Ben Yuan wrote:
Looking with sheer logic, we see that functional phenomena all come from their own continuities, from previous moments of something in the same category of phenomenon. For example, a physical phenomenon, be it matter or energy, comes from the previous moment of that matter or energy. It is a continuum.
Take anger as an example. We can talk of the physical energy we feel when we are angry, that is one thing. However, consider the mental activity of experiencing anger - experiencing the arising of the emotion and the conscious or unconscious awareness of it. An individual's experiencing of anger has its own prior moments of continuity within this lifetime, but where did it come from before that? Either it has to come from the parents, and there seems to be no mechanism to describe how that happens, or it has to come from a creator God. For some people, however, the logical inconsistencies in the explanation of how an omnipotent being creates present a problem. To avoid these problems, the alternative is that the first moment of anger in anyone's life comes from its own prior moment of continuity. The theory of rebirth explains just this.
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality. Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
I think Benzin is on the right track, but...
First, we have to be careful when we say "from their own continuities"
because this can be misinterpreted if one forgets about the basic premise, or context of sunyata ("emptiness")."from continuities"
has to indicate a result of a series of events,
but to say "their own"
can be incorrectly interpreted as meaning that what has resulted
from a string of events has some intrinsic, possessive reality.
The idea of "same category of phenomenon" is not accurate, because "category" is an imputed characteristic.
For example, a watermelon results from rain, sunshine, soil, and a seed, and various environmental circumstances, and none of these are in a category with any of the others. Water is in the same category as fish, sunshine is in the same category as radiation, etc. We can't really
say that watermelon arises from the conditions particular to a watermelon category
. Likewise, we can't really say that thoughts arise from conditions particular to a thought category.
So, we have to be careful saying that mind is a continuation of activity, say, "in the mental category".
The example of anger provides a good case in point here. What is experienced as anger (I say is experienced
, rather than "what we
experience", because "self' can actually be taken out of this) is a chemical compound dosed out by the adrenal gland. In terms of molecular structure, it is nearly identical to what is experienced as fear. That experience includes a rise in body temperature, increase of perspiration, rapid heart beat, some other chemicals go into the brain which cause slight confusion, and so on. That is the experience. With fear, you also get hairs standing on edge, and goosebumps. If we try to find any separate 'anger' arising anywhere, we cannot find it. There may be some object that some sense of being angry is directed at, but the anger itself has no reality to it. It's like an optical illusion, except that it's what we call emotional. A very realistic emotional illusion. Samsara.
I don't know that you can have an experience of emotion and not be conscious of it.
So, yes, there have to be prior moments of mind, or awareness. It is accurate to say this. But, if what benzin is saying is that "anger' as a kind of emotion, exists categorically, and so this category must exist somehow beforehand (and thus rebirth is explained), I do not regard this as a logical explanation, because as I mentioned, categories are random things, imputed for convenience. And the actual feeling of anger, while experienced as real ("I really feel angry!!!") if you actually stop and analyze it, it in fact has no reality. If it has no reality, it cannot really be a continuation of a previous anger.
In his Seventeen Stanzas
, Nagarjuna addresses this very topic, that awareness (and subsequently, the experience of mind) cannot suddenly occur from nothing, but must be part of a continuation process.
Benzin is correct in what he says about both the differentiation between Mind and what Buddhists would call (the ground of) awareness, and that mind is not something that experiences, but IS
the experience. In other words, when you are tasting a lemon, "the mind" isn't something that is tasting. Mind arises AS
the tasting of the lemon. Mind is the event, not the witness of the event.
"Awaremness" (and there really isn't a good word in English for this). The closest term in Sanskrit is Alaya
. Chogyam Trungpa gave an example in the term Himalaya
as in the Himalayan mountains. "him" means snow and "alaya" means the vast open context of that snow. The space. So, we can think of it as the space in which phenomena appear as the experience of the arising of mind.
So, suppose you are eating a lemon, and you experience tartness and react to that, puckering your mouth or squinting your eyes or whatever. The physiological response, the tastebuds and acidity and everything, that's just the phenomena. If there is no awareness, there is no arising of mind. Those events take place unnoticed. There is no witness. Of course, phenomena also have to include a mouth and a tongue and nerve endings and a brain. But without any of these occurring in the context of awareness (alaya), it's like food quietly digesting in your stomach. No mind arises. there is no consciousness of it (unless a digestive problem occurs).
And awareness itself has no defining characteristics. But if the conditions are right, if awareness and phenomena interact, the arising of mind is experienced (as thoughts, as anger, as flavor, etc.)
Awareness can be thought of as the space around, and between two trees. 3D depth. That space has no defining characteristics. it cannot be cut into two separate things. It is the context in which phenomena, the two trees, occur.
If there are any absolutes in Buddhism, awareness can be called that. The fact of the reality of the ground of awareness cannot be denied, and awareness cannot be divided or broken down into non-awareness parts. Awarenss is not made of components. If anyone asks, "Is there anything that Buddhism regards as ultimately real?" You can answer, "Yes, awareness. But don't confuse this term with the usual meaning of mental awareness of things"
Do functional phenomena come from their continuities?
Yes, but not from their own
and there are better explanations for rebirth.