Advayavada Buddhism

ON COURSE WITH NATURE.

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

More Questions and Answers

question Your contention that “the absolute and phenomena” are “exactly the same thing” but “observed subjectively from a different perspective” is reminiscent of Japanese Tendai’s hongaku thought, the chief characteristic of which is world-affirmation (genjitsu kotei). The major problematic of this doctrine, as you are aware, is that identity (advaya) amounts to the equivocation of phenomena with enlightenment – a quasi-pantheism. On the other hand, some Buddhists argue that identity takes place at the level of final enlightenment, sub specie aeternitatis. After a careful reading of your letters, I must assume that the so-called advayic identity of “absolute and phenomena” takes place at a phenomenal level for you, which I take is your position. By analogy, you are postulating that grasses and trees realize Buddhahood because of the identity (advaya) of subject and its environment. Yet it is easy to see that “grasses and trees” remain such as the environment remains such, neither losing its separate identity. How therefore is this identity, seems puzzling? In what way are even the grasses and trees identical? How is the sky identical with the trees and so on? I apologize if I am not making myself very clear. I enjoy our correspondence. We are like two old fools playing chess in the park!

answer Your closing remark, which made us laugh very much over here, is very zenny and almost like a haiku. Two old fools playing chess in the park, indeed! We are very grateful for your pleasant and forthcoming attitude. We are also enjoying this correspondence very much.

Tendai Buddhism, you might agree, risks becoming in the end, as a result of the exaggerated syncretistic zeal of its followers, no more than a well-meant ontological fantasy. The non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life that we call Advayavada Buddhism is, on the other hand, purely an epistemological standpoint. In accordance with the doctrine of shunyata all distinctions are understood to be fundamentally illusory and artificial – dualisms as Nirvana and Samsara, or absolute and phenomena, are revealed as figments of our imagination. The term advaya in Advayavada means not-two in the sense of knowing that objectively there are not two realities nor two conditions or aspects of reality. When we say that Samsara and Nirvana are the same thing, we do not mean that they are identical in the sense of being two-but-the-same, as is meant by the Hindu term advaita, but that they are simply not two, that they are very literally one-and-the-same thing: rather simply put, Samsara is the name we give to reality as experienced conventionally and Nirvana is the name we give to the same one reality but as experienced by the fully enlightened mind – this identity is, indeed, also the third truth of basic Tendai philosophy.

The tendency to view reality as two is a result of our fundamental ignorance of the true nature of reality, as professor Murti writes in The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The Spinozean expression sub specie aeternitatis is frequently used by Buddhists to indicate that we would see for ourselves that there are not two realities if we were able to view existence from the completely non-conceptual standpoint of eternity. We can however ascertain rightnow, as indeed Madhyamaka proves, that there is no basis whatsoever to suppose that besides phenomena there is a second, transcendent and, moreover, superior reality. The specific purpose of Advayavada Buddhism, which literally means not-two-ism, is to actively propound the conclusions of Madhyamaka philosophy in this respect. Your grasses and trees are indeed two of the many different manifestations of vegetable life. Advayavada Buddhism does not maintain that they are identical phenomena; what Advayavada Buddhism maintains is that there is no reason at all to believe that there is a further second reality, invisible to the eye, parallel to these life forms or any other phenomena. In Advayavada Buddhism there are no other two than part and whole, numerator and denominator.

There are not two realities, but there are, Madhyamaka teaches, two ways of seeing, of experiencing, of understanding the one reality: there are two truths, conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya) and ultimate truth (paramartha-satya). In our everyday application of conventional truth, though we are aware of the intrinsic emptiness of all dharmas or phenomena since we know that all things are interdependently arisen and exist conceptually only by virtue of our idea of them or of their alleged opposite, we nevertheless do take into account and make use of the relative, conceptual aspects of phenomena in our commonplace interaction with other sentient beings and with our environment. As a matter of fact, the Noble Eightfold Path operates throughout exclusively at the level of conventional truth. As we advance along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana by ridding ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasha-, dasasamyojana) that restrict us to Samsara, the fallacies in our perception of Samsara are progressively transformed, purified first into conventional truth, and it is through conventional truth that we shall eventually come to understand the non-conceptual import of ultimate truth. The dialectic of Madhyamaka, with its exhaustive analysis of the nature of reality, indeed takes place at the level of conventional truth. By ultimate truth is meant our awareness of the underlying field of experience where all phenomena stripped of their relative aspects are known to happen: it is our insight into the void beyond all concepts. This field of experience where the real events are known to take place is that of non-dual emptiness, advayata, shunyata, the realm of prajña, non-dual, contentless intuition. To experience existence at this level, which we can truly say lies between the notions of being and non-being, is nothing less than Nirvana.

question What are those ten fetters you just mentioned?

answer In Advayavada Buddhism, the ten samyojana or fetters that restrict us to samsaric life are: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, 8) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our ignorance.

question Do I count three realms of experience in your description of the dvaya-satya doctrine: Samsara, conventional truth, and ultimate truth or Nirvana (more or less along the lines of the three kinds of knowledge in Spinoza: opinion, reason and intuition)?

answer Though Nagarjuna’s dvaya-satya teaching is very much a two-truths doctrine, as its Sanskrit name indicates, some aspects are comparable to Spinoza’s teaching. Our application in Advayavada Buddhism of this essential Madhyamika doctrine is as follows: Samsara is to experience the phenomenal world at the level of conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya). However, our initial perception of the phenomenal world normally contains many fallacies (mithyasamvriti) and the conversion of these fallacies into true conventional truth (tathyasamvriti), by following the Noble Eightfold Path, occurs entirely within the realm of Samsara. At the same time the fetters that restrict us to Samsara are broken one by one. Ideally, our perception of Samsara becomes in the end wholly pure conventional truth, whilst all ten of the restraining fetters have also been shattered along the way. Now, it is as a result of this thorough purification of our perception of the phenomenal world, at the level of conventional truth, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth. Ultimate truth (paramartha-satya) is truth divested of all our preconceptions, including eventually those expressed here. Nirvana is to understand and experience the one phenomenal world at this level of ultimate truth – to experience the phenomenal world thus, brings about the complete extinction (nirodha) of all suffering (duhkha, dukkha) as a direct result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is. The fully liberated person has continually at his or her disposal, then, two truths: the everyday conventional truth of the phenomenal world and the ultimate truth of its pure, unblemished becoming, its Emptiness.

Hua-yen is difficult to summarize (Cook)

Hua-yen is difficult to summarize (from Fa-tsang’s Brief Commentary, by Francis H. Cook, in Mahayana Buddhist Meditation, edited by Minoru Kiyota, 1978, Delhi 1991)

Hua-yen totalism is difficult to summarize briefly. The concrete world “out there” is a perfect fusion of the phenomenal shih and absolute li, of form se and emptiness k’ung. To say that something is empty is to say that it lacks any kind of self-existence (svabhava), and while the external world appears to be divided into many separate entities, each with a distinct form and function, all are alike empty of any substance or essence which would make them truly distinct and independent. Thus, to speak of the static relationship between things, things can be said to be essentially identical, i.e. empty of self-existence. However, this emptiness is never found apart from concrete reality, apart from “form”, to use the sutra terminology; emptiness is expressed in forms, and these forms are seen as exerting causal influences on each other. Thus to speak of their dynamic relationship, things can be said to be interdependent. Now, while it may seem strange to speak of a cosmos in which all things are identical and interdependent, these two relationships are nothing but other ways of saying that everything is empty, sarvam shunyam.

The result of this sort of analysis of the mode of being of the dharmadhatu is a de-emphasis of the differences between things and an emphasis on seeing being in its totality. Distinctions are submerged, hierarchies disappear, past, present, and future merge, and in this vast organism of interdependent parts, any part acts simultaneously as cause and effect. There is, then, a very intimate relationship between any one individual and all other individuals (or the totality). Because each and all other individuals are lacking in self-existence and have their being purely through intercausality, the whole is dependent on the part, because without the part, there can be no whole. (It must be remembered that each part has this relationship to the whole simultaneously.) At the same time, however, the part has not existence and no meaning outside the context of the totality, because is is a part of the whole. Thus, the part creates the whole and the whole creates the part, in a view of existence which Hua-yen calls fa-chieh yuan-ch’i or the interdependent origination of the cosmos (in Sanskrit dharmadhatu pratityasamutpada). Along with this interdependence, there is a relationship of essential identity among the parts of the whole.

The final consequence of this view of being is a doctrine of the completely free interfusion, or interpenetration, of the parts in the whole, and this is the distinctively Hua-yen doctrine of shih shih wu-ai, the non-impediment of a thing with any other thing. For instance, though the present is the present, because of the principle of interdependence (emptiness), the present includes past and future, which remain past and future. Or, to give another example, the practices of the boddhisattva can rightly be seen as the cause of Buddhahood-effect, but because of emptiness, they can be seen as result, because they too, in their emptiness, are merely manifestations of the Buddha [the whole]. If, as Hua-yen claims, the dharmadhatu is the body of Vairocana, where can I not find the Buddha? Everything, in fact, in the Hua-yen cosmos is worthy of respect and honor, because everything manifests the totality of being and reality.

More Questions and Answers

question You say that ‘man’s observance of the five fundamental precepts in his daily life gives him the moral strength required to embark upon the Buddha’s Middle Way…’ I think you’ve missed the point of the precepts. These are artificial, man-made rules. In actuality, humans can never fully abide by those rules. I personally think that’s why the Buddha enjoined his disciples to follow them. To vow to follow those precepts is to become a living koan. The symbol of the path to enlightenment is a flower, not a ledger of morality. Just ask Mahakashyapa. What is the morality of a flower?

answer Buddhism is a highly ethical teaching and way of life for human beings that is man-made in its entirety like any other. There is, in our view, no such thing as divine law – the golden rule is perfectly rational. Traditionally, to become a lay Buddhist one voluntarily takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and undertakes to comply with at least the first five of the Buddhist precepts. The Five Precepts (pañca-sila, pancha-shila, pansil) are the minimum moral obligations a lay Buddhist freely takes upon him or herself. The precise interpretation of these precepts aside for the moment, it is universally agreed that people who wantonly kill, steal, maybe molest children, cheat and deceive, or enjoy getting drunk or stoned, need not do the effort to embark on the Buddha’s Middle Way until they have first cleaned up their act. Now, as for their exact interpretation, they comprise ‘not only minimal morality, but basic morality capable of many degrees of fulfillment’ (Winston L. King). Whether, for instance, the first precept also forbids meat-eating, whether the third precept forbids alternative sexual practices like e.g. swinging, or whether the fifth precept forbids all alcoholic beverages and drugs or just the getting intoxicated as some maintain, this is therefore as well our own responsibility. One must only not lose sight of the underlying reason for these fundamental voluntary precepts, which is to become moral individuals able, as such, to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to eliminate existential suffering, angst and regret from our lives.

This might be as good a place as any to warn that for many people social drinking is a potential source of much future suffering. Bear in mind in this context the persistent irrational taboo of not admitting to alcohol abuse by ourselves or those close to us. (cf. Nucleus accumbens [Nacc] research)

question How can one beat alcoholism?

answer One can certainly fully neutralize alcohol addiction by stopping to drink alcoholic beverages altogether, one day at the time, with the help of (a) your GP and (b) a personal psychological coach or counsellor, and (c) by joining a reputable support group to help you develop the necessary emotional counterpunch. The Noble Eightfold Path provides a very appropriate overall training to beat this serious biopsychosocial [BPS] disease.

question I am a secondary school teacher and am creating a poster for display in class about the five precepts of Buddhism but have a problem simplifying the precept about abstaining from sexual misconduct into child friendly words.

answer Maybe you could say ‘To abstain from loveless [or hurtful] sexual conduct.’ Though in our opinion the words ‘to abstain from sexual misconduct’ are well to the point and cannot really be considered teenager unfriendly anymore in our day and age. Frank debate of this precept in a secondary school classroom is, moreover, an excellent and very timely opportunity to also explain the dangers of unprotected sex. It is in the safety of their own homes, however, that youngsters ought to unhibitedly learn most about their budding sexuality.

In order to help young people to later become balanced individuals the three basic aspects of a person (the physiological-sexual, the social-spiritual, and the economic-creative) must be developed equally.

question What is your position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage?

answer Small homosexual minorities are a biological fact in all societies. As for same-sex alliances, these belong, in our view, to the sphere of civil partnerships, cohabitation, cohousing, communes, temporary and plural marriages, sibling cohabitation, and other living groups, and much must still be done everywhere to improve all pertinent fiscal, social security, housing and inheritance legislation to facilitate such groups.

For that matter, divorce rates and the incidence of infidelity and domestic violence clearly show that the traditional (heterosexual and monogamous) marriage-for-life is not really the conclusive social system. To start with, it does not take into account obvious evolutionary differences between the sexual drive of men and women. Also, current divorce legislation with respect to the division of marital property, alimony, child support and visiting rights, and the like, is often unfair even in developed societies. (cf. serial monogamy, polygamy)

question In your own view, is nonprocreative sex good or bad?

answer Although there is in principle nothing at all wrong with enjoying consensual sex in its manifold forms, it nevertheless presents a persistent ethical difficulty in most societies, often with very serious psychological and behavioral repercussions. We believe, particularly, that healthy sexual relations can and should be honest and aboveboard vis-a-vis everybody concerned. Tantric sexual techniques can be recommended by us as liberating and enriching. “Make love, not war” remains, in our view, a very valid adage.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 26

Dear friends,

This week (26) we continue to practice our very best meditation towards samadhi.

samadhi = total concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absortion in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

Kind regards,
John.

The Three Poisons

akushala, akusala (Skt.) karmically unwholesome; the three evil or unwholesome roots (akushala-mulas) are: greed (lobha) or craving, depicted as a red cock; anger or hatred (dvesha), depicted as a green snake; and delusion (moha) arising from ignorance or foolishness, depicted as a black pig. Also called the three afflictions, fires or poisons.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 25

Dear friends,

This week (25) we again make our best possible evaluation of our labour to date.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc. Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by becoming as wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction.

See also https://advayavada.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/the-advayavada-study-plan/

Kind regards,
John.

The Whole of Things (De Dijn)

The Whole of Things (from Metaphysics as Ethics, by Herman De Dijn, in God and Nature: Spinoza’s Metaphysics, edited by Yirmiyahu Yovel, Leiden 1991) In Spinoza’s physics, the fundamental categories are the “common notions” and the general laws they imply concerning the nature and interrelations of parts. At most, one gets insight into the space-time continuum of all the parts and the law of the conservation of energy. In his metaphysics, however, the whole is identified as an infinite, sempiternal Whole, which is but an infinite mode of the divine substance. The whole, studied in physics by examining its parts, is interpreted in metaphysics as having not only a “surface” dimension (the whole constituted by the parts), but also a dimension of “depth”, the infinite substance which underlies each of the individual parts as well as the whole. As Natura naturata, the whole can thus be seen to depend radically on substance or Natura naturans, God or substance being at the same time immanent and transcendent.

What is affirmed of God in Spinoza’s rationalistic metaphysics is basically that only God or Nature deserves to be called substance, causa sui, free and eternal – all names which we undeservedly give to ourselves in our anthropocentric conceit. In applying these names to Nature as a substantive whole, Spinoza somehow “individualizes” the whole of things in which we live; this proves to be very important in the relationship between metaphysics and intuitive knowledge. In his metaphysical treatises, Spinoza shows – in the light of the objectifying insights of metaphysics and physics – how to reinterpret the old ethico-religious and metaphysical notions and problems such as God, Providence, mind and body, intellect and will, rationality, freedom, immortality. There interpretation should ensure that all traces of anthropocentrism disappear. Yet, Spinoza was well aware that metaphysics, though for him a strictly cognitive project using the one scientific method, mos geometricus, had to be relevant to the search for salvation. As the continuation and the explication of the anti-anthropocentrism already present in the scientific attitude, this cognitive project was of direct relevance to the problem of salvation. Spinoza was aware that a kind of pedagogical steering of the cognitive project was necessary to arrive at the ultimate aim – salvation through contemplation – as quickly as possible: “I pass now to explaining those things which must necessarily follow from the essence of God, or [sive] the infinite and eternal Being – not, indeed, all of them …, but only those that can lead us, by the hand, as it were, to the knowledge of the human Mind and its highest blessedness” (EIIpref). This guidance of the project leads to the development of a human science in which man objectively understands himself as truly a mode of substance, and to the elaboration of a scientific ethics.

A true part of the whole

John Willemsens’ favourite definition of the Truth is that by Shree Rajneesh, contained in a 1985 letter to him from Rajneeshpuram: “Beloved John, I talk about the truth as joy in the heart; it has nothing to do with logic, nothing to do with philosophy; it has something to do with a transformation of your innermost core, when your very being starts throbbing, pulsating, in tune with existence, when there is no discord between you and the whole, when you are so synchronized with the whole that you are no more but only the whole is.” Also the purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to help us to become a true part of the whole.

More Questions and Answers

question Diana St. Ruth writes the following in Tricycle: When one follows what is right according to one’s heart and good sense, when wisdom and compassion become real, not contrived, the way of heaven manifests beneath one’s feet. That is the way of liberation from suffering and the realization of genuine happiness.

answer Yes, that’s right. This is what in Advayavada Buddhism we call ‘reconciliation with Buddha-nature’. In Buddhism to follow ‘what is right’ means to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. It is necessary for us to follow the Path to realize what Buddha-nature is, for the way of heaven to manifest, as St. Ruth says. The Path is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time. In Advayavada Buddhism the Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something in the future, but as the way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. The Eightfold Path is seen as the way to become oneself herenow as existence becoming over time now in its overall right direction; it is by becoming herenow as the whole of existence as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it, that we free ourselves from suffering and realize genuine happiness. Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time – Nirvana is the ultimate reconciliation with his or her Buddha-nature achievable by man.

question How do you know that existence becomes over time ‘in the right direction’, as you say?

answer Firstly, we must agree that wondrous overall existence cannot, by definition, but be just right as it is and, secondly, that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, propounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude, must be to reconnect and reconcile us with existence as a whole – we can safely assume that the Buddha did not teach that there were two sets of rules at play, one for existence and one for its ‘by-product’ people! Therefore, because, in other words, the dharma of the part is not different from the Dharma of the whole, the Buddha’s Middle Way, in its dynamic Eightfold Path form, must be understood as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time. Now, as the Eightfold Path leads us towards better and better, it follows, inductively if you will, that, expressed purely in human terms, existence as a whole progresses over time as well. By the same logic, it also becomes quite clear that, inversely, we experience as good, right or wholesome, indeed as progress, those events which are in agreement with the overall pattern and direction of existence, that it is for this reason that they are experienced thus.

question We also have meditated and taught on many of these subjects but use different terminology. As an example you use the term ‘ever better’ and we use the term ‘more beautiful’. We do this because each person has an innate sense of what is ‘more beautiful’. You do not think about beauty, it simply is known. ‘Better’ is a term that requires the intellectual body to analyze two things based on a reference standard. For what purpose or state of being is it better? What makes the time of the plague in Europe ever better than classical Greek civilization?

answer To understand Advayavada Buddhism it is necessary to accept in the first place the preeminence of wondrous overall existence over mankind and that existence cannot, by definition, be anything but just right as it is. Secondly, that the objective of the Middle Way, being the correct existential attitude expounded by the Buddha, is the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence – indeed, that in its dynamic Eightfold Path form, the Middle Way is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time. Now, as the Eightfold Path leads us towards better and better, it follows, inductively if you will, that, in human terms, existence as a whole becomes over time towards better and better as well. Inversely, we experience as good, right or wholesome those events which are in agreement with the overall indifferent pattern and direction of existence – it is for this reason that they are experienced thus. The reference standard, you see, is wondrous overall existence. It is not mankind, with its various civilizations and plagues, let alone, however well intentioned, our subjective sense of relative beauty.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 24

Dear friends,

This week (24) we continue to muster our very best effort to fulfill our objective.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc. Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by becoming as wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction.

Kind regards,
John.

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