Advayavada Buddhism

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Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Advayavada Study Plan – week 44

Dear friends,

This week (44) we again closely survey the 8fold path that eliminates the cause of suffering.

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is understood dynamically as an ongoing and fully autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight, reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, and is composed of (1) our very best (Pali: samma, Sanskrit: samyak) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition (of our intention), (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation
@advayavada

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The Conventional Reality of Phenomena (Garfield)

The Conventional Reality of Phenomena (from The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, by Prof. Jay L. Garfield, New York 1995)

The central topic of Mulamadhyamakakarika (literally Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way) is ’emptiness’ – the Buddhist technical term for the lack of independent existence, inherent existence, or essence in things. Nagarjuna relentlessly analyzes phenomena or processes that appear to exist independently and argues that they cannot so exist, and yet, though lacking the inherent existence imputed to them either by naive common sense or by sophisticated realistic philosophical theory, these phenomena are not nonexistent – they are, he argues, conventionally real.

This dual thesis of the conventional reality of phenomena together with their lack of inherent existence depends upon the complex doctrine of the two truths or two realities – a conventional or nominal truth and an ultimate truth – and upon a subtle and surprising doctrine regarding their relation. It is, in fact, this sophisticated development of the doctrine of the two truths as a vehicle for understanding Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology that is Nagarjuna’s greatest philosophical contribution. If the analysis in terms of emptiness is the substantive heart of Mulamadhyamakakarika, the method of reductio ad absurdum is the methodological core. Nagarjuna, like Western sceptics, systematically eschews the defense of positive metaphysical doctrines regarding the nature of things, arguing rather that any such positive thesis is incoherent and that, in the end, our conventions and our conceptual framework can never be justified by demonstrating their correspondence to an independent reality. Rather, he suggests, what counts as real depends precisely on our conventions (though in the end, as we shall see, ultimate reality depends on our conventions in a way, it depends on our conventions in a very different way from that in which conventional reality does; despite this difference in the structure of the relation between convention and reality in the two cases, however, it remains a distinctive feature of Nagarjuna’s system that it is impossible to speak coherently of reality independent of conventions).

For Nagarjuna and his followers this point [that what counts as real depends on our conventions] is connected deeply and directly with the emptiness of phenomena. That is, for instance, when a Madhyamika philosopher says of a table that it is empty, that assertion by itself is incomplete. It invites the question: empty of what? And the answer is: empty of inherent existence, or self-nature, or, in more Western terms, essence. Now, to say that the table is empty is hence simply to say that it lacks essence and importantly not to say that it is completely nonexistent. To say that it lacks essence, the Madhyamika philosopher will explain, is to say, as the Tibetans like to put it, that is does not exist ‘from its own side’ – that its existence as the object that it is – as a table – depends not on it, nor on any purely nonrelational characteristics, but depends on us as well. That is, if our culture had not evolved this manner of furniture, what appears to us to be an obviously unitary object might instead be correctly described as five objects: four quite useful sticks absurdly surmounted by a pointless slab of stick-wood waiting to be carved!

Madhyamaka is advayavada (Loy)

Madhyamaka is advayavada (from Nonduality, A Study in Comparative Philosophy, by Prof. David R. Loy, 1988, Amherst 1998)

Advaita Vedanta clearly asserts nonduality in our third sense [the nondifference of subject and object], to the extent of making it the central tenet. The case of Buddhism is more complicated. Ontologically, Pali Buddhism, which bases itself on what are understood to be the original teachings of the Buddha, seems pluralistic. Reality is understood to consist of a multitude of discrete particulars (dharmas). The self is analyzed away into five ‘heaps’ (skandhas) which the Abhidharma (the ‘higher dharma’, a philosophical abstract of the Buddha’s teachings) classifies and systematizes. So early Buddhism, while critical of dualistic thinking, is not nondual in the second, monistic [the nonplurality of the world], sense. Regarding the nondifference of subject and object, the issue is less clear. While the second sense of nonduality [the nonplurality of the world] logically implies some version of the third [the nondifference of subject and object], it is not true that a denial of the second sense implies a denial of the third. The world might be a composite of discrete experiences which are nondual in the third sense.

I am not acquainted with any passage in the Pali Canon that clearly asserts the nonduality of subject and object, as one finds in so many Mahayana texts. But I have also found no denial of such nonduality. One may view the no-self (anatman) doctrine of early Buddhism as another way of making the same point; instead of asserting that subject and object are one, the Buddha simply denies that there is a subject. These two formulations may well amount to the same thing, although the latter may be criticized as ontologically lopsided: since subject and object are interdependent, the subject cannot be eliminated without transforming the nature of the object (and vice-versa, as Advaita Vedanta was aware)..

Mahayana Buddhism abounds in assertions of subject-object nonduality, despite the fact that the most important Mahayana philosophy, Madhyamaka, cannot be said to assert nonduality at all, since it makes few (if any) positive claims but confines itself to refuting all philosophical positions. Madhyamaka is advayavada (the theory of not-two, here meaning neither of two alternative views, our first sense of nonduality [the negation of dualistic thinking] ), rather than advaitavada (the theory of nondifference between subject and object, our third sense). Prajña is understood to be nondual knowledge, but this again is advaya, knowledge devoid of views. Nagarjuna neither asserts nor denies the experience of nonduality in the third sense, despite the fact that Madhyamika dialectic criticizes the self-existence of both subject and object, since relative to each other they must both be unreal: “Nagarjuna holds that dependent origination is nothing else but the coming to rest of the manifold of named things (prapañcopashama). When the everyday mind and its contents are no longer active, the subject and object of everyday transactions having faded out because the turmoil of origination, decay, and death has been left behind completely, that is final beatitude.” (Chandrakirti, Prasannapada)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 43

Dear friends,

This week (43) we further deepen our understanding that ignorant craving is the real cause of suffering.

According to Advayavada Buddhism, it is indisputable that the Buddha did not believe in Brahman (God, transcendent and immutable Absolute) or in the atman or atta (soul, immortal self) and taught that man suffers because he does not understand and accept that all things in life are instead utterly changeable and transitory; if the Buddha had ever expressed belief in Brahman and the atman or atta, such a fact would have been unequivocally recorded in History. Man is prone to suffering (duhkha, dukkha) quite simply because he wrongly strives after and tries to hold on to things, concepts and situations which he believes to be permanent, but are not.

Man’s mistaken view of things is produced by a thirst or craving (called trishna in Sanskrit and tanha in Pali) which is in turn caused by his fundamental ignorance (avidya, avijja) of the true nature of reality. And this thirst or craving can easily take on a more unwholesome form: already as sensuous desire, ill-will, laziness, impatience or distrust will it seriously hinder any efforts to better his circumstances.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation
@advayavada

Advayavada Study Plan – week 42

Dear friends,

This week (42) we again study the ubiquity of suffering (dukkha/duhkha) as thoroughly as possible.

duhkha (Skt.) undergoing suffering, sorrow; dissatisfaction; frustration, stress; pervasive unsatisfactoriness; gnawing unease; the existential distress nonliberated human beings are prone to, one of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being (anitya, anatman, duhkha and pratipada); suffering in the sense of suffocation: ‘the state of the Infinite delusionally imprisoned in the finite, that manifests as human suffering’ (Kimura); in Advayavada Buddhism does not include emotional grief or physical pain; suffering is ‘not a permanent feature of reality’ and is ‘only admitted and entertained as a possible contingency in life as it is generally lived’ (B.C. Law); ‘basic frustration that reality does not conform to our innermost desires’ (Loy); the first noble truth.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation
@advayavada

The Noble Eightfold Path

“The Fourth Noble Truth is that of the Way leading to the cessation of dukkha (dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada-ariyasacca). This is known as the ‘Middle Path’ (Majjhima Patipada), because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search of happiness through the pleasures of the senses, which is ‘low, common, unprofitable and the way of the ordinary people’; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of ascetism, which is ‘painful, unworthy and unprofitable’.. This Middle Path is generally referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya-Atthangika-Magga), because it is composed of eight categories or divisions..” (Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, first published 1959)

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is understood dynamically as an ongoing and fully autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight, reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, and is composed of (1) our very best (Pali: samma, Sanskrit: samyak) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition (of our intention), (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 41

Dear friends,

This week (41) we again study the selflessness (anatmata, nisvabhava) of all things as thoroughly as possible.

anatman (Skt.) without a self or self-nature, selfless; therefore finite; denial of the atman; the Buddhist anatmata doctrine teaches that ‘no self exists in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance within an individual existent’; a fundamental tenet in Buddhism that ‘since there is no subsistent reality to be found in or underlying appearances, there cannot be a subsistent self or soul in the human appearance’; everything arises, abides, changes, and extinguishes according to pratityasamutpada; one of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being (anitya, anatman, duhkha, and pratipada or progress).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

More Questions and Answers

question How do we know about the world? Via the body, perception, sense consciousness and so on, all dependent on this embodied state. But how seldom our awareness rests within this body; how seldom the body and mind are at ease with themselves. We seldom think about our bodies; they are something given. When they work well and provide us with pleasure and happiness, we are satisfied with them and then ignore them. Only when they stop working properly, do we attend to them, and then only as a teacher to an errant pupil; we are angry and disappointed that they have failed us. We have a strangely ambivalent attitude to something so vital to us. It’s not like our relationship with a car; we can’t go out and hire or buy another one when it breaks down; yet we often treat our cars with more care and consideration.

We are born into this body, and when it dies, we die. But does one choose this body or decide its dimensions? Is one even able fully to control it? Can one choose when one wakes, goes to sleep, is ill, is healthy? No, most of what occurs with respect to the body is involuntary. We know, for example, that the body has various repair mechanisms, but it is very rare that we can set these in motion ourselves. Is this what we are, these arms, these legs, this head, eyes, teeth? With modern techniques, an awful lot of it can be made prosthetically. And so what are we? The bit that remains? The brain, two ears and so on? Or is this perhaps not how it is at all, not what we are at all? If the body were simply us, we would have a great deal more to say in the matter!

answer The lion’s share of our body’s activities is fortunately under the control of our peripheral nervous system, which includes the autonomic nervous system. ‘The sensory nerve fibres of the peripheral system carry impulses from e.g. the ear or the skin to the brain, and its motor nerve fibres carry impulses from the brain to e.g. our skeletal muscles. The autonomic nervous system comprises a sympathetic and a parasympathetic system which counterbalance each other. Together they run, for example, our heart rate and the flow of blood through our blood vessels, the contractions of our digestive tract, the ever-changing size of the pupil of the eye, the dilation and constriction of our bronchii, etc.’ We do not think that you would want to have a conscious say in these matters.

You will agree that these nervous systems carry out very complicated and, above all, indispensable and irreplaceable functions. But the relevant fact in the present context is that the systems are things (that belong to the rupa skandha) and what they carry out are not things but activities, processes (that belong to the arupa skandhas). A thing and what that thing does are not two things; they are a thing and an, its, activity or function, and an activity is an event, not a thing. It is for this same reason that Advayavada Buddhism stresses again and again that the mind is not a separate thing but one more function of the body; the mind is to think (and consciousness is to know) and to think is not a thing but an activity, a process, which is an event, not a thing. A mind that is in any way a thing separate from the body, and moreover carries out activities on its own and by itself, is an atman or pudgala, or a soul. To propound that such a thing exists, as you seem to do, contravenes the Buddha’s most basic anatman teaching.

Bearing in mind that the traditional khandhas or skandhas theory is but a very rudimentary presupposition of the actual physiological processes, earlier on we had this to say about the skandhas in this respect: The skandhas in fact do nothing – they are the doing. The cluster of physical existence is the rupa skandha. Also this cluster does nothing – it is physical existence in all its aspects. The four or so non-physical skandhas [traditionally sensations or feelings (vedana), perception (samjña, sañña), mental forces or formations (samskara, sankhara), and consciousness (vijñana, viññana)] are clusters or aggregates of functions, which are events – they denote how the rupa skandha is over time. The rupa skandha does not cause these events, it is them. Like when we say that a tree grows. The tree does not do the growing; it is the growing. This is how the tree is, how it exists in space and time. The growing of the tree is quite obviously an event, and not a thing, let alone a separate thing capable of in turn doing other things by itself. We owe the cohesion and activity of the rupa skandha to the spontaneous incessant dynamic principle of existence: the interdependent and conditioned co-arising or interdependent origination or universal dynamic relativity of all phenomena, called pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit.

important note Advayavada Buddhism supports the view that consciousness (to know) is a biological phenomenon. All living beings – plants, animals and humans – experience the world in their own ways. Each organism engages in a creative relationship with the external world, bringing forth a myriad of different ways of knowing, whereby the physiology of the organism changes accordingly (immanently) in the process.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 40

Dear friends,

This week (40) we again study the impermanence (aniccata/anityata) of all things as thoroughly as possible.

anitya (Skt.) impermanent, changeable, unstable; one of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being; the Buddhist anityata doctrine teaches that impermanence or changeability is one of the fundamental properties of everything existing, without which existence (and liberation) would not be possible.

Kind regards,
John.

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