How the Buddha Repositioned Awareness

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Buddhism was not designed to be a theistic religion, but rather an alternative to the belief that gods and goddesses existed ‘unseen’ in the material universe. The Buddha did not critique ‘monotheism’, simply because such a notion did not exist in the India of his day. However, this does not mean that the Buddha would have allowed monotheism whilst rejecting polytheism. The Buddha rejected any and all notions of theism, and every possible interpretation of theism. A logical question to this assertion is that if this is true, then why does the Buddhist system of philosophy maintain a bewildering array of divine-beings, living within multi-dimensional realms? This is a valid question which requires an in-depth knowledge of Buddhist teaching to answer correctly. The Buddha lived at a time in Indian history where it was common-place for ordinary and high status people to accept a religious mythology as an explanation of reality. The material world was ignored, and an imagined interpretation of reality superimposed upon it. When an entire culture behaves in this manner, an imagined reality is thought to exist through consensus. In other words, if enough people believe a myth is true, then the material world will be interpreted to justify this belief. Things are assumed to exist that do not, and things that are known to exist will be ignored. This is the mind-set the Buddha inherited from his family and community, and the mind-set he abandoned during his meditative journey. However, even though the Buddha abandoned mythology in his own mind, it was an obvious reality that the majority of those who came to him for instruction still existed in a mythological interpretation of reality. As a consequence, the Buddha carefully used the myths of theism, karma and rebirth to teach his disciples, and in so doing subtly ‘changed’ how these concepts should be understood. He did this as a transitory stage toward the final abandonment of these mythological ideas.

The Buddha states that if a disciple ‘believes’ in mythology, then mythology will appear ‘real’ and ‘self-evident’ in the mind of that disciple. For the Buddha, this blinkered view of reality constitutes what he termed the state of ‘delusion’. One of the bases of delusion is the holding of ‘false views’, which includes a belief in an eternal soul (atma), and any theistic system premised upon this construct. The Buddha demolishes belief in theistic religion by deconstructing its central premise of an ‘eternal soul’ (atma), which is believed to link each human to an imaginary god-construct, and to justify any and all theologically based political, social, cultural and economic systems (in the Buddha’s day, this viewpoint constituted a comprehensive rejection of Brahmanism and its racially derived caste system). What the Buddha did was radical and revolutionary – but to the modern mind it seems like common-sense. The Buddha changed the emphasis of the human mind from a focus upon imagination, to a logical and rational assessment of the material world, and humanity’s perception of it. Indeed, the Buddha even ascribes various function of the mind to be included in the material world and avoided the mind-body, or body-spirit dichotomy prevalent within Brahmanism (and any theistic system). With the rise of modern science in the West, the Buddha’s premise of directing the mind to correctly assess the perception of the inner (material) world that is the mind and body, and the outer (material) world that is the external, evolutionary environment, has mainstreamed for society and today just seems ‘normal’. Of course, the Buddha pushed things further by claiming that all human suffering could be reduced and then eradicated by using the mind in this way. His method was to focus his attention upon the functioning of the mind processes, so that he could become ‘aware’ of how the mind worked. Although subjective from a modern viewpoint, the Buddha was of the opinion that the external world, and its subjective reflection in the mind, were in reality two-sides of the same reality that transcended the subject-object dichotomy.

The Buddha used the method of clearly reflecting the viewpoints and opinions of others as they came into his presence. Although often presented as a ‘mystical’ power by others (but never by the Buddha), this was nothing of the kind. In the modern world, this is nothing but basic communication skills found in various ‘listening’ disciplines. A person within a particular culture will generally ‘present’ a basic blueprint of that cultural conditioning when expressing their view of the world. All that is required is the working-out of the unique experiences of an individual that ‘contextualize’ the general cultural conditioning. This can be seen within modern therapies, including psychology and psychiatry. By appearing to ‘relate’ to his disciples (although not necessarily ‘agreeing’), the Buddha was able to ‘lead’ their perception out of its cultural conditioning and into a new view of the world. It is within this ‘leading’ process that the idea of gods and goddesses appear and are considered (before being finally ‘rejected’ as unreal). The point is that the Buddha refused to reject things ‘point blank’, or in a one-sided or brutal manner, instead he used logical argument and persuasion. He would use a precise logic to explain the existing viewpoint, and then accurately deconstruct it, showing clearly where it was wrong, and how the disciple should or could change their thinking processes. Despite this patient approach, when confronted with a particularly billigerent enquirer, the Buddha could be ‘cutting’ in his criticism. The Buddha deployed a system which he thought was perfect for the time within which he lived.

Buddhism: Environmentally ‘Friendly’ Upright Cremation Box

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(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

[Origin: Miaoli News] Coffins have usually been designed for the deceased to ‘lie down’ within, but now, there is a new cremation device designed especially for Buddhists who want to be sat in the cross-legged meditation posture after death. It is a traditional practice for very advanced Buddhist practitioner to ‘pass away’ whilst maintaining an upright, seated meditation posture (known as the practice of ‘Zuo Hua’ [坐化], or ‘Seated ‘Transformation’). This new cremation device is known as a ‘compact shrine coffin’ (龕棺 – Kan Guan), or ‘niche coffin’, designed to fit-in to a religious or spiritually appropriate  ‘space’. Furthermore, as this new device is made entirely of paper and wood, it is considered entirely environmentally friendly.

This new device has been developed by the commercial arm of the ‘Benevolent and Virtuous Medical College of Life Care’, after consultation with the Chinese Buddhist community, and after listening to the many needs and concerns, it was decided to design a simple, straightforward and cost-effective device suitable for the modern era. This is a business initiative premised upon traditional standards of religious and spiritual etiquette, and harnessed to produce a range of goods to help those who follow spiritual or religious beliefs. The founding principle of this type of business is one of a profound respect for the Buddhist community, and the production of goods designed to help that community – rather than to make monetary profit. In this business model, the profit is measured in ‘virtue’ earned, and not in cash gathered. These devices can be designed for either correct Buddhist sitting, or indeed in a manner more suited to Western people. Western people are more than welcome to participate in the use of these new devices, which are manufactured by staff specially trained to retain a ‘respectful’ attitude throughout the construction process.

Qiu daneng (邱達能), the Director of the Life and Bereavement Department stated: ‘I personally approached Dharma Master Fa Cang (法藏) of the ‘Ten Thousand Buddha Temple’ (萬佛寺 – Wan Fo Si), situated in Tainan. He agreed that in the past, devout Buddhist people had no choice as to the device used for their cremation, but now, even if they cannot pass-away unaided whilst sat in the upright meditation posture, they can be placed in this new burial device in a manner that expresses their deepest spiritual and religious beliefs. There is now no need to ‘lie down’ if that is not what you do not want to do. Of course, this a new innovation for Mainland China, and we will be developing training courses to teach the coffin-makers how to generate a virtuous mind-set during the process of manufacture.’

Director Qiu went on to explain that his department is working on a special ‘preservation’ technique premised upon modern science, whereby the deceased body can be respectfully treated so as to maintain its posture whilst sat in the new device, whilst being placed in a specially designed environment (with air conditioning and filtering in effect), that maybe considered a ‘secular’ burial space, whereby these new devices can be respectfully positioned and maintained. This is a matter that is currently being discussed with the Government of China, but such a development would take the strain away from temples and monasteries, or where they still exist, exclusive burial plots for clans, etc. What is needed is a ‘new’ way of viewing traditional attitudes toward ‘death’, that allows a version of the old ways to exist in a technically advanced modern or post-modern China. This development, if it is accepted, will need to train a new generation of young people so that they can understand the religious attitude, and why things were done a certain way in the past. Whatever the case, monetary profit cannot be used to lead this initiative, which must always be facilitated through the agency of ‘respect’ for one’s fellow humanity.

This ‘seated’ coffin is different from ‘long’ coffins in that it is of modular design, and can be stored flat-packed with no problem. When assembled, there is no need for screws or nails – every part fits securely into its proper place and is ‘locked’ tightly into place. A circular raised dome is provided for the base, and there are stout handles which allow family and friends to carry the deceased to the desired location. Director Qiu further stated that this new burial device is made of paper and wood, and is designed to be easily cremated under current Chinese law. In fact, the entire design is currently highly ‘flammable’ to assist the cremation process. As a consequence, this new device does not require diesel or petrol to burn properly at a high temperature, and so is environmentally friendly. It is an easy method for staying close to nature and returning one’s remains to the soil, etc. The upright design of the coffin not only tells observers that the deceased is a Buddhist with a high moral bearing, but is also a better design for the cremation furnace to reduce the entire device (and occupant) to an even level of ash. This new burial device can be associated with the great Buddhist monks of the past, some of whom were cremated in the upright meditation position, whilst others were placed in special ‘bell-shaped’ personal tombs for hundreds of years (whilst their bodies did not decay).

Original Chinese Language Article:

http://www.merit-times.com/NewsPage.aspx?unid=423942

環保坐姿龕棺 全副紙材打造

2015/12/8

【本報苗栗訊】棺材不只能躺,還有坐的!苗栗縣仁德醫專近期研發一款坐式棺材「龕棺」,提供宗教界人士維持「坐化」姿勢回歸淨土,龕棺還以紙材打造,創新不失環保,顛覆以往大眾對棺材的想像。

仁德醫專生命關懷事業科培育殯葬人才,也致力研發生命禮儀創意商品,經宗教界人士鼓勵,創新設計一款坐姿式棺木,因宗教信仰提及安然亡逝、合掌坐化概念,坐棺可配合坐化大體的姿勢,安然前往西方世界。

生關科主任邱達能說,台南萬佛寺法藏法師向他提及此事,過往宗教人士別無選擇,多只能以躺姿入棺,若能設計一款坐棺,解決宗教界人士需求,「就此功德無量」,他特別遠赴大陸杭州棺材工廠「量身」訂製。

坐棺又名「龕棺」,邱達能百無禁忌,以自身身形為樣本,打造一只高一百二十公分、九十公分見方的龕棺,放置在生關科的死亡體驗教室;他說,目前已經完成研發,正在申請專利中,未來預計輔導學生透過育成中心創業販售。

「龕棺」與一般長形棺材大不同,邱達能表示,「龕棺」為組合式設計,上蓋、底座與側板都可拆卸組裝,「不用一根釘子,全由卡榫取代」,底座則採「天圓地方」版面,底部還可裝圓棍,方便出殯時由弟子或親友「抬」棺。

龕棺設計也很環保,全由「紙」打造,再加上一層木片保護;紙做的龕棺比一般木棺容易受熱,不會產生有害物質,邱達能也說,「龕棺火化燃燒集中,也能省柴油」,不易破壞環境生態,也讓往生者回歸大自然。

邱達能也提到,由於「龕棺」比一般棺材高出許多,他特別情商知名宗教聖地苗栗南庄獅頭山勸化堂董事長黃錦源改建一處火化爐,加高爐口因應「龕棺」需求,方便宗教人士使用。

Buddhism: Are the States of Psychological and Material Space Inter-Connected?

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Space in the mind is a realisable attribute of Chinese Ch’an Buddhist meditation. Admittedly, this is a subjective awareness known only to the experient, but it is an interesting question as to whether the ‘space’ as perceived by this type of subjective experience, is in anyway an interface with material space, which is known to exist in the external world. The Buddhist answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending upon the tradition trained in. The Theravada School, for instance, states that although the material world is contingently real, nevertheless the mind can be ‘emptied’ of all (suffering-inducing) and reflective content related to its perception. In other words, the mind is ‘emptied’ of certain suffering-inducing content and reactions, but this ‘space’ remains strictly personal and unrelated to the space witnessed in an insubstantial and constantly changing material world. The Mahayana tradition tends to state that just as the mind is ‘empty’ of any substantiality, so is the material world, and that the subjective experience of space equates to the objective experience of space. In certain lineages of the Yogacara, there is an indication that the physical universe might simply be a projection of the mind – but this is a contested issue amongst scholars, as such a purely ‘idealistic’ notion contradicts the Buddha’s numerous statements that the mind (like all external matter) is impermanent.

Of course, if the Buddhist experience of ‘empty space’ is purely subjective, then how can it be ascertained that such an experience is ‘real’ as opposed to ‘imagined’? Other than measuring brain-waves and trying to ascribe some sort of correlation between EEG readings, CAT Scans or MRI data and meditational attainment, this experience remains outside of conventional science. In such circumstance, conventional science usually resorts to measuring behaviour so as to gain an insight into what might be happening in the brain-mind nexus, but in the case of this kind of systemic-shift in psychological functioning, the measuring of behaviour might not be that revealing when viewed from the perspective of everyday life. One interesting example of a profound inner shift which is both dramatic and extreme, is the example of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk (Thích Quảng Đức) who sat apparently ‘unperturbed’ as he self-immolated in protest to the Vietnam War. One US correspondent who was presented, stated that he thought he saw a moment of intense agony sweep across the monk’s face as the petrol was lit, before becoming ‘calm’ throughout what must have been terrible pain. Others simply witnessed an elderly Buddhist monk calmly exit his life – even adjusting his robes at one point during the burning. What the film footage shows is that this monk remained sat upright until life left his body. He did not scream and he did not run.

An interesting question presents itself – is the experience of a profound inner ‘emptiness’, in anyway connected or reflective of empty space as it exists in the universe? Or, is the perception of ‘space in the mind’ merely a psychological construct with no bearing upon material reality? If inner and outer space is in reality the perception of exactly the same thing, why do many meditators ‘reject’ the physical world for an existence of subjectivised isolation? Is the experience of inner space merely a psychological barrier (or ‘comfort blanket’) that insulates the practitioner from the reality of the outside world, or is a life totally immersed in material reality, missing a crucial element of inner human evolution? Of course, not only the Buddhist path, but most meditative methodologies assume that the profound ‘inner’ experience is indicative of a greater understanding of the universe, even though the price of this knowledge is often associated with the whole-sale rejection and denial of the existence and functionality of the material world. This observation would suggest a ‘rupture’ between inner and outer space – but why should this be the case? Certainly, within traditional Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, the ‘empty’ mind is experienced as ‘expanding’ and ‘embracing the entirety of material reality. Whatever this experience is, is a matter of ongoing debate, but the Ch’an methodology does offer an interface between inner and outer space – the thinking being that these two distinct categories represent two-side of the same perceptual coin.

Did Buddhism Pre-Exist the Historical Buddha?

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‘I shall not die until the monks, the nuns, the laymen and the laywomen have become deeply learned, wise and well-trained, remembering the teachings, proficient in the lesser and greater doctrines and virtuous; until, having learned the teachings themselves, they are able to tell it to others, teach it, make it known, establish it, open it up, explain it and make it clear; until they are able to refute false doctrines taught by others and are able to spread the convincing and liberating truth abroad. I shall not die until the holy life has become successful, prosperous, undespised and popular; until it has become well proclaimed among both gods and men.’

(The Buddha – M,I:354)

According to the Buddha, he was not a divine being, and was not a founder of the philosophical path he taught. The Buddha claimed that his teaching was not new, but was ancient, and that he was one of a long line of enlightened human-beings that had directly perceived the truth he conveyed. This idea of a pre-existing ‘Buddhism’ runs in parallel with the Buddha’s description of the different meditative paths that he followed, fully mastered, and then abandoned because they were ‘incomplete’ and lacked a full interpretation of reality. Which explanation is correct? How could the Buddha follow at least six different meditative paths, and then state that his enlightenment was in fact a product of a pre-existing philosophical lineage in ancient India? If this was the case, then why not just follow the ancient form of Buddhism and ‘ignore’ the alternative (and ‘incomplete’) meditative paths? Perhaps the Buddha’s method involved the seeking-out (and trying) of other lineages, as an important part of his own ‘ancient path’.

Whatever the case, what must be looked for within ancient Indian spiritual texts is the idea of a materially derived philosophy that ‘rejected’ the idea of a permanent ‘soul’ (atma), as well as the institution of organised religion, and yet which still upheld the claim that a psychological and physical freedom could be attained through following a rigorous path of meditative training (and behavioural modification). In other words, did the Buddha’s path start with him, or is there evidence that its basic premises might have already existed within ancient Indian thought? It is well-known that ancient India had a hard materialist school (the ‘lokayata’), with which the Buddha knew in its ‘Ucchedavada’ manifestation. The Buddha agreed that the physical world appeared to exist, but disagreed that it was permanent or unchangeable. To the Buddha, each atom -or ‘tiny’ speck of matter – literally ‘flashed’ in and out existence. The Buddha also agreed that there was no ‘atma’, and therefore, no recourse to theistic religion as a path of legitimate salvation. He disagreed with regard to the Ucchedavada thinking which suggested that no moral or ethical system was required to achieve salvation, or that death was an end in and of itself. The Uchedavada believed that at death, each individual achieved the final nirvana – an interpretation the Buddha rejected. For the Buddha, salvation lay only in following a strict path of meditational development and behavioural modification, with enlightenment leading to the state of no operating karma, or valid notion of rebirth.

The presence of a hard materialist school prior to the rise of Buddhism does not, in and of itself, add weight to the argument that a type of Buddhism pre-existed the historical Buddha. Evidence for a type of Buddhism ‘pre-existing’ the birth of the historical Buddha, however, might exist in the Brahmanic teachings of the Upanishads. In the Kathakopanisad, a doctrine is critically described that does not accept the concept of a central and eternal ‘atma’, but which instead advocates a theory of ‘separate elements’ (prthag-dharman pasyati). The presence of this apparently ‘Buddhistic’ teaching in a pre-Buddhist text, suggests that there is some historical substance to the Buddha’s claim that what he teaches was not invented by him, and that as a distinct method and special body of knowledge, it pre-existed his birth into the world. The Kathakopanisad does not accept this apparently ‘Buddhistic’ teaching as valid, and rejects it by stating ‘Just as rain-water that has fallen down in a desert is scattered and lost among the undulations of the ground, jus so is (a philosopher) who maintains the existence of separate elements lost in running after nothing else but these (separate elements).’ Moreover, a various scholars have pointed-out that a number of ‘unorthodox’ teachings regarding the ‘soul theory’ appear scattered throughout Upanishadic literature. The Kathakopanisad rejects the idea of subtle and separate elements (prthag-dharma) as being untenable for the achieving of spiritual salvation, but its inclusion in this text demonstrates at least that the Buddha’s ideas were not ‘new’. It could be that after exploring the many different and yet obvious paths of meditational development, and despite the Buddha’s assertion that he found his path entirely through his own efforts, he actually had encountered a teacher who had imparted this final methodology to him. As to why this is not included in the Pali Canon is curious and open to interpretation.

Did Albert Einstein Mention Buddhism?

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Albert Einstein apparently held Buddhist philosophy in high regard, stating that it represented both a social science and a natural science. Of course, the Buddha was right when he stated that the human mind can only know a certain level of knowledge within its natural state. This suggests that the Buddha was discussing a human mind unassisted by modern technology. Of course, through the use of the mind in a particular manner, technology can be produced that augments the mind’s ability to perceive and understand phenomena, but the mind itself is always hindered by a ‘knowledge barrier’ as suggested by the Buddha. The Buddha not only rejected a society premised upon theism, but advocated a complete revolutionary break with the past. This aspect of Buddhism is virtually ignored in the bourgeois West, or those Asian counties that embrace predatory capitalism. As for natural science, it is well-known that the Buddha explained how it is that a bowl of water is teeming with life so small the human eye can not ordinarily detect such entities, and that other worlds exist in the universe, more numerous than the grains of sand in the Ganges. The Buddha clarified the two ways of understanding the universe, namely through logic and reason, and a properly guided intuition. Both types of mind activity are required for the development and progression of scientific understanding. In 2012, those with a superstitious and irrational mind-set thought the world was going to end because the Mayan Calendar appeared to indicate this. Buddhism rejects the ‘argument from authority’ premise, and has a much broader concept of time and space (very similar to modern science).

However, in the West there seems to be confusion about whether Albert Einstein really did praise Buddhism, or consider it a ‘scientific’ philosophy. As Western sources all seem to be copying one another’s lack of knowledge on this issue, I have accessed the Chinese language internet to shed some light on this matter. These are the observations, quotes and attributable sources that I have found, gathered from the work of Chinese scholar Fu Dujun (杜福君) [https://www.zhihu.com/question/24587915]:

1) ‘What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.’

Source: Albert Einstein: The Human Side – The Chinese author states the phrase containing the word ‘Buddha could be found, but nothing relating to ‘Buddhist’ or ‘Buddhism’.

2) ‘The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. The religion which based on experience, which refuses dogmatic. If there’s any religion that would cope the scientific needs it will be Buddhism….’

Source: Albert Einstein, quoted in Madalyn Murray O’Hair – All the Questions You Ever Wanted to Ask American Atheists (1982) vol. ii., p. 29 – The Chinese author states that this quote cannot be directly attributed to Albert Einstein – and was probably a product of paraphrasing, condensing and re-imagining a number of known Einstein quotes about Buddhism – as conceived by Madalyn Murray O’hair.

A further note states: A reply from the Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem states: ‘The quote under discussion which I know is quite ‘popular’, appears to paraphrase some ideas Einstein developed in an essay titled “Religion and Science”, written in 1930. Here, Einstein mentions the “cosmic religiosity” (not religion!), Buddhism, and a belief that avoids dogma and theology.’

3) Einstein’s knowledge of Buddhism comes mainly from Schopenhauer. There is no evidence that Einstein understood Buddhism in its Asian cultural context, or through its broader philosophical implications.

4) Basically, it is clear that Einstein possessed a positive attitude towards Buddhism. In fact, many scientists also have a positive attitude towards Buddhism, but this does not necessarily mean that Buddhism can be of any direct assistance to scientific research, or represents a philosophy higher than science. It is more the case that Buddhism’s understanding of the world seems to be in line with the scientific method. Like science, Buddhism opposes dogma (and agrees with dialectical research), but Buddhism is generally more tolerant toward different types of thinking, than is mainstream science. In-short, the Buddhist integration of wisdom and tolerance allows people to feel good. It should also be noted that this positive attitude of modern science toward Buddhism is ‘generic’, as most scientists (including Einstein) rarely have an in-depth understanding of Buddhist philosophy, and usually do not agree with the concept of re-birth (or reincarnation), as found within popular Buddhism.

Chinese Language Reference Articles:

http://www.chuanxi.com.cn/Article/Content/12596

https://www.zhihu.com/question/24587915

 

Ch’an Buddhism as Scientific Socialism

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If Buddhism is viewed as a ‘religion’ – and the Buddha as a ‘theistic’ being – then Buddhism has nothing to do with modern science, and in that case, would represent one of many pre-modern theories devised by the human mind to explain reality. However, it is clear from a study of the Pali Canon that the Buddha’s system is a perceptual science premised upon the logical and rational observation of matter, and assessment of natural processes. Within the ‘five aggregates’ teaching, it is clear that the human mind is defined by the Buddha as a number of impermanent processes that ‘emerge’ from biological matter. This is why the Buddha places ‘rupa’ or ‘matter’ as first in the list of the five aggregates. The Buddha also seems to have been the first human in history to suggest that the tiniest specks of matter are ‘flashing’ in and out of existence during every moment, and that the idea that the world of matter forms a solid wall in-front of the senses is an illusion. This would suggest that the Buddha’s path is one of physical and psychological discipline that clears the mind of all ‘old’ and ‘out-dated’ modes of thought (such as an external or subjective belief in a god construct), and when coupled with the observation that compassion and wisdom manifest throughout society – serves as the foundation for the application of  Scientific Socialism. This is how Ch’an Buddhism is viewed in modern China.

Buddhism: Demystifying Ucchedavada Materialism

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‘..the recluse Gotama is a Materialist, who teaches a doctrine of Materialism and trains his disciples in it.’

Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge: By KN Jayatilleke (2204)  – Page 375 – A VI 183ff

Throughout all the Buddhist schools, and irrespective of differences in philosophical interpretation, it is agreed that the Buddha advocated a ‘middle path’ between what is often termed in English as ‘nihilism’ (ucchedavada) and ‘eternalism’ (sassatavada). These definitions, although technically correct, do not convey the full philosophical context of these terms. Another set of terms used are ‘materialism’ and ‘beginningless’ – again technically correct, but not very helpful in understanding what the Buddha was attempting to convey.  Sassatavada translates as ‘eternal soul school’, or ‘beginningless theistic concept school’. Ucchedavada (ဥေစၧဒ) is a Pali term that translates as ‘Annihilation School’, and which refers to a ‘denial’ of the existence of an eternal  ‘soul’, ‘atma’ or ‘theistic concept’ which links each human-being to a divine creator. In and of itself, the term ‘ucchedavada’ does not make any reference to the material world as such, but appears to have been philosophically used during the Buddha’s life-time to suggest that anyone who denied the existence of a soul, automatically believed that all that existed was the material world. Within the Chinese language, the Pali term ‘ucchedavada’ is written as ‘断滅論 – Duan Me Lun’, and translates as ‘Cut off Extinguish Theory’. Ucchedavada then, refers to the philosophical position whereby an eternal soul concept is denied as being ‘non-existing’, and that any theistic construct built-upon such an assumption is equally ‘non-existant’. As the Buddha continuously and constantly ‘denied’ the existence of any eternal soul (atma), he certainly did not agree with the ‘sassatavada’ position, and it is logical that he distanced himself from that school, However, as he quite clearly understood and accepted the existence of the physical world (rupa), and made ‘matter’ the first of his five aggregates, it would seem a little odd that he would also distance himself from the ‘ucchedavada’, unless of course, the ucchedavada did not actually refer to the material world, but merely the ‘ending’ of all things. If this is the case, then the numerous commentaries that assume ‘ucchedavada’ correlates with ‘materialism’ are wrong. They are wrong because it gives a false impression of the Buddha’s teaching which is rooted in the existence of a material world – even if that material world lacks any permanency (or, as Nagarjuna later asserted – is an ’emptiness’ containing all insubstantial things). As ucchedavada does not make any mention of the material universe, why then is it associated with the material universe? This interpretation stems from the idea that the spiritual teachings of Brahmanism are obviously undermined. If there is no ‘atma’ (soul) residing in an individual, then there is no connection with Brahma, retributive karma (i.e. ‘moral law’), or agency to ensure a future rebirth. This is a complete denial of the validity of the Brahmanic world-view (both seen and unseen).

The Buddha was in full agreement with this criticism of Brahmanism, and so his rejection of ucchedavada could not have been on these grounds, indeed, in this context, the concept of ucchedavada appears to encapsulate the Buddha’s teachings. The reason that the Buddha rejected the concept of ‘ucchedavada’ was not because it denied the Brahmanic world view, but rather because as a concept it also assumed that every death equated to the attainment of nirvana. It is this latter point that the Buddha disagreed with, as simply ‘dying’ did not ensure an entry into the non-conditioned state of nirvana that he had discovered. The ucchedavada viewpoint is that all life and all suffering ceases at physical death. To assume that ucchedavada equates to materialism must be qualified and explained to make contextual sense. What is also important here, is the Buddha’s positive view of materialism. The Buddha disagrees with one aspect of ucchedavada, because within his system, ‘nirvana’ can be realised whilst an individual is still alive, whilst if an unenlightened individual dies – they remain unenlightened and subject to rebirth (whilst in the deluded state). To make his point, the Buddha developed elaborate dimensions of existence beyond the material plane, which he inhabited with gods, demi-gods and spirits, etc, through which deluded beings transmigrate. As many of these gods do not correlate with those known to be part of the Brahmanic pantheon, it is obvious the Buddha constructed these beings as a matter of illustration. We know this because in many suttas and sutras the Buddha clearly states that in the enlightened state, gods, heavens, rebirth and karma are all understood not to actually exist. Obviously, if these constructs only appear to exist in the deluded state, then they are not real, and were probably used by the Buddha to guide followers who believed these things to be true, until they were ready give-up these incorrect views.

As well as Materialists and Sceptics in ancient India, there were a class of intellectuals known as the ‘vinnu’ or the ‘elite’, with whom the Buddha was keen to address, in Suttas that record this encounter, the Buddha adopts a far more obvious materialist approach in his teachings. This can be seen in the Apannaka Sutta and the Sandaka Sutta (amongst many others). By ‘materialist’ in this context is meant ‘logical’ and ’empirical’. The Buddha moves the dialogue away from rebirth, karma and gods, and towards a much more rational approach to assessing reality. He suggests that even if these things were not ultimately true, it might be more conducive for humanity to voluntarily adopt a mode of disciplined behaviour – as if these ideas were potentially true. Interestingly, evidence suggests that a belief in rebirth was not widespread or prominent prior to the rising of Buddhism and Jainism in ancient India, even though there were ideas of survival that did not require the notion of rebirth as an agency. Ironically, this might suggest that the Buddha’s expedient use of the notion of rebirth could have made the idea popular – even though he himself did not think it ultimately correct. As matters stand, the Buddha defined reality as an integration of the material world with the immaterial mind – with both being inherently linked. He was probably the first thinker in history to develop a ‘psychology’ or ‘philosophy of mind’ which replaced a belief in gods and spirits. In the last analysis it is clear that he rejects rebirth, karma and gods as being ‘real’ in the enlightened state. In this regard, even if the material world is ‘translucent’, and ’empty’ of any substantiality and permanency, the Buddha’s philosophy is premised upon its apparent existence – and this would steer his philosophy nearer to the ‘materialist’ camp than any other mode of thought.

The reason the Buddha rejected the ‘ucchedavada’ viewpoint in the final analysis, is not because of its apparent ‘materialist’ emphasis (which the Buddha shared in many respects), but because this school of ancient Indian thought adopted a sceptical position with regards to knowledge and its limitations. Although what was sensed through the bodily sense organs could be said to be ‘true’ (in the sense that such stimuli appeared to materially ‘exist’), nevertheless, the followers of ucchedavada held the opinion that this sensory data did not represent ‘ultimate’ knowledge, and could not be used to ascertain ‘universal’ understandings. All that was known for sure, was that sensory data was ‘sensed’. Furthermore, the followers of the ucchedavada denied that ‘sound’ theoretical knowledge could be gained from ‘inference’ (anumana). This was problematic for the Buddha, who although stating that nothing ‘sensed’ was viewed ‘correctly’ whilst observed through a deluded mind, also taught that ‘correct’ knowledge was possible if the mind was purified and non-inverted in operation (i.e. ‘enlightened’ to its own true essence). He also arranged his thinking around the concept of correct perception, and correct inductive inference premised upon this correct perception. For the Buddha, things could be definitely ‘known’, despite the fact that for most people, things were ‘incorrectly’ known. This observation demonstrates that the Buddha partly agrees – and partly disagrees with the followers of the ucchedavada on this point. It also follows that as those perceiving the world through a deluded mind-set cannot gain any ‘true’ knowledge of the world, they also cannot ‘infer’ any correct conclusions from this faulty perception. The Buddha also agrees with the ucchedavada on this point – but the major disagreement lies in the fact that the Buddha believes that he has proven (through personal realisation) that this situation can be changed through behaviour modification and meditation – and this is exactly where the Buddha’s theory parts ways with ucchedavada thinking, which assumes this situation cannot be altered. The ucchedavada views humanity as existing existentially in a material world that cannot be correctly perceived through the senses, the understanding of which cannot be ‘inferred’ through the mind. There is no science and no religion, or requirement for morality. There is no way out of this situation. The Buddha agrees that there is a material world, but disagrees with the ucchedavada notion that nothing can be ‘correctly’ known, or that the situation cannot be changed. On the contrary, the Buddha logically expounds a sophisticated philosophical appraisal of reality, and clearly explains how its perception and manifestation can be radically transformed.

Further Reading:

Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge: By KN Jayatilleke

The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana: BY FI Stcherbatsky

The Message of the Buddha: By By KN Jayatilleke

What the Buddha Taught: By Walpola Rahula

Two Interpretations of the Buddha’s Middle Way (Majjhima Patipada)

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Many people encounter Buddhism through a book, leaflet, documentary or group, and are therefore introduced to the subject through the particular interpretation implicit in those modes of knowledge transference. In the age of the internet, it can be argued that a greater degree of detail is available for the study of Buddhism, but the fact remains that as Buddhist philosophy is a complex subject, generally speaking a new student requires some sort of developmental guidance – or ‘narrowing’ of approach – to make sense of it all. This returns to the issue of entering Buddhism through a single gate of interpretation, and remaining unaware of the broader history and divergent philosophical development of Buddhist thought, or the various and distinct cultures that have become associated with the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia and the world. This insularity is compounded if the Buddhism encountered is being used for nefarious or illegitimate reasons. On the other hand, a misunderstanding of Buddhism can lead to the development of ‘quietism’, whereby an individual uses the excuse of being a ‘Buddhist’ not to get involved in important issues involving the well-being, development or safety of humanity. Even the Buddha interceded in the political milieu of his day, if he thought his personal presence could influence kings toward more humane policies, save human or animal life, or even prevent wars. He used the mediating device of cultivated wisdom as a means to ascertain when to act in the world, and when not to act in the world. This was not an interfering function that he took likely, and he advised many of his followers to sit and meditate for a considerable time so as to generate the wisdom required. Simply following personal prejudices, or current popularist trends was not the Buddha’s ‘middle way’. In essence, the Buddha inwardly followed the path of realising non-self, and of uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. On the outer the plane, the Buddha pursued policies that defused aggressive situations that were not dependent upon the belief of ‘self’ (religious or otherwise), and which advocated non-greed over greed, non-hatred over hatred, and non-delusion over delusion. His approach was that people would not treat one another in a selfish or barbaric manner if they understood the insubstantial and ever changing nature of reality. This approach included the deconstruction of the theistic religious belief system prevalent in his time.

The Buddha’s direction of inner and outer movement was defined as pursuing the ‘middle way’ (majjhima patipada), but within Early and Later Buddhist thought, this term has two distinct (and on the surface, very different) interpretations. The first statement must make it clear that all forms of Buddhism adhere to the teachings contained within the Four Noble Truths, and that within this schematic, the concept of the ‘middle way’, or ‘middle path’ is the directly philosophical consequence of the Buddha’s teachings as recorded in the ‘Fourth Noble Truth’. The full title of this teaching is the ‘Path of the Fourth Noble Truth which Leads to the Cessation of Profound Dissatisfaction’, or in Pali ‘Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipade – Ariya Sacca). Herein, the Buddha presents eight guidelines which all Buddhists (both lay and monastic) should follow as a means to create a better life free of suffering. This eight guidelines are:

  1. Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi)
  2. Right Thought (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right Speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right Action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right Livelihood (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right Effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right Mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right Concentration (Samma samadhi)

Together with various other instructions pertaining to thought and action in everyday life, the Buddha prescribed an ethical path of meditation (i.e. mind operation modification), and behaviour modification, primarily through adherence to the numerous rules designed to regulate moral behaviour (i.e. ‘sila’). For a Buddhist monastic, these guidelines were strictly (and literally) followed so that every thought, feeling, emotion and action was fully cognised and experienced in a ‘detached’ (or ‘impersonal’) manner. For the lay-Buddhist, the guidelines were followed in a more flexible manner, but with the emphasis being placed on the maintenance of virtuous thought and action in every situation. All Buddhists, for instance, regardless of status, are expected by the Buddha never to kill, or create the conditions for killing to occur. The same is expected with regards to stealing, inappropriate sexual thoughts and actions, speech motivated by greed, hatred and delusion, and food and drink termed ‘intoxicants’ that cloud the good judgement of the mind. Obviously, the Buddhist monastic follow hundreds of vows, but these five are essential to the entirety of the Buddha’s path, and are indicative of the psycho-physical nature of his moral teaching. For the Buddha, the greater the discipline applied to meditation and moral discipline, the quicker (in theory) a practitioner will escape the wheel of suffering and dissatisfaction. However, despite certain trends of thought found in various lineages of the more conservative extant schools of Buddhism, the Buddha did acknowledge (in the Pali Suttas) that committed lay-people (both male and female) could realise ‘nibbana’ through meditation or moral discipline, or on rare occasions, simply by being in the Buddha’s psychological and physical presence. The main point to take from this is that Buddhist monastic have an advantage in as much as their living situation is geared entirely away from worldly affairs, and completely toward the cessation of profound dissatisfaction and suffering. Although lay-people are at a disadvantage, this does not mean that they should not try, or that they are inherently unable to realise enlightenment. In many ways it is this tolerant attitude of the Buddha (found within Early Buddhism) that permeates Mahayana thinking.

The Mahayana School becomes historically observable around the 1st century CE, and is assumed to be a later development of the Buddha’s thought away from the definitional confines of what is termed ‘Early Buddhism’. Although the suttas of the Pali Canon are later developments out of Early Buddhism, it is logical to assume that much of the former is recorded in the latter. The Mahayana ‘sutras’ – by way of comparison – are written in Sanskrit, but also retain virtually everything that exists within the Pali Canon, despite the fact that various philosophical concepts have been developed beyond the foundational premise as originally laid-down by the Buddha. Having established this fact, it is also true that the ‘original’ premise of the Buddha’s teachings is still recorded in the Mahayana sutras, and have not been ‘expunged’ in an act of eradication. This means that the Buddha is presented as teaching two different but inherently ‘related’ versions of his Dharma – one for beginners, and another for the advanced (this is how the Mahayanists explain the dual nature of their own sutras). Some lineages of the Theravada School (which must never be conflated with the ‘Hinayana’ or ‘Small Vehicle’ movement), hold the viewpoint that the Mahayana School is a distortion of the Buddha’s pristine message, whilst others (such as Ven. Walpola Rahula), are of the opinion that definite philosophical parallels exists between the Pali and Sanskrit texts. This situation is fluid and need not delay us when examining the concept of the ‘middle way’ as conceived within the Pali and the Sanskrit texts. The Theravada School follows the Pali Canon and perceives the ‘middle way’ as an individual, through an act of will, steering his or her mind and body on a psychological and physical course, conducive to reducing and eradicating negative karma-producing habits in the real world. This means maintaining a trajectory that treads a path ‘exactly between the two extremes of everything that exists (i.e. the material universe), and everything that does not exist in an obvious material sense (such as states of mind, emotionality and rarefied levels of conscious development). This may also be interpreted as understanding the world of physical matter as a) existing, but b) being ’empty’ of any permanency or substantiality. To understand this reality requires the development of the mind and its awareness capacity. This includes directly perceiving the fact that within the five aggregates that define an individual, there is no ‘atma’ or ‘soul’, and consequently no link to a theistic entity controlling the world from afar. This means that the Pali term ‘sunna’ means that the existing world (according to the Buddha) is ’empty’ of certain things, and that as a consequence, everything exists in a ‘relative’ or ‘interdependent’ state.

The Mahayana School views the ‘middle way’ primarily through the philosophy of the Madhyamika School (founded by Nagarjuna), which states that the physical world is non-existant and therefore ’empty’ of ALL reality. The world of physical matter is insubstantial, impermanent and ‘non-existing’. This means that the ordinary human assumption of an existing subject-object ‘duality’ is an illusion that must be transcended through a developed mind. In Sanskrit ‘sunya’ (i.e. ’emptiness’) refers to two distinct aspects or realisations. The first is that of experiencing a personal mind free of greed, hared, and delusion, and known not to possess a ‘soul’ or any other ‘permanent’ aspect. This is the enlightenment that the Mahayana School associates with the Hinayana School – as it signifies a ‘personal’ nirvana. The full Mahayana enlightenment requires that a mind empty of personal delusion (i.e. ‘relative enlightenment’) must experience a radical expansion so that its fundamental awareness appears to ‘expand’ and become all-embracing of its environment (or the entirety of existence). Within the Mahayana School, a practitioner must adopt a path that is neither attached to the void, nor hindered by the world of phenomena. This includes the realisation that the material world is ’empty’ of any substantiality, but that ’emptiness’ itself is also ’empty’. In Early Buddhism the Buddha appears to be saying that the world is ‘real’ but ‘insubstantial’, whilst in Later Buddhism the Buddha appears to be saying that although the physical world appears to be ‘real’, in reality it is not. This divergence has happened due to the inclusion in the Mahayana (Sanskrit) Canon of a number of ‘new’ texts which convey this ‘modified’ interpretation, whilst still claiming to be utterances of the historical Buddha. Early Buddhism steers a ‘middle way’ between the existing world and its insubstantiality, whilst Later Buddhism adopts a non-dual position that perceives the physical world as being ’empty’, and that emptiness’ being ’empty’ of any substantiality. The Mahayana School, although containing all the teachings found in the Pali texts, nevertheless seems to be suggesting that whereas Early Buddhists were required to adopt a lifestyle of physical discipline – Later Buddhists could realise enlightenment by assuming a certain philosophical point of view, whilst meditating on the realisation of that view. Chinese Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), whilst being an adherent of the Mahayana School, rejected this notion and stated categorically that enlightenment could only be realised if the Vinaya Discipline was strictly followed. This was because he was well-read, and had studied virtually all the Buddha’s teachings over his long-life. As a consequence, he had a developed and mature over-view of the entirety of the Buddha’s path – both Early and Later. Although he acknowledged that enlightenment could happen in an instant, he never negated the importance of behaviour modification as a means for ordinary people to reform their lives and realise enlightenment. From 1931 to 1945, Master Xu Yun witnessed the barbaric behaviour of invading Japanese troops in China, and he associated this barbarism with Japan’s abandonment of the Vinaya Discipline.

The middle path for early Buddhists more specifically meant that an adherent had to maintain a perfect psychological and physical balance between the world of matter, and ethereal world of eternal spirit – recognising the conditioned reality of the former – whilst rejecting the entire notion of the latter (eternal spirit is demolished and replaced with the realisation of ever rarefied and subtle levels of conscious awareness). There is the cultivated development of non-attachment to physical objects (and the physical world in general), with a simultaneous cultivation of non-identification with thoughts and feelings in the mind and body. The central concept for early Buddhism is that of the essential reality of ‘dharmas’ or material (rupa) and immaterial (arupa) objects and states. The world of matter is ‘real’ irrespective of its unstable nature – and ‘mind’ (manas), and its functioning (citta), as well as its ability to generate bare conscious awareness (vijnana), are all considered rarefied extensions of matter, to the extent where they may be interpreted as ‘immaterial’ states emanating from a material base. The Buddha states that there are suffering-inducing conditioned states of being, and there are suffering-transcending states of non-conditionality, the latter of which are achieved by following the ‘middle path’. The Mahayana progression disagrees with the idea that all ‘dharmas’ (i.e. the world of matter in its many forms) are intrinsically ‘real’, but instead asserts that the world of matter is ultimately ’empty’ (sunya) of any intrinsic reality. This is despite the fact that the Buddha clearly states that ‘matter’ is the basis of his analysis of reality and the foundation through which his self-cultivation method operates. Whereas Early Buddhists might ‘retire’ from the world to seek a secluded practice, the Mahayana practitioner might suggest that all that needs to be changed is the inner mind and its perception of the outer world. It is the human mind that is ‘defiled; (klesa), and which needs to be ‘cleaned’ through meditation in the Mahayana School. The realisation of the ‘non-reality’ of existence leads to a ‘pure’ mind free of suffering-inducing tendencies (i.e. negative psychological states), and unwise physical actions. The Mahayana demands a radical subjective transformation, and not a shift in ontological understanding. Whereas, within Early Buddhism there is a shift from the state of ‘samsara’ to that of ‘nirvana’, (as if the former is left behind and the latter is entered), within the Mahayana, ‘nirvana’ is found in the midst of ‘samsara’ through clearing the mind of the obscuring ignorance that ‘hides’ this reality from direct perception. This can happen because both states are considered equally ’empty’ of any intrinsic reality, and as this ‘sunya’ is considered the only reality, its realisation cuts through all apparent dualities. As ’emptiness’ is ’empty’ of any inherent relativity, the ultimate position for the Mahayanist remains ultimately ‘beyond words’. As it is ‘beyond words’, this allows the re-entry of the Buddha’s original teaching (found within Early Buddhism) into the equation, as the exact definition of reality defies any exact conceptual explanation. The Buddha’s method only points a ‘middle path’ toward its realisation. This is why the state of nirvana is understood to be non-conditioned.

Buddhism: Karma, Dukkha and Dependent Origination Contextualised

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The Buddha’s system of analysis is premised upon the existence of ‘matter’ (rupa), even if matter as the Buddha conceived it, is defined as impermanent and insubstantial. The Buddha also stated that the reality as human-beings experience it is also premised upon the agency of ‘mind’ (citta), which is also an organ of perception (manas), and a means through which humans are ‘consciously’ aware (vijnana) . The Buddha defines reality as an ‘entanglement’ or ‘integration’ of physical and psychological processes. This means that for the Buddha’s system to remain philosophically coherent and logical, he has to reject what might be termed ‘hard’ materialism (ucchedavada), whereby a physical universe is believed to exist forever in an unchanged state, and the school of thought that taught that a theistic entity (atma), rather like the Christian soul theory, existed permanently outside the world of matter – linking the realm of materiality to an imagined ‘heaven’ or some other post-mortem and disembodied paradise (sasvatavada). For the Buddha the material world exists (but not in the manner conceived by a certain school of materialists in his day) and any notion of a soul theory was replaced with a schematic of clearly defined psychological processes. Therefore, reality as defined by the Buddha is a plurality of insubstantiality that involves the organic functioning of mind and body within the external, material world. The mind (like matter) is impermanent, and is clearly the consequence of conditions extending from material existence.  This suggests that the Buddha’s conception of the mind is that it is a temporary extension of matter, but as both mind and material circumstances are impermanent, and given that the human mind is prone – through a changeable body – to interpret the world through greed, hatred and delusion, existence as experienced by ordinary human-beings (through its full range of pleasant, neutral and painful sensations), is termed ‘dukkha’ by the Buddha. Until the mind is cleared of its delusion, and the body disciplined away from destructive modes of behaviour, the entirety of non-enlightened existence is considered ‘dukkha’. This is not just ‘suffering’ in the conventional sense, but includes all modes of pleasurable living in the deluded state, and would apply equally to a opulent life-style, as it does a destitute life-style. Dukkha, strictly speaking, refers more specifically to a profoundly inadequate and non-satisfying mode of existence which includes the entirety of existence and its experience in the unenlightened state. Defining ‘dukkha’ as ‘suffering’ is therefore describing only half of its meaning, and is incomplete. The Buddha is defining existence in the deluded state as being highly ‘unstable’ (dukkha) and not conducive to inner or outer peace and tranquillity.

The Buddha defined the tiniest specks of matter (paramanu) [synonymous with ‘atoms’] to be occupying (and moving about within) time and space, whilst flickering in and out of existence. This is how the Buddha redefines matter (rupa) as being both ‘existant’, and ‘insubstantial’ (or non-existant). This means that with regard to the ‘chain of dependent origination’ (pratitya-samutpada), the conditionality that the Buddha teaches, cannot be properly associated with the cause and effect of modern Western science, as the latter assumes a closed system of events. Within science it is understood that the ‘effects’ of an event lie dormant in the ’cause’ in a never ending and predictable chain of unfolding events. However, as the Buddha teaches that each atom is flickering in and out of existence all the time, creating a false world of apparent material stability, it is not the case that he is employing the ‘closed system’ of Western science. The Buddha states that it is is the human capacity to generate ‘willed’ or ‘volitional’ actions in the mind (vedana-samna-samskara) that ‘projects’ moral (or ethical) meaning upon a morally neutral world of matter. It is this agency of ‘willed’ actions that divert the world of matter into directions of manifestation that might be termed positive, neutral or negative – it is not the material realm itself that is inherently positive, neutral or negative. The Buddha’s notion of cause and effect’ (karma) is not a closed material system that allows for one cause to lead to one effect, but is rather the product of a dynamic interaction of mind, body and environment. There is the ‘willed’ direction in the mind, the consequential bodily application of that willed direction in the environment (i.e. ‘action’), and the eventual consequences (i.e. ‘re-action’) of that ‘willed’ action, experienced through the body and mind. As ‘volition’ is the product of a deluded mind, the Buddha advocates its control, limiting of function and eventual uprooting through meditation. When there is a ‘cessation’ of volition premised upon greed, hatred and delusion, then the mind becomes calm and all delusion is extinct. In this enlightened state all volitional action ceases and karma is nolonger produced. As reality is understood in its correct formulation, there is nolonger any attachment to an impermanent world and all ‘dissatisfaction’  (dukkha) ceases. In this rarefied state, material reality is clearly reflected by a permanently peaceful and tranquil mind.

Finally, the Buddha’s understanding of reality as mind-matter, action-re-action conditionality, is very suggestive of certain philosophical speculations surrounding the subject of quantum mechanics – namely the assumption that human observation influences the material processes being observed. Furthermore, although the chain of dependent origination is not strictly speaking a ‘closed system’ of material cause and effect (as it is mediated through the agency of ‘mind’), the Buddha did teach elsewhere that not all experiences in the world are related to ‘willed’ or ‘volitional’ actions-re-actions (i.e. ‘karma’), but are in fact the product of ‘natural causes’. An example of this thinking could include the analysis of a cancerous cell in the human-body. This cancer could be considered the karmic product of a destructive and highly negative life-style (i.e. part of the chain of dependent origination), but equally it could just be the product of a malfunctioning body-cell – or the natural product of ’cause and effect’ within the material environment (the experience of which lies outside of the ‘willed’ action-re-action nexus). In this respect, it seems that the Buddha does allow for the type of cause and effect found within mainstream (modern) Western science – albeit in a natural format, not controlled or mediated through a ‘closed system’ of laboratory-oriented observation. The Buddha, therefore, allows for two distinct types of cause and effect, a) occurring through the mind and the matter it observes (i.e. utilising the operating principles of ‘volition’ and ‘karma’), and b) manifesting independently (of the mind’s conditioning influence) within the material realm. An individual is subject to both kinds of cause and effect – but is only personally responsible for the mind-body nexus manifestation (as defined in example ‘a’). Through meditation (bhavana) and behaviour modification (sila), the mind’s conditioning capability is brought under control and eventually uprooted (thus ending all karma-producing thought patterns and actions). Beyond this state there is no further conditionality – but the mind and its rarefied states of awareness (dhyana) remain firmly with the realm of matter – which according to the Buddha is comprised of existence and non-existence – or emptiness and structure. Although these two states seem to alternate continuously without end, it is also clear that the Buddha’s analysis suggests that both emptiness and form also occur simultaneously (rather suggestive of Schroedinger’s cat), This means that ‘sunya’ does not refer to a dead ‘void’ or vague ‘nothingness’, but rather suggests a ‘relative’ state of non-substantiality (i.e. a material condition ’empty’ of permanency and yet subject to change). Sunya is then that realised state of being that acknowledges that all material reality arises within a sea of emptiness – free of any eternal (and unchanging) material substance, or theistic conceptualisation.

Buddhism: Pali Bhavana and Chinese Ch’an

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In 1996, I spent a short but fruitful period studying under the Theravada Buddhist monk named Mangala Thero – who was then the Head Monk of the Ganga Ramaya Temple in Beruwela (Sri Lanka). He was not particularly interested in the Mahayana Buddhism of China (or anywhere else, for that matter), but when I explained what Chinese Ch’an (禪) was, the venerable monk thought for a moment, and then explained that he would explain this approach as an exclusive focus upon the development of ‘bhavana’ (Pali: भावना). Broadly speaking, Mangala Thero stated that ‘bhavana’ begins and ends with ‘reigning in’ the mind, so that it is nolonger ill-disciplined. When a mind is disciplined (through concentration upon the breathing, or upon generating loving kindness, etc), the habitual thoughts calm-down and eventually ‘cease’. When the mind is ‘stilled’ in this manner, the ‘thought formations’ (i.e. the fourth aggregate) nolonger arise in their delusive form and ‘pure consciousness’ (i.e. fifth aggregate) can be clearly ‘perceived’ (third aggregate) as the body continues to ‘sense’ (second aggregate) the material environment (first aggregate), and the mind is ‘aware’ of the absence of thought. After this, it is a matter of deepening and enriching the experience through further meditation practice performed within a conducive environment. When I asked my main teacher Richard Hunn (1949-2006) about ‘bhavana’, as usual, he knew the Chinese translation for this Buddhist technical term – which is ‘修習’. Chinese transliterations and translations are useful as the early Chinese scholars had to understand the Indian Pali and Sanskrit terms before they could be rendered effectively into the Chinese language. Obviously, some of the early transliteration of Indian Buddhist terms are purely ‘phonetic’ in nature and in themselves do not convey much meaning as ideograms. This represents an initial process of a slow, careful and gradual building-up of knowledge in China about a thoroughly ‘foreign’ Indian philosophy that had to develop an ‘interface’ with existing Chinese culture. As understanding grew, literal transliterations often gave way to more ‘exact’ translations and I suspect this process happened to the Pali and Sanskrit term ‘bhavana’. Today, within Chinese Buddhism, ‘bhavana’ is not a commonly used term, but it is written as ‘修習’ (xiu2 xi2). The ideogram ‘修’ (xiu2) carries the meanings of ‘repair’, ‘to mend’, ‘construct’, ‘to cultivate’, and ‘to sharpen’ – whilst the ideogram ‘習’ (xi2) carries the meanings of ‘training’, ‘habit’, ‘custom’, ‘repeat’, ‘cultivation’, ‘to follow’ and to ‘learn’. When ‘修習” (bhavana) is taken together, it does appear to be a very good Pali definition of the Ch’an (禪) method. The ideogram ‘修’ (xiu2) contains the left-hand particle ‘攸’ (you1) which depicts a person ‘expertly’ fording a river with a pole (and ‘travelling far’) – whilst the right-hand particle ‘彡’ (shan1) signifies ‘writing’ as used in the act of of committed ‘developmental study’. The ideogram ‘習’ (xi2) carries the upper particle ‘羽’ (yu3) which refers to feathered ‘wings’ that ‘uplift’ (with flying associated with ‘progression’ and ‘advancement’), and the lower particle ‘习’ (xi2) which directly refers to the act of ‘disciplined study.’ Bhavana (修習), therefore, refers to a committed and uplifting Buddhist meditational practice that requires dedication, expert guidance, repetition, and a suggestion of ‘transcendence’ if practised correctly. In other words, ‘bhavana; is a means to get ‘from here’, to ‘there’ – but these two ideograms suggest that it is not an ordinary path of ‘mind culture’. Scholarship, study and expertise are extolled activities and characteristics within Chinese culture, and ‘bhavana’ is a prime example of this activity. A bow of thanks to Mangala Thero and Richard Hunn (Upasaka Wen Shu). Finally, ‘bhavana’ (भावना)) appears to be linked to ‘भ‍वन’ (again, pronounced ‘bhavana’) which is used in the sense of ‘constructing’ a material object such as a building or a shelter, etc. In this context ‘भ‍वन’ (bhavana) suggests a very firm grounding in the material world, with the training of the mind in Buddhist though being considered a part of, or extension of that material world. The ‘mind’ within Buddhism is not a spirit that stands in opposition to the physical world – but is an integral part of it. This means that ‘भ‍वन’ (bhavana) can also be used to denote ‘physical existence’ (or its ‘arising’), with the term ‘abhava’ (अभाव) referring to the ’empty’ nature or ‘insubstantiality’ of physical existence – which is void of any permanency.

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