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'.
The Thought of Hinduism (from History and Future of Religious Thought, by Prof. Philip H. Ashby, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1963) We have noted that very early, Indian thought was concerned with the question of order in the structure of existence. In their perception of the environment and their sensitivity to that which lay behind it, the early thinkers discerned a uniformity and pattern despite the sometimes chaotic external appearance of existence and events. There is a power, a law or unity of laws which constitutes the Order (rta, rita) of empirical existence. Like the Tao of Chinese thought, it is that Power which works in and through the universe of being, directing the individual powers and entities toward symmetry and meaning in their collective activities. And, while its working or movement may possibily be discernible to man, its purposes, or lack of them, are beyond man's ultimate understanding.
In conjunction with the emergence of such thinking, there was a growing conviction that, behind all that is, is a Unity which includes within Itself that which appears, from the perspective of man, to be disparate and non-cohesive. In the early periods of beginning speculation this was limited mainly to a unification of the separate deities and their powers, but even at this early stage the unification was more in the nature of an identification wherein the individual deities were coming to be conceived not so much as distinct entities gathered together into a greater whole, but rather as one undivided Unity perceived by man in different aspects or functions.
With the coalescence of the conception of Order (rta, rita) with the conviction of a Unity (Brahman), there was a resultant flowering of the belief in a divine order and propriety of things, a Dharma which extends to all existence and beings. And while the word Dharma has many meanings and usages, each of them conveys, at least in part, the thought of a transcendental, yet imminent and all encompassing imperative norm inherent in the structure of existence. The empirical realm has its Dharma, all sentient life has its Dharma, and man in particular has his Dharma as an individual and as a member of society. This Dharma flows from the absolute Unity which is at the beginning, middle, and end of all things. It is a norm which is integrally inherent in its Source (Brahman) and is not to be conceived as separate from It. It is of the nature of the Unity behind the apparent diversity of existence that It, in Itself, gives to the universe of being a structure, a pattern, a telos.
We must be careful to note here that such Order is not to be considered as necessarily meaningful or conformable to human standards. Human perceptions of order are derivable from this inherent structure, but the structure is not to be appraised by anything other than itself. The value of the Order, therefore, its goodness or its evil, is not a legitimate matter for speculation or question. The Order is what It is, and because of It, there is that which is proper and improper, valuable and non-valuable. The given is good, in a metaphysical sense, simply because it is given. There is nothing else that is possible since all potentiality is embodied in the given.
The Path Understood Dialectically (from Philosophy of the Buddha, by Prof. A.J. Bahm, 1958, New York 1962) Every concept capable of being interpreted as in some sense completely general entails dialectic. The concept of jhanas, as increasingly general degrees or stages of accepting things as they are, is just such a concept. One must, eventually, become jhanic about jhanas, i.e. be willing to accept jhanas as jhanas, the number of jhanas, whatever it is, for what it is, and the difficulties involved in achieving such willingness for what they are. The difficulties involved in ascending jhanas are in part dialectical difficulties, and he who has achieved a willingness to accept life as paradoxical and as dialectical has already prepared himself for more rapid ascent.
In how far Gotama was aware of the intricacies of dialectic is not an issue which will be settled here. But that dialectic was involved in his predicament, that he was aware of dialectical difficulties, and that his principle, including its extension to the middle way, is able to meet the difficulties, need not be doubted. What is the evidence? The very setting in which Gotama's enlightenment occured and the first, and later, sermons about its central principle reveal his solution as dialectical. "Let a man neither give himself over to pleasures... nor yet let him give himself over to self-mortification... to the exclusion of both these extremes, the Truth-Finder has discovered a middle course..." (Further Dialogues of the Buddha). Here one is already involved in dialectic, for in seeking a middle way between desiring and desiring to stop desiring, one then desires to achieve this middle more than he will; hence he needs to stop this dialectical desire and to seek a new middle way between this new level of desiring and desiring to stop desiring.
The eight-fold path may be seen as eight areas in which the dialectical principle is to be applied. Right view entails, dialectically, right view of right view. The seeming clumsiness and redundancy of the usual formula may be explained as, and taken as evidence for, dialectical intention. The four truths include the eight-fold path, and the eight-fold path, in its first step explicitly and in each step implicitly, includes the four truths. Right resolve entails resolving rightly to rightly resolve. Or equanimous resolve involves equanimously resolving to resolve equanimously. One has to be willing to accept the truth for what it is or he will be having a false view of truth. Right speech must be spoken about rightly or error will result; one should speak equanimously about equaninous speech or he will be refuting himself. Right action is accepting things as they are and, dialectically, to act rightly, one has to accept 'right action as accepting things as they are'. Not only are injury, assault and theft wrong, but there are wrong ways of injuring, assaulting and thieving. "There is non-harming for a harmful individual to go by; there is restraint from onslaught for an individual to go by who makes onslaught on creatures; there is restraint from taken what is not given for an individual who is a taker of what is not given" (The Middle Length Sayings). A discontented murderer, one who wishes he had killed more violently, is worse than one who accepts the violence actually done as just what he wanted. Right livelihood is life living itself, for itself, not for something else; the more you search for the purpose of life, the more you find it in the way life lives itself (including living itself as a search for its own purpose in living). Right endeavour entails endeavouring rightly to right endeavour; the endeavour to be freed from anxiety to rightly endeavour; the endeavour to be freed from anxiety itself needs to be unanxious endeavour. Right mindfulness entails right mindfulness about right mindfulness; it is awareness of things (phenomena) as they really are, including awareness of mindfulness as it really is.
The eighth fold, samma-samadhi, is the most obviously dialectical of all. Not only is a-dhi modified by sam, togetherness conditioned by equanimity, but sam-adhi is modified by samma; equanimity of togetherness is itself conditioned by equanimity, a higher or deeper or more equanimous equanimity. The usual exposition of samadhi reveals it to be not so much a terminus to the eight-fold path, an absolute finality, as the beginning of a new series, or a new dimension of dialectical levels. It appears, thus, as a terminus which is not a terminus. And its new series of jhanas, dialectical levels in themselves, terminates in a fourth or fifth jhana which is also a terminus which is not a terminus, but a transtition to a new dimension described in terms of awareness of "the sphere of infinite space of... of infinite consciousness... of nothingness... of neither perception nor non-perception..." (The Book of Gradual Sayings).
The Heart and Soul of Awakening (from Buddhism without Beliefs, by Stephen Batchelor, London 1997) Insight into emptiness and compassion for the world are two sides of the same coin. To experience ourselves and the world as interactive processes rather than aggregates of discrete things undermines both habitual ways of perceiving the world as well as habitual feelings about it. Meditative discipline is vital to dharma practice precisely because it leads us beyond the realm of ideas to that of felt-experience. Understanding the philosophy of emptiness is not enough. The ideas need to be translated through meditation into the wordless language of feeling in order to loosen those emotional knots that keep us locked in a spasm of self-preocupation.
As we are released into the opening left by the absence of self-centered craving, we experience the vulnerability of exposure to the anguish and suffering of the world. The track on which we find ourselves in moments of centered experience includes both clarity of mind and warmth of heart. Just as a lamp simultaneously generates light and heat, so the central path is illuminated by wisdom and nurtured by compassion.
The selfless vulnerability of compassion requires the vigilant protection of mindful awareness. It is not enough to want to feel this way towards others. We need to be alert at all times to the invasion of thoughts and emotions that threaten to break in and steal this open and caring resolve. A compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them.
Compassion is not devoid of discernment and courage. Just as we need the courage to respond to the anguish of others, so we need the discernment to know our limitations and the ability to say 'no'. A compassionate life is one in which our resources are used to optimum effect. Just as we need to know when and how to give ourselves fully to a task, so we need to know when and how to stop and rest.
The greatest threat to compassion is the temptation to succumb to fantasies of moral superiority. Exhilarated by the outpouring of selfless altruism toward others, we may come to believe that we are their savior. We find ourself humbly assuming the identity of one who has been singled out by destiny to heal the sorrows of the world and show the way to reconciliation, peace, and Enlightenment. Our words of advice to those in distress imperceptibly change into exhortations to humanity. Our suggestions of a course of action for a friend are converted into a moral crusade.
When subverted in this way, compassion exposes us to the danger of messianic and narcissistic inflation. Exaggerated rejection of self-centeredness can detach us from the sanity of ironic self-regard. Once inflation has taken hold - particularly when endorsed by supporters and admirers - it becomes notoriously difficult to see through it.
[True] compassion is the very heart and soul of awakening. While meditation and reflection can make us more receptive to it, it cannot be contrived or manufactured. When it erups within us, it feels as though we have stumbled across it by chance. And it can vanish just as suddenly as it appeared. It is glimpsed in those moments when the barrier of self is lifted and individual existence is surrendered to the well-being of existence as a whole. It becomes abundantly clear that we cannot attain awakening for ourselves: we can only participate in the awakening of life.
The Descent of the Transcendent (from The Descent of the Transcendent: Viewing Culture with G.C. Pande, by Sibesh Bhattacharya, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, October 2013) In [Govind Chandra] Pande's [1923-2011] theory an unresolved ambiguity vis-à-vis the issue of the decline [of culture/civilization] can be perceived. He does not overtly raise or face the issue of decay. We can extrapolate from his core concept - the vision of the transcendent - the process of decline of a culture consistent with his theory. Could it be said, in keeping with the general tenor of his theory, that the process of culture is essentially a process of decline? The ultimate truth cannot be envisioned in totality; it is beyond human capacity. The full truth cannot be received however capacious may be the vessel of the receiver. At the very moment of its birth it has become diminished. Further shrinkage takes place in the process of communication. The received truth can be expressed inadequately through symbolic metaphorical language; a great deal of it is lost already in the very first stage of its communication.
The very first sermon is thus limited. There is a Buddhist tradition that after his enlightenment the Buddha hesitated for some time before delivering his first sermon because he had reservations about whether people would be able to understand the truth he had realized. With each new round of communication the truth loses more and more of its authenticity and power. Thus, the process of the spread of culture is in reality a process of the loss of the purity and strength of culture. But this line of interpretation does not provide answers to all the issues related to the decline of culture. Pande does seem to accept the fact of its physical growth. In his scheme a culture spreads over the population, taking more and more people within its fold. Similarly, it spreads spatially with new areas coming within its purview. The relationship between the process of decline of the purity of the vision on the one hand and the simultaneous process of physical growth on the other, that is, a simultaneity of two apparently contradictory processes of growth and decay, is an interesting phenomenon. Spengler and Toynbee resolve this contradiction by differentiating between the apparent and the real, that is, they identify one set of markers as the real and the other as apparent. Usually they consider some characteristics of growth at the physical level as useless or even negative. In their opinion technological advancement, an increase of military power, and imperial expansion are often signs of decay rather than growth. They distinguish between the body and the soul of a culture/civilization; the state of the soul is the real indicator of growth and not the fattening of the body.
Pande's point of view seems different. The vision of the transcendent, enshrining the core value, loses its pristine luminescence in the very act of its transmission from the transcendent realm to the temporal, and the process of decline goes on. This happens in the case of religion: ritual, exegetical literature, philosophy, and the church and its following grow in volume and complexity, and under their mass and weight the original light becomes more and more dimmed and hidden. Pande, however, continues to emphasize that religion is not just a vision/teachings and a code delivered by a prophet; religion also is the realization of the truth in one's innermost being. It is this 'cave' that is the eternal dwelling place of religion. And it is not subject to decay. Moreover, the process of culture is not exactly the same as that of religion. Culture is the texture of values that grow from the agama [source] through paryeSaNa [inquiry, investigation, delving]. But it continues to grow in and with the process of the transmission and propagation of the envisioned truth.
The Word Advaya in the Agama Sastra of Gaudapada (from The Agamashastra of Gaudapada, edited, translated and annotated by Prof. Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya; foreword by Christian Lindtner; Delhi 1989) The word advaya in the karika is, in fact, identical in meaning with Advayavadin, which is well-known even to an ordinary reader of Sanskrit as one of the names for the Buddha. Some of the commentators of Amarakosha explain advaya in advayavadin as advaita. But there is a marked difference between the two terms advaitavada and advayavada: while the former literally means the theory of non-difference, i.e. the non-difference between, or identity of (according to the school of Shankara) Jiva and Brahman, the latter means the theory of 'non-two', i.e. neither of the two extreme views.
The two (dvaya) or the two extreme views are as follows: The Buddha does not hold that anything exists, nor does he hold that it does not exist. He rejects both of these two extreme views and propounds his view taking a middle path (majjhima patipada or madhyama pratipad). So according to him nothing is existent, nor is anything non-existent; nothing comes into being (anutpada), nor does anything disappear (anirodha); nothing is eternal (ashashvata), nor has anything an end (anuccheda); nothing is identical (eka), nor anything differentiated (aneka); nothing moves hither (anagama), and nothing moves thither (anirgama).
This advayavada is found throughout the Buddhist sacred literature both in Sanskrit and Pali.
The Ethics of Fundamental Consciousness (from The Enlightenment Process, by Judith Blackstone, Rockport, Mass. 1997) Our true relationship with the universe contains an inherent ethical perspective. As we realize that our own essential being is a dimension of consciousness that is also the esssential being of all other life, we feel an underlying kinship with everyone we meet. We can use the metaphor of a musical instrument. If we are all basically pianos, even if we meet a piano playing a tune quite different than our own, we can feel in our being the potential to play his tune also. When we know our self as the pervasive ground of life, we have learned the basic language of all beings, including animals and plants. In this shared field of fundamental consciousness, we do not need to adopt a static attitude of goodwill that obscures the richness of our feelings and the directness of our contact with our self and others. To actually experience the heart of a bird, or the subtle awareness of a tree, or the complex emotions in another person, evokes a spontaneous response of empathy and compassion.
There is also a more subtle manifestation of ethics in fundamental consciousness. This is expressed in the Sanskrit word dharma. In Buddhist tradition, this word has several connotations. It means the Buddhist metaphysical understanding of the universe and enlightenment, the teaching of this understanding, and the living of this understanding. The direct translation of 'dharma' is 'justice'. To live dharmically is to practice the justice of enlightenment. But this practice is not a preconceived set of behaviours. It is the alignment of oneself with the metaphysical laws of the universe and the great benevolence inherent in those laws. To the extent that we have realized fundamental consciousness, we are unified with the wisdom and love of the whole, and with the spontaneous unwinding towards enlightenment of all forms in creation. In this dimension, our own choices of action are the choices of the universe, and all our actions serve the progression towards enlightenment of all life, including our own. We do not have to shame ourselves into doing good works. Our own truth will benefit the truth of the life around us.
The idea that we can be aligned with the will of God also exists in Western religion. In Judaism, there is the concept of the mitzvah, which has a range of meaning from a good deed to a general attitude of justness and benevolence towards others. Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel writes: "Every act done in agreement with the will of God is a mitzvah". Hassidic writer Reb Zalman Schachter defines mitzvah as "the divine will doing itself through the vehicle of the now egoless devotee". Christian interpreter Maurice Nicoll writes: "When Good comes first, a man acts from mercy and grace. Then he is made Whole. When he is Whole, he no longer misses the mark". In this quote we have the idea that the individual becomes whole by being good. And we have the more subtle idea, very similar to the Buddhist idea of dharma, that he is now right on target, that he does not 'miss the mark'. That mark is the action that benefits everyone involved.
What the Heart Sutra tells us (from Zen Therapy, by David Brazier, London 1995) A Buddhist word for wisdom is prajña. Etymologically this word is quite close to our own word 'diagnosis'. Prajña refers to the ability to see into the heart of the matter, not as a result of erudition, but as a consequence of having given up all that obscures clear perception. The obscurations we have already discussed. They are called kleshas. Clear perception we have also discussed. It is called vidya and is the opposite of delusion (avidya). Another term we have also considered is the word paramita. Paramita means perfect or boundless. Prajñaparamita is the term for seeing into the heart of things without any constraint or conditioning getting in the way. The Buddha gave a series of teachings upon prajñaparamita and these are used extensively in the Zen approach.
The most commonly used prajñaparamita text nowadays is the Heart Sutra. This is a very short series of statements which deny all the things which one might cling to as a basis for constructing the kind of story which might provide a Buddhist identity for oneself.. When the Heart Sutra says 'not born, not disappearing, not defiled, not pure, not gaining anything, not losing anything' it is demolishing the components out of which our stories are constructed. We think that we live a life which is born somewhere and will die somewhere else, which, along the way, does some good and some bad, makes some profits and some losses. This kind of story is the stuff out of which we create an identity for ourselves. Much therapy is commonly concerned with helping a person refine their story, helping to make it fit better the evidence of their real life. Real Zen, however, brings the realization that however good a story we concoct it will never be the real truth. The Heart Sutra is telling us that all stories of this kind are just 'cover stories'. They are never satisfactory in anything more than a very makeshift fashion. All of us go through life under false pretences. Only when we become bodhisattvas, like Avalokita, actually practising boundless wisdom, do we see that all the component parts of our life as we identify it, the skandhas, are empty. Only then can we find real freedom and boundless wisdom.
Not only are all our worldly stories about ourselves meaningless in the last analysis, but it is also worse than useless to start thinking that we can escape from their clutches by constructing a spiritual identity for ourselves. The Sutra, therefore, goes on to pull the rug out from all the elements of Buddhism itself which people quite commonly use to construct a spiritual ego story. Even clinging to Nirvana and the Path is taken away from us. In an earlier chapter, we saw that the idea of a Path is the final form of self-conditioning. Nirvana, the Sutra says, is not something we can have, it is only something we can do. And we can only do it when we leave all our troublesome opinions aside. Only then do we practise real understanding.
The Santiago Theory of Cognition (from The Web of Life, by Fritjof Capra, New York 1996) In the emerging theory of living systems mind is not a thing, but a process. It is cognition, the process of knowing, and it is identified with the process of life itself. This is the essence of the Santiago theory of cognition, proposed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela.
The identification of mind, or cognition, with the process of life is a radically new idea in science, but it is also one of the deepest and most archaic intuitions of humanity. In ancient times the rational human mind was seen as merely one aspect of the immaterial soul, or spirit. The basic distinction was not between body and mind, but between body and soul, or body and spirit. While the differentiation between soul and spirit was fluid and fluctuated over time, both originally unified in themselves two concepts: that of the force of life and that of the activity of consciousness..
The Santiago theory of cognition originated in the study of neural networks and, from the very beginning, has been linked to Maturana's concept of autopoiesis [self-making]. Cognition, according to Maturana, is the activity involved in the self-generation and self-perpetuation of autopoietic networks. In other words, cognition is the very process of life. "Living systems are cognitive systems," writes Maturana, "and living as a process is a process of cognition." In terms of our three key criteria of living systems - structure, pattern, and process - we can say that the life process consists of all activities involved in the continual embodiment of the system's (autopoietic) pattern of organization in a physical (dissipative) structure.
Since cognition traditionally is defined as the process of knowing, we must be able to describe it in terms of an organism's interactions with its environment. Indeed, this is what the Santiago theory does. The specific phenomenon underlying the process of cognition is structural coupling. As we have seen, an autopoietic system undergoes continual structural changes while preserving its weblike pattern of organization. It couples to its environment structurally in other words, through recurrent interactions, each of which triggers structural changes in the system. The living system is autonomous, however. The environment only triggers the structural changes; it does not specify or direct them.
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 Madhyamika Absolute is epistemic (from The Yogacara Idealism, by Ashok Kumar Chatterjee, foreword by T.R.V. Murti, 1962, 1975, Delhi 2007) Self-consciousness of Reason itself is the Madhyamika Absolute. The approach is purely negative here. Negation is not complete in the Vedanta and the Yogacara; it is in the service of an affirmation, which is really the guiding principle of these systems. Negation is simply the removal of the outer husk as it were, which hides the inner core, the affirmation. For the Madhyamika, it is bare negation, total and absolute, so far as thought goes. The Absolute is identified with nothing within thought, i.e. within phenomena. Though the Absolute in both other systems is said to be beyond thought, the transition is made easy by indicating something within phenomena themselves which is not exhausted in it and has a transcendent existence. The gulf between phenomena and noumenon is not frightfully abrupt in these systems. It is bridged by that which is itself not phenomenal but can yet be shown to work within it. This reality is pure Being in the Vedanta and pure Will in the Yogacara. But, for the Madhyamika, it is not anything within phenomena. His interest in phenomena is indirect; primarily he criticises the various views; but, as in metaphysics there can be had no neutral fact which is not coloured by one view or another, that is, which is not subject of any predication, affirmative or negative, his criticism of all views amounts to the rejection of phenomena in toto. It is not merely one aspect of it that is negated, the other being preserved and exalted as the Absolute. No aspect is preferred to any other; criticism is complete here. Avidya is not viewing things as objective which are really identical with consciousness [as it is in Yogacara], nor viewing things as different which are in reality identical [as it is in Vedanta], but it [i.e. avidya] is "viewing" as such, Reason itself.
The argument of both the other systems is that illusion is not possible without a substrate reality. For them the Madhyamika is an extreme position where there is an illusion without any underlying reality which alone makes it possible. This substrate is Consciouness for the Yogacara and Being for the Vedantin. The Madyamika does not deny the necesssity of a substrate; his contention is that it cannot be identified with anything within the context of the illusion itself; in that particular context everything is relative to each other and is therefore equally false. The substrate is the critical consciousness itself, which, when diversified by the views, becomes false. Remove all thought categories and the basic reality, the Dharmata or Tathata of things, shines forth. It has not to be led to in a particular way; it is just the cancellation of all ways.
The Madhyamika Absolute is therefore epistemic. At first sight it might seem to be utterly transcendent, but a closer inspection reveals the fact that it is nothing outside thought, not a thing-in-itself. The Vedantic as well as the Yogacara Absolute are both ontological. In the Vedanta it is one reality without a second, the only existent; it is rather existence itself. In the Yogacara also it has no other than itself, being the only reality. In the Madhyamika however, what is negated is not any second reality other than the Absolute, as in the former two systems, but rather any view about it. As has just been said, the Absolute is purely epistemic [epistemological] here. Contrasted with this, the Vedantic Absolute may be said to be ontological and the Yogacara Absolute psychological.
The Madhyamika School (from Buddhism in China, by Prof. Kenneth K. S. Ch'en, Princeton 1964) The Hinayana doctrine of dependent origination, that all things depend on causes and conditions for their origination, provides the starting point for the Madhyamika viewpoint that 'what is produced by causes is not produced in itself, and does not exist in itself'. Because all things are produced by causes and conditions, they do not have any independent reality; they do not possess any self-nature. When these causes and conditions disappear, these things also disappear. Hence they are said to be shunya or empty..
Thorough comprehension of the empty, unreal, or relative nature of all phenomena leads to prajña (intuitive wisdom or non-dual knowledge). When we achieve prajña, we reach the state of absolute truth which is beyond thought and conception, unconditioned, indeterminate. This absolute truth cannot be preached in words, but, in order to indicate it, it is called shunyata. "Shunyata is the synonym of that which has no cause, that which is beyond thought or conception, that which is not produced, that which is not born, that which is without measure" (Zimmer). This absolute truth contains nothing concrete or individual that can make it an object of particularization.
Nagarjuna is careful to point out, however, that this absolute truth can be realized only by going through the relative or worldly level of truth. Here we have the double level of truth of the Madhyamika. The relative level consists of man's reasoning and its products. It causes man to see the universe and its manifold phenomena, and to consider them as real. He cannot dispose of this relative truth by his arguments, just as a person in a dream cannot deny his dream by any argument. Only when he wakens can he prove the falsity of the objects in the dream. In this relative level one sees the distinctions between subject and object, truth and error, Samsara and Nirvana. This relative level is necessary, according to Nagarjuna, because the absolute level can be understood and realized only negatively by the removal of relative truths. The removal of the relative truths must therefore precede the realization of the absolute truth. The truths attained through reasoning and the intellect are not to be discarded even though they are not final. Acceptance of the doctrine of shunyata, or the unreality of all phenomena, does not mean that we have to devaluate all human experience..
Emptiness of Intrinsic Nature (from Entry into the Inconceivable, by Thomas Cleary, 1983, Honolulu 1994) A very simple and useful way to glimpse emptiness - usually defined in Hua-yen scripture as emptiness of intrinsic nature or own being - is by considering things from different points of view. What for one form of life is a waste product is for another form of life an essential nutrient; what is a predator for one species is prey to another. In this sense it can be seen that things do not have fixed, self-defined nature of their own; what they 'are' depends upon the relationships in terms of which they are considered. Even if we say that something is the sum total of its possibilities, still we cannot point to a unique, intrinsic, self-defined nature that characterizes the thing in its very essence.
The same argument can be applied to space and time. In terms of our everyday perceptions, an atom is small; but in terms of the space between subatomic particles relative to the size of the particles, we can say the atom is indeed enormous. In ordinary human terms, a day is short; but from the point of view of an insect that lives only a day it is seventy years to a human or centuries to a tree. This perception of the relativity or nonabsoluteness of measurements of time and space is frequently represented in the Hua-yen scripture and is a key to unlocking the message of its 'inconceivable' metaphors.
The point of all this is not, of course, confined to abstract philosophy. The obvious drawback to considering things to be just what we conceive them to be is that it can easily blind us to possibilities we have never thought of; moreover, it can foster prejudices in dealings with the world, leading to unhealthy conditions due to failure to consider things in a broad perspective.
We can therefore say that what a thing 'is', being dependent on the context which defines it, may be considered to have as many aspects as there are things in the universe, since somethinng 'exists' in a certain way vis-à-vis every other thing. What a thing 'is' in terms of the practical, everyday world of an individual or group, therefore, depends upon, or exists in terms of, an assigned definition which focuses on the possibilities considered relevant to the needs or interests or conditioning of the individual or group - thus narrowing down a virtually infinite range into a manageable, thinkable set. When Buddhist teaching says that things are empty or do not exist as such, what is often meant by 'things' or 'phenomena' in such statements is things as they are conceived of - the point is then that a name or definition does not encompass or capture a thing, either in its essence or in the totality of possibilities of its conditional existence.
The Perfection of Wisdom (from Selected Sayings from the Perfection of Wisdom, by Prof. Edward Conze, London 1955) The Abhidharma had cultivated wisdom as the virtue which permits one to see the 'own being' of dharmas. Now the perfection of wisdom in its turn regards the separateness of these dharmas as merely a provisional construction, and it is cultivated as the virtue which permits us to see everywhere just one emptiness. All forms of multiplicity are condemned as the arch enemies of the higher spiritual vision and insight. When duality is hunted out of all its hiding places, the results are bound to be surprising. Not only are the multiple objects of thought identified with one mysterious emptiness, but the very instruments of thought take on a radically new character when affirmation and negation are treated as non-different, as one and the same. Once we jump out of our intellectual habits, emptiness is revealed as the concrete fullness; no longer remote, but quite near; no longer a dead nothingness beyond, but the life-giving womb of the Buddha within us.
This doctrine of emptiness has baffled more than one enquirer, and one must indeed despair of explaining it if it is treated as a mere theoretical proposition, on a level with other theoretical statements. And yet, everything is really quite simple, as soon as one pays attention to the spiritual intention behind this doctrine. In teaching 'emptiness' the Prajñaparamita does not propound the view that only the Void exists. The bare statement that "everything is really emptiness" is quite meaningless. It is even false, because the rules of this particular logic demand that the emptiness must be as well denied as affirmed. Among the eighteen kinds of emptiness, the Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom distinguishes as the fourth the 'emptiness of emptiness', which is defined by saying that "the emptiness of all dharmas is empty of that emptiness".
In its function, shunyata, or emptiness, has been likened to salt. It should pervade the religious life, and give flavour to it, as salt does with food. By itself, eaten in lumps, salt is not particularly palatable, and neither is 'emptiness'. When one insists on emptiness one aims at revealing the Infinite by removing that which obscures it. One denies the finite, onesided, partial nature of affirmative propositions, not in order to then replace them by just another affirmative proposition, but with an eye to transcending and eliminating all affirmation, which is but a hidden form of self-assertion. The Void is brought in not for its own sake, but as a method which leads to the penetration into true reality. It opens the way to a direct approach to the true nature of things (dharmata) by removing all adherence to words which abstract from reality instead of disclosing it.
Identity in Hua-yen Buddhism (from Hua-yen Buddhism, by Francis H. Cook, 1977, London 1991) ..The uniqueness of Hua-yen lies in its portrayal of a universe in which the distinct things that constitute it are fundamentally identical and exist only through a complex web of interdependency. It was the mission of Fa-tsang and his line to construct a rational basis for this view, which in the final analysis is an intuition growing out of meditative practices.. But before Fa-tsang's arguments in favor of the identity of things are discussed, there must be some analysis of a preliminary phase in his discussion, the identity of phenomena with the absolute..
The first step in the argument, showing the identity of the phenomenal and the absolute - or shih and li, to use Fa-tsang's usual terminology - is a necessary step in the construction of the system, and it shows how certain common doctrines of Buddhism were used as 'bricks' to construct the system.. Three important doctrines or devices are used in this first phase: there is a basic and extensive use of the doctrine of pratitya-samutpada, which is indeed the foundation of the system, this in turn is discussed within the framework of the [Yogacara] doctrine of the three natures (trisvabhava), and the proper way of viewing the three natures is discussed by means of the application of the Madhyamika tetralemma..
It will be recalled that the three natures are the dependent nature (paratantra-svabhava), the discriminated nature (parikalpita-svabhava), and the perfected nature (parinishpanna-svabhava). In Fa-tsang's system, the dependent nature is the nature that an object possesses consisting of its existence in total dependence on exterior conditions. The discriminated nature of the same thing consists of the way in which it appears erroneously to the human mind as distinct from the subject and as further endowed with a real self-existence. The perfected nature is the real nature of this object as it is apart from our suppositions. We may say that this is its suchness (tathata), divorced from concepts superimposed on it because of our naive belief that words have real referents. All three natures belong to any given thing, and a common interpretation of the doctrine is that if the discriminated nature is expunged from the dependent nature, the dependent nature (thus) perceived in its real state is itself its perfected nature.
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.
The Rafter is the Whole Building, in Fa-tsang (from Causation in the Chinese Hua-Yen Tradition, by Francis Cook, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 1979) Fa-tsang [Fazang, 643-712] concludes his "Treaties on the Five Doctrines" (the translation of a shorter title of the above-mentioned Hua-yen i-ch'eng chiao i fen-ch'i chang) with a description of the relationship between a rafter and the whole building of which it is a part. It is an analogy for any whole and its parts. By means of it, Fa-tsang shows the relationship of identity and interdependence (or interpenetration) discussed earlier. He analyzes this relationship by means of six characteristics which are possessed by each part of the whole. The six are totality, particularity, identity, difference, integration, and non-integration. In terms of the rafter, this means that the rafter is the totality, a particular, identical with all other parts and consequently with the whole, different in form and function, integrated into, and thus part of, the whole, and non-integrated in the sense that the rafter remains an observable, removable part with its own nature. The rafter is all six simultaneously.
What do we mean first of all by 'totality'! Fa-tsang answers, "It is the building." But the building is just a number of conditions, such as a rafter. What is the building itself? Again Fa-tsang replies, "The rafter is the building. The reason is that this rafter itself completely creates the building. If you remove the rafter, there is no building. If you have a rafter, you have a building." But how can a rafter all by itself wholly create the building if there are no roof tiles, nails, and other things?
It can not, says Fa-tsang, because if there are no roof tiles, nails, and the like, there is no such thing as a rafter. A real rafter is only a rafter in the context of the whole building, and therefore, when it is a real rafter, it wholly creates the building. A non-rafter cannot do this.
Several points should be noted in this slight paraphrase of the original. First, Fa-tsang clearly says that it is a particular object - the rafter - which is the building. We might insist that the rafter is only part of the building, not the building. but we would be missing the point. It is a particular, with a definite shape, location, and function, but if we remove each particular comprising the whole in order to find the real building, we will never find it. For it is just these particulars in their conjunctive togetherness which we call 'building'. However, we must not overlook the other part of the relationship, which is that the rafter is only a rafter in the context of the building, and it is therefore itself the result of the causal building. In claiming that the rafter-part is the building whole, Fa-tsang is making the point that the two are completely interdependent, for there is no whole apart from parts and no part separate from the whole. Consequently, the parts which conjunctively make up the whole are not independently existing individuals at all; they are empty of independent being. The individual is simply a function of the whole environment and at the same time is the whole.
Emptiness or the Void (from Religion and the One, by Prof. Frederick Copleston, London 1982) Denial of the existence of a permanent substantial self, underlying all passing psychical states or mental phenomena, goes back to the beginning of Buddhism. The adherents of the Madhyamika school insisted that all things, both mind and external things, were insubstantial, not in the sense that they were absolutely non-existent or unreal, but in the sense that there was no abiding substance or core in any of them. In other words, they applied a phenomenalistic analysis to all things. This view was expressed by saying that all things, including selves or minds, were 'empty'. They were not only causally dependent but also essentiallly changing and transient, devoid of any permanent substantial core or self-nature. They were all manifestations of emptiness.
This view, taken by itself, did not of course entail the hypostatization of Emptiness or the Void as an all-pervasive reality. One might assert that all things are causally dependent, changing and transient, and at the same time deny that there is any reality beyond these causally dependent and changing things. But Buddhism is essentially a spiritual path, a path to Nirvana. And if Emptiness or the Void is simply a collective name for the changing Many, considered in regard to certain characteristics, it seems to follow that Nirvana, which involves transcending the world of time and change, is equivalent to annihilation. This was indeed what some Buddhists believed that it was. Others, however, regarded Nirvana as a positive state of bliss, not indeed describable or even conceivable, but none the less not equivalent in an absolute sense to non-existence. Given this point of view, there was naturally a tendency in the Madhyamika school to refer to Emptiness or the Void as though it were the Absolute, the One.
For Nagarjuna, the great Madhyamika philosopher, it was incorrect to say that Emptiness did not exist. It was equally incorrect to say that it existed. It was also incorrect to say both that it existed and that it did not exist. Finally, it was incorrect to say that it neither existed nor did not exist. In other words, one could really say nothing at all.. Nagarjuna developed an elaborate dialectic to expose the fallacies in all positive metaphysical systems and made no claim to expound a metaphysical system of his own. This clearing away, so to speak, of metaphysics was thought of as facilitating or preparing the way for an intuitive apprehension of Emptiness. This intuition can hardly be interpreted simply as an assent to the conclusion of an agreement, namely the conclusion that all things are insubstantial. For this conclusion can be established philosophically, according to Buddhist thinkers. The intuition might perhaps be interpreted as a more lively awareness of what is already known, as a personal realization of the emptiness of all things which goes beyond mere intellectual assent to the conclusion of an argument and which influences conduct, promoting detachment for an example.
At the same time the idea of philosophical reasoning as a preparation for an intuition of Emptiness naturally tends to suggest that Emptiness or the Void is the Absolute, the ultimate reality which is called 'Emptiness' because it transcends conceptual thought and all description.. Some scholars are sharply opposed to any such interpretation. In their opinion terms as 'Emptiness' and the 'Void' do not refer to any ultimate reality. They do not refer even to the inner reality of phenomena. They have no inner reality. We should not allow ourselves to be misled by the use of nouns and proceed to assimilate the philosophy of Nagarjuna to that of Shankara. The Madhyamika system is simply a faithful development of the teaching of the Buddha, who did not postulate any metaphysical reality.
Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) on the rights of erroneous conscience (from Bayle vs. Spinoza on Toleration, by Edwin M. Curley, Mededelingen vanwege het Spinoza Huis #95, Voorschoten 2009) [P]erhaps his most distinctive and interesting argument occurs quite late in the Commentaire [philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ, constrains-les d'entrer], where he contends, in replying to an objection, that an erroneous conscience has the same rights as an enlightened conscience. Here's a summary of this argument:
I. To say that your conscience judges an action to be good or evil is the same as saying that your conscience judges it to be pleasing or displeasing to God. (Volume II of Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. Elisabeth Labrousse [OD II], p.422b; Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas [KK], p.220)
II. If a man's conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God. (OD II, 422b-423a; KK, 220)
III.Whoever acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God necessarily sins.
IV. So, if a man's conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he necessarily sins. Or more succinctly: whatever is done against the dictates of conscience is a sin. (OD II, 422b; KK, 220)
Bayle recognizes that this argument will not be persuasive to an atheist, but that may not be a problem for his purposes. His primary opponents are Christians, who may not be troubled by the theistic aspects of his assumptions. I presume most Christians - and most theists in general - would readily grant that if you act with the intent of offending and disobeying God, you sin. The first premise of Bayle's argument will be more controversial. As he formulates it, it requires a commitment to what we might call 'analytic theological voluntarism', the theory that the meaning of ethical terms is to be analyzed by using the concepts of what is or is not pleasing to God. Many Christian philosophers would grant that Plato's Euthyphro showed that analysis of ethical language to be faulty. But perhaps there is a way of reformulating I [the first premise] which would avoid the commitment to voluntarism.
[Note: According to Advayavada Buddhism, what human beings experience and identify as good, right or beneficial, indeed as progress, is, in fact, that which takes place in the otherwise indifferent direction that wondrous overall existence flows in of its own accord.]
What did consciousness actually contribute? (from Self Comes to Mind, by Antonio Damasio, New York 2010) What did consciousness actually contribute? The answer is a large variety of apparent and not-so-apparent advantages in the management of life. Even at the simplest levels, consciousness helps the optimization of responses to environmental conditions. As processed in the conscious mind, images provide details about the environment, and those details can be used to increase the precision of a much-needed response, for example, the exact movement that will neutralize a threat or guarantee the capture of a prey. But image precision is only a part of the advantage of a conscious mind. The lion's share of the advantage, I suspect, comes from the fact that in a conscious mind the processing of environmental images is oriented by a particular set of internal images, those of the subject's living organism as represented in the self. The self focuses the mind process, it imbues the adventure of encountering other objects and events with a motivation, it infuses the exploration of the world outside the brain with a concern for the first and foremost problem facing the organism: the successful regulation of life. That concern is naturally generated by the self process, whose foundation lies in bodily feelings, primordial and modified. The spontaneously, intrinsically feeling self signals directly, as a result of the valence and intensity of its affecive states, the degree of concern and need that are present at every moment.
As the process of consciousness became more complex, and as co-evolved functions of memory, reasoning, and language were brought into play, further benefits of consciousness were introduced. Those benefits relate largely to planning and deliberation. The advantages here are legion. It became possible to survey the possible future and to either delay or inhibit automatic responses. An example of this evolutionarily novel capacity is delayed gratification, the calculated trading of something good now for something better later - or the forgoing of something good now when the survey of the future suggests that it will cause something bad as well. This is the trend of consciousness that brought us a finer management of basic homeostasis and, ultimately, the beginnings of sociocultuiral homeostasis (to which Damasio turns later in the book).
Plenty of conscious, highly successfuil behaviors are present in many nonhuman species with complex enough brains: the examples are evident all around us, most spectacularly in mammals. In humans, however, thanks to expanded memory, reasoning, and language, consciousness has reached its current peak. I suggest that the peak came from the strenghtening of the knower self and of its ability to reveal the predicaments and opportunities of the human condition. Some may say that in that revelation lies a tragic loss, of innocence no less, for all that the revelation tells us of the flaws of nature and of the drama we face, for all the temptations it lays down before human eyes, for all the evil it unmasks. Be that as it may, it is not for us to choose. Consciousness certainly has allowed the growth of knowledge and the development of science and technology, two ways in which we can attempt to manage the predicaments and opportunities laid bare by the human conscious state.
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.
The Origins of the Madhyamaka Philosophy (from Madhyamaka Schools in India - A Study of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of the Division of the System into the Prasangika and Svatantrika Schools, by Peter Della Santina, 1986, Delhi 1995) We have suggested that the Madhyamaka philosophy is founded upon an interpretation of the fundamental Buddhist doctrine of interdependent origination. While the Abhidharmika schools, the Vaibhasikas and the Sautrantikas understood the doctrine of interdependent origination propounded by the Buddha Shakyamuni to mean the temporal succession of momentary and discrete existences which were in themselves real, the Madhyamika interpreted the doctrine of interdependent origination to signify the universal relativity and unreality of all phenomena. According to the Madhyamika, the doctrine of interdependent origination is meant to indicate the dependence of all entities upon other entities. This is equivalent to their lack of self-existence (svabhava) and emptiness (shunyata).
The interpretation advocated by the Madhyamika is in complete agreement with some of the utterances of the Buddha recorded in the Pali canon. The following passage from the Majjhima Nikaya may be offered as evidence of this fact. The Buddha declared that form, feeling and the like are illusory, mere bubbles: "Dependent on the oil and the wick does light in the lamp burn; it is neither in the one nor in the other, nor anything in itself; phenomena are, likewise, nothing in themselves. All things are unreal, they are deceptions; Nibbana is the only truth."
In the Shunyatasaptati Nagarjuna writes: "Since the own-being of all entities is not in (the individual) causes and conditions, nor in the aggregation of causes and conditions, nor in any entity whatsoever, i.e. not in all (of these), therefore all entities are empty in their own being." In the Ratnavali it is also stated: "When this exists that arises, like short when there is long. When this is produced, so is that, like light from a flame. When there is long there must be short; they exist not through their own nature, just as without a flame light too does not arise." Again Nagarjuna points out that the Buddha declared that elements are deceptive and unreal. Therefore he says: "The Buddha simply expounded the significance of emptiness (shunyata)." He has also said in the Shunyatasaptati that whatever originates dependently as well as that upon which it depends for its origination does not exist. Nagarjuna precisely indicates the standpoint of the Madhyamika in the following stanza found in the Mulamadhyamakakarika: "We declare that whatever is interdependently originated is emptiness (shunyata). It is a conceptual designation of the relativity of existence and is indeed the middle path." "No element can exist," he writes, "which does not participate in interdependence. Therefore no element which is not of the nature of emptiness can exist."
Perfect Wisdom (from Zen Buddhism: A History, volume 1, by Prof. Heinrich Dumoulin S.J., translated by James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter, New York 1988) In the Prajñaparamita sutras the significance of wisdom for the pursuit of salvation is evident. It is wisdom that sets the wheel of doctrine in motion. The new doctrine of the Wisdom school is thus considered by Mahayana to be the 'second turning of the Dharma wheel', second in importance only to the first teachings preached by Shakyamuni.
The Prajñaparamita sutras also set forth the evangel of the Buddha by claiming silence as their highest and most valid expression. Wisdom, all-knowing and all-penetrating, is deep, inconceivable and ineffable, transcending all concepts and words. Most important, wisdom sees through the 'emptiness' (shunyata) of all things (dharma). Everything existing is always 'empty'. The broad horizon of meaning enveloping this word, which occurs throughout the sutras, suggests that, in the attempt to grasp its content, feeling must take precedence over definition. In the Heart Sutra, the shortest of the Prajñaparamita texts, wisdom is related to the five 'skandhas', the constitutive elements of human beings, and to all things contained in them. The sutra is recited daily in both Zen and other Mahayana temples, often repeated three times, seven times, or even more. In drawn out, resounding tones the endless chanting echoes through the semidark halls..
In the Wisdom sutras the stress is put on demonstrating the doctrine of the emptiness of 'inherent nature' (svabhava). Free of all inherent nature and lacking any quality or form, things are 'as they are' - they are 'empty'. Hence, emptiness is the same as 'thusness' (tathata), and because all things are empty, they are also the same. Whatever can be named with words is empty and equal. Sameness (samata) embraces all material and psychic things as part of the whole world of becoming that stands in opposition to undefinable Nirvana. In emptiness, Nirvana and Samsara are seen to be the same. The identity of emptiness, thusness, and sameness embraces the entire Dharma realm (dharmadhatu). Like the Dharma realm, Perfect Wisdom is unfathomable and indestructible. Here the doctrine on wisdom reaches its culmination.
Of special importance for Zen is the fact that Perfect Wisdom reveals the essence of enlightenment. As a synonym for emptiness and thusness, enlightenment is neither existence nor nonexistence; it cannot be described or explained. "Just the path is enlightenment; just enlightenment is the path" (Conze, Selected Sayings).
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(last modified 20 December 2013)