Tathātā is translated as ‘Suchness’ or ‘as-is-ness of the moment’. It is a central concept in Buddhism, it expresses the appreciation of reality within a unique moment.
Tathātā is often best revealed in the mundane, such as noticing the way the wind blows through a field of grass, or watching someone’s face light up as they smile.
If we hold perceptions to be reality, then in order for our World to be real, we have to perceive it as something. It can not be just what it is. We have to interpret it, or give it a name, or describe it in some way.
We perceive the World through words, through ideas.
This obsession with cameras and photography now, is just wanting to capture things, capture moments on film, petrify them in time, and make them fixed because everything is moving and changing.
Tathātā is right now. This is the way it is. The only way it can be is the way it is right now! It is changing, but at this moment, the Suchness of this moment, is just this way.
The thinking mind has to stop. You just have to stop your mind and listen, or watch. Then you will be relating to Suchness, the Suchness of the moment.
In this universe, there is one great energy, and we have no name for it. People have tried various names for it, like God, like Brahman, like Dao, but in the West, the word God has got so many funny associations attached to it that most of us are bored with it. When people say ‘God, the father almighty,’ most people feel funny inside.
So we like to hear new words, we like to hear about Dao, about Brahman, and about Tathātā and such strange names from the far East because they don’t carry the same associations of mawkish sanctimony and funny meanings from the past.
And actually, some of these words that the Buddhists use for the basic energy of the World really don’t mean anything at all. The word tathata, which is translated from the Sanskrit as ‘Suchness’ or ‘Thusness’ or something like that, really means something more like ‘dadada,’ based on the word ‘tat’, which in Sanskrit means ‘that,’ and so ‘tat tvum asi’, ‘that thou art,’ or in modern America, ‘You’re it.’
But ‘da, da’ – that’s the first sound a baby makes when it comes into the World, because the baby looks around and says ‘da, da, da, da’ and fathers flatter themselves and think it’s saying ‘DaDa,’ which means ‘Daddy,’ but according to Buddhist philosophy, all this universe is one ‘Tathātā.’
That means ‘ten thousand functions, ten thousand things, one Suchness,’ and we’re all one Suchness.
And that means that Suchness comes and goes like anything else because this whole World is an on-and-off system. As the Chinese say, it’s the yang and the yin, and therefore it consists of ‘now you see it, now you don’t, here you are, here you aren’t’ because that the nature of energy, to be like waves, and waves have crests and troughs.
Only, we being under a certain kind of sleepiness or illusion, imagine that the trough is going to overcome the crest, the yin, or the dark principle, is going to overcome the yang, or the light principle, and that ‘off’ is going to finally triumph over ‘on.’
And we, shall I say, bug ourselves by indulging in that illusion. ‘Jee, supposing darkness did win out, wouldn’t that be terrible!’ And so we’re constantly trembling and thinking that it may, because after all, isn’t it odd that anything exists? It’s most peculiar, it requires effort, it requires energy, and it would have been so much easier for there to have been nothing at all.
Therefore, we think ‘well, since being, since the ‘is’ side of things is so much effort’ you always give up after a while and you sink back into death. But death is just the other face of energy, and it’s the rest, the not being anything around, that produces something around, just in the same way that you can’t have ‘solid’ without ‘space,’ or ‘space’ without ‘solid.’
When you wake up to this, and realize that the more it changes the more it’s the same thing, that you are really a playing of this one energy, and there is nothing else but that, that is you, but that for you to be always you would be an insufferable bore, and therefore it is arranged that you stop being you after a while and then come back as someone else altogether.
And so when you find that out, you become full energy and delight.
And you suddenly see through the whole sham thing. You realize You’re That – You’re That, and you can’t be anything else. So you are relieved of fundamental terror. That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be a great hero, that you won’t jump when you hear a bang, that you won’t worry occasionally, that you won’t lose your temper.
It means, though, that fundamentally deep, deep, deep down within you, you will be able to be Human, not a stone Buddha – you know in Zen there is a difference made between a living Buddha and a stone Buddha. If you go up to a stone Buddha and you hit him hard on the head, nothing happens. You break your fist or your stick. But if you hit a living Buddha, he may say ‘ouch,’ and he may feel pain, because if he didn’t feel something, he wouldn’t be a Human being.
Buddhas are Human, they are not devas, they are not gods. They are enlightened men and women. But the point is that they are not afraid to be Human, they are not afraid to let themselves participate in the pains, difficulties and struggles that naturally go with Human existence.
So it is Zen that, if I may put it metaphorically, ‘the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.’ – this is to live without hang-ups, the word ‘hang- up’ being an almost exact translation of the Japanese bono and the Sanskrit klesa, ordinarily translated worldly attachment.
Though that sounds a little bit – you know what I mean – it sounds pious, and in Zen, things that sound pious are said to stink of Zen. But to have no hang-ups, that is to say, to be able to drift like a cloud and flow like water, seeing that all life is a magnificent illusion, a plane of energy, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Fundamentally.
You will be afraid on the surface. You will be afraid of putting your hand in the fire. You will be afraid of getting sick, etc. But you will not be afraid of fear. Fear will pass over your mind like a black cloud will be reflected in the mirror.