What was Anthony doing?

A response to His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

It is so clear that His Holiness greatly appreciates Anthony “I really admire his spirit, his dedication for deeper human value.”  Why does  His Holiness keep bringing up the “all is same” argument?   One reason: it simply is full of good humor.  Second: maybe to provoke us! 

HH:  “Fundamentally he [Anthony] believed , all ancient Indian traditions must be same.  He tried to (see) sameness.”

HH: “If Anthony were alive I would have told him that although all 17 of the masters were followers of one and the same teacher, the Buddha, there were differences: they had different interepretations of Buddhas teachings: you cannot synthesize them “

Of course, for anyone who studied with Anthony, it seems far from Anthony’s view to ever want to mush all into one and say that all Indian traditions, or even views, are same.

Indeed, the tanka of the 17 Nalanda masters is very close to Anthony’s view.  Simply widen the tanka: instead of 17 nalanda masters, imagine 12 sages from various traditions.  Instead of expressing and interpreting Buddha, imagine they are each expressing and conveying some essential feature of Primordial Reality or Sems-nyid.  Anthony did feel that even if two traditions expressed different views of reality, it didn’t mean they were getting at different realities.  For him there was no contradiction in sameness and difference. 

Unity does not exclude manyness.  Your Holiness, for example, speaks of the fundamental essence of all religions must be Kindness.  Yet we see that this can encompass a multitude of expressions.  Similarly, Anthony’s view that there was an ultimate reality did not preclude its expression in many traditions.  The unity lies in the reality, not in the expression by different traditions. 

Anthony especially loved to dissect and differentiate and articulate the differences between and among traditions.  For him, these different perspectives only deepened our understanding and appreciation of the philosophic question under investigation.  As an example,  I have heard Your Holiness advise students who want a deep understanding of emptiness to study the early masters thoroughly: especially chandrakirti, buddhapalita, bhavaviveka.—that the different views they all offer will help to deepen our experience of one and the same nature: sunya.  Anthony simply widened this method to include both Buddhist and non-Buddhist.  Anthony sought to use the dialectic between traditions exactly as His Holiness suggests in his Rime approach: to deepen our experience of the question at hand.  He felt that the perspectives given by several traditions on a given topic could act with power, considering the differing views of the nature of reality in order to deepen our realization.  He did not suggest that such dialogue was a substitute for going deeply into a single teaching: any more than studying the reasonings of several masters would preclude following a single practice deeply into realization.


Here are a few essential features of Anthony’s work:

  • Anthony’s intent was not to merge the views, but to just get them to “talk:” to get them all in the same context where they could have a dialogue about their views.  Not for the purpose of converting one to the other, but for the purpose of enhancing, widening and deepening their understanding and appreciation of the infinite reality.
  • Unity itself is one of perspective of reality, but is not the only perspective.  There is some essential identity at the heart of all spiritual philosophy.  This identity does not preclude myriad facets of expression.  Each catches or expresses the light uniquely.  His Holiness himself says many times: the essence of all religion is Kindness.  This does not in any way reduce all to mush.  But it does point out something: in order to be a religion, kindness must be a dimension.  Similarly, in order to be a philosophy, as Anthony thought of it, there must be some essential feature, something universally true.  May we say it is a “taste” of reality.
  • For Anthony, each tradition had some essential perspectives on reality that were particularly well articulated. He felt that they fit together more like an orchestra: In the tangka of 17 nalanda masters, although each master all has a viewpoint, they are also part of the same Mandala.  This context indicates that in addition to being unique beings, they each are expressing the teachings of the same root master--: in this case the Buddha—or if we like, the Buddha nature.   There is no problem with them being one and many.   As Rumi says: “when two Sufis meet they are one, and ten thousand.”
  • In his metaphysical mandala, Anthony tried to see, not how all were “one”, but exactly to maintain the uniqueness of various viewpoints, while indicating that they all were expressing reality, the common source of all.  In the famous words of our lineage teacher Plotinus: “each is a unique form of the entire reality.”  Each must be excellent in upholding its own sound: like the horn or cello.  And all can be seen to form a symphony.   We distinguish in order to see the unity, the wholeness.  “simplicity the other side of complexity” is the key.  I believe something like this is what His Holiness means when he says he is a “simple Buddhist monk.”
  • Reality being vast, all expressions are necessarily limited: every philosophy acknowledges that words cannot capture reality entire.  They point, they help us see, but we don’t confuse them with the reality entire.  Anthony wanted to show how the same word used by one tradition might mean something entirely opposite in another: or the opposite words might mean the same thing.  No better example can be found than His Holiness’ own teaching on the union of old and new schools: where he points out that what Highest Yoga Tantra means by Clear Light is essentially the same as Rigpa or Primordial Awareness.   Our tradition simply seeks to extend this “Rime” tradition past the boundaries of Tibetan Buddhism.  For example, the Primorial Awareness (rig-pa or sems-nyid) of Dzog-chen cannot be other than the “Intrinsic Cognition” or Cit of the Advaita tradition: “capable of immediate use, but never an object.”  Nothing could be more poignant than the Atma-Anatma debate, and the brilliant para of PB on the essential identity of Advaita Atma and Buddhist Nirvana.  Here it is clear: to Advaita, freedom, as Atma means no individual ego-self nature, and to Buddha similarly, freedom is anatma liberation from individual ego-self nature.
  • Although the great Nilanda scholars were open minded and wise, still they were Buddhist and their motivation in part is to uphold the Buddhist tradition, and in particular the views of reality put forth by Nagarjuna.  They also were living in a time when not all teachings were as available as now.  While I respect the arguments they give to support the teachings they impart, they may not be the best authority on the meaning of deep teachings in a wholly different tradition. 

My understanding is that much of the development of the philosophic basis of Buddhism, unfolded by these great masters, happened in dialogue with the great non-buddhist sages of the time.  All dialogue means some sameness and some difference.  If there is no sameness at all, there is no basis of discussion.  If there is only sameness, there is no point in the discussion.  So: this is dialectice, weaving its way through the path of same and difference, motion and rest.

© 2013 Avery Solomon