Beyond Transcendental Buddhism

Birthing the Future Human

Will Franks
Phoenix Collective
Published in
18 min readJan 21


Diamond Souls of the Imaginal Earth

Creation was not made to be escaped.

Reincarnation (for which we now have convincing evidence) is not a trap but a supremely intelligent process by which nature develops, evolves and refines individuals.

This process “does not culminate in a spiritual awakening that liberates us from this planet, but in the birth of a higher-order consciousness inside spacetime” (Chris Bache).

The path of awakening leads not only to transcendence, but also to embodied sacred presence: the conscious birthing of the divine soul (or buddha nature) in and through our earthly human consciousness.

Awakening is open-ended and infinite, not a fixed or final goal to arrive at. It is not a means to escape from physical existence, as the transcendental paradigm believes. Physical existence is an essential and natural quality, or aspect, of the primordial wisdom-awareness that underlies and is inseparable from all experience.

So appearances (or experiences) are not fundamentally delusional, harmful or unreal; this is a simply a way of seeing expounded by many Buddhist teachings and teachers. It is intended to release our habitual reification of subject and object: our intuitive but unconscious habit of taking self and world to be real and truly existing.

This teaching works: it sets us free from our non-recognition of the emptiness of everything. So it is indeed a powerful and helpful viewpoint, but it is not the final truth (there is no final truth, because awakening is open-ended and infinite). If we take it to be the final truth, then we end up in transcendentalism: the denigration and devaluation of experiences, of human life, of nature, of the cosmos. We end up neglecting the physical in search of the spiritual, failing to recognise that the physical is inseparable from the spiritual, and indeed is an expression and emanation — in other words, an incarnation — of an infinite spiritual reality.

If we cannot take the complementary view that all experience is sacred, soulful, meaningful, intelligent, creative, intentional, then we become one-sided transcendentalists who have rejected form and taken emptiness to be more important. This is where much (but not all) of Buddhism has “got stuck” for a long time now. But now it is breaking free. And — as incarnate buddha deities — so are we.

Breaking free from transcendentalism means returning to the divine cosmos: to materiality, to form, to earthly life and human activity, knowing it all to be inseparable from emptiness, and from primordial wisdom-awareness (buddha nature).

As the Heart Sutra teaches, emptiness is form, and form is emptiness. They are inseparable and interdependent, not distinct at all. They are non-dual.

This non-duality is the “bliss-void indivisible” that embraces, encompasses and underlies all of nirvana (unconditioned emptiness, or non-existence) and samsara (conditioned existence). Naturally abiding as this luminous non-dual awareness, which is thoroughly empty yet effortlessly self-knowing through all appearances, there is no need or reason to pursue the transcendent (the empty, the unconditioned, the non-appearing) over the immanent, or to take it to be any more important, real or true.

Form is a way of seeing. And so is emptiness. Neither is more true than the other, and each depends on the other. Samsara and nirvana are mutually dependent and mutually empty.

This insight frees us to see, behold, relate to and participate in the play of appearances — the material cosmos — in a limitless creative diversity of ways of seeing (and knowing, and being).

Creation (form) can be related to as angel, as deity, as grace, as blessing, as song, as mantra (sound inseparable from emptiness), as gift, as divine imaginal tapestry, as pure kindness, pure open intelligence, pure love...

It is essential to the successful birth of the Future Human that we overcome the latent transcendentalism that is unconsciously rooted in the collective human psyche since the dawn of axial age — and the world religions that this age gave birth to, Buddhism included.

If we don’t, we will continue to neglect our bodies, our personalities, our living planet and burgeoning global society, all in favour of transcendental peace and non-attachment. We will not recognise or honour the profound delicacy, elegance and beauty of creation — and the evolution of the human species into its next phase of psychological and existential freedom.

A midwife has to be very, very attentive to the needs of the mother-in-labour; think of the consequences if she began dissolving her consciousness into emptiness during the delivery of a child!

Transcendentalism is basically the characterised by an “escape mentality”. It is the attempt to “get out, fast” of this impure material prison (the body, the cosmos) and into the transcendent bliss of an eternal, pure, divine reality (nirvana, in Buddhism). “Escape samsara, get to nirvana” is the motto here. This attitude betrays a way of seeing the material cosmos — and our incarnations within it — as dysfunctional and problematic… decidedly not divine, positive, or pure.

Yet elsewhere in Buddhism, we find such statements as this:

“All phenomena are the mandala of the buddhas”.

This Vajrayana Buddhist principle means that all appearances are no other than the body, speech and mind of the awakened ones, in whose countless number we are included. So there is thus no need to “turn away” from appearance and experience because it’s all the dynamic energy of primordial wisdom-awareness, the freeform play of the original boundless openness from which we have never been separate, not for an instant, even in the depths of our most confused and desperate mental states.

So there is nothing fundamentally wrong with creation or incarnation — it is pure, perfect and free in every way. By this view there is nothing wrong with reincarnation either, nor with continuing to reincarnate for countless lifetimes in search of ever-deeper, richer and more soulful experience. More beauty. More depth. More grace.

This leads us to a conception of the Buddhist path that is not an attempt to escape the ongoing cycle of reincarnation, but rather to purify and refine our consciousness such that incarnation is free from the limited and limiting views (ways of seeing, perceiving and conceiving) that cause humanity untold suffering, confusion and anguish. Sufficiently refined and clarified, human consciousness “reawakens” to its fundamentally open, free and empty nature.

We reconnect with the dharmakaya or “diamond luminosity”: the primordial, objectless, self-knowing openness that is “groundless ground” of all phenomena. This empty-yet-lucid awareness is indestructible and unborn, hence the epithet “diamond” (or “vajra” in Sanskrit).

As is clear from our current human experience(s), this primordial openness naturally and spontaneously appears in and as embodied humans, and the cosmos they are seamlessly woven into. This is the nirmanakaya: the incarnated manifestation of the empty-yet-aware luminosity; the emanation body of our primordial buddha nature.

Human — and indeed cosmic — evolution is reaching a crescendo whereby the diamond luminosity, an infinite self-knowing expanse of limitless potential and possibility, is becoming consciously integrated into earthly human embodiment. This is what Chris Bache calls “the birth of the Diamond Soul”.

To clear up the Buddhist jargon here: the three “kayas” are the three “bodies” of a buddha. They are the dharmakaya (truth body), sambhogakaya (enjoyment body), and nirmanakaya (manifestation or form body). All three are inseparable and indivisible, together forming the fourth body, the svabhakikakaya or “essence body”.

One could conceive of these three bodes through the analogy of the different states of water, namely gas (vapour), liquid, and solid (ice). All three are seamlessly connected. They are different and yet the same. Together they make up the “essence”, which we call “water”.

The dharmakaya is the infinite sky (of objectless openness), the sambhogakaya is the infinite sea (of bliss), and the nirmanakaya is the ice (or crystal) and its infinite possible structural (or sculptural) manifestations. The “essence” that seamlessly unites all three is buddha nature, or svabhavikakaya. This nature, being limitless and indefinable, a) does not manifest, b) neither manifests nor does not manifest c) manifests. These correspond to the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya, respectively.

These three aspects or qualities of the enlightened mind are indivisible and inseparable: they are mutually dependent and mutually empty. None has independent existence, and none is more true or real than the other. And this is the insight that saves us from transcendentalism. Because now we can see that the nirmanakaya is just as empty, just as sacred and just as meaningful as the dharmakaya. The living, breathing, speaking human is just as meaningful as the boundless objectless openness from which the whole cosmic show appears.

Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya

If we are all already buddhas, then all bodies are already nirmanakaya manifestation bodies of the dharmakaya. All souls are already diamond souls: divine incarnations of the diamond luminosity. Only, we haven’t yet become fully conscious — fully knowing — of this fact. So the birth of the Future Human is an evolution in human consciousness in which we open to our inseparability from the infinite inexpressible expanse of the dharmakaya, thereby recognising our material bodies as nirmanakaya buddha bodies.

If the nirmanakaya is truly inseparable from the dharmakaya, then we don’t have to do or realise anything at all for this manifestation body (our human and cosmic embodiment) to be an utterly perfect expression of buddha nature. The path then becomes a practice of natural relaxation into our primordially free and open nature, which is indeed the express aim of Dzogchen, the culmination of the Tibetan Buddhist meditative journey, the “heart of the teachings of all the Buddhas”.

Within Buddhism the nirmanakaya is often described as the buddha body that appears as a compassionate response to the delusional suffering of living beings: the incarnation that guides and leads these beings to awakening to the dharmakaya. But this is transcendental-paradigm thinking, because it subtly takes material incarnation to be negative and inherently delusional: something to be released in favour of the “more real” dharmakaya. I believe that this is a historical occurrence: in these early stages of the birth of the diamond soul into history, incarnated buddhas are indeed most visibly seen to be teachers and instructors of the dharma — the ethical and meditative path that leads to the liberation by recognition of our inseparability from the dharmakaya, or diamond luminosity.

However, as history progress and increasing numbers of beings realise their buddha nature in, as and through their human embodiment, then the “function” or “role” of the nirmanakaya begins to shift away from compassionate response to suffering and towards the exploration of the infinite possibilities for embodied perception: the open-ended expression and discovery of our limitless creative capacities for different experiences, relationships and incarnated forms.

Indeed this is already happening, and in a sense it is all that has ever been happening, as we — the primordial buddha deities — explore the possibilities for perception in and through spacetime and the material cosmos. The continual refinement and sculpting of our nirmanakaya human consciousness is a divine creative project of immense intentionality and intelligence — not a delusional accident or mistake!

It is this newfound respect and reverence for the project of divine incarnation that provides us with a profoundly powerful lens through which to view the trials and tribulations of humanity…

The Meaning of Human Struggle

Even the immense suffering playing out on the world stage, which is culminating in a global system collapse of unprecedented proportions, leaving billions uprooted and struggling to meet their basic needs… even this violent upheaval can (and will) be seen as a divine blessing: a supremely intelligent creative process by which humanity is becoming fully conscious of its latent shadow patterns, and thereby able to shed them, enabling the awakening and integration of higher-order consciousness into embodied human form.

This higher-order consciousness is characterised by more wisdom, energy, love, beauty, creativity, and connectivity than we ever imagined possible. This is the birth of the Future Human, the incarnation of the Diamond Soul into history.

I thank Professor Christopher Bache for his lucid exposition of this phenomenon (in his book Diamonds from Heaven). Bache has given language to the deeply meaningful and profoundly intelligent creative process that is unfolding behind — and indeed as — human history, even when that history appears supremely delusional, dysfunctional and meaningless to our current level of consciousness.

A metaphor might help… I have the image of the living Earth wrapped up in a thick dark sheath, like an ancient snakeskin. This skin is comprised of all the violent, separative and oppressive behaviours, worldviews and mental states of past and present humanity. Due to thickness and depth of the skin, it appears opaque, obscuring the infinite expanse of the diamond luminosity from our embodied consciousness.

We are now undergoing an excruciating but ultimately liberating process of shedding the skin of all humanity’s habitual ways of seeing. As the light of primordial wisdom-awareness permeates the skin of worldly appearances, that same skin is revealed to be translucent and ultimately transparent to — or inseparable from — the diamond luminosity. The hard, dead skin dissolves in that light, and disappears from view. This leaves us open to the infinite objectless openness of the dharmakaya.

We re-cognise that we are free (and always have been) to entertain all possible ways of seeing (and being, and relating, and perceiving). In other words, free to enjoy all possible experiences, perspectives and appearances, never taking any of them to be real, limited, or non-empty.

Shedding our habitual ways of experiencing thrusts us into the limitless expanse of creative possibility, in which we can freely, naturally, and spontaneously enjoy any experience that we can possibly conceive of. Sounds like freedom to me!

Shedding the skin is akin to “lifting the veil” on our buddha nature. This happens to be the exact meaning of the word “apocalypse”, and this is no coincidence. The global apocalypse is lifting the veil on the diamond soul of humanity. I have explored this theme in depth both here and here.

Unveiling of the Imaginal Earth

As the skin of our collective trauma dissolves in the light of primordial awareness, the natural union of wisdom and compassion, the Imaginal Earth is unveiled.

Translucent, luminous, glistening, pristine, pure, divine.

All creation, all experience, all humanity is gradually, blissfully and ecstatically revealed to be inseparable and indivisible from the diamond luminosity. Again, our ongoing revelation of this fact is precisely the birth of the diamond soul in spacetime.

The ongoing, relentless and profoundly creative process of human reincarnation is allowing us to experiment and discover, over many lifetimes, how to integrate primordial wisdom-awareness into embodied form. That is: how to creatively express, explore and celebrate the fact that our earthly form is inseparable from boundless emptiness. How every living being is no other than the body, speech and mind of the buddhas!

In time, the great enlightened masters will prove not to be simply unique and unusual beings, but pioneering souls in the collective awakening of all sentient beings (that is their goal, after all)…. people who have studied themselves deeply and precisely enough to realise their total emptiness, total freedom and totally infinite creative capacity for perception (for experience). By this realisation, they are thereby able to point the way for others to come to the same realisation of their primordially free nature. Their knowledge of their inseparability from those “others” makes the expression and communication of that freedom utterly natural, effortless and spontaneous.

As individual humans continue to reincarnate, the seeds of the buddhadharma that are latent within every soul continue to sprout and reach towards the light. The message of primordial freedom spreads through the collective psyche — a process which will culminate in collective awakening: the total transmutation of the collective human psyche from a seething mass of rigid unconscious patterning into a fully conscious intelligent entity… fully cognisant of its inseparability from the diamond luminosity, and fully conscious of its buddha nature as a nirmanakaya manifestation body.

The awakening soul of the entire human species, primordially free, pure and possessed of infinite creative capacity… the Diamond Soul!

Okay. Let’s bring this back to Buddhism and it’s role in this awakening process.

The Buddhists wish, pray, practice fervently for the liberation of all beings everywhere. The good news: it’s working. As we look out upon the world stage, we see candles of awakened wisdom lighting up across the globe. The fires of freedom are lit, and countless souls are encountering the diamond luminosity and realising their participation in the birth of the diamond soul, the future human.

The bad news: we have to fully experience ourselves in order to arrive at realisation of our indestructible buddha-nature, and this entails a full integration of the experience of all humanity — and indeed all beings — throughout history. This experience holds immense suffering — and, as a result, immense wisdom. The integration of this immense wisdom into our embodied conscious spontaneously manifests as immense compassion — or kindness — that naturally relates to all beings as utterly inseparable and non-different to ourselves. This is the opening to our heart-connection with every incarnate soul (every buddha deity) that is in any way related to this cosmos. As this process unfolds, the entire material cosmos is revealed as an imaginal mandala inseparable from emptiness: a primordially pure emanation of buddha nature, or all-embracing awakened awareness.

Such a conception of the cosmos is a far cry from the material prison that we might naively take it to be. And, just so, it is a far cry from the problematic perceptual hallucination which the transcendentalists are attempting to escape from.

So the bad news is good news, after all. It just looks bad from our current limited perspective. Really bad, let’s admit it: an unfolding global apocalypse that is currently set to kill billions of caring, sensitive and emotional human beings.

But can we open to the view that all experience, even the profoundly painful, is no other than the wholly positive manifestation / emanation / incarnation of the dharmakaya, or diamond luminosity? Can we see that all bodies are indestructible (vajra, or diamond) buddha bodies, that all souls are diamond souls?

The global apocalypse is a pattern in the cosmic unfolding of appearances that will come and go, and will later be revealed as a necessary stage in the unveiling of the buddha nature of all living beings: a revelation of the primordial purity and freedom of all people who are intimately and inextricably bound up in this unprecedented process of collective awakening.

The incredible pain of this stage is what currently blinds us to its supreme intelligence and intentionality; this pain is necessary to shed the limitations of the past and realise the unlimited nature of our consciousness — and our embodiment.

We are indeed arriving at a collective realisation of the infinite possibilities for perception, for experience, for creative exploration and expression. For soulmaking, in and through our sacred earthly presence.

In the utter wonder and beauty of this presence, we can see that the root problem isn’t materiality, not at all. The problem is our reification of materiality: our failure to see the empty, imaginal, primordially self-aware nature of all material appearances — and all incarnated living beings.

The solution here is our recognition that these entities are not fundamentally material but are fundamentally insubstantial, inconceivable and groundless… open, pure and perfect. But: this solution doesn’t work if we fall into the opposing trap of reifying emptiness, non-duality, or nothingness, or cosmic unity. That is precisely the transcendentalist trap.

All things are buddha nature: indefinable, inconceivable, inexpressible. And so are we. And so is the cosmos.

Upon escaping the transcendental paradigm we naturally and freely express our profound devotion to materiality (to nature, to the cosmos, to all humanity) as utterly sacred, miraculous, and magical.

Knowing ourselves as empty awakened awareness, we know ourselves inseparable from all possible appearances — that is, inseparable from all possible experiences, all living beings, and all buddhas.

Buddhism has long emphasised the realisation of the unborn dharmakaya over the development and refinement of the human-born nirmanakaya manifestation, usually stating that the nirmanakaya is simply a compassionate response to the delusive suffering of apparational-yet-apparently-incarnated living beings. But might the meaning of the nirmanakaya be more than that?

As the suffering of habitual reification is assuaged, we begin to sense that we are participants in a fundamentally co-creative, expressive, explorative and imaginal adventure seeking beauty, sacredness, grace and soul.

This adventure is inseparable from primordial objectless openness. This openness has engendered countless buddha deities who are capable of entertaining an infinitude of possible experiences, without ever grasping any to be real, or separate from the primordial boundless openness.

So the path doesn’t just lead to freedom from experience, but also to freedom to experience anything — and everything!

E-ma-ho! the Tibetans say.

Krishna Uprooting the Parijata Tree. From a Bhagavata Purana manuscript, 1500s.

Okay, last section. Promise!

A last word on what becomes possible once we escape the transcendental paradigm.

One way to understand this escape is that we break free of the “perennial mistake” (Bache again) of neglecting and denigrating nature, creation and the work of divine feminine creative principle.

Transcendentalism is patriarchal in its neglect of the Divine Mother, the Divine Creative Intelligence whose love and compassion permeate every aspect of the cosmos — every aspect of every being’s incarnate experience. Opening to this love allows us to see that creation is not a dysfunctional delusive hallucination dreamed up by confused apparational beings but a sublime, divine, intelligent and ingeniously imaginative living being.

The universe is itself a buddha deity…

The material cosmos is the incarnation of the divine creative intelligence — the Goddess, the Mother, the Beloved. She does not exist outside of creation; she lives as creation. What’s more, she does not exist outside of us. She lives as us, just as we live as her. Buddhists might already know her as Prajnaparamita, Mother of All Buddhas. She is often characterised by the image of an infinitely open and fertile blue sky, in which all appearances (all beings, all buddhas) appear, inseparably from pristine and perfect emptiness.

I am in no way attempting to persuade you of a truth here. I’m simply inviting you to see things (and yourself) in a different way: to step into a different conception of what experience and materiality actually is, and why it is all happening in the first place. I am trying to stoke the fires of your latent soul devotion to the material cosmos — and yourself — as being totally divine and perfect!

Just look — really look — at this cosmos we participate in. It is all a living demonstration of the passion, the ambition, the beauty, the complexity, the extravagance, the exquisite fertility and boundless imagination of the divine creative intelligence. Opening to this beauty, we open our hearts to the purity, the wisdom, and the perfection in and of all creation.

The painful dreams (life experiences) of humanity are necessary stages in the ongoing and open-ended incarnation of the deity (or deities) into material form.

As we learn to wield our infinite creative/imaginal capacities in and through our earthly bodies, many mistakes are to be made before we refine the craft of being truly free humans, fully conscious of our nature as nirmanakaya emanation bodies inseparable from the dharmakaya diamond luminosity.

The “space” outside and beyond creation is limitless and populated by dimensions, beings and buddhas we can barely conceive of, and yet all of these deities live in relation to 4D spacetime (just as we incarnate beings live in relation to them — this is the basis for Vajrayana deity practices). I like to imagine that they behold our cosmos from outside with a full spectrum of emotional responses: disgust, indifference, compassion, appreciation and reverence. Some intentionally influence it in benevolent ways, while others are malevolent to the life of us incarnate beings (unfortunately, evil appears to be a multidimensional phenomenon). Still others choose to incarnate into spacetime out of sheer (com)passionate love, wonder and awe at the beauty of the incarnate diamond luminosity that it is possible to perceive, create and enjoy here.

Tell me: which other dimensions have oak trees, jazz music, sunset beaches, lemonade, Picasso paintings, birds of paradise, orgasms, romance, poetry, open seas, theatre, dancing, mountains … ?

What greater blessing, what greater invitation could there be, but to participate in the infinite material incarnation and creative unfolding of the divine creative intelligence?

What a project! What an undertaking!

We have already accepted this invitation, long before our first incarnation into materiality. At this stage of history we are wrestling with our decision, perhaps forgetting or denying it completely, but in the depths of our (collective) soul we are fully cognisant of the perfection, the intelligence and the infinite divine love that underlies all embodied experience, without exception.

So: transcend if you wish. Escape if you must.

But if you are truly honest with yourself: have you not devoted at least some portion of your infinite soul — and heart — to this living cosmos, to the sublime expression of the diamond luminosity that is humanity, and to the evolution of the entire species into ever-greater beauty, flourishing and creative freedom?

To the manifest realisation of our sacred presence, in and through our earthly embodiment?

Are you, or are you not, committed to the profound project of global — nay, cosmic — awakening, as all beings everywhere awaken to their primordial and unvanquishable freedom?

And are you not a free and willing participant in this infinite imaginal play, this adventure of inconceivable proportions, this limitless gathering of hypercreative buddha deities?

Lucid, vivid, and luminous, primordially empty wisdom-awareness shines in, as and through every possible experience, every living being. Know yourself, and the entire material cosmos, as inseparable from this awareness — the naturally open awakeness of all the buddhas! You already do!

Welcome home, O lotus-born!

Prajnaparamita, Mother of All Buddhas



Will Franks
Phoenix Collective

freedom artist. magical realist. metamodern beat.