The vast body of Mahayana doctrine arose to deal with the practical psychological problems encountered in following the Buddha’s way.
The great concern of the Mahayana is the provision of “skillful means” (upaya) for making nirvana accessible to every type of mentality.
Zen, a Chinese rather than Indian form of Buddhism, arose when Indian Mahayana was fully grown, from the central Mahayana doctrines.
The Bodhisattva, however, is one who realizes that there is a profound contradiction in a nirvana attained by himself and for himself. From the popular standpoint, the Bodhisattva became a focus of devotion (bhakti), a savior of the world who had vowed not to enter the final nirvana until all other sentient beings had likewise attained it.
But from a deeper standpoint it became obvious that the idea of the Bodhisattva is implicit in the logic of Buddhism, that it flows naturally from the principle of not-grasping and from the doctrine of the unreality of the ego.
The corollary of this position is that if there is nonirvana which can be attained, and if, in reality, there are no individual entities, it will follow that our bondage in the Round is merely apparent, and that in fact we are already in nirvana–so that to seek nirvana is the folly of looking for what one has never lost.
Mahayana answer to the question: how can I try to let go if trying is precisely not letting go? is that all grasping, even for nirvana, is futile–for there is nothing to be grasped.
The dialectic with which he demolishes every conception of reality is merely a device for breakingthe vicious circle of grasping, and the terminus of his philosophy is not the abject despair of nihilism but the natural and uncontrived bliss (ananda) of liberation.
It cannot be called void or not void,
Or both or neither;
But in order to point it out,
It is called “the Void”.
Again, Mahamati, what is meant by non-duality? It means that light and shade, long and short, black and white, are relative terms, Mahamati, and not independent of each other; as Nirvana and Samsara are, all things are not-two. There is no Nirvana except where is Samsara; there is no Samsara except where is Nirvana; for the condition of existence is not of a mutually exclusive character. Therefore it is said that all things are non-dual as are Nirvana and Samsara.
The insistence of the Mahayana texts on the unattainability of nirvanaand bodhi is not something to be accepted theoretically, as a mere philosophical opinion. One has to know “in one’s bones” that there is nothing to be grasped.
The Mahayana have another term for reality which is perhaps rather more indicative thansunya, the void. This is the wordtathata, which we may translate as “suchness,” “thusness,” or “thatness.”
Tathatatherefore indicates the world just as it is, unscreened and undivided by the symbols and definitions of thought. It is the true state of the Buddha.
According to the Yogacara the world of form iscittamatra–“mind only”–orvijnaptimatra–“representation only.”
The Yogacara does not, therefore, discuss the relation of forms of matter to mind; it discusses the relation of forms to mind, and concludes that they are forms of mind. As a result, the term “mind” (citta) becomes logically meaningless.
The mind is beyond all philosophical views, is apart from discrimination, it is not attainable, nor is it ever born: I say there is nothing but Mind. It is not an existence, nor is it a non-existence; it is indeed beyond both existence and non-existence.… Out of Mind spring in-numerable things, conditioned by discrimination (i.e., classification) and habit-energy; these things people accept as an external world.… What appears to be external does not exist in reality; it is indeed Mind that is seen as multiplicity; the body, property, and abode–all these, I say, are nothing but Mind.