This true Self not only transcends time and space, however; precisely because it is true Self or absolute subject, it can actualize all activities. In actualizing all activities, it expresses itself, so to speak, in the realm of time and space. Thus, if we call the subject transcending time and space Absolute Nothingness, we can say that the activities it actualizes in time and space are the self-expressive forms of Absolute Nothingness. Absolute Nothingness, however, never loses its transcendent nature because of its self-expression in time and space. It is the subject through and through; precisely for this reason it retains its constancy, in the sense that it is never destroyed. It is often said that this subject is constant in terms of time and space, but this must be understood in the sense that it is constant because it transcends time and space. Further, since true Self does not rest upon its constancy, but invariably transforms itself without restriction, this constancy does not prevent it from constantly changing and working freely as the absolute subject.
The true freedom of humanity lies in this subject, the subject that transcends time and space. This is because the subject's totally unrestricted, free, and unhindered activity has an absolutely undetermined character. Only by [realizing] such a Self can we live and die in the midst of life-and-death while abiding in Nirvana. Only then can we be in the midst of life-and-death without clinging to it. In other words, we can then be emancipated from life-and-death without abiding in Nirvana, and thus work freely and self-abidingly in both life and death.
As I said, the way of being in which life-and-death and Nirvana can be both unrestricted and compatible with each other, is true sitting in complete repose. This way of being is exactly what is expressed in the Vow of Humankindas "Calm and composed, Awakening to our true Self." In Buddhism, the subjective aspect of this composed true Self is expressed by various terms, including Dharmakaya, Tathata, and Nirvana, but it is often more simply expressed by the term Dharma.
The term Dharma has many meanings in Buddhism. It is frequently used to mean true Self. In one section of the Vimalakirti Sutra, Shakyamuni orders Mahamaudgalyayana to pay a sick call on the renowned lay Buddhist Vimalakirti. This section shows Vimalakirti's teachings on Dharma. Using the term in the sense of true Self, Vimalakirti describes various characteristics of this true Self so that we cannot possibly deny them:
When expounding Dharma, what you teach should agree with Dharma itself. Dharma is without living beings, because it is free of the dust of living beings. It is without ego, because it is free of the dust of ego. It is free from life, because it is beyond life-and-death. It is without individuals, because it has both the preceding and succeeding limits cut off. Dharma is always tranquil, because it has tranquilized all forms. It is beyond form, because it has no externals to rest upon. It is inexpressible, because it is beyond word and speech. It is inexplicable, because it transcends all mental activity. Dharma is formless like empty space. It is beyond verboseness, because it is empty of words. It is beyond egoism, because it is free of the habitual notion of possession. It is free from discrimination, because it is free of mind, thought, and consciousness. It is incomparable, because it is beyond all relativity. It is not subject to causes, because it does not conform to conditionality. Dharma is identical with Dharma-nature, which finds itself in every Dharma. It conforms to suchness, because it has nothing to conform to. It abides at the culminating point of reality, unperturbed by the limits of duality. It is immovable, because it is independent of the six objects of sense. It is without coming and going, because it abides nowhere. Dharma conforms to what is empty, formless and non-intentional. It is beyond beauty and ugliness. It neither increases nor decreases. It is beyond creation and destruction. It has no root-source to return to. It is beyond the six sense organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. It is without high or low. It is eternal and immutable. It is beyond contemplation and practice.This is the way Vimalakirti preaches the forms, or characteristics, of Dharma. Mahamaudgalyayana, however, flatly refuses Shakyamuni's request to pay a sick call on Vimalakirti because he does not feel qualified. Mahamaud-galyayana explains that one day, when teaching Dharma to lay Buddhists in a square at Vaisali, Vimalakirti, who lived in the city, came along and silenced Mahamaudgalyayana by preaching what was just quoted above. When it comes to teaching Dharma, the most important question is what kind of Dharma you teach. Mahamaudgalyayana was teaching a Dharma that Vimalakirti criticized. When expounding Dharma, what you teach must agree with Dharma itself. To truly teach Dharma, you should be aware that it really is inexplicable. A Dharma that can be taught is not the true Dharma. The true way of teaching Dharma must be based on the full realization of its inexplicability. Such was the Dharma Vimalakirti taught Mahamaudgalyayana.
As I have spoken about the "forms" of Dharma, you might think that Dharma is something determined. But by its true nature, Dharma is not determined by anything. In fact, Vimalakirti here expounds that Dharma is not limited by anything. So, we can see that he uses ordinary and relative words as an opportunity to teach that. This is an important point; it has to do with Vimalakirti's compassion.
Criticizing the common notion of the Dharma containing living beings, Vimalakirti says: "Dharma is without living beings, because it is free of the dust of living beings." True Dharma, also called pure Dharmakaya, is totally free of dust, like a crystal free of all impurity. It has no living beings or Buddhas at all. After all, what is called dust indicates limited, relative being, separated from the absolutely undetermined subject. Thus, if a living being extricates itself from dust and Awakens to the absolutely undetermined, original subject, it is one with Dharma.
That Dharma is "without ego" means that it is free of the "dust of ego." What we normally consider to be our self is just dust, nothing more. Dharma is without distinction between determined self and other. It is free from spirit and mind in the form of self-consciousness, as well as from the body. Thus, Self that is beyond the dust of ego is Dharma, and this Self qua Dharma is free from the dust of ego.
That Dharma "is free from life, because it is beyond life-and-death," uses the notion of life as an opportunity to reveal the Self without life-and-death. Usually we associate our life with a limited life span. This is because our life is really life-and-death. Since it is impossible for the absolutely undetermined Dharma to have life and death, it must be without a life that begins with birth and ends with death. And yet it lives without life-and-death, and this life without life-and-death is Dharma. In Buddhism, such a life is described as not created, not destroyed, as life-without-measure. Living and dying, this life without life-and-death does so beyond life-and-death. In its true form, Dharma abides in Nirvana in the midst of life-and-death; it lives and dies while abiding in Nirvana.
"It is without individuals, because it has both the preceding and succeeding limits cut off." If Dharma has a preceding or succeeding limit, it would be distinguished from beings beyond that limit. An individual with a body and mind within a certain time and space is not Dharma. That Dharma has both preceding and succeeding limits cut off means that it has no distinction between past, present, and future; no boundaries between past and present, present and future, back and front, right and left. In other words, true Dharma is absolutely equal and uniform, transcending all discrimination and distinction. Thus it has no limits at all, no delimited individuals whatsoever.
The descriptions quoted above indicate that true Dharma or true Self is the absolute subject that goes beyond individual, relative being such as living beings, egos, lives, and individuals. True Dharma is not, however, a mere transcendent and emancipated being. It is true Self, and as such it works actively and positively in the midst of life-and-death beyond all limits.
"Dharma is always tranquil, because it has tranquilized all forms." This describes the absolute tranquility of Dharma. If we have any fixed form, even a speck of dust, we are disturbed. Even when we practice sitting in zazen, our zazen is not tranquil if it has any element of body or mind. Absolute, true tranquility should have nothing at all; it should be nothing whatsoever. Such tranquility does not exist in the world; it is absolute composure in which the true Self finds itself. Only the true Self can be tranquil in the ultimate sense of the term. At the same time, if we realize that all forms are the activities of true Self, then we realize that those forms are Dharma. This is what is meant by Dharma has tranquilized all forms.
Dharma "is beyond form, because it has no externals to rest upon. It is inexpressible, because it is beyond word and speech. It is inexplicable, because it transcends all mental activity." This also concerns formless Self. That it has no externals to rest upon, means that it affords nothing to grasp or hold, nothing to see with our eyes, think with our minds, or take up in our hands. Inexpressible and inexplicable, true Self is only known by Awakening to it. Because it is often spoken of as "Beyond word and speech, free from all mind movement," it transcends all discrimination.
Because of such inexplicability, Dharma has traditionally been described with the metaphor of empty space, since it is formless while also realizing all forms in it, without being restricted by the forms it creates. This is just a metaphor, however; unlike Dharma, empty space does not Awaken to itself. Such a living empty space must be my Self. But what is it like, this living empty space, this Self beyond word and speech, free from all mind movement? That is the question.
"Dharma is formless like empty space. It is beyond verboseness, because it is empty of words. It is beyond egoism, because it is free of the habitual notion of possession. It is free from discrimination, because it is free of mind, thought, and consciousness. It is incomparable, because it is beyond all relativity." Nothing need be added to this. It also says, "It is not subject to causes, because it does not conform to conditionality." In Buddhism, it is often said that Dharma is co-dependent arising-ceasing, and that all beings are governed by this. But strictly speaking, true Dharma must have an aspect that goes beyond co-dependent arising-ceasing. In this sense, co-dependent arising-ceasing must be understood as the activity of Dharma. The world of co-dependent arising-ceasing realized as the activity of Dharma, is called the Pure Ultimate Realm, or the Reality of All Beings.
The next description uses the terms "Dharma-nature," "suchness," and "the culminating point of reality." These characterize the subject that goes beyond co-dependent arising-ceasing. Since the beings realized as the activity of Dharma have the aspect of going beyond mere beings, they are beyond all duality. Any being that conforms to something is not suchness -- not as it is in itself. On the contrary, Dharma should be transcendent and independent, "master of every situation."
"Dharma is identical with Dharma-nature, which finds itself in every Dharma. It conforms to suchness, because it has nothing to conform to. It abides at the culminating point of reality, unperturbed by the limits of duality." The culminating point of reality represents the true limitless limit, in the sense that it has both the preceding and succeeding limits cut off, as explained above. It moves all dualities without being perturbed by the limits of duality, and thereby establishes all beings. Thus, all beings, established by the culminating point of reality, are limited being as the culminating point of reality, and vice-versa. We can therefore say that Dharma "is immovable, because it is independent of the six objects of sense."
"It is without coming and going, because it abides nowhere." This seems to contradict the previous description of abiding at the culminating point of reality. But to abide nowhere is to abide at the culminating point of reality, and to abide at the culminating point of reality is to abide nowhere, i.e., to go beyond time and space. Therefore, Dharma comes and goes freely without coming and going; it does not move an inch even as it comes and goes.
"Dharma conforms to what is empty, formless and non-intentional." Dharma is itself empty, formless, and non-intentional; therefore, it truly accords with everything, without conflicting with anything. Thus, Dharma is the unity to which all things are ultimately reduced, but it is not attached to such unity. Thus, it is said: "All beings return to unity, but this unity never embraces itself as unity."
Dharma "is beyond beauty and ugliness. It neither increases nor decreases. It is beyond creation and destruction. It has no root-source to return to. It is beyond the six sense organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. It is without high or low. It is eternal and immutable. It is beyond contemplation and practice." Such is Dharma, our true Self. Of course, Vimalakirti teaches other things in this sutra, but at least we can say that, for Vimalakirti, every word and speech is Dharma, because he teaches Dharma on the basis of Dharma itself. Otherwise, teaching and listening to Dharma is like trying to find fish up in a tree. Dharma is itself Awakened body. It can only be realized by Awakening to itself. We must, by all means, Awaken to Dharma, our true Self.