So far we have just talked about rupa and lakshana. the term dharma refers to things as they actually are - from their own side, as it were. So one’s father, from his own side, is not at all the person that the child is likely to see him as. The child’s view of father is shot through in a million ways with the child’s own self. The person who is the father, however, lived more than half his life before the child even came into this world and has had innumerable formative influences bear upon him that the child knows absolutely nothing about, so the father as person is not the same as the father rupa of the child. So we can say that as well as the father rupa there is also a father dharma - the father as he is when freed from the self-element of the observer. We can say, in general, that behind every rupa there is a dharma.
It is probably impossible for the dharma to ever be fully and completely known. Nonetheless, we can here recognise a direction. Insofar as the observer gets closer to appreciating the dharma nature of the object, to that extent the rupa-ness of the object will change or diminish. Whether we say “change” or “diminish” depends upon which way we are using the term lakshana. If by lakshana we simply mean (in the common sense) something that points at self, then rupa-ness diminishes, because the closer one gets to the dharma the less self there is. Buddhism is a movement away from self-investment. On the other hand, as we saw, there is a wider sense in which we can use the word lakshana. Lakshana means that something adverts, but not only toward self. In this sense, we can say “change”. A lakshana may be reoriented from one object to another, ideally from a self-centred target to a more wholesome one. In a Buddhist context, the most wholesome object is Buddha.
Toward the Divine
Now to fully get the sense of this we have to appreciate the background sense of Indian religious consciousness. We have just said that dharma refers to the real nature of something, as opposed to the self-invested rupa perception of it. Now in the original sense of Indian religion, the only real thing is Brahma - God - the Divine. Complete liberation is when all lakshanas - all things - are signposts to the Divine. In ordinary life, beyond the rupa (smell of coffee) there may be another rupa (coffee drink) and beyond that there may be an identification (coffee-drinker) and beyond that there is personal conceit (the ego). In the holy life, on the other hand, beyond the rupa there may be other rupas but ultimately all are pointing at the one Reality which is Divine. Everything becomes a path to God.