Tam Shek-Wing on the Albert Einstein Archives and the Buddha-Within
Translator’s Note: Master Tam Shek-Wing is a Nyingma master. He is the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism Association, with branches in Toronto, Vancouver, Hong Kong and Hawaii. He became a disciple of H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche in 1972 and was ordained a Vajra Archarya in 1984. He was given the order by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche to pass on the Tathagatagarbha doctrine to the West. Tam is listed in Rigpa Shedra as one of the most important students of H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche.
Tam has published over 80 volumes on Tathagatagarbha doctrine through Buddall Publishing in Taiwan, and Fudan University Press in China, among others. Many are translations and commentaries on key Buddhist texts, including Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty, Ranagotravibhaga, and Lankavatara Sutra, and more recently, a series called “Beyond Words,” aiming to present a series of Buddhist scriptures and the practical ideas beyond the surface Buddhist lingo.
Tam is the visiting professor at Renmin University in China, and the academic consultant on Sino-Tibetan Buddhism at Tsinghua University, with the endorsement of Ministry of Education in China, fostering future researchers in Buddhism.
A past graduate student of Tam’s first alerted him on the Einstein Archives, which naturally piqued his curiosity. This article is Tam’s commentary on one of Einstein’s personal letters in relation to the Buddhist teaching.
For those who are interested to read more, click here for his 2005 article on the notion of time in relation to Buddhism.
In the 1980s, Margot Einstein donated her stepfather’s letters in her possession to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) left behind 1,400 letters. A small portion was published in the 1990s, including the following letter to his daughter, Lieserl. What is shocking is that the letter is filled with Buddhist’s ultimate teaching on Tathagatagarbha (the Buddha-Within), which, following the original English text, I will illustrate next. It will become clear to the readers what, according to Einstein, “will… collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.”
A recent article in the Huffington Post suggests that the letter was fabricated, and yet, no clear evidence was brought up. I feel that even if the letter were fake, it has demonstrated one thing: someone in the West has brought forth such ideas; Western thinkers have begun to break free from their scholarly shackles to arrive at something brand new to the West. I don’t need this letter to prove anything, or to confirm anything about Tathagatagarbha. I only want to say, what is expressed in the letter is exactly the teaching of Tathagatagarbha. Whether it is written by Einstein or not, the writer has my utmost respect.
Below is the letter:
When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.
I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.
There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.
When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who Give and Receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For LOVE we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.
To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc² we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.
After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy. If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.
Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet. However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of LOVE whose energy is waiting to be released.
When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that Love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because Love is the quintessence of Life!
I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as TIME is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer!
During Einstein’s time, it was already known to physicists that Newton’s Laws of Motion do not unify all forces, that the laws are bounded within our planet Earth. In fact, even within our planet, it is not inclusive of all phenomena physical and abstract (dharma). Then, Einstein was eager to establish a grand unifying theory. When quantum mechanics gained prominence, he considered connecting it with relativity, and yet, it came to some untangled web of complexities. Many believed he had given up on it – general relativity never encompassed quantum mechanics during his lifetime. When I read his letter to his daughter, what shocks me is that he had in fact discovered the grand unifying theory. He simply could not explain it to the world. His theory exceeds Stephen Hawking’s illustration of String Theory – Hawking’s illustration of the universe goes as far as eleven dimensions. Einstein’s universe is limitless and boundless.
Einstein’s theory is not easy to understand. When I read the letter, I came to the realization that his saying is very much in line with Nyingma’s teaching on Tathagatagarbha. This is the shocking part. Einstein never studied Buddhism. Even if he had, there was no way he had access to Nyingma’s ultimate profoundly hidden teaching. And yet, he was able to point out the essence of it, which proves that this teaching is indeed the door to wisdom. As long as one abandons all prejudices, one abandons all labels and conceptual thinking, we only need to put aside all biases arisen from misunderstanding, then, even if we don’t know a thing about Buddhism, the truth is within reach.
Using the Buddhist lingo, Tathagatagarbha is the unifying field that governs all forces in the universe. But when we say it this way, it will still “collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world,” as not all Buddhist sects agree with the principle of Nyingma’s Tathagatagarbha. If Einstein had the luck to learn about our teaching, he must be jumping with joy, and would not have spent his life not “able to express what [was] in [his] heart” to Lieserl.
Let us now illustrate Einstein’s letter from the perspective of Tathagatagarbha.
Tathagatagarbha is the certainty that in every world and any world, all dharma (all phenomena, physical, abstract, or otherwise) are natural arising abiding to causes and conditions upon Dharmakaya. Those who have read my Buddhist writings would know that the fruition of this natural arising is the spontaneous accomplishment of all phenomena, or what Yogacara refers to as the nature of perfection. Spontaneity is the natural adaptation, or abiding to causes and conditions.
There exist many limitations in the universe. The manifestation of something must arise based on its fit to these limitations. Even the appearance of a thought, it appears because it adapts to its limitations. Therefore we label this adaptation spontaneity, these limitations are the so-called causes and conditions. For example, for a human body to exist, there are numerous factors. These factors are in reality infinitely many. To highlight a few, they include DNA, the sun, the air, food. Therefore, what we call spontaneous accomplishment is something very mysterious, and because of this mysteriousness, the human body is intricate and naturally as such (“accomplished”).
Einstein writes, “There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.” He understands that the spontaneous accomplishment of all matters and thoughts relies on “an extremely powerful force.” Exactly. Because all dharma are spontaneous accomplishments, they depend on the two functions of Dharmakaya (we call the functions virtues). I will illustrate them next.
Einstein continues in the letter, “This universal force is LOVE.” We can understand this way. What he called LOVE, Buddhists call it compassion or great compassion. Dharmakaya is the stage that allows the appearance for all worlds and all beings. To speak of the great compassion of Buddha, from a Western perspective, we can call it the love of Buddha, the love of the universe.
He says, love is light, love is gravity, love multiples the best we have, love is God. From the perspective of Tathagatagarbha, what he says makes total sense. Buddhists object to the concept of a divine creation, which is a bias of sorts. But say we conceptualize God as a virtue (function) of Dharmakaya, this way there is a bridge between Buddhist thinking with theistic religions. Buddhist teaching itself is inclusive of all. By inclusive, it means it does not refute anything, rather, it simply transcends; it transcends the individual entity of God. This way, we can consider God as the virtue of Dharmakaya, it is a unifying force in the universe. Because it is a force, it is not an individual. Establishing a God is an expedient device for spreading the gospel.
Einstein further says, “Love unfolds and reveals. For LOVE we live and die,” and therefore, “Love is God and God is Love.” The virtue of Dharmakaya is exactly this unfolding and revealing. Dharmakaya’s manifestation aspect is vitality, a life force. Life force itself is invisible to the eye. It is intangible, impalpable, and therefore, it is unseen (it unfolds). And yet, all phenomena have an appearance. The appearance is the revealing of this life force. As well, there is a luminous aspect, its function is diversity, that the appearance of all phenomena is diverse and differentiable. For example, no two people share the same fingerprints, the same pupils. No two faces are exactly the same. This is the power of the luminous aspect. This aspect also unfolds and reveals. The luminous aspect can be seen as light, because only under the light one can see the difference between things. No wonder Einstein proclaims, “Love is Light, that enlightens those who Give and Receive it.” All giving and receiving are based upon this difference.
As to gravity, within Dharmakaya, all phenomena are unobstructed. This is the saying from Huayan School of Buddhism “shi-shi wu-ai, shi-li wu-ai” (事事無礙，事理無礙). This is a profound Buddhist teaching. In Einstein’s term, Huayan’s saying can be understood as “attracted to others.” It is a “power” that “multiplies the best we have,” which essentially points to the equality of all phenomena within Dharmakaya. To actualize this equality is “the best we have.” Because of equality, the self (the boundary between selves) dissolves naturally.
Einstein also says, “This force explains everything and gives meaning to life.” What is this “meaning”? He says, “This is the variable that we have ignored for too long.” By my understanding, it must be that Einstein recognizes all things are impermanent. With the virtue of Dharmakaya, all phenomena change – arising, persisting, changing, ceasing – these are all functions of Dharmakaya. Life force and differences give rise to us, and we live. This life is not eternal and unchanging, but goes along with changes, as such babies become children. We experience childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, the senior years, till senility and death. At every stage of a human life, there is clearly a change in the manifestation aspect and the luminous aspect. Until we are no longer nourished by the virtue of Dharmakaya, we cease to exist. That Einstein can recognize this from his theory of the universe suggests that science is an entrance to Buddhism.
Towards the end, Einstein uses E=mc2 to illustrate “the energy to heal the world,” to illustrate Dharmakaya, to suggest that it is “love multiplied by the speed of light squared,” or the virtue of Dharmakaya multiplied by the speed of light squared. In other words,
Dharmakaya = the virtue of Dharmakaya x the speed of light2
This is to make use of a formula to say that Dharmakaya encompasses its virtue. This virtue is not a static quality. It is actively functioning in our ordinary world, and its power infinite. This way to look at Dharmakaya and its virtue makes perfect sense. Within Dharmakaya (the universe with infinite number of space-time continua), Dharmakaya is the stage that gives rise to all phenomena, its virtue can be said as a power, a force. This force is all encompassing and therefore not counter to any worldly phenomena. Besides this force, there is no other force that can give rise to the life and death of anything. This is the most profound, the most embracing, the deepest meaning of life. In Buddhahood, what is to be realized is this meaning. This realization is beyond expression and beyond comprehension.
Through Dharmakaya and its virtue, “to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness, and greed” (the five poisons of greed, hate, ignorance, envy, and selfishness) is to nourish the dignity of the human race, and the welfare of all beings, sentient or not. This is something everyone can do, because Buddhists say, “everyone possesses the Buddha-within.” In Einstein’s words, “each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of LOVE whose energy is waiting to be released.” Many Buddhist sects attempt to refute Tathagatagarbha, because their understanding of it counters their beliefs. This is a misunderstanding and a prejudice. Consider Einstein’s perspective, because he was not “able to express what [was] in [his] heart,” he was deep in regret, he even apologized to his daughter. Perhaps he was apologizing to the world. When he wrote the letter, Lieserl had already passed away. When he was deep in thoughts on love, his heart had quietly beaten for her for all his life. And he was sorry.
The world we live in now is in crisis. From within the ever-changing reality, humans grasp at their egos, and as such, the world is filled with nonsense and evil acts. This letter by Einstein, he wished that humans could get a sense of what he referred to as energy and power, which is also Buddha Sakyamuni’s intent. For the world and for the people, the only salvation is Tathagatagarbha. The salvation comes from Einstein’s notion of energy and power from the universe.
All religions unite! From within Tathagatagarbha, express the teachings of your sect. Take Christianity. Express the love of Jesus Christ to all people. Perhaps this way, there is hope for our world and for our people.