The Buddhist idea of Suchness, Thusness (Tathātā)

The precision of naming takes away from the uniqueness of seeing

Pierre Bonnard

We might ask ourselves in a moment of contemplation, ‘why is there something, not nothing?’ or ‘why is the cosmos the way it is and not some other way?’

But that’s like asking ‘why does a bee sting you?’ It’s an absurd question because that’s what bees are supposed to do. There is no why. Why implies a reason, and there’s no obligation by the cosmos to make sense

This grasping habit we have is what gets in the way of our experiences.

Too often, we run towards explanations and answers instead f allowing the experience for what it is. We crave knowing at the expense of experience. So we find ourselves caught in our heads a lot of the time, theorising, chasing, planning, calculating, and the moment passes us by, lost.

Once we let go of our craving (tanhā) and stop twisting reality to fit our expectations, we can then grasp reality as it is. That’s accepting reality in it’s Suchness, it’s Tathātā. Reality untarnished by our grasping neediness, our egotistical desire to know, to be in control.

Tathata is as if to say ‘This is the way things are. Waters is wet, the sky is blue‘, this is the way reality works.

Things fall apart, stars explode, cats are cute, this is the reality we have to face. Instead of question, just let the experience, the present moment, be what it is without striving for answer.

Flower Sermon

The the Flower sermon is possibly an apocryphal story about the Buddha. In the story, the Buddha gives a teaching by holding up a white lotus flower, but doesn’t say a word.

The majority of his audience doesn’t understand, except one monk, Mahākāśyapa, who smiles.

In one respect it signifies the direct transmission of the Buddha’s ideas. Not through the conceptual exchange but an understanding of people who think alike. It demonstrates the ineffable nature of tathātā.

To me, the sermon hits upon a key attitude we have towards our existence. The monks who failed to understand were caught up their expectations, their grasping attachment to solve the riddle. The Buddha however was not proposing a problem to be fixed, and conceptual riddle to be solved.

Instead his message is Stop trying to theorise the flower, instead enjoy it, marvel in it’s beauty, delicacy and more. That’s the ‘answer’ the Buddha was trying to convey. Put aside your discursive, conceptual, analytical mind and enjoy life, instead of asking foolish questions about it.

When you put your finger in water, it has that sensation. Focus not on the words we use to describe it but on the sensation.

If you don’t understand the question, what makes you think you’ll ever understand the answer? Those who failed to understand don’t see that our minds habitually operate grooves, we habitually grasp for answer. But this takes us away from the reality we’re experiencing.

Existential questions

This sentiment, can also be found in looking at questions about our existence, and the cosmos. In the Vedic tradition it’s expressed as Tat Tvam Asi, ‘Thou art that’, You’re it’. This is it. A way of accepting yourself as you are instead of trying to be someone you’re not.

It can work practically too. Instead of trying to change your partner or friend into the person you want them to be, you can be with them as the person they are.

Perhaps it is a riddle, but the answer and one Mahākāśyapa understood is that there is no riddle. As Kierkegaard pointed out, ‘life is not a problem to be solved’. To me, it’s an adventure to be lived.

Without such awareness, life will always be a problem to be solved, and we will perpetually be unsatisfied. To find Tathātā is to stop asking questions that can’t be answered.

Tathātā is saying as I like to put it: ‘these are the rules of the game’ or ‘this is the job’. It’s Nature Going It’s Own Way. In Japanese the phrase. Sonomama そのまま. ‘that’s the way it is.’ or ‘as is’ has the same sentiment. Just like we use “c’est la vie” ‘that’s life, that’s how things happen’.

It’s not that life is unfair, you just don’t know the rules of the game. You and your needs are not the centre of the cosmos, and it’s under no obligation to conform to your expectations.

Once you let go of the neediness for answers, not trying to twists or shape it, you can grasp reality as it is. To sit in the moment and experience, to accept it. Like a mindful state, being in the present, an Intimacy with reality a poignancy of the moment.

Tathātā like other Buddhist ideas is not an easy idea to grasp because as I have tried to explain above, it’s that very grasping for answers that’s the problem. (Map is not the territory).

Stop thinking about reality and deal with reality.

We have experiences which we then dissect into causes, effects, reasons, model, theories etc. That’s thinking about reality

Beyond the word and ideas, there is the reality of ‘suchness’. It’s a state of “as-it-isness,” Avoid the desire to try an explain sensations and just be with them. Words, ideas are not necessary to be in touch with reality, indeed they get in the way. Buddhism is about observing reality to quieten the mind.

Just as we can experience a sunset thoughts would only interrupt the experience.

If we were to destroy all the maps, all the ideas about the cosmos, the world would still turn, water would still feel the same, the sky will still keep its colour, that’s Tathātā.

Free from intellectual adornment, denuded of concepts, a naked reality, Au nauturel, you have reality as it is, a brute fact, unfettered the the language we invent, that’s Tathata. Reality unclouded by our conceptual thought, and untarnished by desire.

In a way, it’s what Buddhism is all about. The most important endeavour, the path of enlightenment and away from ignorance, illusion and suffering.

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

by Matsuo Basho Translated by Alan Watts

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