The Ten Suchnesses
The ten suchnesses are such an appearance, such a nature, such an entity, such a potential, such a function, such a cause, such a condition, such an effect, such a reward, and (from the first to the last of these) such an ultimate equality. This principle demonstrates the way in which all things in the universe manifest their existence. The Lotus Sutra calls this the principle of the ultimate reality of all things. Modern science has analyzed the composition of physical substances to the level of subatomic particles, but the principle of the ultimate reality of all things is especially profound in that it extends to the realm of the mind. The “such” in these terms refers to “suchness,” or tathātā in Sanskrit, which indicates a truth that is “eternally abiding and immutable,” and here in this context means “such” or “thus” as well as “invariably” or “without fail.”
- Such an appearance: all things that exist invariably manifest an image or semblance that presents itself to our senses.
- Such a nature: each existence that appears invariably has its own dispositions and inclinations. These tendencies are called “such a nature.”
- Such an entity: everything that possesses a nature invariably has its own unique embodiment. This is called “such an entity.”
- Such a potential: everything that is embodied also has its abilities and potencies. These capabilities are referred to as “such a potential.”
- Such a function: whatever has latent abilities and potencies invariably manifests these as actions that work upon the outside world. This agency is called “such a function.”
- Such a cause: The universe is filled with innumerable embodied existences, and each are complexly interrelated because all of their outwardly directed functionings mutually interact with one another. There are no isolated existences without relation to other things. All things invariably have complex interconnections with one another. This mutual interaction produces various phenomena. Something that is primarily responsible for the production of a phenomenon is “such a cause.”
- Such a condition: even when a potential cause is present, it will not produce its effect unless it comes into contact with certain conditions. For example, water vapor, the primary cause of frost or dew, is always present in the air. But without the secondary circumstantial cause of coming upon the ground or the leaves of plants, water vapor will not produce frost or dew. These circumstances or occasions that act as a secondary cause are called “such a condition.”
- Such an effect: When the primary cause—such a cause—meets with the proper circumstances—such a condition—it produces a phenomenon, which we call “such an effect.”
- Such a reward: However, an effect is not realized as just an immediate phenomenon; it invariably has an influence that lingers like a trace or residue. For instance, the effect of frost forming will give a pleasant feeling to someone who finds the patterns it leaves on windowpanes pleasant, while the same effect will give an unpleasant feeling to someone else whose crops have been damaged by it. The function of an effect leaving a lasting influence is called “such a reward.”
Let’s stop for a moment and consider cause, condition, effect and reward in greater detail through an example. Suppose a man has offered his seat on a crowded train to an elderly woman who has been left standing. His intention to be kind to others is the potential primary cause that exists in his mind. When this primary cause comes into contact with the circumstantial condition of seeing an old woman struggling to stand on the crowded train, it leads to the resulting effect of offering his seat to her. Afterwards, he feels the contentedness of having done something good for someone else. This is the lasting influence that is called a reward. Reward does not always come from outside oneself; in fact, the reward that appears in one’s heart and mind is the most common as well as the most important.
- From the first to the last of these such an ultimate equality: the nine suchnesses explained above occur endlessly in society and our universe as a whole. However, they are interconnected in extremely complex ways, such that in many cases ordinary human understanding does not allow us to discern what is a cause and what is an effect. However, the Buddha teaches that all things manifest by behaving according to this universal principle, so that no thing, no circumstances, and no action violates this truth.
Every single thing that exists manifests by presenting all these nine suchnesses, from appearance through reward. That is to say, from the first—such an appearance—to the last—such a reward—these nine suchnesses are inseparable and ultimately equal because they comprise the completely integrated whole that is a phenomenon itself. The ultimate integration of the above nine suchnesses is understood as the tenth and final suchness: From the first to the last of these such an ultimate equality.
The manner in which all things, including human beings, manifest their existence and relate to one another as a function of this principle of the ten suchnesses is called the ultimate reality of all things.