as transcendence: A phenomenological view
Steven W. Laycock
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Copyright @1989 by Dialogue Publishing
"Objects," of the sort which typically haunt the various systems
of Western metaphysics, are conceived as "opacities." Objects can
be said to be "opaque," not (or not merely) in the optical sense
of obturating whatever illumination might otherwise be revealed
through them,but also in the phenomenologically more suggestive
sense of being subject to revelation through appearances, but not
at the same time being themselves appearances of anything else. An
"ob/ject," in the etymologically primitive sense, is an entity
"thrown" across one's path, thus hindering one's way, or impeding
the channels of one's vision. Objects do not reveal, but conceal.
Thus, the obtrusion of a given object obstructs our view of what
lies behind it. The obtruding object wholly or partially excludes
the object concealed behind it.This "veil" of concealment introduces
a fundamental species of "phenomenological disharmony," the failure
of disclosure, opacity, and indicates, by contrast, a correspondingly
fundamental sense of phenomenological harmony: the perfect
"transparency" of one entity by another, revelation.
The image of the chamber of mirrors, each so situated as to
reflect within it all of the other mirrors within the chamber
(or its alternative incarnation,that of universal transparency)
vividly suggests a vision of universal phenomenological harmony
which will occupy our attention throughout the present paper.
It finds illustration in Chinese, Korean and Japanese manifestations
of Hua-yen Buddhism for which the universe as a whole is regarded
on the model of Celestial Lord Indra's Net, the vast resplendent
reticular system of entities, each mirroring within it all others
from its own unique vnatage point. The West, of course, has not
without its own exemplifications of the image, the monadology of
Leibniz(1) and the more contemporary process philosophy of
Whitehead(2) providing remarkable examples. Perhaps less thoroughly
appreciated, however, is the fact that the paradigm of universal
interpenetration informs the transcendental phenomenology of Edmund
Husserl as well. In the present paper I wish to direct attention to
at least some of the intriguing and deep lying affinities between
Husserlian phenomenology and Hua-yen. In the view of Master
Tu-shun(a), the First Ancestral Teacher of Chinese Hua-yen Buddhism,
the interpenetration of li(b) and shih(c), universal "net" and
particular "jewel," is to be understood in virtue of a hierarchically
ordered ladder of progressively more profound realizations:
First, one in one.
Second, all in one.
Third, one in all.
Fourth, all in all.(3)
We shall ascend Tu-shun(a)'s ladder, rung by rung in our own perhaps
faltering and insufficiently enlightened way, setting forth those
Husserlian insights most saliently congruent with the vision of
Hua-yen. First, however, before attempting the ascent, a few general
remarks concerning the Hua-yen world-view may be in order.
D. T. Suzuki's discussion of the dhamrndhatu, or "region of essence,"
vividly illuminates the vision enjoyed both by Hua-yen and by Husserlian
... what we have here is an infinite mutual fusion
or penetration of all things,each with its own
individuality yet with something universal in it. ...To
illustrate this state of existence, the Ganavyuha makes
everything transparent and luminous, for luminosity is the
only possible earthly representation that conveys the idea
of universal interpentration ... no shadows
are visible anywhere. The clouds themselves are luminous
bodies ... This universe of luminosity, this scene of
interpenetration,is known as the Dharmadhatu, in contrast
to the Lokadhatu which is the world of particulars... The
Dharmadhatu is a real existence and not separated from the
Lokadhatu, , but it is not the same as the latter when we
do not come up to the spiritual level where Bodhisattvas
Images suggestive of the non-obstructed complete interfusion of all
beings (shih shih wu ai(d)) abound within the Hua-yen tradition.
Perhaps the most familiar,as we have mentioned, is that of Celestial
Lord Indra's Net,the vast,universal, multidimensional network of
interdependence and intercausation, each node of which embraces a
shining jewel reflecting within in it the entire array of jewels in
their reticular setting. Thus, far from "excluding" alteriority, each
entity, jewel-like, welcomes all others in its perfect reflection of
the universal "net".
Each "jewel" is "located," not (or not simply) at this or
particular place, but "in" every other "jewel". It is reflected
in infinitely varied ways throughout the universal "chamber of
mirrors," and of itself is no more than the uniquely modified
revelation of all other objects. What individuates the particular
shih(c) is not a given collection of essential and unique properties
instantiated by a substantial "opacity," but rather, the unique
manner in which the reticular totality of jewel-like entities
is revealed through the individual shih(c). Thus, the reticular
interpenetration (Cyung-t'ung(e)) of all things overturns even
the very possibility of phenomenological disharmony.
The metaphor of transparency and luminosity, as Suzuki helpfully
points out, enables us to grasp the unimpededness (wu ai(f)) and
mutual identification (hsiang chi(g)) of the vast multiplicity of
beings (shih shih(h)).All beings appear "through" each. And each
being reveals the reticular totality. Shih(c) do not obturate, but
rather reveal. They function, if the grammatical barbarism will be
forgiven, as "through nesses," as "windows" flung wide open
which all else is brought to manifestation. In the phenomenological
idiom, such media of revelation comprise a unique species of
"appearance." Hua-yen thus presents a striking pheno-
menological vision according to which all is appearance; and,
indeed,whatever appears is itself an appearance.And in this sense,
then, all dharmas are "empty,"partaking of the universal character
of synyata. In the vivid formulation of the prajnapa ramita texts,
rupam sunyata sunyataiva rupam (form is emptiness and emptiness
is form). Inasmuch as it functions as an inimpeded disclosure of reality,
every shih(c) ("form") is utterly indistinguishable from the revelatory
character("emptiness") which imbues every other shih(c). Its
"transparency" is identical with the "transparency" of all
Or equivalently,all shih(c) are identical in their "transparency."As
Guenther claims,"Shunyata is ... the open quality of things."(5)While
as we shall later suggest, Guenther's interpretation of sunyata may
warrant certain crucial qualifications,the jewel-likeentities of Hua-yen
are nonetheless assuredly "open" to the universal "net."In
alternative metaphor,each dharma-jewel is a "mirror"effortlessly and
undistortingly reflecting the entire universe of other shih(c). As Tao-hsin
Like the mirror on which your features are reflected, they
are perfectly perceived there in tall clearness; the
reflections are all there in the emptiness, yet the mirror
itself retains not one of the objects which are reflected
there. The human face has not come to enter into the body
of the mirror, nor has the mirror gone out to enter into
the human face.(6)
Congruently,Hart reminds us that,in Husserl's German,"Bewusst-sein"
(consciousness) signifies,in its very etymology, the thorough "knownness"
or diaphanousness of Being.(7)
But this absolute, diaphanous medium is an ongoing
achievement with lights and shadows, delineations and
obscurities:it can appear as a comprehensive,homogeneous
atmosphere only when one abstracts from its essential
contours of temporaility and contrast. The medium is
diaphanous only in the sense that its unity and continuity
of continua are already achieved; but the contingency and
facticity of this achieve-
ment insert at the heart of this luminosity something like
blind spots and cracks that,however,de facto are
One might accordingly speculate that,for enlightened consciousness,
"shadows" and "obscurities," "blind spots" and
"cracks," are utterly
absent from the transparency of Being.
With this brief and, of necessity, insufficiently nuanced survey of
those features of the compellingly lovely world-view of Hua-yen
relevant to our project, let us presently venture the first step in
ascending Tu-shun(a)'s ladder.
First, One in One
In the Logical Investigations Husserl articulates a theory of the
relationship between wholes and their corresponding parts which is
fundamental to the phenomenological enterprise of providing a
description of "things-as-they-appear" (phenomena), and which, for
our purposes, may suggest a primordial means of access to the vision
of "one" within "one" entertained by Tu-shun(a). Those parts
given whole which are intuitively registrable as essentially "founded"
in the whole in question, as being, not merely physically, but essentially
inseparable from that whole, are denominated "moments." Those parts
seen to be merely accidental to the whole, and therefore, separable,
are "pieces." Phenomenology properly concerns itself only with the
relationship between moments and wholes, leaving for the natural
sciences, and completely out of phenomenological consideration, the
relationship between pieces and wholes. Phenomenology, that is, is
engaged primarily in the task of articulating relationships of eidetically
registrable dependence, a species of relationship which Husserl calls
"founding." A given determination, A, is "founded in another
determination, B, just in case A can be intuitively seen to depend for its
very existence upon B. A, the founded determination, is then said to
be "abstract" with respect to B. Moreover, a "whole" is
conceived as an ontological constituent additional to its component
moments. It is neither a structure, a relation, a property, nor an element
of unity.It is not a thing binding other things together, but is, rather,
simply the ensemble of founded abstracta in their essential relationships
(not to say "relations") of dependence upon their corresponding
concretum. Between abstractum and concretum there is no tertium
quid. Founded and founding determinations are united without mediation
in such a way that the founding thoroughly modifies the founded
(qualifying the latter "throughly,"penetratingly) and is thus evidenced
"through" Husserl frequently discusses exemplary cases of
reciprocal founding. A musical pitch and its volume found one another,
as do color and extension. Husserl claims that it is a "law of essence,"
capable of apodictic registration, that no pitch can exist without some
volume (and, of course,conversely). This insight is generated by a process
of "free imaginative variation" upon a range of concrete particular
instances. This particular tone, for example, is such that its C-sharp
requires its fortissimo (and conversely). Once again, the founding
relationship in which abstracta stand to their corresponding concretum
is not, in Husserl's view, an ontological tertium quid inserted between
two separated elements. It is not, that is, a relation conceived as a third
ontological component, like a bridge, spanning abstractum and concretum.
Nor is the relationship "immediate" in the sense that founded and
stand merely flush together in distanceless contiguity. Rather, as is evident
in the case of pitch and volume, for example, the elements suffuse one
another. Pitch and volume can, of course, be conceptually distinguished,
and in this sense, "abstracted" from the concrete whole. Yet, not
are they incapable of mere acoustical or conceptual separation, the
entirety of this instance of the given pitch is qualified by the entirety
of that instance of volume. If C-sharp is played fortissimo, that particular
degree of loudness characterizes the pitch through and through. And
conversely, this instance of fortissimo is thoroughly qualified by C-sharp.
The two determinations are reciprocally diaphanous. C-sharp is exhibited
through its volume; and fortissimo, through its pitch. Each functions as
a revelation of the other.
It might readily be supposed that the registration of essential
connectedness which Husserl calls the "manifestation of essence"
(Wesensschau) prohibits any searching comparison with Hua-yen. Is
not an entity
endowed with an essence necessarily to be accounted a substance?
And does not Buddhism represent a systematic rejection of substantiality
(svabhavata)?The eidetic intuition of Husserlian phenomenology is not,
however, the apprehension of a plane of ideal essential connections
among Platonic "types" of entity wholly severed from the level of
concrete particularities.The recognition of unrestricted eidetic
universality is prepared, rather, by the immediate intuition of
essence-within -instance without which free variation would be otiose.
Eidetic intuition "skewers" the manifold instantial possibilities
by unhindered fantasy variation, those features running consistently
throughout the entire range of possibilities being manifest as
"essential.''But "essence-within-instance'' need not be understood
the Aristotelian sense. An "instance" is not inescapably to be regarded
as a substantial "opacity." Rather, inasmuch as the "essence"
indeed, essential to the instance, it must qualify the instance in its
entirety (throughout its entire duration, throughout all possible alterations,
and in every possible respect). An instance manifests its essence through
and through, and is thus, straightforwardly, the revelation or appearance
of it. Far from implying a species of substantialism, a position, to be sure,
exhibiting little affinity with the Buddhist doctrine of nihsvabhavata,
Husserl's "eidetic intuition" may quitereasonably be interpreted as
conscious registration of the transparency of founded abstracta to their
founding concretum. In Plotinus' vision of the intelligible world we find a
superb description of universal eidetic transparency:
... all is transparent, nothing dark, nothing
resistant; every being is lucid to every other, in breadth
and depth; light runs through light. And each of them
contains all within itself, and at the same time sees all
in every other, so that everywhere there is all, and all
is all and each is all, and infinite the glory.(9)
Surely, no description more aptly conforms to Suzuki's characterization
of the dharmadhatu. The Husserlian paradigm of reciprocal transparency
serves as an almost irresistible analogue of the relationship between
shih(c) and shih(c) For Hua-yen, all beings interpenetrate and interfuse.
This is to be under-
stood both etiologically and phenomenologically.Etiologically
considered,the universe is to be experienced as the vast network of
intercausation, each "jewel" in the net exemplifying the universal
"causal" pattern of pratityasmnutpada, dependent co-origination. Laying
aside the admittedly important issue of the precise nature of
"dependence,"it is clear that both reciprocally founding determinations,
as conceived by Husserl, and the multiplicity of interpenetrating shih(c)
of Hua-yen originate in reciprocal dependence upon one another. For
Husserl, dependence is, of course, disclosed through insight into the
bonds of essence linking types of intentional objects or determinations.
And, while it is not evident that the network of intercausation and
interdetermination in which the manifold---jewel-like shih(c) are set can
be understood (or understood exclusively) in terms of distinctively
eidetic ties, one cannot legitimately deny that, for Hua-yen, as for
Buddhism generally, the realization of pratityasamutpada is a deliverance
of profound insight (prajna). Both prajna and eidetic intuition disclose the
crystalline "realm of essence" (dharmadhatu). Whatever differences
may separate them, prajna and Wesensschau are at least uniquely
revelatory alethic modalities of consciousness. And both, moreover,
are immediate. In Suzuki's explication of the Garavyuha doctrine,
Spiritual experience is like sense-experience.It is
direct, and tells us directly all that it has experienced
without resorting to symbolism or ratiocination.(10)
Eidetic intuition is likewise as compelling as sensory perception, and
equally direct and pre-discursive.
The phenomenological significance of interfusion is clear. Neither
shih(c) nor the reciprocally founding determinations, the "eidetic
singularitics",of Husserlian phenomenology can be conceived as
exclusionary opacities. Neither introduces phenomenological disharmony.
In both cases, elements confront one another like facing mirrors. The
expectable mise-en-abime thus generated is eloquently described
in Fa-tsang(i)'s profound vision of the golden lion in the courtyard
of Empress Wu's Royal Palace:
In each of the lion's eyes, in its ears,limbs, and so
forth, down to each and every single hair, there is a
golden lion. All the lions embraced by each and every
hair simultaneously and instantaneously enter into one
single hair. Thus, in each and every hair there are an
infinite number of lions...The progression is infinite,
like the jewels of Celestial Lord Indra's Net: a
realm-embracing-realm and infinitum is thus
established, and is called the realm of Indra's Net.(11)
With the reciprocal transparency of primary determinations of
experience we have discovered a profoundly suggestive model of the
interpenetration of shih(c) and shih(c). If only in passing, it should
nonetheless be noted at this point that, in the "conjunctive"
manifestation of which we shall later speak (the thematization, for
example, not merely of a single shoe, but of the pair), perceptual
"conjuncts" as such require one another. As a member of the pair,
the left shoe cannot exist without the right. Left and right reciprocally
found one another.Each conjunct is "transparent" to the other,each
"reflects" the other.The point at which Husserlian mereology and the
Hua-yen vision of absolutely unimpeded interpenetration(shih shih
wu ai(d)) appear,however,most decisively,to part company is at
Husserl's admission,and Hua-yen's rejection, of the possibility of
unidirectional and non-reciprocal founding relationships. For Hua-yen,
all shih(c) reflect one another reciprocally. And although the Husserlian
model of reciprocal transparency does help to elucidate Hua-yen insights,
it is not, it would seem, universally applicable. In our later discussion
of Husserl's phenomenology of the "world-horizon," we shall have
occasion more decisively to overturn this impression. But that must remain,
for the present, a promissory note.
Second, All in One
Many of the insights of Hua-yen Buddhism can be transposed into
the counterpart Husserlian idiom by appeal to the fundamental
phenomenological notion of "horizon." Gazing out across the brilliant
blue Pacific, one inescapably confronts the horizontal limit which divides
earth from sky. The "line" that we see is not, of course, a physical
constituent of either, but serves rather to demarcate the almost
unimaginably voluminous object on which we stand from its celestial
background. Standing ashore, one can watch the steamship's laborious
passage to the horizon, and its final "descent" beyond it. Though
it passes out of view, the mind can nonetheless imaginatively follow
the ship's course. The various objects of our acquaintance are similarly
limned, exhibiting an horizontal demarcation which distinguishes them
from their background. Though only a single aspect of an object is fully
present to us at a time, the mind can likewise follow the course of
possible alternative presentations as available from standpoings "beyond"
the horizon. This anticipatory apprehension of what the object would look
like were we situated in such a way that its now-absent profiles were present
to us is one of the functions of the imaginal anticipatory modality of
consciousness that Husserl calls "apperception."
Should we now embark on a voyage to circumnavigate the planet,
we would realize, no doubt long before the termination of our circuit,
that at every phase of the journey the same horizon deliminates global
figure from celestial ground. "Beneath" or "within" the
the manifold alternative vistas which open up before our gaze. "Above"
or "outside," the sun, stars and planets are visible. The endless
succession of views available within the horizon, the ensemble of all
possible manners in which a given object may be manifested, find their
unity in that aspect of the horizonal limit which Husserl denominates
the "inner horizon." Symmetrically, the totality of possible alternative
objects which may contextualize an object is unified by the "external
Apperception, in virtue of which the mind is borne beyond the horizon
of the immediately present profile, is a mode of conscious functioning
strictly determined by what we take the object to be, by, that is, the
eidos which illuminates our experience. Borrowing Shankara's famous
example, I may, upon entering a dimly lit room, take the object which I
see coiled in the shadow to be a cobra and retreat in terror. I have, in
the Husserlian idiom, "constituted" the experience in light of the
snake. A moment later I realize my folly and re-constitute the percept
as merely a coil of rope. In neither case is the "essence" (eidos)
be conceived as an ontological constituent concealed within an opaque
substance. The eidos, in either case, is rather revealed "through"
experience. The experienced object is "transparent" to the eidos,
displaying it through and through. Moreover, as the shift of sense
bestowed upon the object illustrates, the "matter" of the experience
(hyle) is, within certain limits, "indifferent" to the difference
Thus, far from possessing a given essence as properly its own, the
perceptual object, like an open window, manifests whatever eidos
presently illuminates the experience. What one sees at first is a snake.
Indeed, had I not earlier been in a position to describe what I saw as
a snake, I could not now be in a position to redescribe that experience
as the presentation of a coil of rope as a snake.
By expanding our focus, converting the present object of attention
into an element of a larger configuration, we shift also to a concentric
and more encompassing horizon. Certain objects of the old horizon have
become integrated into the new center of focus. By shifting to a
progressively wider focus, ever broader reaches of intentional objects
are thus contextualized. This multiply iterated Chinese-box series of
nested contexts cannot, however, continue without end. For Husserl,
the concentric series necessarily terminates in the ultimate context of
all contexts: the "world-horizon." Unlike its intramundane interations,
the world horizon does not deliminate figure and ground. All within the
world-horizon is "foreground." The world has no "background."
The presentation of any intra-mundane transcendent intentional
object requires that object be featured as figure upon ground,"text"
wihin context. The world horizon is, then, inescapably required by the
presentation of any such object. And conversely, the presentation of
transcendent intentional objects is founded in the world-horizon.
Inasmuch as "text" implies context, one may say that the world-horizon
is implicitly "contained" within every possible intentional "text."
world-horizon is, then, "reflected" within the object, a necessary
component of any object's "what-ness" (eidos).
Lib, the universal reticular totality of dharma-jewels in their being
as partes inter partes, is thoroughly revealed by each shih(c) and
modifies each shih(c) in its entirety. The relationship between li(b) and
shih(c) is not,
however, that of exemplification, but that of revelation. Shih(c) are
not to be conceived as plenal opacities which instantiate li(b) . The
shihc is a "window" opening. onto li(b). Thus, li(b); in our alternative
metaphor, is the single, all-embracing, universal "mirror" comprising
all particular mirrors, and consequently reflected within each individual
mirror, revealing all beings precisely as they are.
The Husserlian notion of "horizon" does not foreclose the possibility
that the foreground presentation of a given intentional object may be
inconsistent with the simultaneous background presentation of other
objects. While one may see a mountain rise against the sky, it would
seem not merely a contingent difficulty, but a violation of sense, to
suppose that the sky could be contextualized by the mountain. The
relationship between foreground and background objects is not inevitably
symmetrical. There may well be objects which cannot serve as background
for other objects. Although the founding of object in world-horizon, the
"transparency" of' the object to the world-horizon, clearly conforms
to the second rung of Tu-shuna's ladder, Husserlian phenomenology
appears to depart quite sharply precisely at this point. Within the
Ch'an tradition, however, which draws its nourishment in part from
Hua-yen, one encounters striking countertestimony. It is not merely
the water, but equally the bridge that flows; nor is it merely the flag,
but equally the wind that flaps. And might one not, quite naturally, also
attest that the mountain symmetrically contextualizes the sky. As I hope
to show, there is, indeed, for Husserl, a significant sense in which object
and horizon reciprocally require one another. But this discussion must
await the elucidation of the notions of "transcendence" and "absolute
Third, One in All
The Husserlian conception of founding has provided thus far a certain
interpretive illumination in which the insights of Hua-yen are lucidly
revealed. We have seen that, if A is founded in B, B is "reflected"
the implicative content, the eidetic structure, of A. Husserl, as we have
noted,investigates certain intriguing cases of reciprocal "reflection,"
useful as models for the Hua-yen vision of the interpenetration of
shih(c) and shih(c), but seems to neglect the universal extension of
such reciprocity. Nor is the founding of object within world-horizon
conceived as symmetrical.With the introduction of the Husserlian
conception of transcendence we begin, however, to witness, at the
level of that "appresence" which subtends perceptual presence and
its absence, the emergence of a universal reciprocity within Husserl's
A transcendent intentional object is, for Husserl, a synthetic identity
constituted across a manifold of appearances. As I examine it from
various angles, advancing, retreating, circumambulating, the perceptual
object before me is manifested in different ways. Yet what appears
consistently throughout such a widely varied manifold of appearance is
precisely the object itself. The object is, in the Husserlian idiom,an
"identity-in-manifold," that invariant ideality thus disclosed throught
each of its variant profiles. A"phenomenon," in its Hussel acceptation,
is an object precisely as it appears. Thus, a transcendent object is the
invariant ideality disclosed throughout a potentially endless succession
As the most causal reflection makes plain, the immediate sensory
presence of an object is restricted entirely to the momentary
phenomenon We cannot, as a matter of phenomenological principle,
enjoy the plenary presence of an object as given through all of its
phenomena simultaneously. We can never, that is, experience the
"absolute presence" of an object as it would be given to a putatively
"omniscient" mind. Indeed, Husserl considers omniscience a
fundamental philosophical error. The omniscient envisionment of a
given transcendent object, the manifestation of its thoroughly immanent
absolute presence, would dissolve its transcendence into immanence.
Thus, transcendence would be completely unknown to a mind assumed
to be all-knowing. The putative exemplification of this "nonsensical"
notion would imply
... that there is no essential difference between
transcendent and immanent, that in the postulated divine
intuition a spatial thing is a real (reeles) constituent,
and indeed an experience itself, a constituent of the
stream of the divine consciousness
and the divine experience.(12)
Nonetheless, certain of Husserl's insights articulated in his writings
on time-consciousness offer solid indications of what such an a vision
admittedly impossible of attainment, would be like. The Husserlian
notions of "retention" and "protention" provide the key.
Suppose now that I hear a sharp knock at the door. I bound from
my seat, rush to the door, and welcome my visitor. When my friend
appears in the doorway, the knock is forgotten. But for a few fleeting
moments immediately after the knock the sound is, though past,none
theless still "alive."The present is "animated,"or,to stress
Aristotelian overtones,"besouled," by the past. Through retention,
the past "in-forms" the present. Retention is the preservation of
immediately elapsed phases of consciousness within the living present.
Though the knock is not manifested to consciousness precisely now,
it is nonetheless "reflected" within the present, embraced within
intimate structure of the present impressional moment of experience.
Protention is symmetrical with retention, and comprises that primary
mode of anticipation whereby immediately forthcoming phases of
experience inform the living "now."
Each impressional moment of living presence thus "mirrors" within
it those phases of experience which are retained and those which are
pretended. And, as Husserl speculates, "ideally a consciousness is
quite possible in which everything remains held in retention."(13)While
the plenary manifestation, the "absolute presence," of an object is,
of necessity beyond our.conscious reach, we can at least know that
such an omniscient vision would,were the notion at all capable of sensory
illustration, be structured by the complete Ineinandersein of all moments
of presence, each such temporal phase of experience "reflecting,"
through retention and protention, all others. The absolute presence of
any object is thus a "hall of mirrors," or "net of jewels,"
the unobstructed interpentration of which Hua-yen speaks.
Husserlian phenomenology closely accords with Tu-shun(a)'s
realization of the "one" in the "all." But to appreciate
this affinity it
is vital to recognize that, while the transcendent intentional object
comprises what we might call an "intensive" identity across its manifold
serving, that is, to center and focus conscious attention, the object's
external horizon comprises a "dispersive" identity. The external
horizon exhibits the same sort of invariance, though centrifugally
constituted,with respect to the transcendent objects featured within
its centripetal focus as the transcendent object exhibits with respect
to its continua of phenomena. And it is not inappropriate, then, to
speak of such objects as themselves functioning as "appearances"
of their horizon. Just as we may speculatively apprehend the structure
of partes inter partes which would be exemplified by the absolute
presence of a transcendent intentional object, we are also capable of
appreciating the horizon as exemplifying the same structure. If the
"absolute presence" of an object is the plenary display of its presence
as disclosed simultaneously through all of its possible appearances,
then similarly, the absolute presence of the horizon is its perfectly
unobscured revelation as given invariantly through all of its "horizon-
appearances," through, that is, the manifold of all possible transcendent
objects. The absolute presence of the world-horizon would thus, per
impossible, be the simultaneous disclosure of all possible transcendent
Just as the absolute presence of any transcendent object would
utterly exhaust its possibilities for presentational givenness, leaving
absolutely no more of the object to be presented, this putatively
omniscient manifestation of all possible objects would likewise
represent the complete "conversion" of the world-horizon into
presence. The presence thus disclosed would be the absolute totality
of all possible presence. No slightest tincture of the world-horizon's
presence would remain concealed, unmanifest.
Imagine, now, a chamber of mirrors which, unlike our original model,
encloses an opaque transcendent object at its center. Fa-tsang(i), in fact,
actually set up such a demonstration for the edification of Empress Wu,
placing in the center of his chamber a golden statue of the Buddha,
this is a demonstration of Totality in the dharmadhatu.
In each and every mirror within this room you will find the
reflections of all the other mirrors with the Buddha's
them....The principle of interpenetration and(mutual)
containment is clearly shown by this demonstration.Right
here we see an example of one in all and all in one-the
mystery of realm embracing realm ad infinitum is thus
As helpful as Fa-tsang(i)'s demonstration might otherwise be, one
can scarcely fail to notice that the opaque Buddha statue blocks the
transmission of illumination from mirrors directly opposite one another,
and that this opacity is refracted throughout the system.The
progressive augmentation of retained presence engendered through
our exploratory attention to a given transcendent object is analogous
to the asymptotic dissolution of the opacity at the center of our chamber
of mirrors. Though we may, indeed, approximate the asymptote of
complete dissolution,we can never attain it.Yet the direction established
by our efforts does, by extension, reveal the structure which would be
embodied by the attainment. Absolute presence would represent the
complete evacuation of opacity. Nothing could then hinder the crystalline
reflection of all within each and each within all.Absolute phenomenological
harmony would then be established.
The absolute presence of the world-horizon would likewise represent
the exhaustive manifestation of its presence. There would remain no
slightest hint of concealment or opacity. Every possible transcendent
object would be displayed at once. It is important to see that any
intermediate, intramundane horizon is a function of what we might call
"thematic suppression." We attend exclusively to a given object among
the endless array of possible objects of attention, and thereby exclude
from immediate attention all possible others, causing them to recede
into the horizonal background of consciousness. The horizon, as the
"margin" of awareness dispersively unifying all possible objects thus
concealed, is a function of the "suppression" exerted through
thematization Thematization is a two-edged sword. It gathers unto
itself what is to receive thematic attention, and excludes from
immediate attention everything else.
We can, however, and frequently do, make a single object of a
plurality. We can perceive, for example, not merely this volume or that,
also the two-volume set. Volumes, to be sure, do not owe their existence
to other volumes. But members of a set do. And the conjunctive focus
whereby a plurality of disparate objects comprises a single intentional
theme patently casts the component "conjuncts"into foundational
reciprocity.Bringing the categorial object, A-plus-B, to thematic
attention, both A and B are thereby necessarily apprehended as
components. As members of a pair,A and B require one another,each
"reflecting" the other in the very "sense" it has for the
mind. It is
thematic suppression which introduces foundational asymmetry.Any
focal object depends upon the horizon for its thematic presentation.
But, so long as at least some theme occupies the focus, the horizon
remains stolidly indifferent to its individuality. In the exhaustive
absolute manifestation of the worldhorizon, however, every possible
object would be lucidly displayed without concealment. The absolute
presence of the world is the conjunctive thematization of all possible
transcendent objects. Here, then,in this ideal and presentationally
unattainable vision, every object would appear as a member of this
universal "conjunction," Hence, each would be seen as "reflecting"
all others within it, and all as "reflecting" each. In this unique
not only would we discern the "all" with the "one," but
discover as well as the "one" within the "all." In its absolute
the world-horizon ontologically demands each possible transcendent
Once again, however, Husserl appears to part company with Huayen.
Although we might well be able conceptually to adumbrate the absolute
presence of transcendent objects and of the world-horizon,it is clear that,
for Husserl,the "now" is the plane of insertion whereby presence enters
into experience, that the future cannot,therefore,be enjoyed in presence,
and thus,that the presence of the transcendent object is inexhaustible,
and its absolute presence impossible of attainment.It is clear, moreover,
that, for Husserl, no matter how encompassing the thematic "conjunction"
of objects becomes, it can never be universal, that the intermediate
horizon is an ineluctable feature of presentational cosciousness, and
thus, that the world-horizon can never be exhaustively manifested in
sensory presence. In the vision of Hua-yen, however, not only do the
appearsnces of so object mirror the object itself, but also the
object mirrors each of its appearances. And-likewise, not only does
the individual shih(c) mirror universal li(b), but also, li(b) mirrors all
of the shih(c) which it embraces.
The disparity dissolves,however,with a lucid appreciation of the
revelatory role of apperception, which can, with much justice,be
regarded as the "counterfactual" mode of mind. Perceiving an object
on my desk, I am immediately confronted by the sensory presence
of no more than a single profile. Yet, at the same time, I nonetheless,
enact certain prethematlc anticipations regarding the way the object
would look were I to make visible to myself its hither sides as well.
The "look" of the opposite side is given to me, not; of course,in
presence,but in "appresence" (Apprasenz). Likewise, the "look"
a given transcendent object, or of the world-horizon, as it would be
presented to a putatively omniscient mind, its absolute presence,while
in principle inaccessible to presentational consciousness, is nonetheless
disclosed to apperception. Through this counterfactual mode of
consciousness we become aware of the manner in which object or
world-horizon would appear were we, per impossible, endowed with
presentational omniscience. It is apperception, guided by the most
general eide of Husserl's "formal ontology"-world and object-which
reveals the world of transcendent objects as exemplifying the structure
of Celestial Lord Indra's Net.
Fourth, All in All
It remains, at this juncture, to demonstrate the sense in which, for
Husserl, the world-horizon is transparent to itself. The myriad
individual mirrors of our resplendent chamber can, by a simple
transformation of Gestalt, be pictured as a single reflecting surface,
perhaps cylindrically or spherically formed. At every point the
"opposite" side is reflected. Yet, of course,that which is reflected
continuous with, and thus, no different from, that in which it is reflected.
There is,as it were, an "objective" aspect and what, by contrast,
must call a "subjective" aspect deliminated at every point. Yet no
point in this single curved reflecting surface is legitimately to be
conceived as the privileged originating "center" of sujectivity, the
"ego" of the chamber, in any absolute sense.
Let us now represent what we have called the "world horizon" by
the reflecting aspect of the chamber, as determined by a given point
on the reflecting surface. And let us, moreover, represent by the
correlated reflected aspect what Husserl calls the "world-pole."
Ordinary identities-in-manifoId are only relatively transcendent.
The world-pole is so in an ultimate and final sense. For consciousness
in its naive and straightforward posture, the world is glimpsed, as it
were, out of the corner of the eye. The world-horizon is brought to light
through a function of apperception analogous to peripheral vision. For
the "natural attitude," the world lies always at the margin of
consciousness. It is never objectified or thematized. It is never
thematically posited, or 'posed," nor explicitly "suplposed."
But it is
ever "pre/supposed," taken for granted in a way completely
recalcitrant to "natural" inspection. Indeed, the objectification
world is the definitive condition whereby consciousness becomes
transcendental. The objectified world revealed to transcendentally
reflecting consciousness is made manifest as the absolute invariant
traversing all possible variation, the ultimate "pole" of all possible
Tu-shun(a) significantly claims that "The Shih can hide Li ...[and
that] the result is that only the events appear, but Li(b) does not
appear."(15) Shih(c) may, indeed, function to "hide" li(b), but,
enlightened consciousness, does not do so. The distinction between
hiding and revealing, opacity and transparency, clearly does not
segregate fundamentally disparate categories of entity, but rather,
marks a difference of phenomenological role. For the benighted mind,
immersed in delusion, shih(c) functions to conceal li(b). For awakened
consciousness, li(b) is manifested though each shih(c). The axis
disjoining delusion and enlightenment coincides precisely with the
Husserlian swingpoint between the natural and .the transcendental
postures of mind. Thus, Tu-shun(a), in implicitly recognizing the
standpoint of phenomenological reduction, adopts a position aligned
with Husserlian transcendentalism. Though perhaps more, the
enlightened vision of Hua-yen cannot be less than the thematic
disclosure of the world (li(b)),a decisive revelation which is the defining
condition for transcendental-phenomenological reflection.
The phenomenological reduction discloses a plane of "pure"
experience prior to the constitutive bestowal of sense (Sinngebung)
upon the objects and objectivities of our intentional life, a stratum of
"transcendental subjectivity" in which constitution is rooted, and
which the "re/duction" leads us. Transcendental subjectivity, the
"phenomenological residue" of the reduction, is absolutely factical,
being, in a term rich with Buddhist significance, quite simply "such"
as it is. This ultimate level of "suchness" is the material for constitutive
"animation,"pure potentiality for significant form-taking.Inasmuch
as theories are underdetermined by their data,alternative,but equally
explanatory,theories functioning thus as 'perspectives" on the body
of experience to be explained, it must be said that transcendental
subjectivity lies decisively beyond the power of explanation. All
perspectives are, ultimately, perspectives upon this universal field
of factical experience. In the words of Hui-ke(j),
The fact is that there is nothing explicable or
inexplicable in Reality itself, which is the state of all
things that are.(16)
It may prove more than mere speculative excess to suggest that the
Buddhist notion of "suchness"(tathata)is indistinguishable, in crucial
respects, from the universal invariance of the Husserlian world-pole.
The world-pole is the- universal invariant, and transcendental
subjectivity,we may say, is its invariance.
For this Suchness is something uniform, something beyond
going and coming, something eternally abiding (sthitita),
above change and separateness and discrimination
(nirvikalpa), absolutely one, betraying no traces of
conscious striving, etc.
And it seems equally plausible that the notion of "emptiness"
(sunyata) is likewise indistinguishable from the world-horizon. Though
enacting distinguishable phenomenological roles, the one revealing
the other revealed, emptiness and suchness are nonetheless
continuous and identical. Moreover, the distinction itself is not
absolute, but relativized to points
on the universal reflecting surface. The delimitation of suchness and
emptiness is a "sliding" distinction analogous to the horizonal
delimitation of earth and sky. It is a distinction of phenomenological
role, rather than the demarcation of distinct substances. Indeed, the
relativization of the distinction ensures that suchness and emptiness
are devoid of "own being" (svabhavata).
While, as earlier noted, we may concur entirely with Guenther's
description of sunyata as "openness," nonetheless; his identification
of sunyata with the field of consciousness(18) deserves further reflection.
The logic of the Net of Jewels demands that all other dharma-jewels
be visible, not merely as structures within the background of a given
focal shih(c), but precisely in and through each shih(c). As Tu-shun(a)
... when a Boddhisattva observes form, he sees
Voidness,and when he observes Voidness,he sees form ..(19)
For the enlightened mind, the perceptual object ("form") is itself
a prefectly diaphanous,perfectly "void,"revelation of the
dhamzadhatu. Each shih(c) is a window on the universe.
Understanding by "field" the totality of intentional objects available
to consciousness at a given moment, a totality structured ineluctably
by thematic suppression, and thus informed by an intermediate
horizon, it seems clear that sunyata cannot, at least in this sense,
properly be identified with the field of consciousness. Insofar as the
intermediate horizon structures the field, the world-horizon remains
in obscurity. Hence, if, as Guenther suggests, sunyata is to be
identified with the field, this identification is subject to the provision
that the "field" is not in itself to be demarcated into concentric
regions of attentional magnitude. The "field," then, in the only sense
appropriately identified with sunyata, must be a structure of "pure"
experience prior to the active intensification of attention. Being thus
devoid of egological agency, it must, in the Husserlian acceptation,
be "passive." It seems, then, that the most fitting Husserlian
analogue for sunyata is, not the horizonally informed field of
The "living present," the "passive," primordial pre-egological
upsurge, or "primal presencing," of the conscious "now"
experience prior to the bifurcations of phenomenon and
noumenon, act and sensum, form and matter, self and
nonself,"I" and "Other,"the temporal and the
Nagarjuna understood "emptiness" (sunyata) as the process of
"originating dependently," and, identifying emptiness with
non-substantiality (nihsabhavata), declared that 'Whatever comes
into existence presupposing something else is without self-existence
(svabhavata)."(21) The shih(c) of Hua-yen metaphysics "presuppose
something else," not in the natural scientific sense of being externally
related changes or events embedded in a linearly-ordered deterministic
system,but in the sense that a "disclosure" presupposes the "disclosed,"
a manifestation presupposes the manifest. Presupposition is
"through-ness." It is not a merely conceptual, but rather, a
phenomenological connection uniting revelation and revealed.
Revelation and revaled function, however, reciprocally. The one reveals
the other as much as the other reveals the one. The object, as it were,
"looks back." We have seen that shih(c) symmetrically presuppose
one another, and that shih(c) and li(b),"jewel" and "net,"
one another as well. At the final rung of Tu-shun(a)'s ladder we ascend
to the culminating realization of universal reciprocal presupposition: "all"
in "all." Not only are li(b) and shih(c) transparent to one another,
is transparent to itself.
The foregoing reflections have brought to light certain salient affinities
between Husserlian phenomenology and the enlightened vision of Huayen
Buddhism. We have not, however, attempted to conceal crucial points
of apparent divergence. And we should accordingly offer a final word
of reconciliation. The word is "appresence." Appresence is the
"presence" enjoyed in apperception, the counterfactual mode of mind.
Appresence is the species of conscious "presence" which subtends,
and is thus more profound than, the intrusive presence of sensory
illustration and its absence. Transcendence, as we have seen, is the
key to an Husserlian envisionment of absolute phenomenological
harmony. For without transcendence, we can neither conceive nor
apperceive the "absolute presence" which would exhibit the
unimpeded interpenetration of its
reciprocally founding moments. Absolute presence is, however, given
to consciousness only in appresence, not in presence. As Husserl
firmly maintains, the presentational manifestation of absolute presence
would spell the abolition of transcendence. Its appresentational
manifestation,however,leaves transcendence intact, since it in no way
conflicts with the necessary finity and partiality of sensory presence.
Apperception thus has the dual function of simultaneously preserving
transcendence and delivering to consciousness its complete dissolution
into immanence. Appresence, then, which stands as an irresistible
analogue of "suchness" (tathata), is, more than the merely abstract
invariance of the world-pole, the only possible presence of the great
"emptying" of transcendence, into immanence, an "emptying"
thoroughly accomplished in apperception and infinitely beyond
1. Leibniz's philosophical view is, of course, quite patently
informed by the paradigm of interpenetration.
Every individual substance [monad] expresses the whole
universe in its own manner....Each substance is like an
entire world and like a living mirror ....of the whole world
which it portrays, each one in its own fashion.... Thus the
universe is multiplied in some sort as many times as there
are substances....It can indeed be said that every
substance ... expresses, although confusedly, all that
happens in the universe, past, present and future.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, "Discourse on Metaphysics," in
Leibniz: Basic Writings, trans. G. R. Montgomery (La
Salle: Open Court, 1968), pp. 14-5.
2. Cf. Steve Odin's significant study, Process Metaphysics and
Hua-yen Buddhism: A Critical Study of Cumulative
Penetration vs. Interpenetration (Albany:SUNY Press,
3. Tu-shun, "On the Meditation of Dharmadhatu," Garma C. C.
Chang, trans., in The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: The
Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism (University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p. 219.
4. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, 3rd series, ed.
by Christmas Humphreys (New York: Samuel Weiser, Inc.,
1976), pp. 77--8.
5. Herbert V. Guenther and Chogyam Trungpa, The Dawn of Tantra
(Boulder:Shambhah, 1965), p. 27-30.
6. Tao-hsin, as translated in Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism
III, p. 29.
7. James G. Hart, "A Precis of an Husserlian Philosophical
Theology," in Steven W, Laycock and James G. Hart, eds.,
Essays in Phenomenological Theology (Albany: SUNY Press,
1986), p. 96.
9. Plotinus, The Enneads, trans.Stephen MacKenna (London:
Farber and Farber, 1969), V viii 4, p. 425.
10. Suzuki,Essays in Zen Buddhism III,p. 100.
11. Fa-tsang, "On the Golden Lion," trans. Garma C. C. Chang,
in The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977),p.229.
12.Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure
Phenomenology, trans.W. R: Gibson (New York: Macmillan,
13. Edmund Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-
Consciousness, as quoted in Robert Sokolowski, The
Formation of Husserl's Concept of Constitution
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), p. 92.
14. Fa-tsang, "One the Golden Lion," Garma C. C. Chang, trans.,
in The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, p. 23.
15. Tu-shun, "On the Meditation of Dharmadhatu,"p. 217.
16. Masters and Disciples of Lanka, translated in Suzuki,
Essays in Zen Buddhism III, p. 22.
17. Astasahasrika-prajna paramita,Chapter XXVI, "Tathata,"
translated in Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism III, p. 116.
18. Guenther claims that "In the shunyata experience, the
attention is on the field rather than on its contents."
Guenther & Chogyam Trungpa, The Dawn of Tantra, p. 27.
19. Tu-shun, "On the Meditation of Dharmadhatu," p. 211.
20. Cf. James G. Hart's lucid discussion of the various modes
of coincidence exemplified by the primal presencing of
Husserlian phenomenology in his essay, "A Precis of an
Husserlian Philosophical Theology," pp. 92-8.
21. Nagarjuna, "Fundamentals of the Middle Way:
Multamadhyamika-Karikas," trans. Fredrick J. Streng, in
Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (New York:
Abingdon Press, 1967), 7:16, p. 191.