(The Tathagata Neither Arrives Nor Departs)This non-conceptualizable reality, or true emptiness, is also called "suchness" (bhutatathata). Suchness, sometimes translated "thusness," means "it is so." It cannot be conceived or described through words and concepts but must be directly experienced. Suppose there is a tangerine on the table and someone asks you, "What does it taste like?" Rather than give an answer, you have to section the tangerine and invite the questioner to have a taste. Doing this, you allow him or her to enter the suchness of the tangerine without any verbal or conceptual description.
To remind his disciples of the unconditioned, beginningless and endless nature of reality, Buddha asked them to address him as the Tathagata. This is not an honorific title. Tathagata means "one who thus comes" or "one who thus goes." It means he arises from suchness, abides in suchness, and returns to suchness, to non-conceptualizable reality. Who or what does not arise from suchness? You and I, a caterpillar, a speck of dust all arise from suchness, all abide in suchness, and some day will return to suchness. Actually, the words "arise from," "abide in," and "return to" have no real meaning. One can never leave suchness.
In the Anuradha Sutra, the Buddha replied to a question which was troubling many monks: "What happens to the Tathagata after death? Does he continue to exist? Does he cease to exist? Does he both continue and cease to exist? Does he neither continue nor cease to exist?"
The Buddha asked Anuradha, "What do you think? Can the Tathagata be recognized through form?"
"Can the Tathagata be found outside of form?"
"Can the Tathagata be recognized through feeling, perception, mental formations, or consciousness?"
"Anuradha, you cannot find the Tathagata even in this life, why do you want to solve the problem of whether I will continue to exist or cease to exist, or both continue and cease to exist, or neither continue nor cease to exist after death?"
Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist known as the father of the first atomic bomb, had a chance to read this section of the Anuradha Sutra. He understood it based on his observations of particles, which cannot be confined by concepts of space, time, being, or not-being. He wrote:
To what appeared to be the simplest questions, we will tend to give either no answer or an answer which will at first sight be reminiscent more of a strange catechism than of the straightforward affirmatives of physical science. If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say "no;" if we ask whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say "no;" if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say "no;" if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say "no.”
As you can see, the language of science has already begun to approach the language of Buddhism. After reading the above quote from the Anuradha Sutra, Oppenheimer said that until this century scientists would not have been able to understand the Buddha's replies of 2,500 years ago.
My answers to the Buddha's questions are as followings.
Q1) Can the Tathagata be recognized through form?"
A1) No. The Tathagata is the nature, not a form.
Q2) Can the Tathagata be found outside of form?
A2) No. The Tathagata is inside of form. (Form enforlds into the Tathagata. The Tathagata unfolds into form.) The Tathagata transcends the time and space, so can live in the phenomenal world and the noumenal world at the same time.
Q3) Can the Tathagata be recognized through feeling, perception, mental formations, or consciousness?
A3) No. The Tathagata recognizes feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The Tathagata is awareness, or awakened consciousness.
【Tathagata = suchness = true nature of reality = cosmic body = store consciousness = awareness = awakened consciousness】
Thích Nhất Hạnh