question According to your theory all we have to do is just wait and we will naturally become better. I do not think this is correct.
answer Advayavada Buddhism teaches that by following the Buddha's Middle Way you get in tune with wondrous overall existence and your existential sorrow immediately starts disappearing. Because existential sorrow is a symptom. It is the indication that one is going against the grain of things. There is nothing wrong with existence - how can there be? Existence is a given: it is as it is. Clearly, it is not life as such that is to be improved upon, but man's mistaken way of living it. We must therefore in the first place try to come to terms with existence as it truly is, i.e. as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it, understanding, among other things, that physical pain and emotional grief are part and parcel of human life, but existential suffering is not. The five preliminary subjects of the Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) deal with this. But to be at all able to follow this Path one must adhere to the Five Precepts. The very first step is indeed our acceptance of the Five Precepts: the five fundamental Buddhist precepts are not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs.
question The defilements we have are rooted in our not understanding life or the realities of life as they are. The real cause of problems and sufferings are these defilements and unwholesome states of mind. The solution is to understand our life exactly as it is. By so doing we will understand more what is wholesome and thus we shall be more inclined to wholesomeness.
answer The position of Advayavada Buddhism is that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes propounded by the Buddha as the right existential attitude and way of life is to reconnect and reconcile us with overall existence. As we see it, overall existence, and not man's abstract and conceptualized understanding of life, let alone his hubristic misrepresentations of reality, is the measure of things. We understand the Middle Way in its dynamic Eightfold Path form as an ongoing and open-ended reflexion at the level of our personal lives and in human terms of wondrous overall existence moving forwards over time in its manifest direction. By following this Path we seek to become a true part of the Whole.
question Your findings seem to contradict traditional Eastern theories that this world system is deteriorating into the Kali-yuga or the eventual demise of the world system.
answer The yugas belong to Hindu mythology and we ought to leave the belief in such things as a Kali-yuga to the followers of Hinduism.
question Surely as a Buddhist one cannot say that life or the world automatically improves irrespective of the actions and mental states of the people who inhabit it.
question Unless some people make a determined effort to encourage non-violence, generosity, appreciation, truthful communication and awareness in society at large, then I fear Reality will be "sequential and dynamic in the sense of ever-becoming worse than before!".
question Buddhism teaches that one must accept things as they are - that suffering or unsatisfactoriness comes from trying to change the world and that happiness or enlightenment can only be achieved by accepting things. But isn't it important to try and change things if we can - alleviate the suffering of children, stand up to oppressive governments, generally strive to make the world better?
answer One must realize that not mankind, human beings, the human manifestation of life, or, for that matter, the 'world', is the measure of things in space and time, but existence itself, the overall all-including flow of existence. The position of Advayavada Buddhism is that the objective of the Middle Way is to reconnect and reconcile us non-teleologically with this wondrous overall existence that encompasses everything, and that the Middle Way in its Eightfold Path form must be understood as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of this existence as a whole moving forwards over time in its manifest direction. It is only when you interpret and heed the Buddha's teachings thus, that the constructive efforts you speak of will bear any fruit.
question We are fascinated by your discovery of the fourth sign of being: progress. Please tell us how you came to this discovery and how we can verify your findings.
answer We came to this discovery when we realized fully that not mankind, human beings, the human manifestation of life, was the measure of things in space and time, but existence itself, the overall all-including flow of existence. This being the case, the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes expounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude is obviously the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with the true, everchanging nature of wondrous overall existence. The Middle Way in its dynamic Eightfold Path form is therefore an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence moving forward over time. And as we have experiential proof that the Eightfold Path leads us for the better, it follows that the direction in which wondrous overall existence becomes, flows or moves forward over time is also, expressed purely in terms of human perception and experience, for the better.
question The objective of the Middle Way is to understand our life as it is now. The realities which arise now can be directly experienced by seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling, touching etc. However, they are not usually directly experienced with understanding. Understanding takes us forwards, ignorance takes us backwards. However, ignorance is not intellectual ignorance, but it is ignorance of the characteristics of realities by direct experience. For example we have the idea that we can touch a cup or a table or a person. But only hardness or softness or temperature or mind can be experienced through the body senses. There can be the studying with awareness of what is experienced through the body senses. Understanding will then understand that a cup, chair or person are not realities but concepts. The intellectual understanding of what is real and what is not real but a concept can condition the direct understanding of realities.
answer It is indeed important to try to grasp the true nature of things. The problem is that also now, the tip of 'time's arrow', can be said to be a concept without any substance, and as for understanding-ignorance and forwards-backwards in their conventional sense, these are indeed relative pairs of concepts void par excellence. Real in all of this is only their tendency to change over time or anitya, and this, as we maintain, as far as the whole of existence is concerned, for the better.
One should really first try to realize fully, by meditating deeply on the true nature of reality, that not humanity, mankind, human beings, the human manifestation of life, is the measure of things in space and time, but overall all-encompassing existence, which, quite oblivious to our exertions, advances over time on and on in its manifest direction. The objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, propounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude, must therefore obviously be the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with this existence as a whole as it truly is. The Middle Way in its dynamic Eightfold Path form is then an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time. And, as the Eightfold Path leads us to a better life, it follows, inductively if you will, that existence as a whole advances in human terms for the better. Holy deeds are therefore only those which are in agreement with wondrous overall existence and take us forward at the fundamental level of existence.
question I am afraid that your discovery has already been heralded by the Buddha himself, although he does not call it a fourth sign or mark. The fourth mark is sometimes rendered as ashubha, or ugliness. The Buddha identified two modes of conditionality, one which is well known and is illustrated by the Wheel of Becoming, is the 12 nidanas moving from ignorance to old age and death. The other, which is not as well known but is in the Nidana Vagga of the Samyutta Nikaya, is positive and progressive. It moves from suffering through faith, delight, joy, calmness, bliss, concentration, knowledge and vision of things as they really are, disgust, dispassion, liberation, knowledge of the destruction of the biases. The importance of this dynamic sequence is that life can be made to flow for the better. However, life does not flow for the better automatically. It has to be cultivated and worked for, which is why we have to practice the four right efforts.
answer Each school will naturally interpret in its own way the many, often conflicting sayings attributed to the Buddha in the scriptures. It would however be going too far to maintain that the Buddha ever implied that ugliness was the Fourth Mark or Sign of Being. The "disgust for things as they are" of sutta 23 of the Nidana Vagga should be understood strictly within the very limited context of one's own personal life. And the position of Advayavada Buddhism is that not humanity, mankind, human beings, the human manifestation of life, let alone one's own personal life, is the measure of things in space and time, but the overall all-embracing flow of existence itself, which, quite oblivious to our exertions or, for that matter, our disgust, goes on and on in its own one manifest direction. We take it for granted, as explained, that there is nothing wrong with existence and that the objective of the Buddha's Middle Way devoid of extremes was and is the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with its true nature as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it.
question I wonder what your support for this interpretation of humans experiencing Nature as progress might be. There's abundant evidence in media of various sorts -- good, bad, or indifferent in quality -- of people who contrarily do not experience the overall course of Nature as progressive at all, but instead as destructive and teleologically negative, especially today in conditions of global warming, cyclones, tornados, earthquakes, oceans rising, meteorites, and so on.
answer If you look closely, all those unpleasantnesses you mention do not pertain to overall existence at all but are the result of mistaken views, immorality and mismanagement. When we say how man experiences the course of Nature we of course mean man unencumbered by these contingent shortcomings and mistakes that impair his vision, understanding and accomplishments - the reference standard is overall existence and not failing mankind.
question I would agree with you that the objective of the Middle Way is to reconcile us with existence. Or to be more precise, it helps to understand life as it is. This is a condition for being to go forwards. However we are influenced by many things like greed, hatred and ignorance. These can take us backwards. The way to go forwards then is to develop the Eightfold Path. Or rather the Eightfold Path develops when there are conditions for its development. These conditions are the intellectual understanding of the Eightfold Path.
answer You are asked to accept the preeminence of existence over mankind, and that existence cannot, by definition, be anything but just right as it is, and that the Eightfold Path is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole becoming over time in its manifest direction. We must not see the Buddha's Middle Way devoid of extremes as an attitude or method that will enable us e.g. 'to escape from the realities of life' or 'to make it somehow in spite of things', but we must understand the Buddha's most fundamental teaching correctly as the means to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence as a whole as it truly is. We must, in fact, accept that to live the way existence as a whole is, and not some idealized form of humanity, is what is to be sought after by men.
question I am not familiar with the term Advayavada.
answer We gave the name Advayavada Buddhism to the radical non-dual standpoint of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism to which we specifically adhere. A sound explanation of the term 'advayavada' can be found in for instance professor T.R.V. Murti's The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: "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 [of the Madhyamaka] administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata [advayata; non-dual suchness] or bhutakoti [reality-limit; the extreme limit beyond which there is nothing which can be known]. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing and not on the known." It is in this sense that we use the term 'advayavada'.
question What you say seems to me to be an essential teaching of the Mahayana in its complete form. The Unborn Infinite Reality can never be less than Perfect and Whole, and is the True Essence of all Beings, and is ever present. All that is needed is that, in perfect simplicity, we turn to That, and realize that the human manifestation of life is just an imperfect reflexion of That. Simple! but not easy. That is the problem. If we realize what we are, how do we remember to continue to realize it moment by moment, rather than seeking to hold on to the vision of the past?
answer Everything is, indeed, as right as it can be, and the Middle Way devoid of extremes is a perfect reflexion of it at the human level. As for your question, our answer would be that you must see that 'vision of the past' for what it really is: a highly selective subjective recollection in the present of things no longer there - please understand that life only happens Now.
question Existence progresses for the better or worse only in a dualistic sense. Life goes for the better, towards worse, only when one has expectations. Current failings? Simply a state of mind brought on by expectations and judgements. That 'infinite Reality' (what other reality is there?) will continue to 'become' exactly as it must? No, it is, it is exactly as it is.
answer You and the writer obviously do not experience the passage of time, i.e. the duration, the sum duration of the successive phenomena, in the same way. Your 'reality is exactly as it is' as opposed to his 'reality will continue to become exactly as it, by definition, must' makes this important point very clear. As a result of his prolonged and deep meditation on the true nature of reality, the writer has come to share fully and wholeheartedly the Buddhist view that existence is a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As a serious student of the Madhyamaka theories of existence, particularly of the concepts of emptiness, interdependent origination and the two truths, he has come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as an ongoing reflexion at the level of his own life of existence as a whole becoming over time. By learning to follow the Eightfold Path successfully, he hopes to live every time more and more in tune with wondrous overall existence. For the Advayavadin, Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time. In Buddhism, there is no static being, only dynamic becoming: to live is to become. And in Advayavada Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something else in the future, but as a way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. The Eightfold Path is seen as a proven method to achieve the abandonment of all fixed views and to become oneself in the here and now as existence, as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its manifest direction. It is by becoming herenow as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now that we free ourselves from suffering and realize happiness.
question You refer to existence moving forward over time - my understanding is that time is a human concept and does not really apply to existence.
answer The following short excerpt from an article by John J. Emerson may interest you: "Within the post-Big Bang, irreversible, entropic world where all live, time is real -- in fact, we could not live in a timeless world. Our common-sense feeling of the passage of time gives us a pretty good way of understanding our experienced reality and our metabolic reality, and it can hardly be called an illusion. It just isn't usable by someone studying quantum mechanics or quantum theory. Beyond that, the belief in irreversibility is not just a trait of thoughtless non-physicists. Physicists themselves intuitively believe in the reality of time, and they really have to do so, because they need to believe that their apparatus and the mechanisms they use to record their observations (e.g., photographic film) exist in real, irreversible, time with a before and an after."
question Why do you call the Buddha's Path intelligent?
answer Simply because the Path propounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude cannot but be in accordance with the dictates of reason, demand nothing against the natural course of nature, and be, in the end, quite necessary for our self-preservation. Advayavada Buddhism invites us all to intelligently make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible with actual wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its manifest direction - this evolution or, in human terms, progress is understood in Advayavada Buddhism as the fourth sign or mark or basic fact of being (catuttha lakkhana in Pali, caturtha lakshana in Sanskrit, cf. conatus). We seek to become a true part of the wondrous whole by adhering to the five basic precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and by conscientiously following our personalized Noble Eightfold Path.
question You say that the Buddhadharma is "in complete harmony with the true nature of reality"; how so?
answer All the teachings of the Buddha are based on the two fundamental doctrines of anitya and anatman, i.e., respectively, the impermanence or changeability and the selflessness and therefore finiteness of all individual existents.
question You say that existence, in its movement over time, progresses towards an ever better situation. Does not this progress imply evolution, and is not evolution dualistic? Good and bad and better (whatever that means) are in essence dualistic. I regard the human manifestation of life and, in fact, life in general, only as a passing phase in Evolution that can go in a positive or a negative direction. Permit me this metaphor. All life is like a school where students arrive, learn (or not), and leave. The difference is that in life we do not know where from and where to, and not knowing this, what we ought to be learning. Looking at it like this, though we may assume that the Middle Way is a method to reconcile us with existence, it is nevertheless impossible to ascertain where it takes us to. To Nirvana? Maybe. The 'school', as I see it, always stays the same and is not going to get any better. There is no progress in the moral or ethical aspects of mankind, as we know all too well from History; as for technological progress, modern technology adds very little to the spiritual development of individuals. But I do agree with you that the Eightfold Path must be the correct way of living.
answer There are three things we can say say about this: 1) that progress in the herenow is not relative or dualistic - it is here, in fact, only the direction of time-being, 2) that objectively the direction as such indeed seems neutral or indifferent, but that we do experience (at the human level and in human terms) as good, right or wholesome those events that agree with it, that are in tune with the direction of time-being, and 3) that there cannot be two sets of rules, one for totality and one for humankind, and that therefore what we know to be good (in human terms) must be universally good (in human terms); in fact, according to modern cosmology the same laws of physics apply throughout our universe and the many other universes, and life-forms as ours are merely a side-effect of the greater evolutionary processes.
We shall try to use a metaphor as well! Imagine a train going Somewhere. Objectively and in the herenow the only thing you can say about it is that it is going Somewhere - this is the direction the train is going in and this direction as such is not good or bad, but obviously quite neutral. You now have to board this train. It seems the thing to do and there is no other train than this one. If you accept to go where the train is heading to, you will feel all right, sit back and probably enjoy the trip. If, however, you insist on going Nowhere, you will feel very upset and even think of getting off Anywhere! Our contention, now, that it is only when we do not only accept but indeed also want, and decide for ourselves, to go Somewhere, that we can in any way say that it is actually the right train going in the right direction. In other words, if your life feels good by following the Buddhist way of life, which is, do not forget, an ongoing reflexion (a side-effect!) of Totality, it is however only when you really want to live this life to the full that you shall also come to know that Life as a whole exists over time for the better and better. It is only by willing to live one's own life well and to the full, that we shall know that existence as a whole progresses over time towards ever better! The proof of the pudding is in the eating with gusto!
question In your answer to my 'school' metaphor, you say that direction in the herenow is not dualistic. In my opinion direction is always dualistic, because it implies movement from a to b.
answer There is no movement in direction in the absolute herenow much in the same way that there is no movement in the compass needle pointing North. In fact, there is no movement at all in the absolute here and now. As Vicente Fatone rhetorically asks his readers in The Philosophy of Nagarjuna: "..in the distance already covered, i.e. in the past, is there movement in the moving body? No. In the distance not yet covered, i.e. in the future, is there movement in the moving body? Certainly not! Therefore the movement can only be present movement. But the present movement is contradictory because it does not imply the moments which the movement implies. Movement can be conceived of only in the present, but in the present the movement is incomprehensible because it is contradictory." The origin, duration and death of things, affirmed by superficial knowledge (samvriti-satya), he sums up later on, prove to be illusory in the light of transcendental knowledge (paramartha-satya). Very interesting, of course, what Fatone says, but might we please add that, in the present context of the Buddhist teaching in everyday life, this assessment of the fundamental un-reality of time does not, however, invalidate the direction of time-being as we experience it in the here and now? We know when we are facing the sun!
question Diana St. Ruth writes the following inTricycle: When one follows what is right according to one's heart and good sense, when wisdom and compassion become real, not contrived, the way of heaven manifests beneath one's feet. That is the way of liberation from suffering and the realization of genuine happiness.
answer Yes, that's right. This is what in Advayavada Buddhism we call 'reconciliation with Buddha-nature'. In Buddhism to follow 'what is right' means to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. It is necessary for us to follow the Path to realize what Buddha-nature is, for the way of heaven to manifest, as St. Ruth says. The Path is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time. In Advayavada Buddhism the Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something in the future, but as the way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. The Eightfold Path is seen as the way to become oneself herenow as existence becoming over time now in its overall right direction; it is by becoming herenow as the whole of existence as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it, that we free ourselves from suffering and realize genuine happiness. Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time - Nirvana is the ultimate reconciliation with his or her Buddha-nature achievable by man.
question How do you know that existence becomes over time 'in the right direction', as you say?
answer Firstly, we must agree that wondrous overall existence cannot, by definition, but be just right as it is and, secondly, that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, propounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude, must be to reconnect and reconcile us with this overall existence - we can safely assume that the Buddha did not teach that there were two sets of rules at play, one for existence and one for its 'by-product' people! Therefore, because in other words the dharma of the part is not different from the Dharma of the whole, the Buddha's Middle Way, in its dynamic Noble Eightfold Path form, must be understood as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time in its manifest direction. Now, as the Noble Eightfold Path leads us for the better and better, it follows, inductively if you will, that, expressed purely in human terms, existence as a whole progresses over time as well. By the same logic, it also becomes quite clear that, inversely, we experience as good, right or wholesome, indeed as progress, those events which are in agreement with the overall pattern and direction of existence; that it is for this reason that they are experienced thus.
question We also have meditated and taught on many of these subjects but use different terminology. As an example you use the term 'ever better' and we use the term 'more beautiful'. We do this because each person has an innate sense of what is 'more beautiful'. You do not think about beauty, it simply is known. 'Better' is a term that requires the intellectual body to analyze two things based on a reference standard. For what purpose or state of being is it better? What makes the time of the plague in Europe ever better than classical Greek civilization?
answer To understand Advayavada Buddhism it is necessary to accept in the first place the preeminence of wondrous overall existence over mankind and that existence cannot, by definition, be anything but just right as it is. Secondly, that the objective of the Middle Way, being the correct existential attitude expounded by the Buddha, is the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence - indeed, that in its dynamic Eightfold Path form, the Middle Way is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time in its manifest direction. Now, as the Eightfold Path takes us forward for the better and better, it follows, inductively if you will, that, in human terms, existence as a whole becomes over time for the better and better as well. Inversely, we experience as good, right or wholesome those events which are in agreement with the overall otherwise indifferent pattern and direction of existence - it is for this reason that they are experienced thus. The reference standard, you see, is wondrous overall existence. It is not mankind, with its various civilizations and plagues, let alone, however well intentioned, our subjective sense of relative beauty.
Boeddhabeeld in Artis.
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(last modified 22 April 2021)
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