Advayavada Buddhism


Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Advayavada Study Plan – week 1

Dear friends,

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.

This week (1) 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 Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation

Pratitya-samutpada (Tachikawa)

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 possess 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.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 52

Dear friends,

Next week (52) we continue to practice our very best meditation towards samadhi.

The 8th Step on the Noble 8fold Path: samma-samadhi (samyak-samadhi); in Advayavada: our very best meditation or concentration towards samadhi; right rapture (Arnold, Eliot, Malalasekera), right samadhi (Bahm, Dharmapala), right concentration (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Khemo, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu, Warder), appropriate concentration (Batchelor), right meditation (David-Neel, Humphreys, Keown, Stroup), right meditating (Melamed), right illumination (Dharmapala), right awareness (Kornfield), right tranquility (Narasu), right contemplation (Rhys Davids, Watts); absolute concentration of purpose (Edwardes); correct concentration (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

samadhi (Skt.): total or perfect 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 dynamic 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 Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation

Being-determined and Self-determination are One (Nishitani)

Being-determined and Self-determination are One (from Religion and Nothingness, by Prof. Keiji Nishitani, translated with an introduction by Prof. Jan van Bragt, and with a foreword by Prof. Winston L. King, 1982, Berkeley 1983)

An attempt has been made in the preceding to explain that our existence, our behaviour, and our becoming all come about within a world-nexus that is unlimited not only with regard to time but also with regard to space. Already on the standpoint of karma as well, the Dasein of the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming comes about within time without beginning or end, while opening up the infinite openness of nihility directly beneath the present. But inasmuch as this dynamic nexus appears only as a perpetual relating to something, our Dasein, in being determined by that world-nexus, becomes one with it in ‘fate’.

Dasein is always and at each occasion becoming manifest as one particular roll of the waves that gathers up into itself the whole ebb and flow of the world-nexus since time without beginning or end. Our doing in that context is free with the freedom of attachment determined by causal necessity within the total nexus and, at the same time, is also free with the arbitrary freedom that contracts the total nexus into the one center of the self.

That is why our doing is karma standing on nihility. In that doing, nihility, even as it becomes manifest from the ground where self and the world are one, nullifies the being of the self, sets the self adrift in transitory becoming, and transforms the self and all other things into a samskrta [samskrita, interdependently conditioned = pratityasamutpada] existence.

It was noted earlier in this chapter that being-determined in the world-nexus and self-determination are one. But on the standpoint of karma this self-determination makes the infinite drive that originates from the self-centered elemental source of avidya its essence and becomes manifest in taking the form of will as attachment and control. And being-determined means being conditioned through causal necessity in that total, unlimited nexus.

Further, it was noted that the free exercise of will, consisting of attachment and control in its relations with any given thing, is in its very freedom a configuration determined by ‘fate’ – which is after all what karma is. In this karmic mode of being, then, nihility becomes manifest from the ground where self and world are one. And the reason for this, as we went on to explain, is that avidya, as an infinite self-enclosure elemental to karma, rises to awareness only in unison with the nihility on which it stands. In karma we can only have our being through being constantly engaged in doing something. That is, in order to be, we are obliged to be relating to something. This means that our being is a debt unto itself, and that our doing as a settlement of that debt is equivalent to the direct instatement of a new debt. This means, on the one hand, that our being is passing away and coming to be at every fleeting instant and that therein the nihility that is constantly nullifying our being is revealed. On the other hand, at the same point that the continuous cancellation of debt is a continuous reinstatement, there appears something that urges us on endlessly from within. In that infinite drive, our Dasein is never able to divest itself of its own home-ground, and our self within that dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is always itself – in incessant becoming.

Avidya comes to awareness as the home-ground of the self, where the self is caught in incessant becoming and unable to take its leave, that is, as the outermost extreme of self-centeredness. As a result, in avidya, the persistence of the self at being itself and emerging into the nature of self-centered being, always comes about as a simultaneous whole with the disclosure of nihility in avidya in its very process of nullifying the being of the self. The inability of the self to detach itself from the home-ground of its own transitory becoming – or, conversely, the self’s being ever itself, while its being is nonetheless in constant change – also has its base here. That is what karma means. Dasein in the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is but the being of the self being constituted directly beneath the present as an emergence from nihility into the nature of avidya.

The Philosophy of Emptiness (Abe)

The Philosophy of Emptiness (from Zen and Western Thought, by Prof. Masao Abe, edited by Prof. William R. LaFleur, 1985, Honolulu 1989)

In early Buddhism the theory of dependent origination and the philosophy of emptiness were still naively undifferentiated. It was Abhidharma Buddhism which awakened to a kind of philosophy of emptiness and set it up in the heart of Buddhism. But the method of its process of realization was to get rid of concepts of substantiality by analysing phenomenal things into diverse elements and thus advocating that everything is empty. Accordingly, Abhidharma Buddhism’s philosophy of emptiness was based solely on analytic observation – hence it was later called the ‘analytic view of emptiness’. It did not have a total realization of emptiness of the phenomenal things. Thus the overcoming of the concept of substantial nature or ‘being’ was still not thoroughly carried through. Abhidharma fails to overcome the substantiality of the analysed elements.

Beginning with the Prajñaparamita-sutra, Mahayana Buddhist thinkers transcended Abhidharma Buddhism’s analytic view of emptiness, erecting the standpoint which was later called the ‘view of substantial emptiness’. This was a position which did not clarify the emptiness of phenomena by analysing them into elements. Rather, it insisted that all phenomena were themselves empty in principle, and insisted on the nature of the emptiness of existence itself. The Prajñaparamita-sutra emphasizes ‘not being, and not not being’. It clarified not only the negation of being, but also the position of the double negation – the negation of non-being as the denial of being – or the negation of the negation. It thereby disclosed ‘Emptiness’ as free from both being and non-being, i.e. it revealed prajña-wisdom.

But it was Nagarjuna who gave this standpoint of Emptiness found in the Prajñaparamita-sutra a thorough philosophical foundation by drawing out the implications of the mystical intuition seen therein and developing them into a complete philosophical realization. Nagarjuna criticized the proponents of substantial essence of his day who held that things really exist corresponding to concepts. He said that they had lapsed into an illusory view which misconceived the real state of the phenomenal world. He insisted that with the transcendence of the illusory view of concepts, true Reality appears as animitta (no-form, or non-determinate entity). But Nagarjuna rejected as illusory, not only the ‘eternalist’ view, which took phenomena to be real just as they are, but also the opposite ‘nihilistic’ view that emptiness and non-being are true reality. He took as the standpoint of Mahayana Emptiness an independent stand liberated from every illusory point of view connected with either affirmation or negation, being or non-being, and called that standpoint the ‘Middle Way’.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 51

Dear friends,

This week (51) we again make our best possible evaluation of our efforts to date.

The 7th Step on the Noble 8fold Path: samma-sati (samyak-smriti); in Advayavada: our very best observation or reflection and self-correction; right loneliness (Arnold), right alertness (Burt), right mindfulness (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Harvey, Horner, Keown, Malalasekera, Narada, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu), appropriate mindfulness (Batchelor), right attention (David-Neel), right recollectedness (Grimm, Watts), right inspection (Guenther), right recollection (Humphreys, Stroup), right attentiveness (Khemo, Nyanatiloka), right concentration (Kornfield), right thought (Narasu), right remembering (Melamed), right remembrance, right memory, right awareness; full understanding of action and thought (Edwardes); correct attention (Kloppenborg, Scheepers), right self-possession (Warder).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation

Two Types of Negation (Huntington)

Two Types of Negation (from The Emptiness of Emptiness, by Prof. C.W. Huntington Jr., with Geshe Namgyal Wangchen, 1989, Delhi 1992)

Within the Madhyamika system, soteriology plays an integral role as the practical application of philosophical reflection. Although things do not bear their individual existence within themselves, as they appear to do, they are nevertheless quite real insofar as they are efficacious. The eminent Tibetan scholar Tsong kha pa has referred to the concept of causal efficacy – the sole determining criterion for conventional truth and reality – as “the most profound and subtle matter within the Madhyamika philosophy”. One needs, then, to appreciate the interdependent nature of appearances and to adjust attitudes accordingly in order to avoid a considerable amount of suffering.

Indian philosophers traditionally define two distinct types of negation:
(i) Negation which indirectly affirms the existence of something else (paryudasa); and
(ii) Negation which leaves nothing in its place (prasajya).
The Madhyamika has assigned a particular significance to each of these. The first type of negation is “relative”, “implicative”, or “presuppositional” negation. Taken as a philosophical principle, it leads to the opposed ontological positions of nihilism and absolutism. The second type, “nonimplicative” or “nonpresuppositional” negation, is used by the Madhyamika to express the radical, deconstructive negation effected through application of the concept of emptiness. When one negates the reality of a reflection he necessarily affirms the reality of the reflected entity, but when the Madhyamika philosopher negates the reality of the world, he affirms neither a “something” nor a “nothing” in its place. In other words, he does not supply the old, reified concept “reality” with a new, more refined and abstract referent, a metaphysical substrate of some novel and convincing variety. On the contrary, in order to know and accept the world as it is both in its everyday appearance and in the paradox and mystery of this appearance, he steps entirely outside the language game that can be played only by holding onto propositions (pratijñas) and views (dristis). In taking this step he makes the first critical move away from a form of life caught up in the anxious and generally manipulative attitude associated with this way of thinking and acting.

This is a very subtle point, and it lies at the heart of the Madhyamika philosophy for, as Candrakirti and others have often indicated, no matter what ingenious things may be written or said about emptiness by the cleverest philosopher, ultimately it must be “seen by nonseeing” and “realized by nonrealization”. It is not an epistemic or ontic fact dissociated from everyday life, ensconced “out there” somewhere waiting to be discovered and possessed through the power of critical rationalism. “Emptiness” is a conventional designation (prajñapti), an ordinary word used, like all words, to accomplish a specific purpose registered in the intention of the speaker. In accordance with what the texts say, it is perhaps best understood as a way of being, a way of existing, knowing, and acting with complete freedom from clinging and antipathy. In the direct (noninferential) realization of emptiness, the claims of the part or individual are immediately experienced as harmonious with the claims of the whole world of sentient and insentient being. The direct realization of emptiness, what I call the “actualization” of emptiness, is the source of the bodhisattvas’s universal compassion.

The Doctrine of Karman in Candrakirti (Kragh)

The Doctrine of Karman in Candrakirti (by Ulrich T. Kragh, in an email presentation, 2001)

In Buddhist texts, one finds detailed debates on the problem of continuity and change. As the Buddhists generally rejected the concept of a self, there arose certain difficulties in explaining the link between stages in a causal process. If A is the cause of B, and there is no continuous entity, such as a self, that binds them together, what is then the link between them?

The Abhidharma schools came up with a number of different explanations for this question, which were strongly opposed by Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamaka tradition. His critique is found in its most concentrated form in chapter seventeen of the Madhyamakakarika and verses 33-44 of the Shunyatasaptati. Among the various Madhyamaka commentaries to these passages, those of Candrakirti are the most interesting in relation to the above-mentioned problematic, since Candrakirti presents the most radical interpretation of the matter. I have therefore selected the seventeenth chapter of Candrakirti’s commentary (entitled Prasannapada), which comments on the seventeenth chapter of Madhyamakakarika, as one of the main sources for this study. A study and French translation of this chapter was published by Lamotte in MCB 1935-36.

In this chapter, Candrakirti, along with Nagarjuna, first briefly presents the Abhidharma theories of karman along with a critique of these models. Thereafter, their own Madhyamaka presentation of karman is given. It is, of course, important to notice at this point that the Madhyamikas indeed accept the theory of karman. In the view of Candrakirti, causality is possible in the manner of [inter]dependent arising, which is understood as a causal process involving no independently existing elements and which is therefore empty of self-existence. In other words, unlike the Abhidharma models, Candrakirti presents an understanding of causality that involves no concrete basis linking cause and effect. This is done based on the argument that cause and effect do not exist as separate entities in need of being linked. It is a profound process-oriented way of thinking that allows causality to function without introducing any existential ground for it.

At the end of the chapter, Candrakirti refers the reader for further details to the Madhyamakavatara, another of his Madhyamaka-related works. Although Candrakirti does not directly cite a particular passage, this general reference must be taken as indicating verse 14-97 (and its auto-commentary) of the sixth chapter of this text. In this section, Candrakirti criticises the concept that an effect arises from a cause which is different from itself. This in turn has strong bearing on the general Buddhist understanding of causality or karman-theories.

Candrakirti here focuses his polemic against the Yogacarin’s understanding of the karman-theory, in which alayavijnana is posited as the necessary base for causality; i.e. it is consciousness that binds cause and effect together and ensures the individual continuity of the process. Candrakirti’s critique further underlines his understanding of causality as being [inter]dependent arising, involving no individually existing elements and requiring no existential basis for it to function. The Madhyamakavatara thus adds this critique of the Yogacara position on the debate.

The Emptiness of Phenomena is not Nonexistence (Garfield)

The Emptiness of Phenomena is not Nonexistence (from Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, by Jay L. Garfield, in Buddhist Philosophy, Essential Readings, edited by William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield, Oxford and New York 2009)

That all phenomena are dependently originated is the heart of Buddhist ontological theory. In the Mahayana tradition, this dependency is spelled out in three ways: all phenomena are dependent for their existence on complex networks of causes and conditions; a dollar bill, for instance, is dependent on the printing press that printed it, the miners who extracted the ore out of which the metal for the press was smelted, the trees that were pulped for the paper, the United States Treasury, and so on. All wholes are dependent on their parts, and parts on the wholes they help make up. The dollar bill depends for its existence on the particles of paper and ink that constiture it but also, for its existence as a dollar bill, on the entire economic system in which it figures. Finally, all phenomena are dependent for their identities on conceptual imputation. The dollar bill is only a dollar bill, as opposed to a bookmark, because the United States Treasury so designates it. To exist, according to Buddhist metaphysics [sic], simply is to exist dependently in these senses, and hence to be merely conventionally existent.

To exist dependently is, importantly, to be empty of essence. For a Madhyamika, like Nagarjuna, this emptiness of essence is the final mode of existence of any phenomenon, its ultimate truth. For to have an essence is to exist independently, to have one’s identity and to exist not in virtue of extrinsic relations, but simply in virtue of intrisic properties. Because all phenomena are interdependent, all are empty in this sense. Just as the conventional truth about phenomena is made up by their interdependence, their ultimate truth is their emptiness. These are the two truths that Nagarjuna adumbrates throughout his corpus.

It follows immediately that the emptiness of all phenomena that Nagarjuna defends is not nonexistence: to be empty of essence is not to be empty of existence. Instead, to exist is to be empty. It also follows that emptiness is not a deeper truth hidden behind a veil of illusion. The emptiness of any phenomenon is dependent of the existence of that phenomenon, and on its [inter]dependence, which is that in which its essenceless consists. Emptiness is itself dependent, and hence [also] empty. This doctrine of the emptiness of emptiness, and of the identity of interdependence, or conventional truth, and emptiness, or ultimate truth, is Nagarjuna’s deepest philosophical achievement. The two truths are different from one another in that the ultimate is the object of enlightened knowledge and liberating, while the conventional is apprehended by ordinary people through mundane cognitive processes. Nonetheless, they are in a deep sense identical. To be empty of essence is simply to exist only conventionally. The conditions of conventional existence are interdependence and impermanence, which, as we have seen, for Nagarjuna, entail essencelessness.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 50

Dear friends,

This week (50) we continue to muster our very best effort to fulfil our objective.

The 6th Step on the Noble 8fold Path: samma-vayama (samyag-vyayana); in Advayavada: our very best effort or commitment; right thought (Arnold), right effort (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, David-Neel, Dhammananda, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Harvey, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup), appropriate effort (Batchelor), right exertion (Dharmapala, Guenther), right endeavour (Bahm, Dharmapala, Horner, Takakusu), right application (Watts); proper effort in the proper direction (Edwardes); correct exertion (Kloppenborg), correct striving (Scheepers).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens
Advayavada Foundation

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