as reality are originally one identity. To see reality as reality is the best way to realize this identity for Chan Buddhists.
In light of the above discussion, we may bring out Three Forms of Creativity in a comprehensive understanding of Buddhist enlightenment. The First Form of Creativity is that reality as reality must come to become reality as reality. In this becoming of reality we shall see also how reality could become innovative so that it can process or advance itself to a new state or a new stage that would allow the emergence of the human mind and human consciousness. I would call this allowance and emergence of human mind and human consciousness the Second Form of Creativity. Then there is the Third Form of Creativity, which consists of allowing and prompting the human mind to achieve enlightenment in the sense of achieving insight into the nature of things and emancipation of the human mind from the burden of its own achievement, thus enjoying the pure joy of wisdom and truth in a way befitting presentation of the ultimate reality and realization of the true nature of the human mind or human nature.
It is clear that what we have discussed above pertain primarily to the disclosure of the Third Form of Creativity. What we have said presents how our mind works in order to reach and demonstrate this state of enlightenment in which the unity of three truths would be realized according to the teaching of the T'ien-t'ai. What needs to be said more emphatically is that to become enlightened is a form of creativity in the sense that it is a radical change of state of being, even though it may also preserve what is given as being in the first stage. But this form of creativity is a matter of revelation or disclosure of the ultimate, or a matter of returning to the core and the origin of the reality as enlightenment itself. This is what T'ien-t'ai, Hua-yen, and Chan have taught us. From this we learn that enlightenment is after all creativity of our own being and it has meaning and value as such, so that it sheds light on what creativity is: to see things as what they are as well as what they are not.
For understanding the first and second forms of creativity we need to bring in the process philosophy of Whitehead and the Yijng-Daoist philosophy of creative ontocosmology. First of all, how do we see reality come into being? In Whitehead we see a model of concresence and concretion from the principle of creativity: it is in the nature of things that they come into being as realized possibilities (eternal objects) and presented as events or actual occasions. We may speak of a creative impulse as a constant of reality, and in a sense God in the Whiteheadean paradigm is conceived as such a creative impulse. But for Whitehead, God is also conceived as a limiting principle who would screen and restrain the
advance of possibilities through His values and care for the world. It is not all possibilities that would become concretized. The restraint of God comes from the balance of the primordial and consequent natures of God. In a sense, reality is a web of interrelated actual occasions that must maintain a level of coherence that gives itself a sense of reality. Hence, creativity of reality is the realization of the potentiality of God in an open process of becoming and developing, coming and going.
In this sense we can also see the display of the Second Form of Creativity, namely the emergence of innovative elements and levels of being that eventually lead to the explanation of the emergence of human mind and human consciousness as novelties. Whitehead stresses this novelty-producing aspect of creativity, and this endows not only an openness of the process of change—it ensures the possibility of the self-transformation of the human person, and in this sense it has implicitly allowed development of human understanding and achievement of human enlightenment. Whitehead has not specifically elaborated on this aspect of creativity in his work, but his comprehensive theory of becoming and being in Process and Reality no doubt suggests that more can be said on this topic on his behalf.
I have said much on the creativity of life and creativity of creativity in reference to the philosophy of creative change in the Yijing, Confucianism, and Daoism in my writings.  I only wish to stress here that it is in the Yijing, and consequently in the Daoist writings, that a full ontocosmology of creativity is developed. Creativity is a matter of producing reality from a nonsubstantial void, which has the nature of bringing out natures of reality in an orderly and intrinsically valuable fashion. 1 refer to the creative force of taiji (the great ultimate) or the dao and yinyang from the creative void of wuji (the ultimateless). Reality has its character as reality because it is rooted in such a process of creative realization-substantiation of the creative void, which would eventually return to the creative void for further creative realization-substantiation. It is also important to understand that there is no impurity—no evil or badness or wrongness in such a process of creative creation and transformation. Hence, we could find an inexhaustible fountainhead as well as a source-foundation for the formation of the Second and Third Forms of Creativity as constant and good as well.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII AT MANOA
. See the Tan Jing (the Platform Sutra), in final sections.
. See Ji Zang's treatise Sanlun Xuanyi (the Profound Meanings of Three Treatises).
. We see the terms Hua-yen chan, Tien-t'ai chan appearing in Buddhist texts of the seventh and eighth centuries. What is conveyed is the fact that Mahayana Buddhism in China has absorbed the Chan tradition, and many monastery resident monks were known as Chan masters.
. For example, see Chung-Ying Cheng, "Reality and Divinity in Chinese Philosophy," an invited contribution to the book. Companion to World Philosophy (London: Blackwell Book Company Press, 1997), and "The Trinity of Cosmology, Ecology and Ethics in the Confucian Personhood," in Confucianism and Ecology, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions Press, 1998), pp. 211-236.