Gaudapada and Buddhism (from Indian Philosophy, by Prof. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, 1923, 1929, London 1971) The general idea pervading Gaudapada's work, that bondage and liberation, the individual soul and the world, are all unreal, makes the caustic critic observe that the theory which has nothing better to say than that an unreal soul is trying to escape from an unreal bondage in an unreal world to accomplish an unreal supreme good, may itself be an unreality. It is one thing to say that the secret of existence, how the unchageable reality expresses itself in the changing universe without forfeiting its nature, is a mystery, and another to dismiss the whole changing universe as a mere mirage. If we have to play the game of life, we cannot do so with the conviction that the play is a show and all the prizes in it mere blanks. No philosophy can consistently hold such a view and rest with itself. The greatest condemnation of such a theory is that we are obliged to occupy ourselves with objects, the existence and value of which we are continually denying in theory. The fact of the world may be mysterious and inexplicable. It only shows that there is something else which includes and transcends the world; but it does not imply that the world is a dream. Later Buddhism is responsible for this exaggeration in Gaudapada's theory. He seems to have been conscious of the similarity of his system to some phases of Buddhist thought. He therefore protests - rather overmuch - that his view is not Buddhism. Towards the end of his book [his Karika (commentary) on the Mandukya-Upanishad] he says: "This was not spoken by the Buddha". Commenting on this, Shankara writes: "The theory (of Buddhism) wears a semblance to the Advaita, but is not the absolutism which is the pivot of the Vedanta philosophy".
Gaudapada's work bears traces of Buddhist influence, especially of the Vijñanavada [Yogacara] and the Madhyamaka schools. Gaudapada uses the very same arguments as the Vijñanavadins do to prove the unreality of the external objects of perception. Both Badarayana and Shankara strongly urge that there is a genuine difference between dream impressions and waking ones, and that the latter are not independent of existing objects. Gaudapada, however, links the two, waking and dreaming, experiences together. While Shankara is anxious to free his system from the subjectivism associated with Vijñanavada, Gaudapada welcomes it. Unwilling to accept the Vijñanavada as final, he declares that even the subject is as unreal as the object, and thus comes perilously near the nihilist position. In common with Nagarjuna, he denies the validity of causation and the possibility of change: "There is no destruction, no creation, none in bondage, none endeavouring (for release), non desirous of liberation, none liberated; this the absolute truth". The empirical world is traced to avidya or, in Nagarjuna's phrase, samvriti: "From a magical seed is born a magical sprout; this sprout is neither permanent nor perishing. Such are things and for the same reason". The highest state beyond the distinctions of knowledge cannot be characterised by the predicates of existence, non-existence, both or neither. Gaudapada and Nagarjuna regard it as something which transcends the phenomenal. In addition to these points of doctrine, there are affinities in phraseology which point unmistakably to the influence of Buddhism.. The Karika of Gaudapada is an attempt to combine in one whole the negative logic of the Madhyamikas with the positive idealism of the Upanishads. In Gaudapada the negative tendency is more prominent than the positive. In Shankara we have a more balanced outlook.. That Gaudapada gives us a Vedantic adaptation of the Buddhist shunyavada is supported by many scholars.
The Mundane and the Ultimate Nature (from Nagarjuna's Philosophy, by Prof. Krishniah Venkata Ramanan, 1960, Varanasi 1971) With regard to the life of the human individual, 'conditioned origination' bears the import that whatever is one's state of life is what one has worked out for oneself as one's self-expression. Impelled by thirst and conditioned by one's understanding, one does deeds which bear their results. Shrouded by ignorance and impelled by desire one does deeds that bind one to the life of conflict and suffering. The way out of these is to eradicate their roots, viz. ignorance and passion. Free from ignorance and passion one may yet do deeds and not be subjected to suffering. Extinction of the root of suffering is the meaning of Nirvana; it is also the eternal joy that one realizes with the extinction of passion. Nirvana is the ultimate goal towards which all beings move seeking fulfillment. The Buddha drew the attention of the monks to the log of wood being carried along the stream of the river Ganges and told them that if they, like the log, do not ground on this bank or on the other bank and also do not sink down in midstream, then they will "float down to Nirvana, glide down to Nirvana, gravitate towards Nirvana" because "right view floats, glides, gravitates towards Nirvana."
The Nikayas make out that becoming, the course of birth and death, itself is not anything unconditioned; there is the need to recognize there is the unmade, the not becoming, which is the ultimate truth, the Nirvana. The Buddha declares that those who say that 'from becoming there is release' are unreleased of becoming. But if this should mean a literal abandoning of becoming, an absolute separation of the becoming from the not becoming, that again would be another extreme. The Buddha declares that even those who say that 'by the abandoning of becoming there is release from becoming' are not free from it. But if this should be taken to mean that the impermanent is as such permanent, even that would be to miss the distinction between the ultimate truth and the mundane truth; that would be to confuse the one with the other, which is clearly an illusion. There is becoming and there is the release from becoming, there is Samsara (the course of mundane existence, conditioned becoming) and there is Nirvana (the unconditioned reality); but Samsara is not as such Nirvana and Nirvana is not another entity apart from Samsara. And the being of Samsara is not of the same kind as Nirvana. It is not difficult to see that we have here the basic truth about the course of mundane existence which the Madhyamika expresses when he says that that which is contingent in its conditioned nature is itself Nirvana in its unconditioned nature.
Language in Nagarjuna's System (from Early Madhyamika in India and China, by Richard H. Robinson, 1967, Delhi 1978) Worldly, conventional, or expressional truth means language and verbal thought. The absolute truth is said to be inexpressible and inconceivable. Yet realization of this fact depends on comprehension of expressional truth. All the doctrines taught by the Buddhas are compatible with emptiness - emptiness characterizes every term in the system of expressional truths.
That an entity is empty means that own-being is absent from it. When the entities are pieces of language, it means that they are symbols empty of object-content. Verbal thought and expression are 'constructed' or 'imagined' (vikalpyate). They express only metaphorically, and there is no such thing as a literal statement, because there is no intrinsic relation of expressions to mystical experience and to worldly experience, since all alike are only figured but not represented by discursive symbols. Once this is granted, the functional value of language is admitted by the Madhyamika..
Emptiness is not a term outside the expressional system, but is simply a key term within it. Those who would hypostatize emptiness are confusing the symbol system with the fact system. No metaphysical fact whatever can be established from the facts of language. The question arises as to the relation between worldly truth and absolute truth. The term 'absolute truth' is part of the descriptive order, not part of the factual order. Like all other expressions, it is empty, but it has a peculiar relation within the system of designations. It symbolizes non-system, a surd within the system of constructs. The quandaries into which the opponents are driven spring from the incommensurability of the descriptive order and the factual order.
According to Nagarjuna Pratitya Samutpada is Unreal (from A Survey of Buddhism, by Sangharakshita [Dennis P.E. Lingwood], 1957, 1980, London 1987) Nagarjuna does not shrink from the conclusion that if causation is unreal the pratitya samutpada is also unreal. In fact, he insists upon it, for according to him only by recognizing the merely relative validity of this teaching can its true import be preserved. The Hinayanists had interpreted the Buddha's 'conditioned co-production' as the temporal sequence and spatial juxtaposition of ultimately real entities between which real causal relations obtained. Such an interpretation amounted to a repudiation of the fundamental Buddhist doctrine, of which, paradoxically, the pratitya samutpada was intended to be an expanded statement, the doctrine of the essencelessness and unsubstantiality of all phenomena whatsoever. In the interests of the correct intepretation of the Dharma, Nagarjuna showed that the pratitya samutpada taught not a real causal relation between entities but their mutual dependence, hence their lack of independent selfhood, and that it therefore consisted of a sequence and juxtaposition not of realities, as the Hinayanists thought, but only of appearances. Consisting as it did entirely of appearances the pratitya samutpada was itself merely an appearance; it was unreal; it could not be said to exist, or not to exist, or both or neither. Consequently it was to be equated with shunyata [emptiness].
In this way did the dialectic of Nagarjuna, by exposing the contradictions inherent in the Buddhist doctrines themselves when taken literally, serve as a reminder of the supremely important fact that these doctrines, constituting the conceptual formulations of Wisdom, possessed not absolute but only relative validity, and were not ends in themselves but only means to an end. That end was of course Enlightenment. By shattering the hard shell of literalism in which Buddhism was then imprisoned, Nagarjuna not only saved it from suffocation and probably death but also gave it room for future development. Recognition of the relativity of the means to a certain end leads, sooner or later, to the recognition of the possibility of there being a plurality of means. As far as the various methods conducive to Enlightenment are concerned, however, since they must pertain either to Morality, or to Meditation, or to Wisdom, all are included archetypically in the Means to Enlightenment proclaimed by the Buddha.
One of the principal charges brought by the Mahayanists against the Hinayanists was that the latter conceived Nirvana almost exclusively in terms of negation. They defined it either as the cessations of pain or of the five skandhas or of the pratitya samutpada or some either supposedly positive entity or collection of entities: the Absolute was defined as privation of the contingent. Since the world, in the sense of the total aggregate of causally associated dharmas, was believed to be real, the cessation of the world was a real cessation therefore valid in the absolute sense. One of the results of Nagarjuna's dialectic was to render such a position quite untenable. Pratitya samutpada being ultimately unreal its cessation too was unreal; Nirvana could not, strictly speaking, be defined in terms of cessation. In fact it could not be defined at all.
The Highest Wisdom (from A Survey of Buddhist Thought, by Dr. Alfred R. Scheepers, Amsterdam 1994) It was contended before, that the Madhyamaka is the criticism of all speculation and dogmatism. Its purpose is to free the mind from its presuppositions, which at the same time are the conditions of the normal way of life. The mind must be emptied of concepts and ideas. Only then the highest wisdom will arise, from which things can be seen in their own nature, and not in that which we have imposed on it by our own imagination. To see things as they really are, we do not need acquisition of information, but a purification of the intellect. It is a negative method to reach universality, the abolition of the restrictions which conceptual patterns impose.
The truth, reality, is covered by the veil of our conceptions, which in their tentative character must always be wrong in an ultimate sense. It is called 'the veil of knowables' (jñeyavarana). It is caused by the working of ignorance (avidya), which may be identified with the projective activity of the mind. Instead of being open to reality, the mind projects upon it its own fancies, and thus creates a 'shadow-world' of its own making, which hides the real truth from us. This shadow-world, this covering of the real, can be removed by disposing of the ideas which are at the base of it. Then the intellect (buddhi) becomes so pure (amala) and transparent (bhasvara), that no distinction can exist between the real and the intellect which apprehends it. Because of this lack of distinction between the truth and its apprehension, the absolute unity of them may be denoted by names indicating its objective or its subjective aspect, such as 'dharmahood' or 'highest wisdom' (prajñaparamita), but really it is non-dual (advaya).
The absolute as devoid of all determinations is the inexpressible ground of all phenomena; it is devoid of the two extremes of 'is' and 'is not'. In the Madhyamaka the absolute is mostly denoted as 'highest wisdom'. This wisdom is the mind freed from conceptual restrictions, it is the mind-essence, the precondition of all conscious functioning. The discovery of this essence at the same time frees man from suffering, since it destroys ignorance, the basis of the affects (klesha) of desire and aversion, which form the direct cause of suffering.
In all Buddhism, Freedom is Freedom from Pain and Suffering (from A Survey of Buddhist Thought, by Dr. Alfred R. Scheepers, Amsterdam 1994) In the Madhyamaka, as in all Buddhism, freedom, identified with Nirvana, is not freedom of action, but freedom from pain and suffering. Since suffering is ultimately due to ignorance, it also consists in a being free from all illusion. This means for the Madhyamika: being free from all perspectival viewpoints, doctrines, and categories of thought, being free from all ideas, imagination, and thought-constructions (vikalpa, kalpana). It is thought and imagination (which forms the basis of all thought and language), that projects worlds in consonance with our desires, or worlds that threaten our comfort. It leaves us with the hopes and fears, desires and aversions, that blind us to the truth of the world that is really before our eyes, and within the reach of our touch. It makes that we really see our own projections, and reality only as subservient to these. The world, not willing to submit to our desires, causes that we suffer from them. If we do not accept the presence, but always want something else, live with our thought in something else, life must always be unfulfilled, and this is painful. Do away with your imagined projections, then you will be freed from your desires. Freed from your desires you will be free from suffering. You live no longer with a frustrated will. Freedom is the total cessation of imagination (sarva-kalpana-ksayo hi nirvanam). Aryadeva says: "Take away all." One should desist from vice, free oneself from the substance-view, and lastly give up all standpoints. These are the stages of progress. Freedom is a process of negation of ignorance and passions (klesa). The state of freedom, also called 'samata' (equality) does not admit of degrees. It is Buddhahood itself. All beings carry it in themselves as a potential (tathagatagarbha), all living beings are endowed with the essence of the Buddha, but only by the path of the 'Arya' is it realized. The immaculate, which is of spiritual nature, pervades all that exists. Beings are in various stages of purification, but are one as Buddha. In the process of freeing oneself from ignorance and defilements, wisdom (prajña), which is one with the absolute, gradually becomes manifest.
Shunyavada (from A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, by Prof. Chandradhar Sharma, London 1960) Shunyavada is one of the most important schools of Buddhism. Nagarjuna is its first systematic expounder. Shunyavadins call themselves Madhyamikas or the followers of the Middle Path realized by the Buddha during his enlightenment. Shunya (literally 'empty' or 'void') means, according to the Madhyamika, 'indescribable' as Reality is beyond the four categories of intellect. It is Reality which ultimately transcends existence, non-existence, both or neither. It is neither affirmation nor negation nor both nor neither. Empirically it means Relativity (pratitya-samutpada) which is phenomena (Samsara); absolutely it means Reality (tattva) which is release from plurality (Nirvana). The world is indescribable because it is neither existent nor non-existent; the Absolute is indescribable because it is transcendental and no category of intellect can adequately describe it. Everything is shunya: phenomena or appearances (dharmas) are devoid of ultimate reality and Reality is devoid of plurality. Shunya means Relativity as well as Reality, Samsara as well as Nirvana. Appearances being relative, have no real origination and are therefore devoid of ultimate reality. But they are not absolutely unreal. They must belong to Reality. It is the Real itself which appears. And this Real is the Absolute, the non-dual harmonious whole in which all plurality is merged (advaya tattva). Shunya therefore does not mean 'void'; it means, on the other hand, 'devoid', so far as appearances are concerned 'of ultimate reality', so far as Reality is concerned, 'of plurality'.
Embracing Physicalism in Buddhism (from Buddhism and Techno-physicalism: Is the Eightfold Path a Program?, by Mark Siderits, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu 2001) If embracing physicalism [i.e. that all that exists is physical in nature] means leaving open for the present whether or not to accept the doctrine of karma and rebirth, then we must ask how crucial this doctrine really is to Buddhism. What I would suggest is that while this doctrine has played an important role in many Buddhist cultures, it is not crucial to the central project of Buddhism. Indeed, if I take myself to live only one life instead of the indefinitely many lives promised by rebirth, then the fact of my own mortality takes on even greater significance, for I cannot then defer seeking a solution to the problem of suffering to some future life. Now within many Buddhist cultures it has been thought that some persons are unable to seek and attain Nirvana in this life. The doctrine of karma and rebirth holds out the promise to such people that if they perform karmically meritorious acts in this life, they will be reborn in more auspicious circumstances in which the attainment of Nirvana will be easier. So if karma and rebirth were rejected, then since Nirvana would not be open to all, this might make the Buddhist path seem less appealing. (Of course this would not show that the Buddhist analysis is itself false.) But we must ask why Nirvana is thought to be unattainable for some individuals in this lifetime. If this is simply because they find the path too difficult compared to the attractions of mundane life, then perhaps Buddhist need to redouble their efforts to convince these perople of the truth of suffwering. If, on the other hand, Nirvana is unattainable for some due to such life circumstances as extreme poverty and degradation, then it would seem incumbent on Buddhists to work to eliminate such social evils and thus make Nirvana genuinely available to all.
One sometimes hears it said that in the absence of the doctrine of karma and rebirth (or some other doctrine promising ultimate retribution for immorality), people would have no reason to obey the dictates of conventional morality. But even if this were true, it is not clear why this would constitute a reason for Buddhists to espouse the doctrine. And in fact, Buddhists have good reason to reject this claim. On the basis of the doctrine of nonself it is possible to construct an argument for a general obligation to seek to prevent pain regardless of where it occurs. That is, the doctrine that is central to the Buddhist project may itself be used to support a basic duty of beneficence, arguably the core of all forms of conventional morality. So if it is essential for a spiritual path to provide some support to conventional morality, Buddhism can do so without reliance on the doctrine of karma and rebirth.
So far we have been discussing the central project of Buddhism as taught in early Buddhism and Abhidharma. I said earlier that the Mahayana teaching of the essenceless of the elements might complicate matters. In Madhyamaka this doctrine is taken to mean that the very notion of how things ultimately are is empty. So there is no ultimate fact of the matter as to whether reality is wholly physical, both physical and mental, or only mental in nature. According to Madhyamaka we should, however, embrace at the conventional level whatever account of the world best accords with successful practice. So if phsysicalism should turn out to cohere better with our going theories, then Madhyamaka would grant it the status of conventional truth.
It is with Yogacara [Vijñanavada] that real difficulties arise. For this school the doctrine of the essenceless of elements is taken to indicate their ultimate nature, specifically their ineffability. And while it would of course be a mistake to say that ineffable elements are mental in nature, Yogacara does claim that it would be nearer the truth to say that they are mental than that they are physical in nature. (Note: This is because for Yogacara the path to the realization of the ineffability of the real goes through the doctrine of impressions-only as a key stage: one first realizes that there could only be inner impressions and not external objects, then sees that the notion of the mental relies crucially on the distinction between "inner" and "outer", and thus one abandons any attempt at characterizing the reals.) So this school's views are incompatible with physicalism. And Yogacarins claim that their idealist teaching of impressions-only represents the most effective way of realizing the truth of nonself. If this is correct, then the Buddhist project is indeed incompatible with physicalism. But Abhidharmikas and Madhyamikas deny that embracing an idealist metaphysics is required in order to attain the fruit of the Buddha's teachings. And there are interesting and complex arguments developed on all sides in this dispute.
Prajñaparamita Literature (from the Introduction by Prof. Jaideva Singh to The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana, by Prof. Th. Stcherbatsky, Delhi 1977) The Madhyamaka system was developed on the basis of the doctrines of the Mahasanghikas and the Mahayana sutras known as Prajñaparamita sutras. The principal theme of the Prajñaparamita literature is the doctrine of shunyata. The Hinayanists believed only in pudgala-nairatmya or the unsubstantiality of the individual. They classified Reality into certain dharmas or elements of existence and thought that the dharmas were substantially real. Prajñaparamita gives a knock-out to this belief. It teaches sarvadharma-shunyata, the unsubstantiality of all dharmas. Phenomena are dependent on conditions. Being so dependent, they are devoid of substantial reality. Hence they are shunya (empty). Nirvana being transcendent to all categories of thought is Shunyata (emptiness) itself. Both Samsara and Nirvana, the conditioned and unconditioned, are mere thought-constructions and are so devoid of reality. Ultimate Reality may be called Shunyata in the sense that it transcends all empirical determinations and thought-constructions. Prajña or transcedent insight consists in ceasing to indulge in thought-constructions. So Prajña becomes synonymous with Shunyata.
One, however, acquires insight into Shunyata not merely by avowing it enthusiastically, nor by logomachy, but by meditation on Shunyata. One has to meditate on Shunyata as the absence of selfhood, on the absence of substantiality in all the dharmas, on Shunyata as even the emptiness of the unconditioned. Finally one has to abandon Shunyata itself as a mere raft to cross the ocean of ignorance. This meditation will, however, be ineffective unless one has cultivated certain moral virtues.
The Difference in the Interpretation of Pratityasamutpada (from An Introduction to Madhyamaka Philosophy, by Prof. Jaideva Singh, 1968, reprint Delhi 1997, p. 23) The Hinayanists had interpreted pratityasamutpada as temporal sequence of real entities between which there was a causal relation. According to the Madhyamika, pratityasamutpada does not mean the principle of temporal sequence, but the principle of essential dependence of things on each other. In one word, it is the principle of relativity. Relativity is the most important discovery of modern science. What science has discovered today, the great Buddha had discovered [sic] two thousand five hundred years before. In interpreting pratityasamutpada as the essential dependence of things on each other or the relativity of things, the Madhyamika means to controvert another doctrine of the Hinayanist. The Hinayanist had analysed all phenomena into elements (dharmas), and believed that these dharmas had a separate reality of their own. The Madhyamika says that the very doctrine of pratityasamutpada declares that all the dharmas are relative, that they have no separate reality (svabhava) of their own. Nis-svabhava is synonymous with sunyata, i.e. devoid of real, independent reality. Pratityasamutpada or Interdependence means Relativity, and Relativity connotes the unreality (sunyata) of [also] the separate elements.
Nirvana and the Empirical World are Identical (from Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy, by Prof. Ninian Smart, 1964, Leiden 1992) There is a further equation in the Void doctrine [Shunyavada], and sometimes elsewhere in the Greater Vehicle, an equation which at first sight causes extreme puzzlement. It is this: that Nirvana equals the cycle of existence. Nirvana and the empirical world are identical. This should indeed cause puzzlement, since in the Elder doctrine and elsewhere Nirvana is a transcendent state, and this means that it is distinct from the empirical world. And does not Nirvana consist in release from the cycle of existence and from the process of rebirth? It therefore must seem an extraordinary paradox to affirm that after all Nirvana and the empirical world are identical. But the paradox follows from the main position of Voidism. For the distinction between the Absolute and empirical phenomena is not an ontological one, but epistemological. That is, the common-sense viewpoint takes the world to be real and substantial, whereas in its 'inner nature' it is void. In other words, the Absolute is phenomena seen from a higher point of view. It follows that Nirvana, identified with the Absolute, and the cycle of existence are one. This leads to the further paradox that there is no real release, but merely a change in the saint's experience and attitudes.
The mention of a 'higher point of view' reveals a feature of Voidist absolutism which indeed is clearly necessary, namely a doctrine of two level of truth. Thus ordinary (vyavaharika) truth, covering the facts which are yielded by perception, etc., is distinguished from higher (paramartha) truth, which is discovered in spiritual experience as accruing upon going through the Voidist dialectic. Consequently, though phenomena are in their inner essence regarded from the standpoint of higher truth as contradictory, it is legitimate to assert ordinary facts about the world from the standpoint of ordinary truth. Thus from one standpoint states of affairs are illusory, but from the other they are not. Indeed, and to avoid the kind of vacuity which statements like 'all perceptions are illusory' risk, since 'illusory' needs its contrast with 'veridical', the Voidist system distinguishes between ordinary facts and perceptual and other illusions, all within the realm of ordinary truth and falsity. Thus the notion that all phenomena are illusory does not entail a confusion between true and false propositions at the level of ordinary truth, but must be understood by reference to the standpoint of higher truth.
It may be noted that the Voidist dialectic sets great emphasis [ ] on intellectual processes as a means of spiritual enlightenment. For the process of the dialectic, whereby through intellectual operations we come to see the bankruptcy of reason, prepares the way for the non-dual (advaya) experience of the Void. Thus Voidism represents a kind of intellectual yoga. In many phases of Indian religion, there is some contrast drawn between intellectual and experiential self-training, between spiritual enlightenment through knowledge and that which comes through yoga and direct experience. But further investigation of the contrast shows that it is an expression merely of different emphases. That is, there are two sides to mystical experience: the theoretical or doctrinal structure built round the contemplative path and the inner experience accruing upon treading of the path which verifies the doctrinal scheme. For example, in the case of Buddhist Nirvana, insight involves not only seeing [intellectually] that the Buddhist view of reality is true, but also seeing this in inner experience.
Appearances and Absolute Reality (from The Life of the Cosmos, by Prof. Lee Smolin, London 1997) In the history of philosophy, many have argued against the idea that science can lead to knowledge of the absolute reality behind appearances. I do not want to begin this argument again. There is no way to climb the ladder of empirical knowledge, or fly on the wings of logic, to ascend to the absolute world of what really is. But I think that the situation I've just described makes it possible to confront a different and more difficult question. This is whether there might not be something wrong with the whole conception of an absolute and timeless reality lying behind the appearances. If possible knowledge is knowledge of the world of appearances that we live in and interact with, why is it necessary - or even desirable - to believe that the reality of the world is somehow behind the appearances, in a permanent and transcendently absolute realm?
Is there any reason we might not conceive of the world as made up as a network of relationships, of which our appearances are true examples, rather than as made up of some imagined absolute existing things, of which our appearances are mere shadows? Why should there be any 'things in themselves', besides the effects that all things have on each other? This is related to another question: If the laws of nature are only the working out of principles of logic and probability by processes of self-organization, must there still not be some fundamental particles, on which those processes act? And must they not obey some universal laws? Perhaps a principle such as natural selection, self-organization, or random dynamics might explain why the parameters of the standard model come to be what they are, but just as biology requires molecules on whose combinations the principles of self-organization and natural selection can act, does not physics still require some fundamental substance for the laws to act on? Must not the world consist of something beyond organization and relations?
I do not know the answer to these questions. They are in the class of really hard questions, such as the problem of consciousness or the problem of why there is in the world anything at all, rather than nothing. What in the end is the reason the world is called into being? I do not see, really, how science, however much it progresses, could lead us to an understanding of these questions. In the end, perhaps there must remain a place for mysticism. But mysticism is not metaphysics, and it is only that I seek to eliminate. Wittgenstein said, in his Tractatus, "Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is". Perhaps in science, as in philosophy, by eschewing the metaphysical fantasy, the dream of an absolute being forever unknowable behind the veil of appearances, we bring ourselves in closer proximity to the genuinely mysterious.
Dependent Origination as Shunyata (from The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapada of Chandrakirti, by Prof. Mervyn Sprung, London 1979) The hinge of Nagarjuna's revolution is his re-thinking of the original root concept of Buddhism - dependent origination - as shunyata. Early Buddhism, after rejecting the theories of causation current at the time, gave an account of the everyday in terms of the dependence of one thing or event on a preceding one: the sprout is not caused by the seed, but does depend on the previous existence of the seed for its own arising. This understanding makes sense only so long as its terms, 'seed' and 'sprout', are taken as real, as something between which the relation of dependence could be supposed. Nagarjuna retains the expression dependent origination, but, having denied both seed and sprout self-existence, he must hold that the dependence of the one on the other can no longer be understood in the traditional realistic sense. It becomes rather the non-dependence of non-existents; there is no longer a real origination of anything in dependence on anything else. Chandrakirti comments bluntly: "We interpret dependent origination as shunyata." If, in the world which each of us holds together for himself, the causal account is delusory, if, that is, all things inner and outer which make up the world neither arise nor exist in the realistic, entitative way we naively suppose, then the events and sequences which compose life are analogous to a magician's deception: what truly goes on is made to appear like a series of causally dependent events, but is not.
The frequently recurring use of the analogy of magic (maya) can be misleading. It does not mean that Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti are hallucinationists, that a magic wand will serve to conjure up and to spirit away the everyday world. Their insistence, repeated impressively often, that they are not nihilists, that the dogma of non-existence is as much a heresy as the dogma that everyday things as such are in being, should warn us to look for another understanding of the analogy of the magician's trick. This is a subtle and difficult point. It may suffice at this juncture to remind that the indispensable factor in a magician's trick is the false interpretation placed on the evidence of the senses by the spectator. Coins, cigarettes and rabbits are manipulated by the magician strictly in accord with the laws of motion and gravity that govern all objects. It is the spectator who, due to the shallowness of his imagination, penetrates no deeper than his eyesight and sees these objects passing bewilderingly in and out of nostrils, pockets and top hats. The events making up the trick, the palming of the coin or cigarettes, the colapse of a false bottom in the hat, are not dream, not hallucination, but run of the mill space-time sequences onto which the spectator projects his false expectations.
The Explosive Rise in Individualism (from Evolution's Arrow - The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity, by John Stewart, Canberra, Australia 2000) Particularly in the last two hundred years, a significant proportion of individuals in more complex human societies has developed a strong capacity to use internal linear modelling to critically evaluate their own beliefs. Increasingly, this has produced a decline in the extent to which individuals are internally hard wired by inculcated beliefs to behave in ways that produce a cooperative and easily-managed society. For more and more individuals, god, tradition and duty are all dead. Their behaviour is now guided largely by internal reward systems that are mostly self-centered, except for the legacy of the kin selection and reciprocal altruism mechanisms. These continue to predispose us toward some cooperation within our families and friendship groups. But this aside, our reward systems tend to promote behaviour that advantages the individual - they largely ignore the effects of our behaviour on others.
This undermining of belief systems that previously helped organise social behaviour has led to the explosive rise in individualism of the last century. Increasingly, it has been left solely to external management in the form of government to manage self-centered individuals in ways that align their interests with those of the society as a whole. In large part, the rise of self-centred individualism has necessitated the massive increase in the size and scope of government that we have seen this century.
As the capacity of rulers for systemic modelling improved during the last 10,000 years, they were better able to cope with diversity and creativity within their societies (...) Improved ability to manage diversity and change also enabled governments and other rulers to establish the controls that have allowed large-scale economic markets to arise and flourish. At their heart, economic markets are made up of the same types of exchanges between individuals that underpin reciprocal altruism. An individual gives goods or services to another, and the other reciprocates with goods, services, or money of equivalent value. But the reciprocal altruism mechanism is incapable of establishing the types of exchanges that are essential to modern markets. As we have seen, reciprocal altruism cannot organise exchanges between individuals who are not known to each other and who may not deal with each other again. Rather than cooperate, strangers will pursue their own immediate interests by cheating in exchanges and by stealing. And without cooperative exchange between strangers, modern markets will not emerge.
So the reciprocal altruism mechanism was not responsible for the emergence of large-scale modern markets. Large-scale markets were made possible only by the existence of governments or other rulers and institutions. External managers could make market exchanges work by patching up the failings in the reciprocal altruism mechanism. They could do this by establishing a system of controls that prevented cheating and theft. Governments and other rulers and institutions typically developed laws and enforcement systems that punished cheating in exchanges, enforced contracts, and prevented theft by establishing enforceable property rights.
The Religious Significance of 'Emptiness' (from Emptiness - A Study in Religious Meaning, by Prof. Frederick J. Streng, Nashville, Tenn. 1967) The religious significance of 'emptiness' is comparable to that of 'anatma', for both are expressions of dependent co-origination. They delineate the existential situation in which man attains release. That is to say that man is released from bonds made by man himself; for there are no eternally established situations or absolute elements which man must accept as part of existence. The person who accepts the emptiness-teaching regards life's sorrows as his own construction and knows that he must desist from constructing them in order to be released from sorrow. It is very important to understand that the apprehension of emptiness does not assert the annihilation of things. At the other extreme, it is just as important to recognize that there is no substantive entity which might be considered eternal or the 'first cause'. Even 'emptiness' is not such an absolute. The grammatical character of Nagarjuna's use of 'emptiness' is revealing in that it is always used adjectivally. 'Emptiness' is always the emptiness of something; or 'emptiness' is always the predicate of something, e.g. co-dependent origination of existence or the highest knowledge of no-self-existence. As we indicated earlier, however, 'emptiness' as a designation is not regarded as an ultimate qualifier, since the relation between the 'subject' and its 'qualifier' is only an artificial one.
Emptiness not only expresses the situation of existence which makes release possible, but also expresses that man should not be unconsciously bound by his means of knowledge. Thus 'emptiness', as a means of knowing, denies that one can intuit the absolute nature of things (for there is no such thing from the highest perspective) and denies that logic, as an immutable law of inference, can provide more than practical knowledge. Logic is only a crude rule-of-thumb method of perceiving some of the causes and conditions which converge in the formation of even the simplest phenomenon. In fact, only when the awareness of 'emptiness' is dominant can logic itself be useful for apprehending truth, for then one is aware that logic is dependent and not absolute. Emptiness, the state and awareness of infinite relatedness, becomes the broad context in which logic, as one mental activity, has some validity.
The faculty of religious knowledge which transcends both logic and mysticism is wisdom (prajña); at the same time, wisdom uses discursive mental structures together with a mystical awareness of the inadequacy of logical and empirical knowledge. The soteriological significance of using both logic and an intuitive ascension into 'higher' realms of thoughts as practical techniques is that salvation is immediately at hand but not identical to the present situation. Spiritual life is lived in practical life, within the structure of existence, but without the bondage of these structures. The awareness of 'emptiness' is not a blank loss of consciousness, an inanimate empty space; rather it is the cognition of daily life without the attachment to it. It is an awareness of distinct entities, of the self, of 'good' and 'bad' and other practical determinations; but it is aware of these as empty structures. Wisdom is not to be equated with mystical ecstasy; it is, rather, the joy of freedom in everyday existence.
Praj˝a of Another Order than our Usual Life (from The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, by Prof. D.T. Suzuki, London 1949) Praj˝a is really a dialectical term denoting that this special process of knowing, known as 'abruptly seeing', or 'seeing at once', does not follow general laws of logic; for when Praj˝a functions one finds oneself all of a sudden, as is by a miracle, facing Sunyata, the emptiness of all things. This does not take place as the result of reasoning, but when reasoning has been abandoned as futile, and psychologically when the will-power is brought to a finish.
Praj˝a contradicts everything that we may conceive of things worldly; it is altogether of another order than our usual life. But this does not mean that Praj˝a is something altogether disconnected with our life and thought, something that is to be given to us by a miracle from some unknown and unknowable source. If this were the case, Praj˝a would be of no possible use to us, and there would be no emancipation for us. It is true that the functioning of Praj˝a is discrete, and interrupting to the progress of logical reasoning, but all the time it underlies it, and without Praj˝a we cannot have any reasoning whatever. Praj˝a is at once above and in the process of reasoning. This is a contradiction, formally considered, but in truth this contradiction itself is made possible because of Praj˝a.
That almost all religious literature is filled with contradictions, absurdities, paradoxes, and impossibilities, and demands to believe them, to accept them, as revealed truths, is due to the fact that religious knowledge is based on the working of Praj˝a. Once this viewpoint of Praj˝a is gained, all the essential irrationalities found in religion become intelligible. It is like appreciating a fine piece of brocade. On the surface there is an almost bewildering confusion of beauty, and the connoisseur fails to trace the intricacies of the threads. But as soon as it is turned over all the intricate beauty and skill is revealed. Praj˝a consists in this turning-over. The eye has hitherto followed the surface of the cloth, which is indeed the only side ordinarily allowed us to survey. Now, the cloth is abruptly turned over; the course of the eyesight is suddenly interrupted; no continuous gazing is possible. Yet by this interruption, or rather disruption, the whole scheme of life is suddenly grasped; there is the 'seeing into one's self-nature'.
The point I wish to make here is that the reason side has been there all the time, and that it is because of this unseen side that the visible side has been able to display its multiple beauty. This is the meaning of discriminative reasoning being always based on non-discriminating Praj˝a; this is the meaning of the statement that the mirror-nature of emptiness (sunyata) retains all the time its original brightness, and is never once beclouded by anything outside which is reflected on it; this is again the meaning of all things being such as they are in spite of their being arranged in time and space and subject to the so-called laws of nature.
The First Principle and the Second Principle (from Crooked Cucumber: Reflections on the Life of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, by David Chadwick, in Tricycle Magazine, New York 1999) Suzuki Roshi (1905-1971) talked about the first principle and the second principle from his early days in San Francisco. He said the first principle had many names: Buddha-nature, emptiness, reality, truth, the Tao, the absolute, God. The second principle is what is said about the first principle and the way to realize it: rules, teaching, morality, forms. All those things change according to the person, time and place, and they are not always so. Suzuki said that talking about Buddhism was not truth, but mercy, skillful means, encouragement. "There is no particular teaching or way, but the Buddha-nature of all is the same, what we find is the same."
The first principle is not something that the Buddha or other people came up with. Suzuki spoke about the Buddha's sermons in the woods, where he "proclaimed the first principle, the Royal Law". And he added, "If you think what the Buddha proclaimed is the Royal Law, that is not right. The Royal Law was already there before he was on the pulpit".
Suzuki taught that Buddhism is not the first principle, but is a way to know and express the first principle. The Buddha's teaching can only be thought of as the first principle in "its pure and formless form".. "If you have a preconceived idea of the first principle, that idea is topsy-turvy, and as long as you see a first principle which is something that can be applied in one way to every occasion, you will have topsy-turvy ideas. Such ideas are not necessary. The Buddha's great light shines forth from everything, each moment."
Suzuki always made clear that the first principle is beyond discrimination or knowing in the ordinary sense, in the way that relative truth is known. "Bodhiddharma said, 'I don't know'. 'I don't know' is the first principle. Do you understand? The first principle cannot be known in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, because it is both right and wrong."
Pratitya-Samutpada (from An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nagarjuna, by Prof. Musashi Tachikawa, 1986, Delhi 1997) In the doctrine of dependent co-arising (pratitya-samutpada) belonging to the period of Primitive (or Early) Buddhism, the question of whether or not the individual members of the causal nexus posses any perduring and immutable reality (svabhava) hardly arose. This was because when considered from the viewpoint of the early doctrine of dependent co-arising, maintaining as it did that the 'world' had not been created by some eternal and imperishable god or similar entity, it was only natural that human ignorance, cognition and action, all pertaining to the world of transmigration, should be impermanent and without intrinsic reality.
But by the time of Nagarjuna the doctrine of dependent co-arising, with its denial of any eternal and immutable reality, was no longer fulfilling its purpose. This was because, as a result of the emphasis placed on the reality of the individual constituent elements of the world in the course of developments within Abhidharma philosophy in the period succeeding that of Early Buddhism, the doctrine of dependent co-arising, which ought to have been an expression of the negation of own-being (svabhava), had become instead an expression of the affirmation of own-being. According to Abhidharma philosophy, dependent co-arising means that a certain constituent element or combination of elements of the world (x) arises, or is arising, from another constituent element or combination of elements (y) in accordance with a consistent relationship obtaining between cause and effect. In other words, dependent co-arising in Abhidharma philosophy represents the causal relationship obtaining among a limited number of constituent elements of the world. In this case, x is considered to act as the cause from which y is born, and this presupposes the fact that x and y must exist each with their separate own-being. In Abhidharma philosophy a certain thing possessing within itself its own existential base enters into a relationship with another thing, different from itself, also possessing within itself its own existential base. Thus the causal relationship posited by Abhidharma philosophy is a relationship between a certain thing endowed with own-being and another thing also endowed with own-being. On the basis of such ideas, Abhidharma philosophy further systematized and disseminated the doctrine of the twelvefold chain of dependent co-arising.
In the view of Nagarjuna, this interpretation of causal relationships in Abhidharma philosophy ran counter to the spirit of Early Buddhism.. Although Abhidharma philosophy had not abandoned the basic thesis of Buddhism which declared that "all things are impermanent", in the view of Abhidharma philosophy it was 'man' (pudgala, the centre of personality considered to reside within the individual) as a complex of constituent elements that was impermanent, but the individual elements constituting 'man' were eternal and unchanging. Nagarjuna, on the other hand, held not only 'man' but also the individual elements (dharma) of which he is composed to be impermanent. This is why Nagarjuna's standpoint has been defined as advocating that "both pudgala and dharma are without self". Seeking as he did to attain to emptiness through the radical negation of the profane, he could not admit the reality of the constituent elements.
Metaphysics in Henri Bergson (from Metaphysics - A Critical Survey of its Meaning, by Takatura Ando, second enlarged edition, The Hague 1974) Being a radical dualist in the French tradition since Descartes, Bergson maintained that intelligence and intuition were quite heterogenous. The function of intelligence is analysis and interpretation by means of symbols, and this kind of knowledge constitutes positive science.The function of intuition is immediate sympathy with the object, and this is the method of metaphysics. To go from intuition to analysis is easy, but the opposite direction is impossible. For this reason metaphysical knowledge is considered to be superior to and more profound than science. Bergson says repeatedly that scientific knowledge is ruled by practical interest - and this is also the fundamental idea of William James' pragmatism. What distinguishes Bergson from James is that he makes much of the disinterested knowledge of metaphysics whilst James sticks to pragmatic knowledge. Science is an instrument for action, but philosophy or metaphysics is pure contemplation. This is not a new idea. The idea of dividing knowledge into theoretical and practical, philosophy being theoretical, is classical, whereas that of making practical knowledge the essence of science can be traced back to Francis Bacon. What is peculiar to Bergson is only his special use of the concepts of intuition and intelligence - [in French and] best translated as 'Understanding'. Intuition is the method of philosophy, intelligence the method of science.
French philosophers generally do not distinguish Understanding and Reason. This neglect of our heritage from ancient and mediaeval times, to say nothing of Kant and Hegel, is a great disadvantage to them. It may result in their making the notion of Understanding too wide, so as to contain Reason. But in Bergson's case intelligence [Fr.] in general has an extremely restricted role and cannot include intellectual activities other than that of understanding. Besides understanding he admits no faculty other than intuition, so that the intellectual activities excluded from intelligence [Fr.] are forced into intuition. Bergson seems to be a little ashamed that he is forced to use the term 'intuition'. He confesses that he hesitated for a long time to use the word, and apologizes for using it to express metaphysical activity, which is mainly the inner cognition of spirit by spirit, and secondarily the cognition of [the] essence which exists in matter. We understand what Bergson means by the word 'intuition': it is above all immediate consciousness. "Intuition signifies first of all consciousness, immediate consciousness, a vision which is hardly distinguished from the object seen, knowledge which is in contact and even coincidence." But as far as it is immediate consciousness, it is not even distinguished from sensation or perception, whereas metaphysics is by no means mere sense-perception. Bergson is therefore forced to invent another kind of immediate consciousness. "This experience, when it is concerned with a material object, will be called vision, touch, or in general external perception, and when it tends to spirit it will take the name of intuition." This is a "super-intellectual intuition". As an example of intellectual intuition, we have Aristotle's 'nous' [intellect], also immediate consciousness like sense-perception but yet concerned with intelligible objects. Does Bergson really mean that his metaphysics is a system of intellectual 'nous'-like intuition? This is quite implausible, for he is a firm anti-Aristotelian, though in fact his thought is not so divergent from Aristotle's as he imagined. Anyhow, the difference between Bergson's intuition and Aristotle's 'nous' is that intuition and its object, spirit, are in time and movable, while 'nous' is concerned with eternal forms. According to Bergson, "the intuition of which he is talking is concerned first of all with inner duration. It seizes succession, which is not juxtaposition, a growth from inside, the uninterrupted prolongation of the past into the present which encroaches upon the future. This is the direct vision of spirit by spirit". With regard to the ordinariness of this concept of time, we only suggest reference to Heidegger's criticism [in his Sein und Zeit]. What is most important for the moment is to see how Bergson's spirit is situated in a lower order than is Aristotle's 'nous'. Instead of an eternal and universal principle, spirit is a formless entity changing and floating in time. It is a rather indefinite material principle which the Greeks called 'hyle' [matter, stuff]. In other words, it is nothing but consciousness as a purely psychological phenomenon. Consequently, metaphysics which is yielded by such intuition is reduced to psychology, not the psychology as an objective positive science, but psychology in the vulgar sense of the word as a description of subjective consciousness. We wonder if it is really necessary to distinguish intuition from sensation for the sake of such a kind of metaphysics. We may distinguish spirit from matter by the differentiae of time and space. But to characterize spirit by its intelligibility, as distinct from our sensible consciousness, we cannot dispense with concepts. This way is, however, closed to Bergson by his own rejection of all intellectual elements from metaphysics.
Emptiness is a Mode of Perception (from Emptiness, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff), Theravada Text Archives, Internet 1997, revised 1999) Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there is anything lying behind them. This mode is called emptiness because it is empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience to make sense of it: the stories and world views we fashion to explain who we are are and the world we live in. Although these stories and views have their uses, the Buddha found that some of the more abstract questions they raise - of our true identity and the reality of the world outside - pull attention away from a direct experience of how events influence one another in the immediate present. Thus they get in the way when we try to understand and solve the problem of suffering..
To master the emptiness mode of perception requires training in firm virtue, concentration and discernment. Without this training, the mind tends to stay in the mode that keeps creating stories and world views. And from the perspective of that mode, the teaching of emptiness sounds simply like another story or world view with new ground rules.. In terms of your views about the world, it seems to be saying either that the world does not really exist, or else that emptiness is the great undifferentiated ground of being from which we all came [and] to which someday we shall all return. These interpretations not only miss the meaning of emptiness but also keep the mind from getting into the proper mode..
Now, stories and world views do serve a purpose. The Buddha employed them when teaching people, but he never used the word emptiness when speaking in this mode. He recounted the stories of people's lives to show how suffering comes from the unskillful perceptions behind their actions, and how freedom from suffering can come from being more perceptive. And he described the basic principles that underlie the round of rebirth to show how bad intentional actions lead to pain within that round, good ones lead to pleasure, while really skillful actions can take you beyond the round altogether. In all these cases, the teachings were aimed at getting people to focus on the quality of the perceptions and intentions in their minds in the present - in other words, to get them into the emptiness mode. Once there, they can use the teachings on emptiness for their intended purpose: to loosen all attachments to views, stories, and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all greed, anger, and delusion, and thus empty of suffering and stress.
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(last modified 19 January 2021)
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