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Seon Views on Views (dṛṣṭi): Are We Ever Rid of Them?

A. Charles Muller

[Paper delivered at the Conference “Buddhist Meditation from Ancient India to Contemporary Asia: International Conference on Buddhist Studies to Commemorate 100 years of Master Seongcheol,”] November 30, 2012

Table of Contents

1. Views, Beliefs, Mindsets, Opinions…
2. Buddhist Views on Views
3. The Laukika/Lokôttara Distinction
4. Seon (Chan) Trends
5. Views in Chan and Their Disposal
6. Views in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment
7. Bibliography

1. Views, Beliefs, Mindsets, Opinions…

My personal interest in Buddhism at the earliest period was probably stimulated in the greatest part by the possibilities it offered in terms of the transformation of one's worldviews—the mindsets through which we face our world, interpret it, deal with it, adapt to it, and perhaps attempt to change it. My understanding of the importance of being able to abandon pre-established mental frameworks and to allow oneself to enter into fresher, broader, and deeper ones was influenced early on by my experience in martial arts, where I had the opportunity to learn from a strict, and I would consider—bona fide—master since my high school days. After having practiced for a decade or so, I came to see that the type of progress one makes at more advanced stages is qualitatively different than that which one makes during the first few years. During the first few years of practice, say, up to the first level of black belt, the progress one makes is primarily based upon physical training, and is not necessarily predicated on making significant mental adjustments. But as one proceeds through higher levels (in Japanese, dan ), advancement to the next level in most cases requires not only assiduous physical training—one also needs to make some sort of a change in the way one views oneself and one's world, in order to allow for a broader and deeper understanding one's self and one's environment, which in turn allows for a different perspective when facing an opponent. This is why it is often the case that a practitioner holding the rank of fifth dan can simultaneously fight three or four practitioners whose rank is just one dan below. Such a difference cannot be accounted for by mere physical prowess—it is allowed by the difference in mental state. In this case, as one might imagine, it is not that the supplanting worldview is some sort of doctrinal framework that one has been persuaded to accept, one that has been outlined, or argued for by another (because this is one important way that views are changed)—it is rather that once one has become willing to let go of a prior, less-than-optimal worldview, a new and — hopefully—more profound array of paradigms naturally takes form to replace it.

In the Buddhist context, I learned a major lesson about the importance of effective mental frameworks in my encounter with the “sudden view” that I learned through the study of Korean Seon (primarily through my long-time mentor, Prof. Sung Bae Park, as explicated in his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment). Prior to my exposure to this “sudden” (i.e., non-teleological, goalless) view, I had been practicing various forms of śamatha and vipaśyanā meditation for more than ten years, and while I had frequently experienced moments of unusual bliss and calm, nothing really significant ever happened for me in terms of dramatic changes in my view of the world. It was only when I was exposed to the sudden teaching (not interpreted as a form of “rhetoric,” but as an actuality) that I experienced what I would call a “breakthrough” experience. The lesson I took from this regarding meditation practice is one that is commonly attested in classical Chan works—that it is probably not so important how long one sits, or the actual “genre” of meditation that one is pursuing, but rather the worldview, or attitude with which one sits, that determines whether or not that sitting is going to bring forth any world-overturning mental events.

Subsequently, I have always been keenly interested in what deep thinkers and careful researchers have to say on the topic of views and beliefs (thus my long-sustained pursuit of the topic of the two hindrances)—and not only Buddhists. I have long been an admirer of the work of the American epistemologist/literary critic Barbara Herrnstein Smith—initially for her insights regarding the dynamics of canon formation, but in recent years, her thought-provoking investigations into the dynamics of belief and resistance in the worlds of academic philosophy/methodology and scientific inquiry. Inspired by Smith, I wrote an article a few years ago entitled “An Inquiry into Views: Lessons from Buddhism, Behavioral Psychology, and Constructivist Epistemology,” wherein I examined the confluence discernible in the studies of scholars from three different disciplines regarding beliefs (broadly interpreted, including “views,”“mindsets,”“opinions,” etc.): how they are created, how they are constituted, and the reasons for the difficulties encountered in their change or removal. 1 The primary stimuli for this paper were the three monographs on belief-formation and resistance to change—especially as observed in academia and science —written by Smith. 2 As a student of Buddhism, I was especially struck by the degree to which her observations resonated with what I have learned regarding the Buddhist explanation of views and beliefs (dṛṣṭi; ), especially as seen in such areas as Yogâcāra/Tathāgatagarbha 3 (in particular, two-hindrance discourse) and Seon. It was while I was engaged in this comparative reading of Buddhism vis-à-vis Smith that I also discovered that the matters of belief-formation and belief-change are topics of great interest to behavioral psychologists (whose research, interestingly, is often funded by the marketing departments of large corporations, which have a powerful interest in learning how to persuade people to buy their products).

While their approaches and findings show differences in the details (e.g., Smith is most interested in the factors underlying flexibility/rigidity of beliefs among academics and scientists; behavioral psychologists are interested in how beliefs are formed by the public in general; Buddhists are concerned about views as impediments to spiritual growth, or liberation), they concur on some of the most important aspects. For example, scholars from all three traditions agree—contrary to the mainstream common sense of nonspecialists who have probably not yet deeply reflected on the matter—that the maintenance of a given belief by a person is for the most part not based upon its verifiable accuracy—its relation to some kind of object known as the “truth,” but whether or not it seems “work well” (think of the Sanskrit kuśala here). Perceiving their views to function well, people tend to end up becoming rigidly attached to them—even when presented with compelling refutatory evidence regarding facts. 4

Among these three disciplines, the understandings of the epistemologists (especially constructivist epistemologists like Smith) and Buddhists tend to be closer to each other, since both recognize that the existence of any objective “truth” always remains problematic. Behavioral psychologists on the other hand, working within the framework of mainstream natural science, show a greater tendency to believe in the existence of verifiable objective truths that are out there to be discovered, and so there is a component of their interpretation of beliefs that relies on the notion of “knowing the truth”.

2. Buddhist Views on Views

The discussion of views takes on special importance in Buddhism—especially the scholastic and meditative traditions of Buddhism, where the problem of right and wrong views sits at the heart of the eightfold path—the most pervasive and basic expression of the Buddhist teaching, as well as at the center of the more detailed Buddhological articulations of later schools such as Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and Yogâcāra. The earliest teachings of the Buddha are set up largely as refutations of the wrong views (mithyā-dṛṣṭi 邪見) held by non-Buddhists—most importantly wrong views dealing with causality—causality not being important primarily for ethical reasons—reasons associated primarily with behavior—rather than scholastic mastery. The wrong views discussed in the three later Mahāyāna movements (Madhyamaka, Yogâcāra, and Tathāgatagarbha) gradually begin to identify wrong views not as the positions of non-Buddhist schools, but as exaggerated or one-sidedly practiced interpretations of the saddharma itself. The main factor that sets the Buddhists apart from modern western philosophers and behavioral psychologists is that while the latter two groups tend to see views/beliefs mainly as neutral phenomena, Buddhists tend to take a fundamentally negative stance toward views per se. 5

3. The Laukika/Lokôttara Distinction

Buddhism not only understands views in general to be pernicious; it also makes a radical distinction between right view from a conventional (laukika) perspective and from a transcendent (lokôttara) perspective. The conventional Buddhist approach bears similarity to the understanding of secular scholars of other academic traditions, in the sense that the conventional Buddhist right view (samyak-dṛṣṭi) consists of consciously-cultivated accurate conceptual models, such as the views of the pervasive operation of cause-and-effect, dependent arising, emptiness, and other standard components of the Buddhist doctrine—a new and better view taught to the seeker that is part of the authorized Buddhist teaching. This can be compared with the instruction in wholesome views seen in behavioral psychology and in most forms of Western philosophy, where the development of sound paradigms to live and grow by is seen as a primary role of educators and therapists. Where Buddhism departs most radically—from itself, as well as modern psychology and philosophy, is in its lokôttara understanding of views, wherein any view—no matter how noble or profound—as long as it is held to, cannot but become incorrect. This approach is discussed in extensive detail by the Buddhologist Paul Fuller in his monograph The Notion of Diṭṭhi in Theravāda Buddhism, where he observes: “A wrong view need not be a wrong proposition. It is the tendency of views to become an object of greed and attachment that is important”, and “a view can be doctrinally correct, but if, through giving rise to attachment, it distorts the holder’s response to the world, it is a wrong-view,” and therefore, “The problem is not with what the views assert, but the influence that the view has on the actions of the person who holds the view.” (p. 81)

Although Fuller does not say so specifically, it would seem to follow from his arguments that a clear distinction can be made between wrong view in a laukika sense as distinguished from the lokôttara sense, as it seems that is it the case with the laukika understanding of views that a clear “correct doctrine” is postulated vis-a-vis an incorrect one. From the lokôttara perspective however, it is quite often the case that there is no difference in veridicality to be seen between the previously relinquished view and the new one that comes in to take its place. It is entirely a matter of attachment, or reification, which results in less-than-optimal workability.

What is striking about the role and definition of wrong and right views in Buddhism is that despite the wide variety of schools and meditative approaches found in the long history of the broad tradition, spread over so many cultural manifestations, there is such a remarkable degree of agreement on the matter of the primary importance of dealing with views as the central content of meditative practice. Starting out with the eightfold path, where Right View is taken as the most important element, the vast majority of Buddhist meditative techniques (especially anything vipaśyanā-oriented) deal with the deconstruction or erasure of some sort of view. In laukika approaches, mithyā-dṛṣṭi are to be replaced by views that are seen as being more accurate, but in the lokôttara approach—which I would argue reaches its most profound articulation in East Asian Chan/Seon—the object is not to replace a worse view with a better one, but rather to go on to completely free oneself from view-making.

One thing that no one disputes is that views, once established, inevitably become fixed. And although Buddhist philosophers ended up enumerating as many as sixty-two views 6 involving a range of extremes in ontological positions, there is one type of “view” in particular that is crucial. This is the basic mental function of reifying entities, whether these be self or objects, called in Sanskrit satkāya-dṛṣṭi. This refers to the preconscious mental habit of all unenlightened people to assemble groups of raw sensory factors and unify them as a single notion, resulting in a concept expressible in linguistic terms. The most fundamental objects of reification are apperceptions of self and objects, eliciting the notions of “I” and “mine,” etc. It is based on this function that the rest of the more complex views and beliefs can come into existence. Thus, in comparison with other more complex dṛṣṭis, satkāya-dṛṣṭi is qualitatively different, and is not even really a “view” in the same sense as other political, religious, or practical beliefs, which operate at a conscious level. 7 They might call it different things, but the ultimate object of the most advanceds meditative practices is some form of satkāya-dṛṣṭi. In my studies of Buddhism, I have found few principles that seem to be as applicable across such a wide range of Buddhist traditions as this.

Another general quality of wrong views that Fuller points out, is that in their place as cognitive activities, they are not purely cognitive, as there is inevitably some kind of desire involved. No matter what, the expression of a view is seen to be an expression of some kind of craving. Fuller sees this as the real reason that Śākyamuni is depicted as regularly refusing to answer the various ontological questions put to him by his philosophical opponents. It is not only that the questions are “not practical” as commentators often note. It is that Śākyamuni recognized them as being primarily expressions of desire on the part of their formulators. Thus, “[t]he unanswered questions 無記 8 put to Śākyamuni are not pure questions, the answers to which will significantly impact the personal behavior of the questioners; rather, they are expressions of craving. This is true of all views.”(Diṭṭhi, p. 124) I have come to a similar finding through my work on the two hindrances, wherein commentators from a variety of traditions can't decide whether to place views in the categories of cognitive or afflictive, as they tend to include both aspects. 9

While epistemologists and psychologists also identify rigidity and inertia as a fundamental characteristic of views, 10 Buddhists take the importance of this aspect one step further, since the concept of “grasping” in Buddhism (grāha , ) is often taken as a virtual synonym for views. A view, or belief, can be entirely accurate, but once it is clung to, it becomes akuśala (ineffective), creating problems. Paul Fuller stresses this point repeatedly in The Notion of Diṭṭhi : “A majority of the miccha-diṭṭhi are based on a wrong grasp, on craving ... not on ignorance.” (p. 28) “Wrong views are based upon anything they are attached to, upon anything that they identify with.” (p. 31) “[The] ...essential feature of miccha-diṭṭhi: is [that it] is the grasping, attached side of the cognitive process.” Right view, on the other hand, is “the non-clinging, detached aspect of prajñā.” (p. 109)

While those conversant with Buddhism might assume that there is nothing special about this way of defining views, Fuller believes that this point is actually poorly understood by many Buddhologists, even by some of the most respected scholars in the field, who have a tendency to drift back to seeing the problematic nature of mistaken views as having to do with their content or verifiability, or, on the other hand, as seeing the achievement of some sort of state of “no views” as the real aim of Buddhist practice. Again, though, I am now thinking that it is possible to make a distinction in types of wrong views in Buddhism and say that from the laukika perspective, there is indeed a greater tendency for wrong views to be associated with an inaccurate doctrine, whereas from the lokôttara perspective, it is virtually always true that the veridicality of the object is irrelevant, and that it is just a matter of reification.

Another of the main themes of Fuller's argument is that of the correction of the widely-held perception that Pali Buddhism only understands the conventional interpretation of views—the “conversion” from some incorrect way of seeing the world (such as belief in an ātman) to a correct way of seeing the world (such as a belief in anātman). 11 Fuller also wants to correct what he sees as a misrepresentation of the lokôttara approach as having the goal of attaining a “viewless” state. Fuller maintains that this is a misunderstanding, one that arises based on a lack of recognition of the basic problem with views: it is not their content that is problematic: it is the attachment to the position itself that is problematic. Thus, according to Fuller, it is not the utter eradication of views, but instead a mental state of non-attachment to any particular view. I believe that Fuller is generally on the right track on this point, and that this is probably not true only of the Pāli Buddhism that is the field of his specialization, but also within Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and Yogâcāra Buddhism.

But if we are going to include the Chan tradition as part of Buddhism here, I am not sure how well it is going to fit into Fuller's second assertion that no school of Buddhism advocates the eradication of views, especially if we are thinking of the suddenistic Chan represented in the gong-an literature and such early indigenous East Asian scriptures as the Platform Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. My question arises from the perspective of the attempt at actual application of Fuller's assertion: What, exactly, would be the difference between “not attaching to any view” and the “eradication of views” if it is the case that the most operative part of the definition of views is that they are “attachments”? Once a view is gotten rid of, or let go of, what is the practitioner expected to do subsequently? Is s/he not expected to adopt a new and better view, at least provisionally? Or is s/he expected to remain "viewless"? Or merely "unattached"? What would the difference be? In order to stop attaching to such wrong views, must not one attempt to create the mental attitude of not creating any views whatsoever? It would seem to me that this is precisely what Chan, and perhaps even Madhyamaka and even Zhuangzi are saying. Thus, the distinction that Fuller would like to make, between “not being attached to a view” and “abandoning (or eliminating) a view” does not seem to be that easy to make in practice. So then, after we get through all of this, do Seon teachings on views accord with the general Buddhist pattern, or is Seon's approach distinctive? Or does the whole matter merely turn on how one understands the meaning of the term “view” itself?

When I presented my prior paper on this topic, I ventured the suggestion that Chan/Seon might go one step beyond simply not being attached to “wrong views,” and maintain that the aim of Buddhist meditative practice is to learn how to operate without views entirely. I did this by citing some East Asian Chan works from the gong-an tradition, along with their commentaries. But the reaction from my respondent at that time, a respected Madhyamaka scholar with strong philosophical orientations, was strongly against my proposition, and he insisted that nowhere in Buddhism is it taught that we should attempt to rid ourselves of views entirely. I maintained the position that if Chan Buddhism is to be considered a part of Buddhism, then it would seem that we can find injunctions to that effect.

Perhaps we can escape this conundrum by saying that the Chan focus on remaining entirely view-less is simply rhetoric—that Chan masters know that people can't ever really be free of views, but they just keep saying that to keep them on their toes? Or that it is simply an upāya? This would be similar, I guess, to the understanding of the teaching of immediacy as being only rhetoric.

But I don't like to take refuge too quickly in the hermeneutic approach of “they don't mean what they say,” which has been quite prevalent in Western scholarship, and especially Western scholarship about Chan. If they “don't really mean what they say” in this case, it seems to me to be tantamount to saying “they don't really mean that sentient beings are originally perfect Buddhas,” and that becoming Buddha is not really a possibility. 12 On the other hand, what, for example, would be the content of the mirror-cognition, central to Yogâcāra/Tathāgatagarbha soteriological discourse? Is this not a viewless state, where the consciousness operates unobstructedly reflecting, without constructing interpretive frameworks? Having broached this question, let us take a look at some of the developments regarding views as they unfold in the East Asian framework.

4. Seon (Chan) Trends

As Buddhism develops in East Asia, the logograph originally used translate dṛṣṭi into Chinese— moves away from its mostly negative usage, to neutral, and sometimes positive connotations, as in 知見(“insight”), etc. At the same time, in Chan, the emphasis on the avoidance of entrapment in views as the core of practice gains intensity, to the extent that Chan dialog, gong-ans, and Chan teaching stories are directed almost exclusively toward the aim of removing views, with the vocabulary for the expression of the concept of attached, or reified views both shifting and diversifying. One of the notions already prevalent in the Indian Prajñāpāramitā literature was that of nimitta, rendered into Chinese as . In this case, it is the objective aspect of the process, the “seen part” that is being emphasized as something that should not be attached to—but the practical message of nonabiding 無住 in views is the same. One of the most concentrated exercises in the cultivation of non-abiding in reified concepts is found in the Diamond Sutra, which ends up becoming a foundational text for the Chan/Seon tradition in East Asia. There, the Buddha says to Subhūti:

Why is [it that these persons are able to give rise to real faith]? It is because these sentient beings do not again [abide in] the notions of self 我相, person 人相, sentient being 衆生相, or life span 壽者相. Nor do they abide in the notions of the Dharma, or the notions of non-Dharma. Why? If these sentient beings in their minds grasp to these notions, then they will cling to self, person, sentient being, and life-span. If they grasp to the notions of phenomena, they will attach to self, person, sentient being, and life span. Why? If they grasp to the denial of dharmas, then they will attach to self, person, sentient being, and life span. Therefore one should not grasp to dharmas, and one should not deny dharmas. Expressing this, the Tathāgata always teaches: ‘Monks, understand my correct teachings to be like a raft.’ If even my correct teachings are to be abandoned, how much more incorrect teachings? (T 235.8.749b5–b11)

As we can see (supporting Fuller's position), it is not the ontological notions of self and so forth that are in themselves problematic; if it were the case, then it would be quite right and efficacious to deny them. But it is the clinging to them that is problematic—and at the same time, clinging to their denial is also problematic. Toward the end of the sutra, the Buddha restates the same point, this time using the word dṛṣṭi  instead of nimitta .

Subhūti, if someone claims that I teach the view of self 我見, view of person 人見, view of sentient being 衆生見, or view of life span 壽者見, what would you say? Has this person understood the point of my teaching?

Subhūti answers:

World Honored One, this person has not understood the point of the Tathāgata’s teaching. Why? What the World Honored One has explained as the view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, and view of life span, are actually not a view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, or view of life span. Therefore they are called view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, and view of life span. (T 235.8.752b16–21)

5. Views in Chan and Their Disposal

It seems reasonable to say that in the development of East Asian Buddhism, the literature of the Chan/Seon school becomes focused on the non-abiding in views above all else, and it is no accident that texts such as the Diamond Sutra become mainstream in the tradition. The Chan school’s gong-an literature, its encounter dialog, and its (“apocryphal”) scriptures, such as the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment and Platform Sutra distinctly focus on the problem of reification of views.

Examples in Chan, Seon, and Zen literature of the effort to undermine attachment to views are everywhere once one begins to look for them. Perhaps the most rarefied examples can be seen in the Chan gong-an and encounter literature, where we can see case after case presenting masters going as far as to force students to express their views—though they may be hesitant to do so—and then snatching them away and hitting them over the head with them. The answer can never be right, since, of course, what the student is expressing (unless he is enlightened like his teacher) can never be anything but another view. Thus, the famous admonition of the commentary to the first case of the Gateless Barrier:

So then, make your whole body a mass of doubt, and with your 360 bones and joints and your 84,000 hair follicles, concentrate on this one word mu. Day and night, keep digging into it. Don’t consider it to be nothingness. Don’t think in terms of “has” or “has not.” It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you cannot. Gradually you purify yourself, eliminating mistaken knowledge and attitudes you have held from the past. Inside and outside become one, and you are like a dumb person who has had a dream. You know it for yourself alone. Suddenly mu breaks open. The heavens are astonished; the earth is shaken. It is as though you snatch away the great sword of General Kuan. When you meet the Buddha, you kill the Buddha. When you meet Bodhidharma, you kill Bodhidharma. At the very cliff-edge of birth and death, you find the Great Freedom. In the six worlds and in the four modes of birth, you can enjoy a samādhi of frolic and play. So, how should you work with it? Exhaust all your life-energy on this one word mu. If you do not falter, then it’s done! A single spark lights your Dharma candle. (Aitken, Taking the Path of Zen, p. 96)

Whether or not the dog has the Buddha-nature is not necessarily the point—yet it is not a question that should be avoided, either. Whatever the answer might be, it can never be met or held through a view. This, it seems to me, is Zhaozhou’s main point.

6. Views in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment

The Chan tradition is deeply informed by its indigenous sutras, prominent among which are the Platform Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment [SPE]. Here I would like to highlight a few of the distinctive aspects of the treatment of views seen in the SPE.

One general aspect of the SPE's treatment of views is that they are the epitome of the lokôttara approach, in that it doesn't matter what the view is: once one attaches to it, it becomes an impediment. What is distinctive about this sutra's treatment of views is the degree to which its criticism is aimed at “enlightened views”—views attained by advanced practitioners who are on their way to—but who have not yet achieved—perfect enlightenment. The sutra points out again and again that no matter how profound a view may be, once it reifies, that's it—it has to be gotten rid of. This emphasis on the severe admonishment of those who believe they have become enlightened masters and are ready to go out and teach informs some of the most important turns of the SPE in its appropriation of previously-established Buddhist categories: in the sutra's explanation of the “five natures” the category that would normally be categorized as icchantika is instead a self-appointed spiritual advisor—a guru, or Zen Master, who, in his attainment of lesser experiences of enlightenment has the temerity to take on students, whom he cannot but end up misleading. And the cognitive hindrances (of the two hindrances) are also interpreted as attachment to reified experiences of insight that lead the practitioner to think that s/he is ready to take on students. Finally, the sutra clearly states repeatedly that the only acceptable state of mind—“perfect enlightenment,” is one where all views have been permanently eradicated.

Views are discussed in almost every passage of the sutra in chapters 1-6, 9, and 10. One telling dimension of the sutra's discussion of views (especially in Gihwa's 己和 commentary, where the meaning of “wrong view” is fully unwrapped) is that the standard hanja  is used interchangeably with 知見 (or 智見) which in most instances in indigenous East Asian works has the positive connotations of discernment, insight, etc.—a view that is informed by some kind of accurate understanding. The sutra uses first 知見 in this positive way, but at the same time shows it to be something impedimentary once it is held to. The same thing happens to 知覺 (“awareness”), which normally has even more consistent positive connotations than 知見, but which nonetheless, once reified, becomes something to be done away with. 13

In the first six chapters, time and time again, the sutra posits a view, which is in turn shown to be invalid in the face of another view based on a higher level of realization. But no matter what the degree of realization, once the resultant view reifies, it is no longer useful, and is to be abandoned. The distinctive aspect of all these views that are utilized and then discarded, is that they were not originally identified as mistaken views. All are “insights”—but which end up becoming “wrong views” based on one's having attached to them.

Below, in his commentary to Chapter One, Gihwa changes to 知覺 to 知見, and then to simply to . Explaining how even the subtlest states of self-reflexive awareness end up reifying and becoming errors, he says:

離橫計而不見有身心生死。如病除而見花滅也。由是見起見滅之知見 本由身心生死而致之。知知如空之知見 亦由見起見滅之知見而有之、皆未兔爲知見之垢也。如來藏中 本無身心生死之起滅 亦無見起見滅之知見。亦無知知如空之知見。所以云 彼知覺者猶如虗空 知虗空者 卽空華相

Once you are free from mistaken conceptualization, you do not see body and mind, or birth and death. It is like when the visual malady is removed and you see the disappearance of the [sky-]flowers. Since this perception that sees arising and sees cessation is originally based on and fully effected by [the view of] body and mind, birth and death, so is the perception that knows knowledge to be like space dependent on the view of arising and ceasing for its own existence. None of these can avoid turning into the stain of views (yet also "insights" 知見). In the matrix of the Tathāgata there is originally no arising and ceasing of body and mind, birth and death. There is also no view (insight) that sees arising or sees cessation, and there is no view (insight) that knows knowing to be like space. Therefore the text says: “this (prior) awareness is just like empty space. Yet since the knowledge that it is empty space is none other than the appearance of sky-flowers . . . ” (HBJ 7.130b13)

In addition to the points mentioned above, we here have a statement that at the stage of the Tathāgata there are no views. We will look at other statements on this point below.

A distinctive aspect of this discussion, as introduced above, is that the object of view-removal in this text is never something that was originally taken as a mistaken view 邪見. Rather, the views that are to be removed are previously-applied antidotes 對治 (Skt. pratipakṣa).

[Gihwa] [HBJ 7.130c23]

知眞本有 了妄元空 從此 卽兔生死之見 復能了悟知眞了妄之見 亦同空花 悉無所有 而此見盡之心亦復不存 自造無迷無悟之境 安住不動 於是融物我而無間 混法界爲體性 此所以即成佛道者也 所謂成道 對離幻垢 幻垢已滅 對治亦泯所以云 成道亦無得

Know the real to be originally existent. Understand that falsehood is originally empty. From this you avoid the view of saṃsāra. Then, you are able to realize that the views that “perceive the real” and that “understand falsehood” are both sky-flowers—both lack anything whatsoever. Yet this mind which is cleared of views also does not exist. From arriving to the realm of neither delusion nor enlightenment, you abide still, without change. Here, you merge self and things without gap, you unite the reality-realm with the essential nature. It is through this that the Buddha-way is accomplished. The “accomplished way” removes the defilement of illusion. When the defilement of illusion is gone, the antidotes (“counteractive views”) also vanish. Therefore he says: “in accomplishing the Way, nothing is attained.” (HBJ 7.130c23–a7)

Again, what seems to remain here is a “viewless” state, which seems to also be the result of the combination of sutra and commentary below:


Good sons, false floating thoughts and numerous clever views are incapable of perfecting the expedient means of Perfect Enlightenment. Using this kind of discrimination, you cannot even formulate a proper question. (T 842.17.916a2; HBJ 7.143a24)

Gihwa comments:

此章先明用妄辨眞、眞隨妄轉。次則據理 直斷三疑。次明圓覺 絶諸對待。次明非心所測 勸令無心。次復明思惟 展轉虛妄。終則歸咎所問 爲浮心巧見、反現無思惟分別 是正方便也。

This chapter first shows that when you use falsity to discern truth, truth is transformed according to falsity. Then he uses reality to directly sever the three doubts. Then he reveals Perfect Enlightenment, erasing all relativity. He next shows that it is not something that thought can conceptualize, in order to encourage “no-thought.” Next he shows discursive thought to be circular and false. Finally he returns to attack the original question as being “floating thoughts and clever views,” alternatively teaching that “no discursive thought or discrimination” is the correct expedient means. (HBJ 7.143b9-14)

The sutra's interpretation of the cognitive hindrances addresses directly the matter of clinging to “advanced (profound) views.” This is done on the discussions of the stages of practice in Chapter Six:

The Beginner Bodhisattva 's Accordance with the Enlightened Nature


Good sons, all bodhisattvas see their understanding as an obstruction. But even if they eliminate the “understanding-obstruction,” they still abide in a view of enlightenment. This “enlightenment-obstruction” becomes a hindrance and they are not perfectly free. They are called bodhisattvas who have not yet entered the bhūmis who are according with the nature of enlightenment. (T 842.17.917a21; HBJ 7.149b18)

菩薩以方便智 淨解見覺 皆已斷滅則諸礙已滅 更無能斷之智也。方便智 亦云礙心者。斷礙之時 未免有能斷之心 礙於淨覺故 名礙心。然隨滅諸礙 而亦滅也 此是賢位之人、已登聖位 未登果位者之隨順覺性也。雖名隨順 未登果位故 亦未能成眞隨順。

In the bodhisattva's use of expedient wisdom, when the pure understanding and the view of enlightenment are both dissolved, all obstructions are erased, and there is no longer any dissolving wisdom. “Expedient wisdom” is also called “obstructing thought.” If, when the obstructions are dissolved, you do not avoid the thought of a subjective dissolver, this makes an obstruction of pure enlightenment—therefore it is called “obstructing thought.” Yet if, following on the dissolution of all obstructions, you again dissolve, this is the accordance with the enlightened nature carried out at the level of the worthy who has ascended to the level of sage, but who has not yet ascended to the level of fruition. Even though it is called “accordance,” since the person has not ascended to the final level, he has not accomplished real accordance.

Finally, in Chapter Six's final two categories, in the category of the Tathāgata's accordance with perfect enlightenment, there seems to be reliance on views of equality, but the directly ensuing “direct accordance with the nature of enlightenment” would seem to be a viewless state.

The Tathāgata's Accordance with Perfect Enlightenment


Good sons, all hindrances are none other than ultimate enlightenment. Whether you attain mindfulness or lose mindfulness, there is no nonliberation. Establishing the Dharma and refuting the Dharma are both called nirvana; wisdom and folly are equally prajñā; the method that is perfected by bodhisattvas and false teachers is the same bodhi; nescience and thusness are not different realms; morality, concentration, and wisdom, as well as desire, hatred, and nescience are all divine practices; sentient beings and lands share the same Dharma nature; hell and heaven are both the Pure Land; those having Buddha-nature and those not having it equally accomplish the Buddha's enlightenment. All defilements are ultimately liberation. The reality-realm's oceanlike wisdom completely clarifies all marks to be just like empty space. This is called “the Tathāgata's accordance with the nature of enlightenment.” (T 842.17.917b2; HBJ 7.150a7)

Direct Accordance with Perfect Enlightenment


Good sons, if all bodhisattvas and sentient beings of the degenerate age would just desist from giving rise to false thoughts at all times, and when in false states of mind, not strive for cessation; when abiding in false conceptual realms, not try to impose a complete understanding; while lacking complete understanding, not try to analyze true reality. If these sentient beings, hearing this teaching, believe, understand, assimilate and remember it without being shocked or frightened by it, they are said to be “according with the nature of enlightenment.” (T 842.17.917b9; HBJ 7.150b6)

Good sons, you should all be aware that these sentient beings have already made offerings to myriads of buddhas a quintillion times as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges River, and have cultivated their roots of virtue with as many great bodhisattvas. I call these people “fully developed in omniscience.”

So does this mean that the sutra is ultimately advocating a “viewless” state of mind? It would seem so. I can well-understand the reasoning used by those who say that such a thing as viewless state—an utter absence of conceptual frameworks—is impossible for human beings. In our own experience, how can we imagine functioning in such a state? But yet perhaps it is still the case that viewlessness is a characteristic of the enlightened consciousness of buddhas, and that that is precisely what is referred to by such notions as the mirrorlike cognition in Yogâcāra, a consciousness that operates entirely without limiting frameworks, and which is therefore capable of appropriate and immediate response in any situation, lacking all bias. Is that not what Buddhism ultimately teaches?

7. Bibliography

Aitken, Robert. Taking the Path of Zen. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982.

Fuller, Paul. The Notion of Diṭṭhi in Theravāda Buddhism. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005.

Harris, Ian Charles. The Continuity of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1991.

Jaini, Padmanabh S.  “Prajñā and dṛṣṭi in the Vaibhāṣika Abhidharma.” Lewis Lancaster, ed. Prajñāpāramitā and Related Systems: Studies in Honor of Edward Conze. Berkeley: 403–415 1977.

Lusthaus, Dan. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism and the Ch’eng Wei-shih Lun. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

Muller, A. Charles. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment: Korean Buddhism’s Guide to Meditation (with the commentary by the Sŏn monk Kihwa). Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1999.

Muller, A. Charles.  “An Inquiry into Views: Lessons from Buddhism, Behavioral Psychology, and Constructivist Epistemology.” Global Forum on Civilization and Peace: Beyond National Boundaries: Building a World Without Walls. Seongnam-si, Korea: pp. 159-201. Academy of Korean Studies Press,  2011.

Muller, A. Charles and Cuong T. Nguyen, ed. Wonhyo's Philosophy of Mind. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2012.

Rott, Hans.  “A Counterexample to Six Fundamental Principles of Belief Formation.” van der Hoek, Wiebe, ed. Information, Interaction, and Agency. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005. 61–76

Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. Belief And Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

----. Scandalous Knowledge : Science, Truth And the Human. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.

----. Natural Reflections : Human Cognition At the Nexus of Science And Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Wyer, Robert S., Jr. and Dolores Albarracín.  “Belief Formation, Organization, and Change: Cognitive and Motivational Influences.” Albarracín, Dolores, Blair T. Johnson, Mark T. Zanna, ed. The Handbook of Attitudes. New York and London: Psychology Press (Taylor and Francis), 2005. 273–322


1. In this paper I investigated the discussions of views in representative works from each of the three traditions from each of these three perspectives, including a more detailed description of developments in the notion of dṛṣṭi and gyeon in Madhyamaka and Yogâcāra, briefly touching upon Chan at the end.

2. The three monographs are: (1) Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy (1997); (2) Scandalous Knowledge : Science, Truth and the Human (2006); (3) Natural Reflections : Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (2009). Smith is still quite active in her 70's, alternating semesters between Brown and Duke. Smith's writings make fascinating reading for anyone interested in the way that new paradigms and methodologies are on one hand able to sweep through and change our fields of learning, or how, on the other hand, old paradigms seem to remain immovably entrenched.

3. In the course of his discussion of prajñā in his Buddhist Phenomenology, Dan Lusthaus offers a helpful definition of dṛṣṭi, which, while aimed primarily for the Yogâcāra context, can probably be used for Buddhism in general: “First, [prajñā] signifies the clear and efficacious formulation and comprehension of Buddhist perspectives (samyak-dṛṣṭi). Not only must the correct views be engendered and nourished, but more importantly one must investigate how it is that views (dṛṣṭi) are engendered and nourished in the first place. Thus dṛṣṭi . . . signifies more than views or opinions, or even the mere holding of certain views. Etymologically implying a ‘way of seeing,’ ‘point of view’ or ‘perspective,’ dṛṣṭi is the imposition of limitations—imposed by the dynamics of the interrelation between horizons and a focal center —that invariably constitute any perspective. Dṛṣṭi signifies a partial vision, a limiting and limited perspective whose ‘partiality’ insists on appropriating by means of a reduction, in spite of the fact that what it appropriates can never be reduced to factors within the confines of its horizons. Dṛṣṭi implies a cognitive tropology, i.e., a program of tropological displacements and substitutions that ubiquitously reduces experience to an implicit, presupposed ‘order of experience,’ such that experience becomes reduced and constricted within the margins ascribed by the closure of that ‘order.’ . . . Dṛṣṭi is not just a view about a certain thing, but the manner by which views constitute one’s orientation to and understanding of whatever goes on in the world . . . Dṛṣṭis are the defensive stopgaps we use in our attempts to fill in the gaping abyss of anxiety that marks our nescience. (Buddhist Phenomenology, p. 115-116)”

4. For scholars of Buddhism this should come as no great surprise, as in many cases dṛṣṭi and grāha are taken to be virtually synonymous. I myself am a good example: no matter how many scientific studies come out that prove dietary supplements to be useless, I keep taking them.

5. Of course the term dṛṣṭi is in itself neutral, but in actual usage, we see it applied in the majority of cases with the connotations of mithyā-dṛṣṭi.

6. 六十二見: sixty-two (mistaken) views These are principally elucidated in the Sutra on the Brahmā’s Net of the Sixty-two Views 梵網六十二見經:(1) four kinds of eternalism, śaśvat dṛṣṭi 常論 (四種); (2) four kinds of dualistic eternalism and non-eternalism, ekatya śaśvat dṛṣṭi 亦常亦無常論 (四種); (3) four views of the world being finite or infinite, antânanta dṛṣṭi 邊無邊論 (四種); (4) four kinds of equivocation, amara vikṣepa vāda 種種論 (四種); (5) two doctrines of non-causality, adhicca samutpāda vāda 無因而有論 (二種). In terms of speculation on the future, there are wrong views in five categories of forty-four ways: (1) sixteen kinds of belief in the existence of cognition (saṃjñā) after death, uddharma āghātanika saṃjñā vāda 有想論 (十六種); (2) eight kinds of belief in the non-existence of cognition after death, uddharma āghātanika asaṃjñi vāda 無想論 (八種); (3) eight kinds of belief in the existence of neither perception nor non-perception after death, uddharma āghātanika naivasaṃjñā nāsaṃjñā vāda 非有想非無想論 (八種); (4) seven kinds of belief in annihilation, uccheda vāda 斷滅論 (七種); (5) five kinds of mundane nirvāṇa as realizable in this very life, dṛṣṭa dharma nirvāṇa vāda 現在泥洹論 (五種). Other versions and arrangements of the sixty-two can be found in the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa-sūtra  維摩經, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya 倶舍論 and so forth. (DDB)

7. Fuller extensively elaborates on the primacy of satkāya-dṛṣṭi (Pali sakkaya-diṭṭhi) and its role as the source for the production of the other views. See esp. pages, 26-28.

8. The standard list for the unanswered questions includes fourteen questions 十四無記 based on the reified views of the non-Buddhist philosophers to which the Buddha made no reply. They are forms of: all is permanent 世間常, impermanent 世間無常, both permanent and impermanent 世間亦常亦無常 or neither permanent nor impermanent 世間非常非無常; the world is finite 世間有邊, the world is infinite 世間無邊, both 世間亦有邊亦無邊, neither 世間非有邊非無邊; the Tathāgata exists after death 如來死後有, he does not 如來死後無, both 如來死後亦有亦非有, neither 如來死後非有非非有; after death we have the same body (or personality) and spirit 命身一, or body and spirit are different 命身異. This set, with variations, appears in a number of places in the Buddhist canon, but is probably most often cited from the 27th chapter of the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā(中論) T 1564.30.30c4. (DDB)

9. I discuss this point in some detail in my prior paper on this topic “An Inquiry into Views.” I also discuss this in Wonhyo's Philosophy of Mind, pp. 61-65.

10. In my prior paper, I have summarized the positions of the epistemologists and psychologists on resistance to change in some detail. Here, I focus only on the Buddhist interpretation

11. An understanding has been held by many scholars that pre-Mahāyāna Buddhism only worked from the first paradigm—i.e., the understanding that there is actually something that can be called “correct view(s)” which is a positive counterpart to the plethora of incorrect views. P. S. Jaini, for example, argued this position in his “Prajñā and dṛṣṭi in the Vaibhāṣika Abhidharma,” which Fuller takes up for refutation. Fuller also takes on a few other well-known scholars on this point.

12. Of course, there are Buddhist teachers who will say this, but not usually in the Chan/Seon/Zen tradition.

13. The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment also uses other synonyms with more readily recognizable negative connotations, such as , 顛倒, and , according to the context.