Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings

16 Aug

Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings
I was surfing the net and came across an image of two sign posts, each pointing in an opposite direction; one direction pointed to Reality and the other, Truth. This demarcation was surprising because often Truth, or Actuality, and Reality are understood as synonymous, depending on whether we use small or big dictionaries. The shorter the annotation, the more “actual” means the same as “real”, while in more extensive annotation, Actuality is “what it is”, and it is the addition of subjective and conscious factors that create Reality. Our Reality, or our “world”, is how we understand and cognitively organize the complexities of existence. We make a “model” of life and operate along those guidelines. In addition, this “world” serves as both a means to process incoming information and as a filter. It not only determines what we pay attention to of Actuality, but what it means. In the Buddha’s teachings, Reality and Actuality are described as very different states of mind. Understanding this significant difference between the meanings of Actuality and Reality has enormous consequences in comprehending the profundity of the Buddha’s teachings.
In the Buddha’s teachings Reality and Actuality are very different, and this difference is significant. Let’s further explore this difference – an Actuality is that which involves action or exists in motion and can never be considered static. Reality is that which is perceived with a subjective consciousness and interpretation, meaning, or value. Actuality is universal, while Reality is that which is idiosyncratic. Reality is a person’s cognitively determined interpretations, perceptions, assumptions, cultural indoctrination, motivations, and countless other subjective elements that make up how something is perceived. It is what one thinks occurred. All the representations of our Reality are just representations, not Actuality. While an Actuality that is independent of any human conceptualization/construction exists, pre-enlightened beings normally experience only an interpretation of that as Reality. Pre-enlightened people react to their Reality, not to the actual and therefore, the same event can be viewed in countless different ways. One person’s Reality may be the opposite of another’s, with very different interpretations. However, Truth is beyond representation, is the antecedent behind the referent, it is the Tathatā.
As Paul J. Griffins described in his book, On Being Buddha, “The technical term actuality (Tathatā) used here is key. It is an abstract noun denoting the way things are, the true nature of things, and is often used as a synonym for Buddha, an accurate mirroring or reflecting of things as they are. Buddha understood actuality is naturally pure and radiant, and it is this natural purity that makes possible the perfections of cognitions and actions. Implicit in this is that actuality can be defiled and in need of purification because of affective and cognitive obstructions (affective is hate, passion and delusion) and cognitively by doxastic habits and false beliefs. The removal of obstructions is called ‘the radical reorientation of actuality’.” (1)
The Buddha referred to himself as Tathagata, which when interpreted correctly can be read as “One who has arrived at suchness”. Suchness is also referred to as sunyata,emptiness, or void. Tathatā, as a central concept of Buddhism, expresses appreciation of the void nature of existence in any given moment. Tathatā is the purified mind in its natural, empty state, free of obscuration. Sunyata is seen not as a negation, but rather as the ground out of which all apparent entities, distinctions, and dualities cognitively arise. It denotes the way things are in Truth or Actuality and is therefore beyond the range of
conceptual thought. (2) There is no worldly knowledge, be it science or philosophy, which can lead to the attainment of the state of Tathatā. The experience of Actuality, “as it is”, is one of the goals of bhavana or mental cultivation practice. Meditation as bhavana is prescriptive as a method to transcend the ways in which people normally experience “Reality” in order to attain a higher, pure state of Tathatā mind. For the Buddha, many conventional ways in which Reality is interpreted are seen as pathological; for example, the imposition of constructs and concepts onto Actuality, maintaining the notion of a substantial self, and applying dichotomous constructs to interpret Actuality. The Buddhist path to the state of Tathatā is via the development of supreme wisdom of an equanimous
and discriminating mind through bhavana, or mind cultivation of the Eightfold Path.
Rodger Ricketts, Psy.D.
1. On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood Paul J. Griffiths SUNY Press, 1994
2. The Buddha’s Teachings: Seeing without Illusion, Rodger R Ricketts Callistol Green. 2013


2 Responses to “Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings”


  1. Our Universe Is A Gigantic Hologram - Lotus Happiness - September 11, 2015

    […] Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings […]

  2. Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings | rodgericketts - April 12, 2016

    […] Source: Actuality and Reality in the Buddha’s Teachings […]

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