How nice to have two Sundays in a row that greet me with sun. Honestly, I feel like it's spoiling me. Alas; leave it to my good friend Mpeterson to muck up my perfectly quiet Sunday with a question. Well, I did ask for it...

Buddhists spend lots of time yakking about "dharma". The origination of the word (Sanskrit: dhárma, Pāḷi dhamma) means "that which supports or upholds", and often gets translated into "law". And in this case, by "translated" I mean "dumbed-down". And by "dumbed-down" I, of course, mean "neutered".

In Buddhism, we often refer to the Dharma as a "jewel". I have always really liked this interpretation not only because it implies its preciousness, but also the multi-faceted nature of this treasure. So let's get out our magnifying glasses and have a look-see.

On one hand, we do look at the "dharma" as "law". We look at it as the laws by which reality is governed. And, as part of reality, we are governed by it as well. All the scientific and merely gross aspects of reality--from macro to micro and all points in between--are subject to the dharma, because the dharma is all that is. Essentially; "reality is the law, and the law is reality". That's pretty easy to wrap ones' head 'round. Even if we as individuals don't understand the laws of the Universe, we can sort of always feel them at work (sort of like tax law, I suppose). So, to start with, [dharma] ≈ [law]. To take it one step further to the East, it could very easily be interpreted as [dharma] ≈ [Tao].

If we turn the jewel, the next shiny side is the dharma as the cannon of teaching from Śākyamuni Buddha. In Buddhism, this is referred to as "Buddha-dharma". I won't elaborate on that too much, except to say that on the surface, this is what most people experience or think of as "dharma" at first in much the same way as a Christian employs the word "gospel" to refer to the direct and (supposed) near-literal cannon of teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded by the Fab Four (Matt, Mark, Luke and John). So [Buddha-dharma] ≈ [gospel].

Turned again, we get "Dharma" as the literal essence of truth as embodied and personified by the Buddha. This is referred to as Dharmakāya, or "the unmanifested, 'inconceivable' aspect of a Buddha" (or "self-realized enlightened Being") out of which all Buddhas and all "phenomena" arise and to which they return after their dis-integration.1 This is also analogous to "gospel" insofar as "gospel" literally translates as "the 'good news'" and means both "the saving teachings of Jesus--The Christ" as well as the concept that the physical phenomena that was Jesus the Nazarene was both the literal "good word" as well as the "'Word' of the Trinity". So [Dharmakāya] ≈ [Logos].

Flip the jewel around some more (oooo, purdy!) and we finally spot the shiny side that is the phenomenological. "Dharma" is looked at as "a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience". So here, [dharma] ≈ [phenomena].

Finally (and absurdly briefly) "Dharma" does mean all of these things at once, and yet, at the same time, means nothing in-and-of-itself. That is because while "dharma" does in fact have implied a priori components (if I do this, that will happen, and that is obvious without the doing, also called karma) it also demands the experiential, or a posteriori, and as such brings with it the notion of qualia, which gets left in the dust with mere a priori approaches. "Dharma" does not stand outside of "us" as a self-perpetuating concept: it is never a mere construct. It is always manifest in every moment, always true, never false, and while it may often be inconceivable, is always accessible. So, essentially I'm hazarding to say that [dharma] ~ [noumena].

So, to the question:

" 'dharma' best said to be 'truth' or is it the "form"....which, to unenlightened consciousness seems to be the full truth, although to a more awakened consciousness comes to be understood as the form containing the emptiness which is its true 'truth'?"

First off, this question insinuates that any consciousness can be "unenlightened", or that there are states of consciousness that are lacking in direct experience. That's really walking on Jello, but whatever.

It's my understanding (and I really hesitate to use that word) that, in the context that I was employing it, "dharma" is better defined as "phenomena/nounema" I guess. Maybe "reality". Hmmm. How about "catfish"?


The Buddha said: "All dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease."

So, saying "the form containing the emptiness which is its true 'truth'" is like saying "the form containing the emptiness that is the form that is the emptiness..." [+ ad infinitum]. I suppose that it is also akin to saying "the cup that contains the emptiness that together equals 'cup-ness'." Once more, with Kantian feeling: the phenomena containing the noumena. But of course, in Kant's world, a phenomena can't contain a noumena, or it would be like saying "the merely noumenal", and as we know, Kant's "categories of understanding" could never get the noumena and the phenomena in the same room experientially, so where we're headed must be rather un-Kantian. Smell the whiff of set theory in the air?

That which one can "know" -vs- that which one can "experience" may be vastly different, but they are not in full opposition, and are by no means antithetical (and to a Buddhist, quite the contrary), and therein lies the friction. Kant was still operating (mired?) in the Cartesian paradigm of dichotomy; of duality, of "this" versus "that". Ontologically, this started to fall apart when Schopenhauer started picking on him for being too quick and loose in redefining "noumena" to fit his model of experience as he went along, while at the same time still allowing the "Cartesian other" to keep drawing breath. Later, George Herbert Mead started steering dangerously towards Buddhism with his critique of the "other", saying "we do not assume there is a self to begin with. Self is not presupposed as a stuff out of which the world arises. Rather the self arises in the world." Woo! Goosebumps!

Buddhists don't see a separation between "this" and "that". We have just "this", over and over and over. There is no duality. There is no dichotomy. There is no "mind -vs- body" because you can't separate the two no matter how hard you try and at the same time be experiential as the "one" trying to do the separating, and we are, at our base, nothing if not experiential. ("Nothing" if not experiential! I kill me sometimes...) Anyways, one cannot get a distance between the two in order for one to objectify the other. All we "are" is reoccurring experience. All we are is Pǔ. All we are is Tao. All that is is Tao. If you try and take the Tao apart, you have nothing. Yet the Tao is always empty. Yet everything is held within it. It is a perpetual vessel that in its emptiness holds everything. Again, pǔ.

So, honestly, set theory is probably the realm that can put this on paper best.

Form IS Emptiness. Emptiness IS Form. Phenomena IS Noumena. Noumena IS Phenomena. Neither term is antithetical. Neither term is in opposition. And while is is most likely safe to interpret "dharma" as "phenomena" for the sake of argument, in doing so, one MUST also interpret it as "noumena" at the same time for the sake of a complete representation of the paradigm, or else you break the Tao and are just left with nothing.

So, [dharma] = {}.

I got nuthin'...