The Concept of Karma does Important Ontological Work within Buddhist Philosophy (from Enacting Selves, Enacting Worlds: On the Buddhist Theory of Karma, by Matthew MacKenzie, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, April 2013) In addition to the important role it plays in Buddhist moral theory, moral psychology and soteriology, the concept of karma does important ontological work within Buddhist philosophy. Self, world, and action are taken to be three interdependent aspects of an ontologically and phenomenologically more basic and universal process of [inter]dependent co-arising (pratityasamutpada). Thus, not only do actions, as common sense would have it, arise from selves interacting with the world, but also, Buddhist philosophers insist, selves and the world are enacted in and through the process of [inter]dependent origination. It is perhaps not clear which idea is more paradoxical - that we enact ourselves or that we enact the world - but in any case I will begin with the former idea and take up the latter in the next section. [Neither exposition in this short excerpt.]
One central focus of Indian Buddhism is the examination of the structure and dynamics of lived experience in the service of identifying and addressing the distortions and afflictions that perpetuate human suffering (duhkha). What is distinctive about Buddhist thought - both within its own historical and intellectual milieu and, to some degree, within the context of philosophy more generally - is its radical rejection of substantialism in favor of an ontology of interdependent events and processes. In the Buddhist view, phenomena arise in dependence on a network of causes and conditions. Thus, the Buddhist analysis of any particular entity, event, or process will not be based on the categories of substance and attribute, agent and action, or subject and object. Rather, the analysis will focus on the dynamic patterns of interaction within which events arise, have their effects, and pass away. The identity of any persisting object, then, is determined by its place in this vast pattern of relations. Indeed, even what we would normally conceive of as enduring substances are reconceptualized as more or less stable patterns of more basic and more ephemeral events and processes. It is against the backdrop of these basic analytical and ontological commitments, then, that we can understand the Buddhist account of the self and the claim that we create and recreate ourselves through karma.
The Theory of Karma Involves Descriptive and Normative Claims (from Enacting Selves, Enacting Worlds: On the Buddhist Theory of Karma, by Matthew MacKenzie, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, April 2013) Another key point to recognize about the theory of karma is that it involves both descriptive and normative claims. There is no fact/value dichotomy in the Buddhist tradition, and the theory of karma is meant to provide a framework for interpreting the complex relations between the moral dynamics of human experience and the larger causal order [cf. Advayavada Buddhism]. Specifically, Indian Buddhists understand sentient beings and their world in terms of dependent origination (pratityasamutpada). The focus, then, is on patterns of dependence between events or processes, rather than on, for instance, the operation of external forces on ontologically independent objects. The world is understood as a dynamic network of interdependent events, and the sentient beings within it are understood in the same terms. Karma, then, is a mode (niyama) or special case of dependent origination and is not [sic] co-extensive with it. Indian Buddhists identify five modes or domains (niyama) of dependent origination: physical (utu-niyamabija-niyama), mental (mano-niyama), ethical (karma-niyama), and spiritual (dharma-niyama). The proper understanding of an event may involve some or all of the modes, and it would be a mistake, on this account, to assume that everything that happens to a person is determined by his or her karma.
Moreover, one may interpret the theory of karma, in addition to positing certain kinds of causal connections, as expressing a commitment to a fundamental, internal relation between virtuous action and genuine well-being. The specifics of this connection may rest on empirical claims about human action and psychology, but commitment to the internal relation itself will not be a merely empirical generalization. In the final analysis, then, the general theory of karma expresses a regulative normative commitment to the idea that, as Aristotle put it, "activities in accord with virtue control happiness, and the contrary activities control the contrary". According to the doctrine of karma virtues are both means to the end of genuine happiness or well-being (sukha) and partly constitutive of the end itself. Thus vices are harmful to oneself in that they detract from one's objective well-being. In addition, vices will tend to undermine one's ability to enjoy other things of value, such as worldly happiness or wealth.
Karl Popper's theory of World 3 (from Popper, by Bryan Magee, London 1973) Throughout his account of the evolution of life and the emergence of man and the development of civilization, Popper makes use of the notion not only of an objective world of material things (which he calls World 1) and a subjective world of minds (World 2) but of a third world, a world of objective structures which are the products, not necessarily intentional, of minds or living creatures; but which, once produced, exist independently from them. Forerunners of this in the animal world are nests built by birds or ants or wasps, honeycombs, spiders' webs, beavers' dams, all of which are highly complicated structures built by the animal outside of its own body in order to solve its problems. The structures themselves become the most centrally important part of the animal's environment, towards which much of its most important behaviour is oriented - indeed, it is commonly born in one of them, which in that case constitutes its very first experience of the physical environmenmt outside its mother's body. Furthermore, some of the animal kingdom's structures are abstract: forms of social organization, for instance, and patterns of communication. In man, some of the biological characteristics which developed to cope with the environment changed that environment in the most spectacular ways: the human hand is one example. And man's abstract structures have at all times equalled in scale and degree of elaboration his transformation of the physical environment: language, ethics, law, religion, philosophy, the sciences, the arts, institutions. Like those of animals, only more so, his creations acquired a central importance in the environment to which he had then to adapt himself, and which therefore changed him. Their objective existence in relation to him meant that he could examine them, evaluate and criticize them, explore, extend, revise or revolutionize them, and indeed make wholly unexpected discoveries within them. And this is true of his most abstract creations of all, for example mathematics.
"I agree with Brouwer that the sequence of natural numbers is a human construction. But although we create this sequence, it creates its own autonomous problems in its turn. The distinction between odd and even numbers is not created by us: it is an untintended and unavoidable consequence of our creation. Prime numbers, of course, are similarly unintended autonomous and objective facts; and in their case it is obvious that there are many facts here for us to discover: there are conjectures like Goldbach's. And these conjectures, though they refer indirectly to objects of our creation, refer directly to problems and facts which have somehow emerged from our creation and which we cannot control or influence: they are hard facts, and the truth about them is often hard to discover. This exemplifies what I mean when I say that the third world is largely autonomous, though created by us."
World 3, then is the world of ideas, art, science, language, ethics, institutions - the whole cultural heritage, in short - in so far as this is encoded and preserved in such World 1 objects as brains, books, machines, films, computers, pictures, and records of every kind.
The Distinction between Problem and Mystery (from Existentialist Thought: Gabriel Marcel, by Ronald Grimsley, 1955, Cardiff 1967) To raise the question of Being is to reveal the limitations of all pure 'problems'. A problem is in some way outside us, something apart from our intimate experience and something towards which we adopt a merely impersonal attitude. Hence it can become an object of general knowledge and public inquiry. As 'ob-jective' a problem confronts me in the manner of an obstacle which has to be overcome. In scientific investigation it seems possible to make a clear-cut distinction between the subject which interrogates and the object which is being examined, between what is in me and what is before me. In this way a problem emerges as something definite and specific and of a fixed pattern. This is revealed through the way in which we believe that a given problem may be resolved in terms of a 'solution' which can be tested and verified in experience. There is a 'universal reason' or 'thought in general' capable of laying down certain conditions necessary for the acceptance of any particular solution as valid. When those conditions have been satisfactorily fulfilled, we say that the solution has been 'verified'. It is normal to suppose that such verification is carried out by a mind of a 'depersonalized subject' and that one investigator ought to be able to reach exactly the same conclusion as another. This is an essential condition for the establishment of any kind of objective knowledge, the search for which always entails, says Gabriel Marcel, a certain form of concupiscence by which the world is brought to myself and compelled to submit to a set of techniques considered suitable for dominating it.
As soon as we begin to inquire about Being we are faced by a different situation. Whereas the objective problem is conveniently located in a region which is apart from us, questions about Being immediately make us realize that in some intimate and perhaps perplexing way we are implicated in it from the very outset. In fact I cannot separate the question: What is Being? from the further question: Who or what am I? Whenever I interrogate Being I also have to ask: Who am I who ask this question concerning Being? Since questions concerning the totality of Being always involve my own existence and since questions about myself also involve an interrogation of Being, we are forced to admit the insufficiency of the distinction between the 'subjective' and the 'objective' as it emerges in questions concerning limited aspects of the physical world and man in his natural aspects. The conventional distinction must be transcended. It is this general consideration which prevents Marcel from speaking of the 'problem' of Being. We are here dealing not with a problem but with a 'mystery'.
The 'mystery' of Being brings us to the region of the 'metaproblematical' where it is necessary 'to transcend the opposition of a subject which would affirm Being and of Being which is affirmed by this subject'. The very antithesis involved in the subject-object relationship is only possible, in the first place, through the existence of a 'metaproblematical' sphere which gives priority to Being over knowledge. A cognition is always enveloped by Being and therefore in some sense 'within' Being. A mere theory of knowledge and an epistemological distinction between subject and object can never account for the full depth of a mystery which springs directly from Being itself. A mystery is really a 'problem which encroaches upon its own data' - and therefore 'transcends itself as problem'. In whichever way the polarity of the questioner and the object of his question be conceived in the case of a mystery, we are forced to recognize the existence of a kind of reciprocal penetration of the inquiring self and the ontological reality to which it is related. This interpenetration makes it quite impossible to reduce the question to the level of those usually treated in terms of rational categories.
The Identity of Man with the World and its Soul in Hinduism (adapted from a reprint of Spinoza and Buddha, Visions of a Dead God, by S.M. Melamed, Chicago 1933) What Spinoza called substance the ancient Hindu thinkers called Atman. While Spinoza's substance never underwent any changes, Atman shows many stages of development. Originally it meant the cosmic ego, which later vanished, leaving only indeterminate, infinite, and inarticulate substance. From this cosmic principle the Hindu sought to deduce the world. This deduction seemed to be the more necessary since this is an articulate world, full of words, expressions, and thoughts, while Atman is indeterminate and inarticulate. This chasm between Atman and the world the Hindu bridged with Brahman, the holy word, accompanying the sacrificial rites. Brahman, or the logos, became the second cosmic force, and then united with Atman to form one cosmic principle. Both, as a oneness, represent the physical and the logical principle of the world.
Just as Spinoza called thinking the son of God, so did the ancient Hindus regard Brahman, the logical principle, as the first-born in this world. In this Atman-Brahman idea, ancient Hindu thought found its kindling-point and anchor ground. It, too, is no more a Deity in the theological meaning of the term than is Spinoza's Deus. It is a mystical cosmic principle, a dead God. It does not demand that man pray to, adore, or venerate it. It does not pretend to be man's teacher and guide. Atman-Brahman means 'I am the all', 'I am the cosmos', and is expressed in the formula 'Tat tvam asi', 'Thou art that'. In this recognition man loses the feeling of limitation and finiteness, and feels himself to be part of the infinite whole, a link in the infinite chain. He is at one with the world and with God, and hence need not face them in opposition. There is no inside or outside, no subject or object. The world is a oneness which manifests itself in variety. None of the parts is isolated from the whole. God's relationship to the world is identical with [its] inner ground and outer manifestation.
Atman-Brahman is in the final analysis the identity of man with the world and its soul. It is often referred to in the Upanishads as Karya Brahman, the nature of Brahman, or what Spinoza would call natura naturans, as distinguished from Karana Brahman, or natura naturata. This Brahman has all the properties of Spinoza's substance and is the true hen kai pan [One and All]. It is the infinite in all things finite, and the eternal in all things fugitive. It is the ultimate and highest reality.
This conception presupposes a type of knowledge which cannot possibly be empirical in nature. The senses cannot possibly furnish us with the truth of the absolute. Empiric knowledge is only fragmentary in character. Only knowledge of the whole, which is created intuitively, can furnish us with truth. Only intuitive knowledge makes the unheard become heard, the unperceived perceived, and the unknown known. This form of knowledge also enables man to grasp the highest reality, frees him from passion and suffering, and unites his soul with eternity. It is man's greatest spiritual treasure. This theory of knowledge is common to all mysticism, including Spinozism.
The Self in Buddhism and Western Philosophy (from Political Theory in Canonical Buddhism, by Matthew J. Moore, in Philosophy East and West, January 2015) Yet, not surprisingly, the Western philosophical tradition contains several different strands of thought about the self, which are more or less close to the [no-self] Buddhist position. The view that is the furthest from the Buddhist no-self theory is the Greek and Christian idea that human beings are or posses selves, and that these selves are indestructible, immortal natural essences (i.e. souls). A view that takes one step toward the Buddhist position is the idea that human beings are or posses selves, but that these selves arise more-or-less contingently from the functioning of the body and/or mind. In this group we get thinkers like William James, who argues that the self is ultimately merely a way of talking about some aspects of the body, like Kant, who argues that the mind's perception of a single, unified self is merely the logically necessary but empirically unverifiable corollary of the mind's perception of external objects extended in space and time, and finally like the contemporary "embodied mind" school of thought [cf. embodied cognition], which builds off of phenomenology to suggest that our experience of being selves may be rooted in both bodily and cognitive processes. The closest that Western thinking about the self gets to the Buddhist perspective comes in the work of Hume, who suggests that the self is an illusion but one that we cannot get rid of, and Nietzsche, who suggests that the self is an illusion that we might turn to our own purposes. One influential line of contemporary Western thought (which roughly corresponds to "postmodernism") has built on the insights of Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche to argue that identity is either largely or wholly contingent or constructed.
Given this range of ideas, we can see, first, that while the Buddhist no-self position goes further in one direction than any influential Westerm theory, there are similarities between the two traditions, and, second, that the Buddhist position extends one of the Western approaches to its logical conclusion. The anatta doctrine would not be shocking to Hume, Kant, or Nietzsche, though none of them would be prepared to embrace it, and it, at the same time, represents the logical next step for contemporary theories of the constructed and contingent nature of identity. Thus, the Buddhist theory is not so foreign that it could not enter into conversation with Western theories, and it presents the opportunity to extend more familiar theories in their natural direction of development. For both reasons, it is simultaneously distinct from Western theories and an appealing alternative (or supplement) to them.
The Distinction between Advaya and Advaita (from The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, by Prof. T.R.V. Murti, 1955, 1960, London 1968, p.217-218) In all the three absolutisms [Madhyamaka, Vijñanavada and Vedanta] the highest knowledge is conceived as Intuition, beyond all traces of duality. A distinction must, however, be made between the advaya of the Madhyamaka and the advaita of the Vedanta, although in the end it may turn out be one of emphasis of approach. Advaya is knowledge free from the duality of the extremes (antas or dristis) of 'is' and 'is not', 'being' and 'becoming' etc. It is knowledge freed of conceptual distinctions. Advaita is knowledge of a differenceless entity: Brahman (Pure Being) or Vijñana (Pure consciousness). The Vijñanavada, although it uses the term advaya for its absolute, is really an advaita system.
Advaya is purely an epistemological approach; the advaita is ontological. The sole concern of the Madhyamaka advaya-vada is the purification of the faculty of knowing. The primordial error consists in the intellect being infected by the inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc. These views falsify Reality, and the dialectic administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition (prajña) emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata or bhutakoti. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing and not on the known..
The Madhyamika has no doctrine of existence, ontology. This would be, according to him, to indulge in dogmatic speculation (dristivada). To the Vedanta and Vijñanavada, the Madhyamika, with his purely epistemological approach and lack of a doctrine of reality, cannot but appear as nihilistic (sarva-vainashika, shunya-vada). The 'no-doctrine' attitude of the Madhyamika is construed by Vedanta and Vijñanavada as a 'no-reality' doctrine; they accuse the Madhyamika, unjustifiably, of denying the real altogether and as admitting a theory of appearance without any reality as its ground. In fact, the Madhyamika does not deny the real; he only denies doctrines about the real. For him, the real as transcendent to thought can be reached only by the denial of the determinations which systems of philosophy ascribe to it. When the entire conceptual activity of Reason is dissolved by criticism, there is Prajña-Paramita.
A Critique of Causality (from The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, by Prof. T.R.V. Murti, 1955, 1960, London 1968, p.166-167) The Madhyamika Karikas and other Madhyamika treatises open with a critique of causality. This is the central problem in Indian philosophy. The concept of causality a system advocates exhibits the logic of the entire system. There is a special reason why the Madhyamika should pay particular attention to causality. The entire Buddhist thought revolves on the pivot of Pratitya Samutpada; the Madhyamika system is the interpretation of Pratitya Samutpada as Sunyata.
A critique of causality has necessarily to be a criticism of the view held by different systems. It does not directly concern itself with the causal phenomenon; that is the work of science and common sense. Philosophy can only take into account our understanding of things; the datum of philosophy is not the raw fact, but the facts which have already been subjected to a measure of unification and synthesis by the understanding at work in science. The sciences formulate laws; they reduce sense-data to order through the application of relevant forms or categories. Philosophy strives to achieve a greater, a higher kind of, unity that is possible for Reason.
Except the materialists (the svabhavavadins) who advocated the chance-origin of things, no serious philosophical system in India denied causality or took it as subjective, i.e. as formed through habit and association of ideas, and therefore as merely probable. The Buddhist, the Jaina and the Brahmanical systems all subscribe to the principle of causality as governing all phenomena. Each interpreted it in its own way, and all of them, before the advent of the Madhyamika, took it as ultimately real, as a feature of the unconditioned noumenon. The problem for the Madhyamika is thus confined to proving that causality and other categories are of empirical validity only; they constitute the texture of phenomena. But with regard to the noumenon (tattva) they are mere ascriptions, vikalpa. To adopt Kantian phraseology, we might say that the categories are empirically real but transcendentally ideal (subjective, false). This conclusion the Madhyamika establishes by showing that all the possible ways in which the categories can be understood under forms of identity, difference, or both, or neither are riddled with contradiction. This shows their relativity and their limitation to the phenomenal realm.
The doctrine of pratitya-samutpada (from The Madhyamika Mind, by Prof. Harsh Narain, Delhi 1997) The doctrine of universal relativity (pratitya-samutpada) is the stepping stone to the doctrine of sunyata. The knowledge of the former at once leads to the knowledge of the latter. Their relation is so intimate that Nagarjuna has no hesitation in identifying the two. He observes, "What is relativity we call sunyata. It [sunyata] is relative being (upadaya prajñapti). It is the middle path". This proposition is pregnant with implications. The Madhyamika turned pratitya-samutpada, literally and originally conditioned/dependent origination, into pratitya-samutpada as dependent or relative being, as relativity. He had better replace the term with pratitya-samutpapada. In this sense, however, he expresses pratitya-samutpada otherwise as upadaya-prañapti (relative appearance, relative being, relativity). In fact, pratitya-samutpada, which emerged in the Pali canon as a theory of causation, became at the Madhyamika´s hands tantamount to a veritable denial of causation. Indeed, Nagarjuna´s verdict is that what has come into being through causes and conditions has in fact not come into being at all, and, since it has not come into being, it is sunya, void, pure and simple. It is significant that Candrakirti interprets pratitya-samutpada to mean ´non-origination by nature´ (svabhavenanutpadah).
Nagarjuna's suggestion is that his denial of the world does not imply belief in another order of reality like the Absolute, immanent in or transcendent to phenomena. It is quite in conformity to the spirit of the Praj˝aparamita texts, which refuse to set sunyata over against the dharmas and to acknowledge positive knowledge of any such reality in the highest wisdom conceived by them. Nagarjuna himself expresses the view that sunyata is nothing other than existents and that there is no existent without sunyata. Advayavajra follows suit. Praj˝akaramati expresses himself categorically against the attempt to install sunyata over against the realm of being: "Sunyata is not different from being, for being itself is of the nature of that; otherwise, in the event of sunyata's being different from being, there would be no essencelessness of the dharmas."
Dharmakaya (from The Essence of Buddhism, by Prof. P. Lakshmi Narasu, 1911, 1948, Delhi 1976) All that man aspires and desires to attain through religion might in its essentials be reduced to three points: peace and tranquility of mind, fortitude and consolation in adversity, and hope in death. In Buddhism all these are attained through Nirvana. The ordinary man seeks his rest and peace in God. For him all questions find their answer in God. But it is entirely different with the Buddhist. Buddhism denies an Ishvara, and the latter cannot, therefore, be its goal and resting point. The Buddhist's goal is Buddhahood, and the essence of Buddhahood is Dharmakaya, the totality of all those laws which pervade the facts of life, and whose living recognition constitutes enlightenment. Dharmakaya is the most comprehensive name with which the Buddhist sums up his understanding and also his feeling about the universe. Dharmakaya signifies that the universe does not appear to the Buddhist as a mere mechanism, but as pulsating with life. Further, it means that the most striking fact about the universe is its intellectual aspect and its ethical order, specially in its higher reaches. Nay more, it implies that the universe is one in essence, and nowhere chaotic or dualistic..
Dharmakaya is no pitiable abstraction, but that aspect of existence which makes the world intelligible, which shows itself in cause and effect, in the blessedness that follows righteousness, and in the cussedness that comes from evil-doing. Dharmakaya is that ideal tendency in things which reveals itself most completely in man's rational will and moral aspirations. Though not an individual person like man, though not a limited being of a particular cast of mind, Dharmakaya is the condition of all personality. Being niralamba anasrava dharmasantana, Dharmakaya does not exist apart from man; nay, it draws vital strength and increase from man's fidelity to it. It is all that the human personality is capable of becoming. It is what every human being, as a moral agent, is seeking, most often blindly, to become. It is the impersonated inspiring type of every perfected rational mind. Without Dharmakaya there would be nothing that constitutes personality, no reason, no science, no moral aspiration, no ideal, no aim and purpose in man's life..
Dharmakaya is the norm of all existence, the standard of truth, the measure of righteousness, the good law; it is that in the constitution of things which makes certain modes of conduct beneficial and certain other modes detrimental. Owing to the limitations of our knowledge and the imperfection of our goodness we may not yet know all about Dharmakaya. But we know enough about it to make it our guide in life. Like a cloud shedding its waters without distinction, Dharmakaya encompasses all with the light of comprehension.
Weighing the Butter, Levels of Explanation, and Falsification: Models of the Conventional in Tsongkhapa's Account of Madhyamaka (by Guy Martin Newland, in Moonshadows - Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy, by The Cowherds, Oxford 2011) Following Candrakirti's interpretations of Nagarjuna, Tsongkhapa (LRC [Byang chub lam rim che ba, Xining 1985] 606-607) argues that if things had any sort of essence or intrinsic nature [svabhava] of their own, this nature would have to be located under ultimate analysis. Therefore, the fact that things are not found under ultimate analysis means that they utterly lack intrinsic nature (not that they are nonexistent). Things lack the sort of existence that would be found, were it there, through ultimate analysis. For Tsongkhapa, not existing under ultimate analysis, not existing ultimately, and not existing intrinsically or essentially are three ways of saying the same thing. The knowledge that things lack essential reality is a liberating insight into emptiness, the absence of intrinsic existence [nisvabhava].
(The difference between Prasangika and Svatantrika, according to Tsongkhapa, is that Svatantrikas, while recognising that nothing withstands ultimate analysis, regard things as having an intrinsic nature conventionally, while Prasangikas take intrinsic nature to be just that which would be found by ultimate analysis if it existed, concluding from the fact that nothing withstands ultimate analysis that nothing has any intrinsic nature at all, even conventionally.)
Thus, the deeper and ultimate 'level of explanation/analysis' in Madhyamaka is in fact that level upon which we see the utter lack or absence of any core or pith to which all matters can be reduced. This very lack, emptiness, is all that is ever discerned at that level. It is the entirety of what can be observed from that perspective - but is certainly not on that account the only thing that exists. Still, it must give us pause to consider that ultimate analysis - the mind that knows the final nature of things - does not at all find persons or cars. When persons and cars cannot withstand such rational analysis, when their vivid and seemingly solid presence recedes and finally evaporates as they are scrutinized, then does this not suggest that scrupulous investigation has at last refuted them? And if so, then how can anyone talk about things having any kind of meaningful existence at all once they have been refuted by reasoning?
Tsongkhapa has an interlocutor pose this very questions (LRC 606). In response, he argues that this question comes about through conflating (1) the inability to withstand rational analysis with (2) invalidation or refutation by reason. While it would be foolhardy to claim that things are refuted by reason and nonetheless exist, he argues, things may very well exist although being unable to withstand rational analysis. To ask whether something can withstand rational analysis is to ask whether it is 'found' or demonstrated by a line of reasoning that analyses what exists ultimately. This kind of analysis is intent upon seeking out the essential nature that is the core reality behind an appearance. When such reasoning analyses a car, it does not find any such essential reality, and this is what it means to say that a car is 'unable to withstand rational analysis' (LRC 606-610).
Thus, the unfindability of a car under ultimate analysis is not a sign of a car's nonexistence; it is only a sign of a car's not existing in the manner sought by this sort of analysis. That is, it is a sign of the utter nonexistence of an essentially real car. We do not expect to see Saturn looking through a microscope; we do not expect a sociologist to find quarks; we do not expect rational analysis to find conventional existence and so do not conclude that there is none just because it is not found thereby. As Tsongkhapa says, we cannot expect to see sounds even when we look with utmost care.
Pure Experience (from An Inquiry into the Good, by Prof. Kitaro Nishida, with an introduction by Prof. Masao Abe, New Haven 198..) To experience means to know facts just as they are, to know in accordance with facts by completely relinquishing one's own fabrications. What we usually refer to as experience is adulterated with some sort of thought, so by pure I am referring to the state of experience just as it is without the least addition of deliberative discrimination. The moment of seeing a color or hearing a sound, for example, is prior not only to the thought that the color or sound is the activity of an external object or that one is sensing it, but also to the judgement of what the color or sound might be. In this regard, pure experience is identical with direct experience. When one directly experiences one's own state of consciousness, there is not yet a subject or an object, and knowing and its object are completely unified. This is the most refined type of experience.
Usually, of course, the meaning of the term experience is not clearly fixed. Wilhelm Wundt refers to knowledge that is reasoned out discursively on the basis of experience as mediate experience, and he calls disciplines like physics and chemistry sciences of mediate experience. Such kinds of knowledge, however, cannot be called experience in the proper sense of the term. Further, given the nature of consciousness, we cannot experience someone else's consciousness. And even with one's own consciousness, whether consciousness of some present occurrence or a recollection of the past, when one makes judgements about it, it ceases to be pure experience. A truly pure experience has no meaning whatsoever: it is simply a present consciousness of facts just as they are.
What kinds of mental phenomena are pure experience in this sense? Surely no one would object to including sensations and perceptions. I believe, though, that all mental phenomena appear in the form of pure experience. In the phenomena of memory, past consciousness does not arise in us directly, so we do not intuit the past; to feel something as past is a feeling in the present. An abstract concept is never something that transcends experience, for it is always a form of present consciousness.. And if we consider the so-called fringe of consciousness a fact of direct experience, then even consciousness of the various relations between experiential facts is - like sensation and perception - a kind of pure experience. Granting this, what is the state of the phenomena of feeling and will? Obviously, feelings of pleasure and displeasure are present consciousness; and the will, though oriented toward a goal in the future, is always felt as desire in the present.
Circuminsessional Interpenetration (from Religion and Nothingness, by Prof. Keiji Nishitani, translated with an introduction by Prof. Jan van Bragt, and with a foreword by Prof. Winston L. King, 1982, Berkeley 1983) All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing. Scientific intellect thinks here in terms of natural laws of necessary causality; mythico-poetic imagination perceives an organic, living connection; philosophic reason contemplates an absolute One. But on a more essential level, a system of circuminsession has to be seen here, according to which, on the field of shunyata, all things are in a process of becoming master and servant to one another. In this system, each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself. Its being is illusion in its truth and truth in its illusion. This may sound strange the first time one hears it, but in fact it enables us for the first time to conceive of a force by virtue of which all things are gathered together and brought into relationship with one another, a force which, since ancient times, has gone by the name of 'nature' (physis).
To say that a thing is not itself means that, while continuing to be itself, it is in the home-ground of everything else. Figuratively speaking, its roots reach across into the ground of all other things and helps to hold them up and keep them standing. It serves as a constitutive element of their being so that they can be what they are, and thus provides an ingredient of their being. That a thing is itself means that all other things, while continuing to be themselves, are in the home-ground of that thing; that precisely when a thing is on its own home-ground, everything else is there too; that the roots of every other thing spread across into its home-ground. This way that everything has of being on the home-ground of everything else, without ceasing to be on its own home-ground, means that the being of each thing is held up, kept standing, and made to be what it is by means of the being of all other things; or, put the other way around, that each thing holds up the being of every other thing, keeps it standing, and makes it what it is. In a word, it means that all things 'are' in the 'world'.
To imply that when a thing is 'on its own home-ground, it must at the same time be on the home-ground of all other things' sounds absurd; but in fact it constitutes the 'essence' of the existence of things. The being of things in themselves is essentially circuminsessional. This is what we mean by speaking of beings as 'being that is in unison with emptiness', and 'being on the field of emptiness'. For this circuminsessional system is only possible on the field of emptiness or shunyata.
Being-determined and Self-determination are One (from Religion and Nothingness, by Prof. Keiji Nishitani, translated with an introduction by Prof. Jan van Bragt, and with a foreword by Prof. Winston L. King, 1982, Berkeley 1983) An attempt has been made in the preceding to explain that our existence, our behaviour, and our becoming all come about within a world-nexus that is unlimited not only with regard to time but also with regard to space. Already on the standpoint of karma as well, the Dasein of the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming comes about within time without beginning or end, while opening up the infinite openness of nihility directly beneath the present. But inasmuch as this dynamic nexus appears only as a perpetual relating to something, our Dasein, in being determined by that world-nexus, becomes one with it in 'fate'.
Dasein is always and at each occasion becoming manifest as one particular roll of the waves that gathers up into itself the whole ebb and flow of the world-nexus since time without beginning or end. Our doing in that context is free with the freedom of attachment determined by causal necessity within the total nexus and, at the same time, is also free with the arbitrary freedom that contracts the total nexus into the one center of the self.
That is why our doing is karma standing on nihility. In that doing, nihility, even as it becomes manifest from the ground where self and the world are one, nullifies the being of the self, sets the self adrift in transitory becoming, and transforms the self and all other things into a samskrta [samskrita, interdependently conditioned = pratityasamutpada] existence.
It was noted earlier in this chapter that being-determined in the world-nexus and self-determination are one. But on the standpoint of karma this self-determination makes the infinite drive that originates from the self-centered elemental source of avidya its essence and becomes manifest in taking the form of will as attachment and control. And being-determined means being conditioned through causal necessity in that total, unlimited nexus.
Further, it was noted that the free exercise of will, consisting of attachment and control in its relations with any given thing, is in its very freedom a configuration determined by 'fate' - which is after all what karma is. In this karmic mode of being, then, nihility becomes manifest from the ground where self and world are one. And the reason for this, as we went on to explain, is that avidya, as an infinite self-enclosure elemental to karma, rises to awareness only in unison with the nihility on which it stands. In karma we can only have our being through being constantly engaged in doing something. That is, in order to be, we are obliged to be relating to something. This means that our being is a debt unto itself, and that our doing as a settlement of that debt is equivalent to the direct instatement of a new debt. This means, on the one hand, that our being is passing away and coming to be at every fleeting instant and that therein the nihility that is constantly nullifying our being is revealed. On the other hand, at the same point that the continuous cancellation of debt is a continuous reinstatement, there appears something that urges us on endlessly from within. In that infinite drive, our Dasein is never able to divest itself of its own home-ground, and our self within that dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is always itself - in incessant becoming.
Avidya comes to awareness as the home-ground of the self, where the self is caught in incessant becoming and unable to take its leave, that is, as the outermost extreme of self-centeredness. As a result, in avidya, the persistence of the self at being itself and emerging into the nature of self-centered being, always comes about as a simultaneous whole with the disclosure of nihility in avidya in its very process of nullifying the being of the self. The inability of the self to detach itself from the home-ground of its own transitory becoming - or, conversely, the self's being ever itself, while its being is nonetheless in constant change - also has its base here. That is what karma means. Dasein in the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is but the being of the self being constituted directly beneath the present as an emergence from nihility into the nature of avidya.
Nagarjuna and Madhyamika Buddhism (from Presuppositions of India's Philosophies, by Prof. Karl H. Potter, 1963, Westport, Conn. 1976) Nagarjuna, the most famous exponent of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, contends that there is no basis on which one can posit a dependence relation of the asymmmetrical sort sought by Vasubhandu and Dharmakirti. When the Buddha said that everything was interdependent he meant just what he said. He did not mean that some things depended on other things which were themselves independent, a theory which other philosophers, both Buddhist and Hindu, have espoused; he meant that all things are on a par, dependent on one another. Nagarjuna develops a rather unusual terminology for the status of all things. Since they are interdependent, he says, and since to depend on something else is to have no nature of one's own (no svabhava, to use the technical Buddhist term), they must be without any nature, that is to say 'void' (shunya). Nagarjuna's philosophy is frequently called shunyavada, the doctrine of the void.
Nagarjuna harps upon the concept of dependence. That which depends upon something else is less real than something else. This, argues Nagarjuna, is accepted by all philosophers. But all the other philosophers conclude that there must be some positive reality upon which other things depend but which does not depend on anything else.. Even among the Buddhists, the logicians think there are elements which do not depend on others but are depended on, and the idealist Yogacaras suppose that everything else depends on consciousness but not vice-versa. But these theories are all wrong, says Nagarjuna, and proceeds to show by a masterly dialectic that they are.
Is Nagarjuna a skeptic? No, since he allows that causality has a limited play: that is what the dialectic itself shows. Causality is what the dialectic demonstrates, since causality is interdependence. The skeptic, such as the materialistic Charvaka, does not even go so far as to admit the interdependence of things. Nagarjuna may with reason claim that if the empirical world were not ordered by the principle of dependent origination even the dialectic would fail. Nagarjuna is not anti-rational; in fact, he elevates reason to the position of the prime means of attaining freedom. Unlike skepticism, his is a philosophy of hope: we can achieve freedom by our own efforts, through remorseless application of the dialectic.
Yet freedom is release from the conceptual, for Nagarjuna as for all Buddhists. This seems to be an insoluble paradox. How can we free ourselves from the conceptual by indulging in a dialectical play which is conceptual through-and-through? The answer is that through application of the dialectical method we convince ourselves that everything is interdependent, and we develop a special kind of insight (prajña) into the void itself. This insight has no content, i.e. its content is the void. It is nonsensuous and nonconceptual, although it is rational in the sense that it is developed through a rational procedure.
Boeddhabeeld in Artis.
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(last modified 19 January 2021)
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