Language, Reality, Emptiness and Laughs

In the Mulamadhayamakakarika, Nagarjuna argues for the idea that no one
version of description of reality can be the correct one such that it
captures the essence of such reality and thereby fixes objectivity. On
the contrary, he is famous for the doctrine of “Emptiness” (sunya) where
no view whatsoever is maintained, including, too, the view that no view
is and can be maintained.

What is at stake in Nagarjuna’s thought is the very relation between
language and reality. Buddhism appears to be the only religious and
philosophical tradition that holds the ’emptiness’ view, i.e., things
are empty of their inherent nature, and hence language and reality could
be regarded as depending on each other. Language derives its meaning
through reality, and reality can be what it is only through language.
One who realizes this is said to be liberated from suffering and becomes
an arhat. When things are empty of their inherent nature, their
so-called essential characteristics (which might be compared to the
Aristotelian to ti en einai) are only provisional; they are there only
to make things go in the conventional manner. But beyond that they are,
in Chandrakirti’s description in the Madhyamakavatara, “like the moon in
rippling water,/Fitful, fleeting, empty in their nature.”

This is why the bodhisattvas are playful. The great female bodhisattva
Tara, for example, is said to embody a sixteen-year-old girl, and is
often mischievous and naughty. Sometimes she is found sitting on a roof
looking down smilingly and compassionately on sentient beings. The
laughing Buddha is also a popular figure in Mahayana Buddhism. That
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are laughing is perhaps due to their ability to
see through the veil of ignorance and realize that there is nothing at
all to be serious about when it comes to the fixed or essentially
objective characteristic of things. Things come and go and are always
changing. The laugh, however, never arises from a dualistic mind that
sees someone to be hopelessly inferior to oneself. On the contrary it is
a compassionate laugh, a reflection of pure and radiant happiness that
arises out of the realization that all causes of suffering only arise
through the mind’s fixation on fleeting mirage, like one who tries to
catch the rippling image in the water.

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