Advayavada Buddhism

ON COURSE WITH NATURE.

Archive for the tag “emptiness”

Advayavada Study Plan – week 41

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 41] As already asserted, Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year for this lofty purpose and the second preliminary subject of this new quarter is again anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit), which means no-self and is traditionally considered the second of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being; the Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no soul, spirit or self exists in the person in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance. In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that, as in fact all things without exception are produced by interdependent origination, every single thing is consequently empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy: in Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness of all existents is one of the four signs or marks or basic facts of being, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (see week 40), the ubiquity of existential suffering (see next week), and evolution or, in human terms, progress (see the week after that). Feel free to share this post.

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Advayavada Study Plan – week 40

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 40] Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year for this lofty purpose and the first preliminary subject of this new quarter is again anicca (Pali) or anitya (Sanskrit), which means impermanent, changeable, unstable, transitory, and is traditionally considered the first of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being; the Buddhist aniccata or anityata doctrine teaches that impermanence or changeability is the most fundamental property of everything existing; it lies at the very heart of the interdependent origination and emptiness of all things (see week 41), and evolution, progress and liberation would not be possible without it; karma is, in Advayavada Buddhism, this incessant universal process of interdependent origination of all things as it is undergone and experienced by sentient beings, our individual share of it being the unique and everchanging knotlet of biopsychosocial (bps) events in which we are personally embedded. Feel free to share this post.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 28

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 28] As already asserted, Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year for this lofty purpose and the second preliminary subject of this quarter is again anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit), which means no-self and is traditionally considered the second of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being; the Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no soul, spirit or self exists in the person in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance. In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that as in fact all things without exception are produced by interdependent origination every single thing is consequently empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy. In Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness of all existents is one of the four signs or marks or basic facts of being, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (see week 27), the ubiquity of existential suffering, and evolution or, in human terms, progress. Feel free to share this post.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 27

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 27] Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The 13-week Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year for this lofty purpose and the first preliminary subject of this new quarter is again anicca (Pali) or anitya (Sanskrit), which means impermanent, changeable, unstable, transitory, and is traditionally considered the first of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs or marks or basic facts of being. The Buddhist aniccata or anityata doctrine teaches that impermanence or changeability is the most fundamental property of everything existing; it lies at the very heart of the interdependent origination and emptiness of all things (see week 28), and evolution, progress and liberation would not be possible without it; karma is, in Advayavada Buddhism, this incessant universal process of interdependent origination of all things as it is undergone and experienced by sentient beings, our individual share of it being the everchanging knotlet of biopsychosocial (bps) events in which we are personally embedded. Feel free to share this post.

Shunyata: Creation without God

Engage!

I’ve written before about defining shunyata, or ’emptiness’ as “the possibility of existence.”  The great philosophical and scientific question is, why does anything exist at all? The Buddhist answer is shunyata or “emptiness,” the possibility (space, potentiality) of something coming into existence. Even Dzogchen Ponlop once said that emptiness is “room”; Chogyam Trunpa called it “spaciousness.”

Yeah? So what? That’s always been my response to conundrum of emptiness. Even if you figure out what it is, or what it means, what difference does it make?

But I realize now that shunyata became an essential proposition for Buddhist philosophers because they had to explain how the universe began, how the universe was created without a creator-god. If there was no creator-god, then how did it get here?

Their answer: shunyata, emptiness, the possibility of existence. Emptiness as ‘the possibility of existence’ is an essential condition for creation-without-god.

That’s why in…

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Advayavada Study Plan- week 28

[Advayavada Study Plan – week 28] Anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit) means no-self. The Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no imperishable soul, spirit or self exists in the person in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance. In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that in fact all things without exception are empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy. In Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness of all existents is one of the four signs or marks or basic facts of being, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (see week 27), the ubiquity of existential suffering, and evolution or, in human terms, progress. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 2

[week 2] Anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit) means no-self. The Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no imperishable self exists in the person in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance. In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that in fact all things without exception are empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy. In Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness of all existents is the second of the four signs or marks or basic facts of being, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything, the ubiquity of existential suffering, and evolution or, in human terms, progress. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

The Three-Treatise School (Wing-tsit Chan)

The Three-Treatise School (from The Philosophy of Emptiness: Chi-tsang of the Three-Treatise School, in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, by Wing-tsit Chan, Princeton 1963, 1969, 1973)

The Three-Treatise School and the Consciousness-Only School [Vijñanavada] represented the two major developments of Mahayana or Great Vehicle philosophy in India. The former insists that dharmas (elements of existence) and their causes are unreal and has therefore been known as the School of Non-being, while the latter insists that they are real and has therefore been known as the School of Being. Both were introduced into China by outstanding philosophers. Both had something profound and subtle to offer which China had never known. Both lasted for several centuries. But both failed to exert lasting influence on Chinese thought. It is important to understand why this has been the case.

The Three-Treatise School, called Madhyamika (Middle Doctrine) in Sanskrit, was founded in India by Nagarjuna (c.100-200 A.D.). Kumarajiva (344-413) introduced it into China by translating Nagarjuna’s two most important treatises, the Madhyamika sastra (Treatise on the Middle Doctrine) and the Dvadasanikaya sastra (Twelve Gates Treatise) and his disciple Aryadeva’s Sata sastra (One Hundred Verses Treatise). Hence the school is called the Three-Treatise School.

The central concept of the school is Emptiness (Sunyata) in the sense that the nature and characters of all dharmas, together with their causation, are devoid of reality. Thus all differentiations, whether being or non-being, cause or effect, or coming-into-existence or going-out-of-existence are only ‘temporary names’ and are empty in nature. The only reality is Emptiness itself, which is the absolute, Ultimate Void, the Original Substance, or in Chinese terminology, the correct principle (cheng-li). As such it is equivalent to Nirvana and the Dharma-body.

The doctrine was transmitted in China through Kumarajiva’s pupil Seng-chao (384-414) and played a dominant role there from the fourth to the seventh century. It had a tremendous attraction for the Chinese because its philosophy of Emptiness suited the temper of Chinese intellectuals of Wei-Chin times (220-420), who were then propagating the Taoist doctrine of non-being. Its highly developed and systematic method of reasoning was a stimulating novelty to the Chinese. Its spirit of criticism and refutation gave the rebellious Chinese philosophers, including the Neo-Taoists, a sense of emancipation. Its nominalism reinforced the Chinese opposition to the Confucian doctrine of ranks and names, especially in the sixth century. In addition to all this, it had the great fortune [sic] of having as its systematiser the outstanding figure, Chi-tsang (549-623). […]

Ironically, Chi-tsang’s success was at the same time the failure of his school, for it became less and less Chinese. As mentioned before, Seng-chao was still a bridge between Taoism and Buddhism. He combined the typical Chinese concept of identity of substance and function, for example, with the Buddhist concepts of temporary names and Emptiness. In Chi-tsang, substance and function are sharply contrasted instead. In that, he was completely Indian in viewpoint, although he quoted Taoists. As a systematiser and transmitter of Indian philosophy, he brought about no cross-fertilization between Buddhist and Chinese thought. And it happened that the Indian thought which he promoted was so utterly unacceptable to the Chinese that the school declined in the ninth century. […]

To this [the Middle Doctrine] school, refutation of erroneous views is essential for and indeed identical with the elucidation of right views. But when a right view is held in place of a wrong one, the right view itself becomes one-sided and has to be refuted. It is only through this dialectic process that Emptiness can be arrived at, which alone is free from names and character and is ‘inexplicable in speech and unrealizable in thought’.  The specific method in this dialectic process is Nagarjuna’s Middle Path of Eightfold Negations, which denies that dharmas come into existence or go out of existence, that they are permanent or come to an end, that they are the same or different, and that they come or go away. The basis of all arguments is the so-called Four Points of Argumentation. By the use of this method of argument, a dharma as being, as non-being, as both being and non-being, and as neither being nor non-being are all refuted and proved to be untrue. Chi-tsang illustrates this method fully in his refutation of causation.

It is obvious that this approach is as nihilistic as it is destructive. The school had little new substance to offer and nothing constructive. It is true that Emptiness as the Absolute is as pure and perfect as anything conceivable, but being devoid of specific characters and divorced from mundane reality, it becomes too abstract for the Chinese. It might be hoped that its novel and radical method of reasoning at least aroused the Chinese mind and led to a new approach to life and reality, but it did not. That opportunity was left to the Zen (Meditation, Ch’an) School.

The Term Shunyata (Zimmer)

The Term Shunyata (from Philosophies of India, by Dr. Heinrich Zimmer, edited by Prof. Joseph Campbell, 1952, London 1967)

The term shunyata, as applied to the metaphysical reality, insists on the fact that reason and language apply to only the finite world; nothing can be said of the infinite. But the term is applied also to all things of the phenomenal sphere, and here is the great stroke of Shunyavada. “As applied to the world of experience,” writes Dr. Radakrishnan in his Indian Philosophy, “shunyata means the ever-changing state of the phenomenal world. In the dread waste of endlessness man loses all hope, but the moment he recognizes its unreality he transcends it and reaches after the abiding principle. He knows that the whole is a passing dream, where he may sit unconcerned with the issues, certain of victory.”

In other words, the concept of emptiness, the void, vacuity, has been employed in the Madhyamika teaching as a convenient and effective pedagogical instrument to bring the mind beyond that sense of duality which infects all systems in which the absolute and the world of relativity are described in contrasting, or antagonistic terms. In the Vedanta Gitas, as we have seen, the non-duality of Nirvana and Samsara, release and bondage, is made known and celebrated in rhapsodic verses; but in this Buddhist formula, one word, shunyata, bears the entire message, and simultaneously projects the mind beyond any attempt to conceive of a synthesis. Philosophically, as a metaphysical doctrine, the formula conduces to a thoroughgoing Docetism: the world, the Buddha, and Nirvana itself become no more than the figments of an absolutely empty dream. This is the point that has been attacked, always, in argument, and, of course, it is an easy point to make seem absurd if one takes absolutely the usual categories of reason. But the circumstance to be borne in mind is that this Buddhist philosophy is not primarily an instrument of reason but an instrument to convert reason into realization; one step beyond the term is the understanding of what it really means. And as a device to effect such a transformation of knowledge – first standing between all the contrarities of ‘the world’ and ‘release from the world’, then standing between the moment of preliminary comprehension and that of realized illumination – it would be difficult indeed to find a more apt and efficient term.

This is why the doctrine is called Madhyamika, the ‘Middle Way’. And actually, it brings, as far as possible, into systematic philosophical statement the whole implication of the ‘Middle Doctrine’ of the Buddha himself. For as we read in the orthodox Pali Samyutta-Nikaya: “That things have being, O Kaccana, constitutes one extreme of doctrine; that things have no being is the other extreme. These extremes, O Kaccana, have been avoided by the Tathagata, and it is a middle doctrine that he teaches.” The Buddha continually diverted the mind from its natural tendency to posit an abiding essence beyond, or underlying, the endless and meaningless dynamism of the concatenation of causes. And this is the effect also of Nagarjuna’s metaphysical doctrine of the void.

Contradictions to be taken literally… (Deguchi c.s.)

Contradictions meant to be taken literally, be accepted, and as unambiguous (from The Way of the Dialetheist: Contradictions in Buddhism, by Yasuo Deguchi, Jay L. Garfield and Graham Priest, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, July 2008)

We have seen that there are various ways in which apparent contradictions in Buddhist discourses may be defused. And some contradictions, as we have seen, are best defused in this way. But we have also seen that contradictions may not always be defused by these mechanisms. Indeed, the discussion has taken us to the point of seeing why some contradictions in some Buddhist texts cannot be defused. To suppose that one ought to defuse them would be to misunderstand.

There are no ultimate truths. As we have put is before [elsewhere]: “Ultimate truths are those about ultimate reality. But since everything is empty, there is no ultimate reality. There are, therefore, no ultimate truths. We can get at the same conclusion another way. To express anything in language is to express truth that depends on language, and so this cannot be an expression of the way that things are ultimately. All truths, then, are merely conventional.”

If Buddhists were content merely to point mutely to ultimate reality, there would be nothing more to be said. But they are not. They explain how conventional reality is simply the imposition of conventional conceptual categories on ultimate reality, and they explain the delusion about the nature of ultimate reality to which this gives rise. In the very process, they describe certain things about ultimate reality. The indescribable is described; indeed, even to say that is is indescribable is to describe it. In this respect, Buddhism is akin to any of a number of positions that claim that there is an ineffable reality, and then go on to explain why this is so, in the process, saying things about that reality. The phenomenon is to be found, for example, in Neoplatonism, in Advaita Vedanta, and in Heidegger on Being.

It could be said that such descriptions are simply upaya, to be jettisoned as soon as one can appreciate the nature of ultimate reality directly. Although they might be seen in this way, this would not do justice to the texts. The texts in question are simply too carefully reasoned and too explicit, and are read by their commentators as correct. There is indeed a difference recognized in all Mahayana Buddhist traditions between, on the one hand, the conceptually mediated, and hence indirect, apprehension of ultimate reality that one obtains through reasoning and discursive practices, and, on the other hand, the immediate, direct, perception of emptiness that is the goal of meditative practice. However, the object of these two modes of apprehension is the same: emptiness, which is identical with [inter]dependent origination – the ultimate truth, which is in turn identical with the conventional truth properly understood. The descriptions of ultimate reality, however thin they may be, and however imperfectly they capture the object of yogic direct perception, are, nonetheless, taken to be veridical. And again, since the things claimed about ultimate reality are often contradictory to things claimed about conventional reality, if these two things are ultimately the same reality it is a contradictory one.

It might be suggested that although such contradictions are true, their truth is incomprehensible. Such truths, in this view, have the deictic function of ostending the incomprehensibility of ultimate reality, but cannot themselves be understood. This view concedes our point that such contradictions are intended as true, but we do not concede the view that they are incomprehensible. Those who hold that contradictions are always and obviously only false will of course find supposing them to be true incomprehensible. However, despite various orthodoxies, East and West, the view that some contradictions are true is a perfectly coherent and intelligible view, as modern studies in dialetheism and paraconsistency have established.

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