Thusness in Realization and Experience and Non-Dual Experience from Different Perspectives: What then is the view that Buddhism is talking about without resorting to a ‘source’? I think the post by Vajrahridaya in the thread ‘What makes Buddhism different’ of your forum succinctly and concisely expressed the view, it is well written. That said, do remember to infinitely regress back into this vivid present moment of manifestation – as this arising thought, as this passing scent – Emptiness is Form. :)
Great post by Vajrahridaya:
these sutras, the Buddha warned against mistaken understandings of the
I AM and non-dual experience/realisation prior to the Anatta insight
(i.e. Thusness Stage 1~4). Shurangama Sutra in particular maps well
with Thusness/PasserBy's Seven Stages of Enlightenment
First Sutra (Shurangama Sutra)
(Hinduism and Monistic traditions is at fault in 41, 42, 43, 44
Some Taoists at fault in 46, 47)
(41) Ananda, you should know that the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty, and he must return consciousness to the source. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
He can cause the individual sense faculties of his body to unite and open. He also has a pervasive awareness of all the categories of beings in the ten directions. Since his awareness is pervasive, he can enter the perfect source. But if he regards what he is returning to as the cause of true permanence and interprets this as a supreme state, he will fall into the error of holding to that cause. Kapila the Sankhyan, with his theory of returning to the Truth of the Unmanifest, will become his companion. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the first state, in which he creates a place to which to return, based on the idea that there is something to attain. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds of externalism.
(42) Further, Ananda, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
He may regard that to which he is returning as his own body and see all living beings in the twelve categories throughout space as flowing forth from his body. If he interprets this as a supreme state, he will fall into the error of maintaining that he has an ability which he does not really have. Maheshvara, who manifests his boundless body, will become his companion. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the second state, in which he creates a specific ability based on the idea that he has such an ability. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds for being born in the Heaven of Great Pride where the self is considered all-pervading and perfect.
(43) Further, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
If he regards what he is returning to as a refuge, he will suspect that his body and mind come forth from there, and that all things in the ten directions of space arise from there as well. He will explain that that place from which all things issue forth is the truly permanent body, which is not subject to production and destruction. While still within production and destruction, he prematurely reckons that he abides in permanence. Since he is deluded about non-production, he is also confused about production and destruction. He is sunk in confusion. If he interprets this as a supreme state, he will fall into the error of taking what is not permanent to be permanent. He will speculate that the God of Sovereignty (Ishvaradeva) is his companion. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the third state, in which he makes a false speculation based on the idea that there is a refuge. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds of an distorted view of perfection.
(44) Further, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
Based on his idea that there is universal awareness, he formulates a theory that all the plants and trees in the ten directions are sentient, not different from human beings. He claims that plants and trees can become people, and that when people die they again become plants and trees in the ten directions. If he considers this idea of unrestricted, universal awareness to be supreme, he will fall into the error of maintaining that what is not aware has awareness. Vasishtha and Sainika, who maintained the idea of comprehensive awareness, will become his companions. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the fourth state, in which he creates an erroneous interpretation based on the idea that there is a universal awareness. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds of a distorted view of awareness.
(45) Further, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
If he has attained versatility in the perfect fusion and interchangeable functioning of the sense faculties, he may speculate that all things arise from these perfect transformations. He then seeks the light of fire, delights in the purity of water, loves the wind's circuitous flow, and contemplates the accomplishments of the earth. He reveres and serves them all. He takes these mundane elements to be a fundamental cause and considers them to be everlasting. He will then fall into the error of taking what is not production to be production. Kashyapa and the Brahmans who seek to transcend birth and death by diligently serving fire and worshipping water will become his companions. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the fifth state, in which he confusedly pursues the elements, creating a false cause that leads to false aspirations based on speculations about his attachment to worship. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds of a distorted view of transformation.
(46) Further, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
He may speculate that there is an emptiness within the perfect brightness, and based on that he denies the myriad transformations, taking their eternal cessation as his refuge. If he interprets this as a supreme state, he will fall into the error of taking what is not a refuge to be a refuge. Those abiding in Shunyata in the Heaven of [Neither Thought nor] Non-Thought will become his companions. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the sixth state, in which he realizes a state of voidness based on the idea of emptiness within the perfect brightness. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds of annihilationism.
(47) Further, the good person has thoroughly seen the formations skandha as empty. He has already ended production and destruction, but he has not yet perfected the subtle wonder of ultimate serenity.
In the state of perfect permanence, he may bolster his body, hoping to live for a long time in that subtle and perfect condition without dying. If he interprets this as a supreme state, he will fall into the error of being greedy for something unattainable. Asita and those who seek long life will become his companions. Confused about the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he will lose his knowledge and understanding.
This is the seventh state, in which he creates the false cause of bolstering and aspires to permanent worldly existence, based on his attachment to the life-source. He strays far from perfect penetration and turns his back on the City of Nirvana, thus sowing the seeds for false thoughts of lengthening life.
Buddha warned (in Shurangama Sutra) against taking Consciousness as a permanent Spiritual Self:
(33) Further, in his practice of samadhi, such a good person's mind is firm, unmoving, and proper and can no longer be disturbed by demons. He can thoroughly investigate the origin of all categories of beings and contemplate the source of the subtle, fleeting, and constant fluctuation. But if he begins to speculate about self and others, he could fall into error with theories of partial impermanence and partial permanence based on four distorted views.
First, as this person contemplates the wonderfully bright mind pervading the ten directions, he concludes that this state of profound stillness is the ultimate spiritual self. Then he speculates, "My spiritual self, which is settled, bright, and unmoving, pervades the ten directions. All living beings are within my mind, and there they are born and die by themselves. Therefore, my mind is permanent, while those who undergo birth and death there are truly impermanent."
Because of these speculations of impermanence and permanence, he will fall into externalism and become confused about the Bodhi nature. This is the third externalist teaching, in which one postulates partial permanence.
Finally, if your pure, bright, clear, and unmoving state is permanent, then there should be no seeing, hearing, awareness or knowing in your body. If it is genuinely pure and true, it should not contain habits and falseness.
How does it happen, then, that having seen some unusual thing in the past, you eventually forget it over time, until neither memory nor forgetfulness of it remain; but then later, upon suddenly seeing that unusual thing again, you remember it clearly from before without one detail omitted? How can you reckon the permeation which goes on in thought after thought in this pure, clear, and unmoving consciousness?
Ananda, you should know that this state of clarity is not real. It is like rapidly flowing water that appears to be still on the surface. Because of its rapid speed, you cannot perceive the flow, but that does not mean it is not flowing. If this were not the source of thinking, then how could one be subject to false habits?
If you do not open and unite your six sense faculties so that they function interchangeably, this false thinking will never cease.
That's why your seeing, hearing, awareness, and knowing are presently strung together by subtle habits, such that within the profound clarity, existence and non-existence are both illusory. This is the fifth kind of upside-down, minutely subtle thinking.
Second Sutra (Mulapariyaya Sutta: The Root Sequence)
..."He directly knows water as water... the All as the All...
"He directly knows Unbinding as Unbinding. Directly knowing Unbinding as Unbinding, he does not conceive things about Unbinding, does not conceive things in Unbinding, does not conceive things coming out of Unbinding, does not conceive Unbinding as 'mine,' does not delight in Unbinding. Why is that? Because he has known that delight is the root of suffering & stress, that from coming-into-being there is birth, and that for what has come into being there is aging & death. Therefore, with the total ending, fading away, cessation, letting go, relinquishment of craving, the Tathagata has totally awakened to the unexcelled right self-awakening, I tell you."
That is what the Blessed One said. Displeased, the monks did not delight in the Blessed One's words.
Rob Burbea in Realizing the Nature of Mind:
One time the Buddha to a group of monks and he basically told them not to see Awareness as The Source of all things. So this sense of there being a vast awareness and everything just appears out of that and disappears back into it, beautiful as that is, he told them that’s actually not a skillful way of viewing reality. And that is a very interesting sutta, because it’s one of the only suttas where at the end it doesn’t say the monks rejoiced in his words.
This group of monks didn’t want to hear that. They were quite happy with that level of insight, lovely as it was, and it said the monks did not rejoice in the Buddha’s words. (laughter) And similarly, one runs into this as a teacher, I have to say. This level is so attractive, it has so much of the flavor of something ultimate, that often times people are unbudgeable there.
The Buddha taught that clinging to views is one of the four forms of clinging that tie the mind to the processes of suffering. He thus recommended that his followers relinquish their clinging, not only to views in their full-blown form as specific positions, but also in their rudimentary form as the categories & relationships that the mind reads into experience. This is a point he makes in the following discourse, which is apparently his response to a particular school of Brahmanical thought that was developing in his time — the Samkhya, or classification school.
This school had its beginnings in the thought of Uddalaka, a ninth-century B.C. philosopher who posited a "root": an abstract principle out of which all things emanated and which was immanent in all things. Philosophers who carried on this line of thinking offered a variety of theories, based on logic and meditative experience, about the nature of the ultimate root and about the hierarchy of the emanation. Many of their theories were recorded in the Upanishads and eventually developed into the classical Samkhya system around the time of the Buddha.
Although the present discourse says nothing about the background of the monks listening to it, the Commentary states that before their ordination they were brahmans, and that even after their ordination they continued to interpret the Buddha's teachings in light of their previous training, which may well have been proto-Samkhya. If this is so, then the Buddha's opening lines — "I will teach you the sequence of the root of all phenomena" — would have them prepared to hear his contribution to their line of thinking. And, in fact, the list of topics he covers reads like a Buddhist Samkhya. Paralleling the classical Samkhya, it contains 24 items, begins with the physical world (here, the four physical properties), and leads back through ever more refined & inclusive levels of being & experience, culminating with the ultimate Buddhist concept: Unbinding (nibbana). In the pattern of Samkhya thought, Unbinding would thus be the ultimate "root" or ground of being immanent in all things and out of which they all emanate.
However, instead of following this pattern of thinking, the Buddha attacks it at its very root: the notion of a principle in the abstract, the "in" (immanence) & "out of" (emanation) superimposed on experience. Only an uninstructed, run of the mill person, he says, would read experience in this way. In contrast, a person in training should look for a different kind of "root" — the root of suffering experienced in the present — and find it in the act of delight. Developing dispassion for that delight, the trainee can then comprehend the process of coming-into-being for what it is, drop all participation in it, and thus achieve true Awakening.
If the listeners present at this discourse were indeed interested in fitting Buddhist teachings into a Samkhyan mold, then it's small wonder that they were displeased — one of the few places where we read of a negative reaction to the Buddha's words. They had hoped to hear his contribution to their project, but instead they hear their whole pattern of thinking & theorizing attacked as ignorant & ill-informed. The Commentary tells us, though, they were later able to overcome their displeasure and eventually attain Awakening on listening to the discourse reported in AN 3.123.
Although at present we rarely think in the same terms as the Samkhya philosophers, there has long been — and still is — a common tendency to create a "Buddhist" metaphysics in which the experience of emptiness, the Unconditioned, the Dharma-body, Buddha-nature, rigpa, etc., is said to function as the ground of being from which the "All" — the entirety of our sensory & mental experience — is said to spring and to which we return when we meditate. Some people think that these theories are the inventions of scholars without any direct meditative experience, but actually they have most often originated among meditators, who label (or in the words of the discourse, "perceive") a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, identify with it in a subtle way (as when we are told that "we are the knowing"), and then view that level of experience as the ground of being out of which all other experience comes.
Any teaching that follows these lines would be subject to the same criticism that the Buddha directed against the monks who first heard this discourse.
p.s. With due respects to Thanissaro
Bhikkhu who is a venerable from the Theravadin tradition of Buddhism,
his comments on "the Dharma-body, Buddha-nature, rigpa" is not in
accord with what is taught in the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist
traditions, since in these traditions the Dharmakaya (dharma
body)/Buddha Nature/Rigpa is explained as empty as well. It is however
a common misunderstanding even among Buddhists.
Also see: Rigpa and Aggregates
As my friend Vajrahridaya said:
Ah, but this is not at all what Rigpa or Dharmakaya means. Rigpa is basically the consciousness of emptiness of dependent origination, so also originates dependently and is not some self supporting universal awareness. But since all aspects of the so called "universe" are inherently empty always, so Rigpa is always, only in as much as it is recognized.
p.s. Namdrol could clear this up, as he has access to untranslated Tibetan texts and could talk about what Rigpa means. He has said that it is not established as well. Rigpa is only inherent in the sense that all compounded things are inherently empty always. Just like the Buddhas first statement. "Mind and it's phenomena are luminous, uncompounded and free since beginningless time." Or something to that effect in maybe not that order. If someone has the quote?
Dharmajim's well-written article Dharma View: Interdependent Transformation
An Essay On The View Of
This essay is devoted to comparing and contrasting the teaching of Interdependent Transformation (Pratityasamutpada) with other views of ultimate nature that are widespread at this time. This is done in the hope that such comparing and contrasting will clarify the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, which leads to the cessation of sorrow and full awakening to the deathless and unborn.
1. Comparing Interdependent Transformation With Other Views Of Ultimate Nature
One way of comprehending Interdependent Transformation, and of deepening my awareness of this view, is to contrast Interdependent Transformation with other views of ultimacy. The purpose of engaging in this kind of contrast is to remove ignorance. It is primarily ignorance which keeps us in bondage. It is primarily ignorance which functions as the source for the generation of suffering in all its forms of greed, anger, hatred, clinging, craving and delusion. There exists an intimate connection between the ideas we hold, the views we have, and our interaction with the world. From this perspective, examining our core understandings, is a completely practical, and necessary part of our practice, for without the clarity of right view, we will continue to generate suffering for ourselves and for others. As Bhikkhu Bodhi puts it:
This process of contrasting the Buddha’s understanding with other views is rooted in the discourses themselves, particularly the Brahmajaala Discourse, or “The All Embracing Net Of Views”. In this discourse the Buddha examines 62 speculative views as to the nature of ultimacy, finding all of them wanting. The examination is very thorough. I will not repeat what this wonderful discourse has to offer. Instead, inspired by this discourse, I will attempt to examine what I have observed as widely held views as to the nature of ultimacy current in the world today. I will then contrast these views with the view of Interdependent Transformation, as I understand it. In this way, the view of the Buddha will become clearer, its meaning more precise, and the ability to function from that understanding will increase.
2. The Meaning Of Ultimate Nature
The realization of Interdependent Transformation is a realization as to the ultimate nature of all existing things and of existence as such. Furthermore, this view of ultimate nature has liberative capacity and potential. This view of ultimate nature differs from the view of ultimate nature that others hold.
What do I mean by the term “ultimate”? By ultimate nature I mean the nature that all existing things have. An ultimate analysis, therefore, is an analysis which reveals, or uncovers, that aspect of existing things which all existing things have in common.
Traditionally, Buddhism divides human experience into six spheres; eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. These six spheres have different objects of experience. The eye experiences shapes and colors, the ear experiences sounds, the nose experiences smells, the tongue experiences taste, the body experiences touch, and the mind experiences thoughts and emotions. An ultimate analysis means an analysis which reveals what all of these objects of experience have in common, what all of these objects of experience share. Looked at in this way, it becomes clearer why an ultimate analysis presents us with serious difficulties for it is not at all obvious what the smell of pine incense, the touch of sand, the shape of a leaf, the sound of a melody, and a mathematical function all have in common.
Perhaps they have nothing in common. However, all of these things exist, so they at least have in common that they exist. But what, then, does it mean to exist? Put in this way, an ultimate analysis responds to the question of what it means to exist at all. What is the manner in which things, all things, exist?
Responding to this cluster of questions, different traditions offer different understandings. For some traditions, things have in common their source. For some traditions, things have in common an underlying substance, or primal material or energy, and things are simply modifications or modes of this underlying substance. There exist many different approaches and possibilities.
The first contrast I wish to point to is that between the world view of animism and that of Interdependent Transformation. In the animistic understanding of existince everything has a hidden animating spirit or soul, which is that thing’s true nature. In the animistic world existence is thick with spirit presence, everything lives, rocks and rivers and clouds and mountains all have a spirit dimension. All of these apparent things also have a spirit aspect to them which is their true nature. The tendency is to regard this spirit or soul dimension as separately existing and in some sense immortal. For this reason, in answer to the question of what constitutes ultimate nature, animism tends to regard the whole realm of the spirits as more real than the world of appearances in which we live. The world of appearances is in some way derivative and less substantial than the realm(s) in which the spirits of things have their presence. The two traditions that I think have carried this view to its most sophisticated level are Jainism and Shinto.
The view of Interdependent Transformation might not deny the existence of spirits, but it would deny that the spirits, or souls, are more real than the apparent phenomena. For example, it is common in the Buddhist Discourses for deities of various kinds, from various realms, to visit the Buddha and request teachings. The Buddha himself seemed to have taken for granted the existence of numerous nature spirits as well as higher kinds of deities.
However, from the perspective of Interdependent Transformation, these manifestations are just another manifestation of existence and the Buddha did not teach that they represent a higher or more advanced form of existence. The mountain and the spirit of the mountain are both dependently arising phenomena and as such have equal ontological status. The mountain and the spirit of the mountain are transforming and as such have equal ontological status. The mountain and the spirit of the mountain function as causal bases for other phenomena and in that sense have equal ontological status. In addition, the spirit of the mountain does not exist independently, for as a dependently arising phenomenon, by definition does not exist separately from the causal matrix of existence as such. Finally, the view of Interdependent Transformation would not regard the spirit presence as immortal; perhaps very long-lived, but not immortal. In the unfolding causal matrix, impermanence would overcome even the most exalted deity.
A widely held view of ultimate nature is often referred to as pantheism. This view comprehends ultimate nature as some kind of primal substance out of which all things emerge. The most common metaphor for this view is waves and water. The phenomena that we perceive are the wvaes, but their true nature is water, which all phenomena share. From this perspective, the appearances of this world are considered to exist as modifications of this primal substance. The transcendent substance unites all existing things, constitutes what all existing things have in common, and is in a profound sense more real than appearances because appearances seem to exist in a way that things have differentiating natures whereas in reality, from the perspective of pantheism, the ultimate nature of things is this primal substance. The two great elucidations of this view are the Upanishads of Indian philosophy and Spinoza in the west.
Interdependent Transformation, in contrast, is a non-substantial view of ultimate nature. The metaphor for Interdependent Transformation most widely used within the Buddhist tradition is Indra’s Net. In this metaphor the places where the threads of the net cross are occupied by jewels. The facets of the jewels reflect all the other jewels in the net. Now, drop the threads. Now drop the jewels: or rather the jewels are nothing more than the endless reflections and refractions off of all the other jewels.
The common nature, from the point of view of Interdependent Transformation, that nature which all things share, is their dependency, their reliance upon conditions for their existence, not their substance. The dependent nature of all existing things manifests as a quality of those things, but does not imply an underlying substance or essential nature. Just as a green chair and a green table share the color green without implying that they have a common substance, so the qualities that emerge from Interdependent Transformation, such as dependence, interdependence, process, contingency, etc., mark all existing things, but do not imply a substantial presence or essential nature. This, in part, is what Buddhism means when it says that things are “empty”; they are empty of substance, empty of essence, but they are full of the causal matrix which is their true nature.
Another understanding of ultimate nature is referred to as “emanationism”. The great elucidator of this view in the west was Plotinus and through his considerable influence all subsequent neo-platonism and much of early Christian theology. There are also modern manifestations of this kind of view, particularly among Theosophists and related groups. The basic view here is that there is a constantly present source from which all things emerge. Spirituality is comprehended as a task of ascending higher and higher, closer and closer, to this ultimate source of all things.
A model for the emanationist view of existence is a series of concentric rings. In the center is the source (God, The One, The Light, The Nameless). The closer one is to this source the more spiritual and ethereal one becomes. In a monotheistic context, for example, angels are closer to the source than humans, and therefore angels are more spiritual than humans. Humans do have the opportunity, however, to ascend to the divine through contemplation and prayer.
The teaching of Interdependent Transformation differs from emanationism because there is no specific source from which the ultimate nature, as illuminated in this view, of all things arises. As Prashastrasena, an ancient Indian commentator, put it, Nirvana is unlocated, or has no location. A model often used for Interdependent Transformation is referred to as “Indra’s Net” which depicts a network, a fabric, of interconnectedness. The point here is that nirvana, or ultimate reality, has no locus/location, either in time or in space. Rather, Interdependent Transformation exists spread out over all of existence. One way of comprehending this is to think of Interdependent Transformation as a quality, or group of qualities, which qualify all existing things. Therefore, as a transcendental quality, Interdependent Transformation is present in all existing things, but does not negate any existing thing. As present in all existing things, it is present everywhere equally, but simultaneously has no particular location from which this ultimate nature springs.
From the perspective of Interdependent Transformation the metaphor of ascent into a spiritual domain is inappropriate. Instead, spirituality is comprehended as awakening to, or understanding, or realizing, the primal interconnectedness of all things. This interconnectedness, these qualities of interdependence, of dependence, of transformation, of creativity, manifest equally everywhere, or, as I like to say, everywhere in particular.
Another view of ultimate nature comprehends that things possess a specific essence, which is their nature, and which distinguishes that thing, or group of things, from other things. This was Aristotle’s great contribution to western thought. The view of essence supports the idea that definitions not only have importance for clear thinking, but they have metaphysical import. To define something correctly means to uncover that thing’s essential, and therefore eternal, nature.
The view of Interdependent Transformation contrasts with essentialism. While essentialism seeks to find out what distinguishes one thing, or group of things, from other things, Interdependent Transformation comprehends all things as having a common nature and asks what it is that all things have in common. In response to that question, the view of Interdependent Transformation comprehends things as having the nature of depending for their existence upon other things, and for this reason they have no essence because essence implies that which distinguishes, meaning separates, one thing from another thing. This is what is meant, or part of what is meant, when Buddhism says that things are empty of self-nature; it means that they lack essence and that their true nature is not what distinguishes one thing from another, but rather that which makes all things equal.
Another approach to ultimate nature comprehends the eternal as consisting in number. I refer to this view as Pythagoreanism, after the philosopher Pythagorus, who first developed and presented this point of view. This view has had a profound influence in the west; in some ways this view of number as ultimate distinguishes western culture from other cultures in the world.
I don’t think it is difficult to comprehend the appeal of this point of view for some people. Numbers and their relationships seem to have an eternal validity to them. The Pythagorean Theorem seems to be always true. From the point of view of Pythagoreanism, humans discover the relationships between numbers and numbers exist in a realm which is more real, more actual, than the realm of sensory appearances. From this perspective all things can be reduced to numbers and their relationships, and in a sense, it is those numbers and their relationships which allows things to exist at all.
Though this view may seem very abstract, it has profoundly influenced western thought. For example, the drive in science and technology to transform observation into numerical data is rooted in this point of view. The idea is that by transforming observations into numbers and their relationships, we gain access to something deeper and more real than mere empirical observation. Thus a formula that describes events is comprehended as providing a deeper understanding of those events than a simple description of those events.
I believe this is a source for the enduring appeal of mathematics for many mathematicians. Numbers and their relationships seem to provide access to the eternal; in a sense their is something luminous about numbers. In a world where everything shifts and changes, it seems that numbers offer access to a region of stability, of surety, and of logical coherence. This is very appealing to a certain kind of person.
The Buddhist view, based on Interdependent Transformation, differs from Pythagoreanism. From the Buddhist perspective, numbers also exist dependently, numbers also arise due to causes and conditions, numbers also transform and are subject to change. This is not, however, obvious and requires some investigation in order to comprehend how this fits in with the overall view of Interdependent Transformation.
First, numbers depend upon a particular kind of consciousness in order for them to appear in the world. Dogs do not have the kind of consciousness which gives rise to numbers. Angels do not seem to use numbers and I suspect it is because angles do not have the kind of consciousness which views existence from a number basis. Human consciousness is structured in such a way that yeilds a numerical sense. If this seems like a puzzling way to put it, I am not saying that numbers are subjective, I am saying they are dependent upon a particular kind of consciousness, a particular structure of awareness. For example, it is the particular human structure which allows humans to have a three-dimensional awareness. Similarly, the human structure construes things in a numerical manner.
Alfred North Whitehead, a superb mathematician of the 20th century, pointed out that numbers depend upon very specific conditions in order for them to apply. He used the example of adding two drops of water to two drops of water into a bowl. You don’t get four drops of water. You get one large drop of water. Whitehead’s point is not that numbers lack profundity or have great explantaory power. I understand Whitehead as saying that the range of applicability is limited and dependent upon certain conditions. The primary condition that numbers depend upon is that we perceive things discretely. The perception of things as discrete, though, depends upon our perceptual apparatus. For example, dogs perceive many discrete olfactory objects that humans completely miss. More broadly, the perception of things as discrete is, at some level, a misunderstanding. If analyzed, things do not exist discretely. Rather they exist in terms of tendencies of merging and inclinations for transforming.
From the Buddhist perspective of Interdependent Transformation, numbers also exist embedded in the web of existence. For this reason numbers are not exempt from the ultimate nature of all existing things; that of arising due to causes and condition, that of constantly transforming, etc.. Ontologically, numbers have no priority.
Platonism in western thought means that ideas are more real than the things of this world. Furthermore, Platonism is the view that the things of this world are, in some sense, bad copies, or instantiations, of ideas.
Plato believed that truth could not change. But all the things of this world change. However Plato, impressed with mathematics and an emerging logic, comprehended that certain things remained eternally true and valid; namely, the pure ideas which inhabit a realm which never changes and remains immutable. For Plato it was the existence of this realm of unchanging ideas which made truth possible, for these unchanging ideas were reflected, in a distorted way, in the things of this world.
Plato had an enormous influence on western culture. He still does. The core belief that truth does not change, that mutability is a sign of a lesser ontological status, remains very widespread. These core ideas were transferred to Christianity through the writings of Augustine, who had been a committed Platonist prior to his conversion to Christianity. Augustine remained a great admirer of Plato and in a sense, Augustine’s theology is a synthesis of Platonism and Bible-based views.
Like Plato, Augustine regards mutability as a sign of a lesser ontological status. For both of these philosophers, there is something repulsive about change and mutability. They don’t quite put it that way, but it seems to me that their writings are permeated by vague feelings of disgust with the changing, and therefore, from their perspective, unreliability of things. For both of them, this leads to a strongly world-negating view. The ultimate does not reside in the world of changing things, it lies somewhere else, in that which does not change. Plato and Augustine would disagree about the nature of that which does not change, but they would agree that the ultimate can not change.
Many schools of Buddhism would agree with this fundamental view. The logic of these schools of Buddhism runs something like this: All things are impermanent. Impermanence causes suffering. Therefore, to reach nirvana means to abandon all that is impermanent, which means everything that we perceive and interact with. From this perspective, such schools of Buddhism derive a sense of existence as systematically repulsive and as inherently a source of suffering.
There is a great deal of support for this view in the Discourses. Many of the Discourses speak of existence as repulsive, something to be overcome, and of all existing things as impermanent and therefore unlovely and a source of suffering. The logic alluded to in the above paragraph is often explicitly formulated.
Against this there is the Third Noble Truth, the truth of cessation. I regard the Third Noble Truth as the great message of the Buddhadharma. It is the message that has attracted countless millions of people down through the centuries, from widely divergent cultures, to the Buddhadharma. That it is possible to bring an end to suffering, grief, sorrow, lamentation and despair is such a profound, such a positive and liberating message, that immediately upon hearing this Third Noble Truth many people find themselves attracted to its source.
However, and this is the point I want to emphasize, the Third Noble Truth of cessation is a process. Cessation means to change, to bring about a particular kind of change. If change itself constituted suffering, then the cessation of suffering would generate suffering. If impermanence itself constituted suffering, then the ending and impermanence of those things which cause suffering would themselves generate suffering. All of us would, therefore, be ontologically trapped in the condition of despair. This is existentialism, not Buddhism.
I believe, given the nature of the Third Noble Truth as a process, that it is necessary to look more deeply at those passages in the Discourses which equate impermanence and/or change with suffering. By looking more deeply I mean upon encountering such passages we need to ask ourselves what is the logic here, why is the equation being made? In other words, why do the Discourses assert that impermanence means suffering?
I think the resolution to this is found in those Discourses that equate realization/nirvana with non-clinging. The human gesture to cling to that which changes, flows, and transforms, produces a sense of futility, and this sense of futility gives rise to suffering, a sense of existence as unsatisfactory. But this sense of existence as unsatisfactory has as its basis the mind which thinks that things should remain static. It is this projection onto existence of this preference for the static which gives rise to clinging which gives rise to suffering.
This leads to the conclusion that it is not impermanence and change itself which causes suffering and despair, but the mind which clings to that which changes. The transformation of that gesture of clinging is what leads to enlightenment. One moment of non-clinging is a moment of nirvana, a moment of realization.
From this perspective, existence is not repulsive; existence only seems repulsive when we attempt to make existence conform to our desire that something not change. That simply is not going to happen. In other words, it is not mutability, change, and process which need to be abandoned; rather it is the desire for the static, the non-changing, which needs to be abandoned. When those are abandoned, then the ultimately real emerges as change and transformation itself. That is how the Discourses can say that “nirvana is samsara.”
I will have more to say regarding this topic in the Discussion on the marks of existence. But to return to Platonism, the view of Interdependent Transformation comprehends ideas as just another aspect of existence and does not privilege ideas over other domains. This is why in Buddhist psychology there are six senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The mind sense means that sense which perceives thoughts and feelings, just as the eye sense perceives colors and shapes. From the perspective of Interdependent Transformation, visual objects arise due to causes and conditions, and mental objects such as thoughts and feelings also arise due to causes and conditions. In addition, thoughts arise due to non-thought causes, just as sounds may arise due to non-sonic events. From this perspective thoughts completely participate in the world in a network of interdependent relationships; thoughts and ideas have no privileged or independent existence. Thoughts are simply another realm, and thoughts arise, change, and transform, just like all the other things of the world.
The view of theism is the view that there exists a deity, or deities, that are more real than the world in which we dwell. Typically, the deities and the realm in which they dwell are considered in some sense immortal, and therefore desirable. The purpose of religious practice in such a context is to somehow gain access to this realm of the gods.
I have already discussed this view in my comments on Animism and in the section on “The Twilight of the Gods” from the essay Udumbara. The difference in the view of theism to that of Animism and Pantheism is that Theism regards the realm of the God(s) as in some manner separate from the realm in which we dwell. Animism tends to regard each existing thing as having a soul, and so the spiritual realm is deeply intertwined with the physical realm. Pantheism regards all existing things as modifications of a primal nature. Theism comprehends the God(s) and their realm(s) as existing apart from the world in which we humans live. Heaven is somewhere else.
Though this is a somewhat subtle distinction, the same analysis that applied to Animism also applies here. Namely, that the view of Interdependent Transformation regards the Gods themselves as dependent upon causes and conditions for their existence. The Gods do not exist separately, unchangingly, or in a manner that basically differs from that of any other existing thing. For this reason the Buddha would state that liberation is not a matter of gaining access to another dimension. Liberation is a matter of awakening to, or realizing, the nature of all existing things.
This is the big one, the view that concerns most westerners. There is a long and venerable history of discussion between the monotheistic tradition and Buddhism. This dialogue between the two traditions often centers on whether or not at core these two traditions have a common understanding. The need for this dialogue appears because at a certain obvious level Buddhism simply does not have a supreme being, what the monotheistic tradition generally means by God.
I distinguish two components of ultimacy that are unique to the monotheistic tradition. Given that the monotheistic tradition believes in the existence of only one God, the monotheistic tradition conceives of God as the ultimate; furthermore God in this tradition is the creator of all existence and also bears moral responsibility for the activities which occur in this existence.
Both of these components are absent from the Buddhist tradition. The Buddhist tradition lacks a being who has created existence. Instead, from the perspective of Interdependent Transformation, Buddhism conceives of existence as always existing, without beginning and without end. Furthermore, from the perspective of Interdependent Transformation, there is no specific locus of creation, no specific being is responsible for bringing existence into existence. Rather, creativity is an aspect of all existing things and therefore the source of existence is the things of existence, spread out over all of existence, throughout all space, throughout all time.
John Reynolds, among western scholars I am familiar with, has written with clarity on this issue:
The principle here, derived from the core insight of Interdependent Transformation, is that all things appear from a causal base. This understanding is extended to the existence of entire universes or world systems. The Dalai Lama makes this same point in his commentary on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Ninth Chapter on Wisdom. Verse 124 speaks directly to this discussion:
Both of the above quoted passages are rooted in the understanding of existence as a causal matrix, the view of Intedependent Transformation. It is somewhat astonishing to think of God as deluded, as Reynolds suggests. God thinks he has created this world system because, due to his karma, he was the first conscious being in this world system. Unaware of his past karma which created the conditions for his rebirth in this world system, and not observing any other conscious beings in this world system, God then concludes that he is the creator of this world system. Unaware that there are other world systems, incalculably numerous, God/Ishvara concludes that he is the creator of all of existence.
It takes some time to take in all the implications of such a world view. It is breathtaking in scope and rich in implications. One of the implications is that being reborn as God is not, from a Buddhist perspective, a fortunate rebirth. It is not a rebirth that will lead to liberation, to nirvana, and the cessation of all sorrow because such a rebirth re-enforces the idea that there is something that exists independently, and it is this very idea/belief/feeling that is the source of sorrow.
It might seem that this is the end of the story; Buddhism doesn’t believe in a creator Deity that bears moral responsibility for existence while the monotheistic tradition has this view at its core. The two traditions, therefore, diverge.
However, God has many names and many meanings and Interdependent Transformation has many facets. Though the view of Interdependent Transformation does lead to a view of existence that in some respects differs from that of the monotheistic tradition, we should not stop at this conclusion. I have previously mentioned in the discussion on the basic implications of Intedependent Transformation that this core view of the Buddha means that all things exist dependently. Because the monotheistic tradition regards God as the creator of all existing things and of existence itself, the monotheistic tradition views all things as existing dependently, as in a totally dependent state. From this perspective, the perspective of dependence, the Buddhist and Monotheistic tradition share a common insight into the transcendent nature of all existing things.
Or take the view that God is love. It is out of God’s love that existence emerges. Existence is an expression of the generosity and benign nature of God. In the Buddhist tradition it is the realization that all things exist interdependently that gives rise to the blossoming of the compassionate heart. Love and Compassion are always present, but they are covered over by ignorance, self-concern, and distraction. I think that these two insights are very close for they both proclaim that in some sense love and compassion are the true nature of existence, that love and compassion blossom when we comprehend the transcendental.
What I am suggesting is that even if I put aside the idea of a Creator Being, even if I put aside the idea of a Being who bears moral responsibility for existence, there are still significant, broad areas for dialogue between the two traditions because there is more to the idea of God than the idea of a Creator. From a Buddhist perspective, the most important aspects might lie outside of the Creator view.
How do we access this broader understanding that lies at the core of the monotheistic tradition? I would suggest using those traditions centered on positive theology. Positive theology is that theology which explores the Divine Names and Attributes of God. For example, Dionysius the Areopagite wrote a theological work called The Divine Names. I think it would be an excellent place to start making such a comparison. For example, Dionysius writes:
The division of nature seems to me to admit of four species through four differentiae. The first is the division into what creates and is not created; the second into what is created and creates; the third, into what is created and does not create; the four, into what neither creates nor is created. Of these four, two pairs consist of opposites. The third is the opposite of the first, the fourth of the second. But the fourth is among the things which are impossible, and its differentia is its inability to be.
(Periphyseon, On The Division Of Nature, by John the Scot Eriugena, translated by Myra L. Uhlfelder, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1976, page 2.)
(Note: Further discussion of this topic appears in my book The Presence of Eternity, Section 2.)
Judaism, Christianity and -- to a lesser extent -- Islam have all developed the idea of a personal God, so we tend to think that this ideal represents religion at its best. The personal God has helped monotheists to value the sacred and inalienable rights of the individual and to cultivate an appreciation of human personality. The Judeo-Christian tradition has thus helped the West to acquire the liberal humanism it values so highly. These values were originally enshrined in a personal God who does everything that a human being does: he loves, judges, punishes, sees, hears, creates and destroys as we do. Yahweh began as a highly personalized deity with passionate human likes and dislikes. Later he became a symbol of transcendence, whose thoughts were not our thoughts and whose ways soared above our own as the heavens tower above the earth. The personal God reflects an important religious insight: that no supreme value can be less than human. Thus personalism has been an important and -- for many -- an indispensable stage of religious and moral development. The prophets of Israel attributed their own emotions and passions to God; Buddhists and Hindus had to include a personal devotion to avatars of the supreme reality. Christianity made a human person the center of the religious life in a way that was unique in the history of religion: it took the personalism inherent in Judaism to an extreme. It may be that without some degree of this kind of identification and empathy, religion cannot take root.
Yet a personal God can become a grave liability. He can be a mere idol carved in our own image, a projection of our limited needs, fears and desires. We can assume that he loves what we love and hates what we hate, endorsing our prejudices instead of compelling us to transcend them. When he seems to fail to prevent a catastrophe or seems even to desire a tragedy, he can seem callous and cruel. A facile belief that a disaster is the will of God can make us accept things that are fundamentally unacceptable. The very fact that, as a person, God has a gender is also limiting: it means that the sexuality of half the human race is sacralized at the expense of the female and can lead to a neurotic and inadequate imbalanace in human sexual mores. A personal God can be dangerous, therefore. Instead of pulling us beyond our limitations, “he” can encourage us to remain complacently within them; “he” can make us as cruel, callous, self-satisfied and partial as “he” seems to be. Instead of inspiring the compassion that should characterize all advanced religion, “he” can encourage us to judge, condemn and marginalize. It seems, therefore, that the idea of a personal God can only be a stage in our religious development. The world religions all seem to have recognized this danger and have sought to transcend the personal conception of supreme reality.
( A History of God, by Karen Armstrong, Ballantine Books, U.S.A., 1993, pages 209-210.)
The Abhidhamma may be described as a philosophy because it proposes an ontology, a perspective on the nature of the real. This perspective has been designated the “dhamma theory” (dhammavaada). Briefly, the dhamma theory maitains that ultimate reality consists of a multiplicity of elementary constituents called dhammas. The dhammas are not noumena hidden behind phenomena, not “things in themselves” as opposed to “mere appearances,” but the fundamental components of actuality... The familiar world of substantial objects and enduring persons is, according to the dhamma theory, a conceptual construct fashioned by the mind out of the raw data provided by the dhammas. The entities of our everyday frame of reference possess merely a consensual reality derivative upon the foundational stratum of the dhammas. It is the dhammas alone that possess ultimate reality: determinate existence “from their own side” (saruupato) independent of the mind’s conceptual processing of the data.
(A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, a translation of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist Publication Society, Pariyati Editions, Seattle, 1993, page 3.)
1. All things appear due to causes and conditions.
2. The idea (1), “all things appear due to causes and conditions”, appears due to causes and conditions.
3. The idea (2), also appears due to causes and conditions.
4. The idea (3), also appears due to causes and conditions.
5. The idea (4), also appears due to causes and conditions.