Appearances without an underlying reality

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Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Fri Jul 09, 2010 7:04 pm

Hi,

I'm new here... I posted this on another forum and got some interesting responses, mostly from Theravadins, along the lines that I was asking the wrong question. On reflection I am still interested in my question so I am posting it here, where folks might be more receptive to Madhyamika generally.

The original post was as follows "I am looking for Madhyamika arguments in defence of the claim that phenomena can appear without having any basis in reality. In his commentary on the Madhyamakavatara, Mipham points out that people may see things which are not there when they have eye disease or are hallucinating. On this basis he says that the fact that phenomena appear is no reason to believe that they reflect any underlying reality. Personally I don't find this very convincing. Can anyone point me towards any other arguments supporting the claim?"

Since then I have come across other phenomena which are presented as examples of perceiving things which have no basis in reality, such as the moon in the water, reflected images generally, and dreams. As I understand it, the point of these examples is that the opponent is bound to agree that the perception does not depend on anything which exists inherently, and will therefore admit that at least some things can appear without any underlying (ultimate) reality. They will have to agree that, in principle, things can appear without their being any underlying reality, and this destroys the basis of their objection.

There seems to be a problem with this approach in that any perception that arises in the world depends on at least some other things in the world - the brain, for one thing - and the opponent is not bound to admit that these lack inherent existence. It seems to me that any example can only work for those who are already convinced that all things lack inherent existence, or in other words that it can only work when it is not needed.

Obviously it is fundamental in Madhyamaka that there is no contradiction between the two truths, but I am finding this proposition difficult to accept at the moment. Is there another angle I can come at this from?

Thanks

JD
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Will » Fri Jul 09, 2010 8:28 pm

Jack, If your Mipham remark is from the Padmakara translation of his comments on Chandrakirti, please give us a page number. I suspect "underlying reality" means a reality which has a solid, inherent existence that is separate from our known reality. Anyway a quote from the text would help.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Dexing » Fri Jul 09, 2010 9:33 pm

Jack Dawkins wrote:There seems to be a problem with this approach in that any perception that arises in the world depends on at least some other things in the world


This is already your default assumption. But is it correct? How do you know?

- the brain, for one thing - and the opponent is not bound to admit that these lack inherent existence.


Let's examine; what might be some of those "other things in the world"?

In some paths of being there is no brain, or physical body. So perception does not arise in dependence on the brain. Yet still there is perception.

And as stated, seemingly external objects can be seen in dreams, hallucinations, or illness, but those objects are not real. So perception does not arise in dependence on external objects. Yet still there is perception.

It seems to me that any example can only work for those who are already convinced that all things lack inherent existence, or in other words that it can only work when it is not needed.


It really only works for those who have cultivated the "good roots" in past lives necessary to receive the teaching.

Some cannot accept the teaching because since time without beginning they have been attached to the reality of the external world, to the point where things become solidified and extremely hard to break.

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Fri Jul 09, 2010 10:43 pm

Will wrote:Jack, If your Mipham remark is from the Padmakara translation of his comments on Chandrakirti, please give us a page number. I suspect "underlying reality" means a reality which has a solid, inherent existence that is separate from our known reality. Anyway a quote from the text would help.

Hi Will,

It isn't a quote from Mipham, it is my paraphrase of what he says – but yes what I meant by an underlying reality was a world in which at least something existed inherently.

It is the Padmakara translation that I'm reading. The relevant heading in the textual outline is "An answer to the objection that if there were no ground of appearance, it would follow that nothing could be perceived on the conventional level". The text starts on p. 268.

Although Mipham purports to be dealing with the objection stated in the heading, perhaps the point of the first example is only that the object of a hallucination has no inherent existence. This is true but on that basis the example relates to a different objection – one based on a claim that things must exist as they appear. I don't think anyone makes that claim. What distinguishes Madhyamaka is not the claim that things are not always what they appear to be (which is easy to accept) but the claim that there is nothing behind appearances at all.

There is a similar passage at p. 271, where Mipham says:
It is possible to see a house in a dream, the vision of a castle in the clouds, a mirage of water, the impression of a man or woman, a face reflected in a mirror; it is possible to hear an echo and see a magical display, even though they are all without origin and therefore nonexistent.

Here he seems to be going beyond the claim that the object of perception does not exist inherently, and saying that there is no inherently existing basis for the perception at all (it is "without origin"). This is only true for those already convinced that the dreaming brain, the daydreaming or afflicted brain, and all the other grounds of these experiences lack inherent existence - but the whole point of the text is to persuade those who are unconvinced of this.

Mipham goes on to argue (pp. 272 – 3) that the ultimate non-existence of phenomena obviously cannot prevent their conventional appearance, since it is clear that they do in fact appear and arguments demonstrate that they are unfindable on the ultimate level. This seems to miss the point of the objection, which is that the apparent contradiction indicates that something is wrong with the arguments. Mipham makes the same point in answer to the Vaibhashikas on p. 274, and it seems to be his main point because it is restated in what appears to be an overall conclusion at the bottom of p. 277:

Conventionally, phenomena themselves, which appear to have their own self-nature, are not established by such an analysis. But although on the ultimate level they are without self-nature, their appearance is undeniable. It is thus that their emptiness and appearance are shown to coincide.

The only other argument I have detected so far is at p. 275:

...there is no opposition between the existence of a thing on the conventional level and the non-existence of the same thing on the ultimate level. Both can be predicated of the same basis without contradiction. If the reverse were true, it would follow that whatever does not exist ultimately does not exist conventionally, and whatever exists conventionally would not be nonexistent ultimately.

This seems to be fallacious. The objection is that there has to be some basis in reality for appearances, not that what appears must exist inherently. This perfectly compatible with saying of a pot (for example) that although the matter which makes up the pot exists inherently, the pot itself is just a dependent designation applied to a transient agglomeration of (really existing) things. Thus the pot does not exist ultimately but does exist conventionally.

I am certain that there is a great deal in the text that I have yet to understand and appreciate, and I am stating my difficulties with it in a spirit of learning.

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Dexing » Fri Jul 09, 2010 11:05 pm

Jack Dawkins wrote:The objection is that there has to be some basis in reality for appearances, not that what appears must exist inherently. This perfectly compatible with saying of a pot (for example) that although the matter which makes up the pot exists inherently, the pot itself is just a dependent designation applied to a transient agglomeration of (really existing) things. Thus the pot does not exist ultimately but does exist conventionally.


What exactly are these "(really existing) things", the "matter which makes up the pot"?

Colors, sounds, aromas, flavors, tactile sensations, and ideas made up of them are all we ordinary beings can experience directly. What in these is external "matter"? What we call "matter" is just a concept based on colors, sounds, etc., which are subjective feelings, not objective existence.

So to really move forward you have to clearly define what these "(really existing) things" are, and prove that they are "really existing" objectively, and are not just feelings and concepts based on subjectively created colors, sounds, etc..

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby muni » Sat Jul 10, 2010 6:41 pm

Jack Dawkins wrote:
Obviously it is fundamental in Madhyamaka that there is no contradiction between the two truths, but I am finding this proposition difficult to accept at the moment. Is there another angle I can come at this from?

Thanks

JD


Maybe one of Atisha.

"One who get rid of the two veils,
the veil of obsuring emotions
and the veil covering all that is to be known,"
So said Atisha in "Entering the two Truths."

Those are essentailly one. There is no real difference between how phenomena appear and their true innate nature. As there are no distinctions between nature of emptiness.

The two veils one must get rid off:

Obscured emotions by the afflictive state of mind like hatred, jealousy, desire. As those are the directly causes for suffering in samsara.

Obscurations that covers all that is to be known, is hiding the understanding of the true nature of all phenomena and so also our own mind. This is more difficult than the emotional obscurations.
Someone said: "The biggest obstacle is arrogance by not be able to let go the own knowing superiority."

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jul 10, 2010 7:20 pm

Hi Jack Dawkins. Welcome to Dharma Wheel. :smile:

One thing I would advise when reading English translations of texts especially is that when "existence" is used it usually refers to svabhava in Sanskrit which generally translates as "self-existence" or "inherent existence" or even "essence" in some renderings.

The issue here seems to be finding a basis in reality for appearances which is inherently existent. That means finding a force, entity or foundation that is not subject to dissolution under analysis. Such a foundation would have to be absolute in the sense that it exists permanently and not subject to arising, abiding and cessation. Such an entity cannot be found because such a mode of existence is impossible given the nature of causality: all things arise according to conditions. They are dependently originated. If such an entity did exist it would be absolute and permanent, therefore it could not interact with relatively existent (not inherently existent) phenomena.

When analysing the pot one examines all the causes and conditions requisite for its existence (the clay, the kiln, the fire, the mental medium perceiving it, etc...) and we discover that indeed all those causes and conditions likewise are dependent on immeasurable causes and conditions which all likewise are dependent on infinite more causes and conditions. What follows is an infinite regress -- one cannot find an absolute basis for the pot. Therefore, it is fallacious to posit any inherently existent basis for phenomena as the result is an infinite regress where no such basis can be ascertained.

Basically, when such an absolute self-existent basis for appearances is sought after, one "pulls back the curtain" so to speak and there is no basis, only infinite causes and conditions.

In the case of the pot, it appears inherently existent to the mind, but under analysis that inherent existence is negated and it "dissolves" under the examination. It is demonstrated to be illusory.

In the case of things seen in dreams or during hallucinations, it is likewise that the mental medium is lacking inherent existence and is likewise not absolute. The relative basis for the imagined thing is the mental consciousness, but that mental consciousness likewise is dependent on infinite causes and conditions, and so we are unable to find any absolute inherently existent basis for the original object under consideration.

The problem lay in reification (samāropa) of appearances. We "project" onto entities an appearance of svabhava and what follows is craving and/or aversion. Moreover, due to avidya there is a mistaken perception of absolute self which acts as agent which instigates and propels the cycle of samsara. It is illusory, but it isn't enough to just understand this intellectually. It must be realized.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Sat Jul 10, 2010 11:42 pm

Thanks for your contributions, and muni I especially appreciated your quotation.

In my posts I was careful to distinguish between conventional and ultimate existence, and to pose a specific question which has a specific place in the debate. This comes after the exposition of the basic Madhyamika position (by which I mean the two truths / emptiness and DO as two sides of the same coin). I had taken that position as read and understood and assumed that it was not necessary to restate it.

No further arguments have been put forward which could be presented to someone who, confronted with the Madhyamaka position, objects that it is nonsensical for things to appear without there being anything behind the appearances - without there being any truly existent ground or basis for the appearances. Instead, the basic Madhyamaka position has simply been restated. To the extent that one can read an argument into this (ie an argument that addresses the specific question) it is one of those used by Mipham and described in my second post. It runs as follows: 1. We know there are appearances because we observe them; 2. We know nothing has inherent existence because Madhyamaka arguments establish this; 3. Therefore, there cannot be any contradiction between 1 and 2. The problem with this is as stated in my second post: it does not help anyone establish right view because it only works for those who already accept proposition 2, whereas the objection is necessarily made by someone who does not accept it.

I take then that there are no further arguments (that is, no arguments other than those used by Mipham) to refute this specific objection. I am slightly surprised by this because Mipham takes the objection quite seriously (to judge by the space devoted to it) and I would have thought others would too.

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Dexing » Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:16 am

Huseng wrote:In the case of the pot, it appears inherently existent to the mind,


Does it?? I challenge you to find one person in a million who believes there is a pot that exists permanently, possessing its own self-sustaining substance.

Who believes such a ridiculous thing? So why would Mahayana doctrine spend so much time tearing up a strawman argument?

I think this is the major misinterpretation of Mahayana in the West. Because people come to it after having first learned Hinayana style teachings and apply it to their study of Mahayana scripture. Big mistake.

Mahayana Dependent Origination of all phenomena, their Causes & Conditions, is not other external objects. Taking the pot once again as example:

Huseng wrote:the clay, the kiln, the fire, the mental medium perceiving it, etc...


Of these, only the "mental medium perceiving it" is correct. Only that is the true Dependent Origination, Causes & Conditions. The clay, the kiln, and the fire are the same as the pot, in that their apparent "existence" is the result of discrimination between internal and external. When in fact it is our consciousness evolving to resemble such duality as internal perceiver and external objects of perception.

but under analysis that inherent existence is negated and it "dissolves" under the examination. It is demonstrated to be illusory.


Since no one believes in an "inherent" existence of a pot in the first place, that of course is not the point of Mahayana teachings. As long as one still grasps external objects existing independently of mind, albeit temporary and dependently originated, the delusion of external phenomena is still present, and one cannot move beyond the false and perceive truth. Unable to see truth, one cannot help themselves, much less other equally or less equally confused sentient beings, and therefore the Bodhisattva vows cannot be fulfilled.

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:52 am

Dexing wrote:
Huseng wrote:In the case of the pot, it appears inherently existent to the mind,


Does it?? I challenge you to find one person in a million who believes there is a pot that exists permanently, possessing its own self-sustaining substance.

Who believes such a ridiculous thing? So why would Mahayana doctrine spend so much time tearing up a strawman argument?



You might nominally understand that the pot is impermanent, but it appears inherently existent to the mind. Likewise the self or atman appears inherently existent as well. Thus most people will become angry and upset when falsely accused even though there is no direct physical harm directed against them. They perceive their identity to be absolutely existent even though it is not.


I think this is the major misinterpretation of Mahayana in the West. Because people come to it after having first learned Hinayana style teachings and apply it to their study of Mahayana scripture. Big mistake.


My knowledge of Madhyamika has been gained mostly through reading Classical Chinese texts. Most notably the translations done by Kumarajiva.

I think it is just you who are lacking in knowledge and reading on the subject.


Of these, only the "mental medium perceiving it" is correct. Only that is the true Dependent Origination, Causes & Conditions. The clay, the kiln, and the fire are the same as the pot, in that their apparent "existence" is the result of discrimination between internal and external. When in fact it is our consciousness evolving to resemble such duality as internal perceiver and external objects of perception.



What you're alluding to is not Madhyamika. Jack Dawkins original point was this:



I am looking for Madhyamika arguments in defence of the claim that phenomena can appear without having any basis in reality.


We are discussing Madhyamika and not whatever you're alluding to.



Since no one believes in an "inherent" existence of a pot in the first place, that of course is not the point of Mahayana teachings. As long as one still grasps external objects existing independently of mind, albeit temporary and dependently originated, the delusion of external phenomena is still present, and one cannot move beyond the false and perceive truth. Unable to see truth, one cannot help themselves, much less other equally or less equally confused sentient beings, and therefore the Bodhisattva vows cannot be fulfilled.


You have yet to refute the Madhyamika position that to the unenlightened mind objects and phenomena appear inherently existent.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:57 am

Jack Dawkins wrote: It runs as follows: 1. We know there are appearances because we observe them; 2. We know nothing has inherent existence because Madhyamaka arguments establish this; 3. Therefore, there cannot be any contradiction between 1 and 2. The problem with this is as stated in my second post: it does not help anyone establish right view because it only works for those who already accept proposition 2, whereas the objection is necessarily made by someone who does not accept it.


The appropriate response to this would be for the opponent to prove that phenomena actually do have a real and substantial basis.

If they cannot establish such a real and substantial (inherently existent) basis, then the Madhyamika point is demonstrated to be true.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Dexing » Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:39 am

Huseng wrote:You might nominally understand that the pot is impermanent, but it appears inherently existent to the mind. Likewise the self or atman appears inherently existent as well.


However, you admit that the atman is imagined and definitely non-existent. Otherwise if you say the atman is not inherently existent, then it exists through Causes & Conditions. Which is still a view of selfhood, albeit temporary and dependent. And we know that this is a wrong view.

Mahayana emptiness is two-fold. "Like atman, like dharma."

So if you agree that the atman is not even a temporarily existing thing, that it is completely false and imagined, then why do you consider dharmas to likewise lack inherent existence, yet exist impermanently and dependently (upon other dharmas)?

My knowledge of Madhyamika has been gained mostly through reading Classical Chinese texts. Most notably the translations done by Kumarajiva.


Yet your interpretation is Hinayana style, conceding that the atman is completely false and non-existent, but still affirming the existence of dharmas on account of other dharmas ("pot= clay + kiln + fire + mental perception") as Cause & Condition.

What you're alluding to is not Madhyamika.


It is basic Mahayana doctrine. Between the two traditional schools of Madhyamaka and Yogacara, I don't see that they are differing on this point, because they are both Mahayana teachings, and without this basic point of the unreality of atman and dharmas, no Mahayana doctrine or path distinct from Hinayana can be established.

Yet when people approach these teachings from a Hinayana understanding, with that style of definition for Dependent Origination and Causes & Conditions based on illusory dharmas, they perceive differences that really aren't there.

I started a thread on this topic in this Mahayana section. Perhaps you can look at it.

You have yet to refute the Madhyamika position that to the unenlightened mind objects and phenomena appear inherently existent.


Hinayana teachings do a well enough job breaking inherent existence of dharmas, so what more does Mahayana have to say if it is just a restatement?

No one believes there is a pot that is inherently existent, but many many still believe that there is a pot that exists temporarily due to Causes & Conditions of other external dharmas (even upon examination), when that appearance is a result of the discriminating consciousness resembling internal perceiver and external objects of perception, not actually existing dharmas independent of mind, such as the so-called "clay", "kiln", and "fire".

So when Madhyamaka teaches of "no inherent existence", it does not mean; "existing, but not inherently". If something lacks inherent existence it is completely non-existent. Like the atman, or objects in a dream. True existence cannot be attributed to Causes & Conditions nor to spontaneity.

As the Buddha tells Ananda in the Shurangama Sutra, Chapter 2;

"That which can be returned to other sources clearly is not you; if that which you cannot return to anything else is not you, then what is it?"

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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jul 11, 2010 6:17 am

However, you admit that the atman is imagined and definitely non-existent. Otherwise if you say the atman is not inherently existent, then it exists through Causes & Conditions. Which is still a view of selfhood, albeit temporary and dependent. And we know that this is a wrong view.


There is a relative conventionally existent self. The Buddha himself used the personal first person reflexive pronoun. There is nothing wrong with saying "I" as it does refer to a person who may not possess inherit existence, but has a provisional and conventional relative existence.

This is not a wrong view because there is no assertion that either the aggregates are or based on an absolute atman.


So if you agree that the atman is not even a temporarily existing thing, that it is completely false and imagined, then why do you consider dharmas to likewise lack inherent existence, yet exist impermanently and dependently (upon other dharmas)?


You are moving in the direction of nihilism. Emptiness is dependent origination which means that the mode of existence of dharmas is through causes and conditions ergo things exist relatively and not absolutely. When we say that dharmas lack inherit existence, that is not to say they do not exist at all.


Yet your interpretation is Hinayana style, conceding that the atman is completely false and non-existent, but still affirming the existence of dharmas on account of other dharmas ("pot= clay + kiln + fire + mental perception") as Cause & Condition.


I have not posited that dharmas possess inherit existence. Therefore your charge here is dismissed. Like the self, the dharmas likewise dissolve under analysis, but until such an analysis is conducted they appear inherently existent.



It is basic Mahayana doctrine. Between the two traditional schools of Madhyamaka and Yogacara, I don't see that they are differing on this point, because they are both Mahayana teachings, and without this basic point of the unreality of atman and dharmas, no Mahayana doctrine or path distinct from Hinayana can be established.


Basic Mahayana doctrine? Is there really such a thing? The doxographical literature alone demonstrates a myriad of opinions on what exactly emptiness and selflessness means to various thinkers within Mahayana.

Hinayana teachings do a well enough job breaking inherent existence of dharmas, so what more does Mahayana have to say if it is just a restatement?

No one believes there is a pot that is inherently existent, but many many still believe that there is a pot that exists temporarily due to Causes & Conditions of other external dharmas (even upon examination), when that appearance is a result of the discriminating consciousness resembling internal perceiver and external objects of perception, not actually existing dharmas independent of mind, such as the so-called "clay", "kiln", and "fire".

So when Madhyamaka teaches of "no inherent existence", it does not mean; "existing, but not inherently". If something lacks inherent existence it is completely non-existent. Like the atman, or objects in a dream. True existence cannot be attributed to Causes & Conditions nor to spontaneity.



You have critically misunderstood emptiness as taught by Nagarjuna as you have adopted a view of nihilism.

Do you understand what svabhava means?
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:36 am

Huseng wrote:Dexing wrote:
Since no one believes in an "inherent" existence of a pot in the first place, that of course is not the point of Mahayana teachings. As long as one still grasps external objects existing independently of mind, albeit temporary and dependently originated, the delusion of external phenomena is still present, and one cannot move beyond the false and perceive truth. Unable to see truth, one cannot help themselves, much less other equally or less equally confused sentient beings, and therefore the Bodhisattva vows cannot be fulfilled.



You have yet to refute the Madhyamika position that to the unenlightened mind objects and phenomena appear inherently existent.


Whether phenomena appear to so-called ordinary people to be inherently existent is an empirical question. It is not something to be established or refuted by abstract argument.

I am troubled by the frequent references in the text to what ordinary people believe, as these claims require evidence and none is given. My instinct is that Dexing is correct about what people generally believe / how they intuitively grasp the mode of existence of everyday things - but again, this is an empirical question. I can certainly tell you that when I came across Madhyamaka, my starting point was that at least the fundamental phenomena of physics were real. I had been troubled for a long time about whether consciousness was also real, as it did not seem to be explicable in terms of the fundamental phenomena of physics, but I was eventually persuaded that it was (through the work of thinkers like Daniel Dennett, Derek Parfitt and Antonio Damasio). I'm not sure I would have equated being real with having all the characteristics which Madhyamikas claim an inherently existent thing would have to have (which probably deserves another thread) but certainly I believed that real things (and things like pots which were particular temporary configurations of real things) had objective existence in the sense that they existed whether or not they were observed, and had the same nature irrespective of how they were conceived.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jul 11, 2010 11:57 am

Jack Dawkins wrote:Whether phenomena appear to so-called ordinary people to be inherently existent is an empirical question. It is not something to be established or refuted by abstract argument.


It is through argument that we can demonstrate that things appear inherently existent and how this is, while seeming so real, is fallacious.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby BFS » Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:02 pm

Jack Dawkins wrote:Hi,

I'm new here... I posted this on another forum and got some interesting responses, mostly from Theravadins, along the lines that I was asking the wrong question. On reflection I am still interested in my question so I am posting it here, where folks might be more receptive to Madhyamika generally.

The original post was as follows "I am looking for Madhyamika arguments in defence of the claim that phenomena can appear without having any basis in reality. In his commentary on the Madhyamakavatara, Mipham points out that people may see things which are not there when they have eye disease or are hallucinating. On this basis he says that the fact that phenomena appear is no reason to believe that they reflect any underlying reality. Personally I don't find this very convincing. Can anyone point me towards any other arguments supporting the claim?"

Since then I have come across other phenomena which are presented as examples of perceiving things which have no basis in reality, such as the moon in the water, reflected images generally, and dreams. As I understand it, the point of these examples is that the opponent is bound to agree that the perception does not depend on anything which exists inherently, and will therefore admit that at least some things can appear without any underlying (ultimate) reality. They will have to agree that, in principle, things can appear without their being any underlying reality, and this destroys the basis of their objection.

There seems to be a problem with this approach in that any perception that arises in the world depends on at least some other things in the world - the brain, for one thing - and the opponent is not bound to admit that these lack inherent existence. It seems to me that any example can only work for those who are already convinced that all things lack inherent existence, or in other words that it can only work when it is not needed.

Obviously it is fundamental in Madhyamaka that there is no contradiction between the two truths, but I am finding this proposition difficult to accept at the moment. Is there another angle I can come at this from?

Thanks

JD


Hi JD,

Some info and a couple of links you may find helpful, or should keep you busy for a wee while at least ;)

The Truth -- according to Prasangikas

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso Rinpoche in The World of Tibetan Buddhism: An Overview of Its Philosophy and Practice. Boston: Wisdom Pub., 1995. (49-54):

"According to the explanation of the highest Buddhist philosophical school, Madhyamaka-Prasangika, external phenomena are not mere projections or creations of the mind. External phenomena have a distinct nature, which is different from the mind.

The meaning of all phenomena being mere labels or designations is that they exist and acquire their identities by means of our denomination or designation of them. This does not mean that there is no phenomenon apart from the name, imputation, or label, but rather that if we analyze and search objectively for the essence of any phenomenon, it will be un-findable. Phenomena are unable to withstand such analysis; therefore, they do not exist objectively. Yet, since they exist, there should be some level of existence; therefore, it is only through our own process of labeling or designation that things are said to exist... .

Except for the Prasangika school, all the other Buddhist schools of thought identify the existence of phenomena within the basis of designation; therefore, they maintain that there is some kind of objective existence . . . .

Since the lower schools of Buddhist thought all accept that things exist inherently, they assert some kind of objective existence, maintaining that things exist in their own right and from their own side. This is because they identify phenomena within the basis of designation.

For the Prasangikas, if anything exists objectively and is identified within the basis of designation, then that is, in fact, equivalent to saying that it exists autonomously, that it has an independent nature and exists in its own right ... .

This is a philosophical tenet of the Yogacara school in which external reality is negated, that is, the atomically structured external world is negated. Because the proponents of the Yogacara philosophical system assert that things cannot exist other than as projections of one's own mind, they also maintain that there is no atomically structured external physical reality independent of mind. By analyzing along these lines, Yogacara proponents conclude that there is no atomicly structured external reality.

This conclusion is reached because of not having understood the most subtle level of emptiness as expounded by the Prasangikas. In fact, Yogacarins assert that things have no inherent existence, and that if you analyze something and do not find any essence, then it does not exist at all.

Prasangikas, on the other hand, when confronted with this un-findability of the essence of the object, conclude that this is an indication that objects do not exist inherently, not that they do not exist at all. This is where the difference lies between the two schools."


You can also Google Lama Zopa's Virtue and Reality, it is online - excerpt- IV:

"There are four schools of Buddhist philosophy—Vaibashika (che-tra-mra-wa), Sautrantika (do-de-pa), Cittamatra (sem-tsam) and Madhyamika (u-ma-pa). The fourth of these is the Middle Way school and is divided into two: Svatantrika (rang-gyu-pa) and Prasangika (thal-gyur-wa). According to the Prasangika school, the object of refutation (or negation, gag-cha) is an extremely subtle object that is ever so slightly more than—a little over and above—what is merely labeled by the mind. The object of refutation is what appears to us; it is that in which we believe. "





The Appearance and Cognition of Non-Existent Phenomena-Gelug Presentation


The Validity and Accuracy of Cognition of the Two Truths in Gelug-Prasangika

You might find His Holiness Dalai Lama's The Key to The Middle Way - helpful, or The Essential Dalai Lama - His Important Teachings covers The Two Truths.

Also - How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Excerpts from the section - The Two Truths:
To understand selflessness, you need to understand that everything that exists is contained in two groups called the two truths: conventional and ultimate. The phenomena that we see and observe around us can go from good to bad, or bad to good, depending on various causes and conditions. Many phenomena cannot be said to be inherently good or bad; they are better or worse, tall or short, beautiful or ugly, only by comparison, not by way of their own nature. Their value is relative. From this you can see that there is a discrepancy between the way things appear and how they actually are. For instance, something may—in terms of how it appears—look good, but, due to its inner nature being different, it can turn bad once it is affected by
conditions. Food that looks so good in a restaurant may not sit so well in your stomach. This is a clear sign of a discrepancy between appearance and reality.

These phenomena themselves are called conventional truths: they are known by consciousness that goes no further than appearances. But the same objects have an inner mode of being, called an ultimate truth, that allows for the changes brought about by conditions. A wise consciousness, not satisfied with mere appearances, analyzes to find whether objects inherently exist as they seem to do but discovers their absence of inherent existence. It finds an emptiness of inherent existence beyond appearances.
Empty of What?
Emptiness, or selflessness, can only be understood if we first identify that of which phenomena are empty. Without understanding what is negated, you cannot understand its absence, emptiness.
You might think that emptiness means nothingness, but it does not. Merely from reading it is difficult to identify and understand the object of negation, what Buddhist texts speak of as true establishment or inherent existence. But over a period of time, when you add your own investigations to the reading, the faultiness of our usual way of seeing things will become clearer and clearer.
Buddha said many times that because all phenomena are dependently arisen, they are relative—their existence depends on other causes and conditions and depends on their own parts. A wooden table, for instance, does not exist independently; rather, it depends on a great many causes such as a tree, the carpenter who makes it, and so forth; it also depends upon its own parts. If a wooden table or any phenomenon really were not dependent—if it were established in its own right—then when you analyze it, its existence in its own right should become more obvious, but it does not.
This Buddhist reasoning is supported by science. Physicists today keep discovering finer and finer components of matter, yet they still cannot understand its ultimate nature. Understanding emptiness is even deeper. The more you look into how an ignorant consciousness conceives phenomena to exist, the more you find that phenomena do not exist that way. However, the more you look into what a wise consciousness understands, the more you gain affirmation in the absence of inherent existence.
Do Objects Exist?
We have established that when any phenomenon is sought through analysis, it cannot be found. So you may be wondering whether these phenomena exist at all. However, we know from direct experience that people and things cause pleasure and pain, and that they can help and harm. Therefore, phenomena certainly do exist; the question is how? They do not exist in their own right, but only have an existence dependent upon many factors, including a consciousness that conceptualizes them.
Once they exist but do not exist on their own, they necessarily exist in dependence upon conceptualization. However, when phenomena appear to us, they do not at all appear as if they exist this way. Rather, they seem to be established in their own right, from the object's side, without depending upon a conceptualizing consciousness.
When training to develop wisdom, you are seeking through analysis to find the inherent existence of whatever object you are considering—yourself, another person, your body, your mind, or anything else. You are analyzing not the mere appearance but the inherent nature of the object. Thus it is not that you come to understand that the object does not exist; rather, you find that its inherent existence is unfounded. Analysis does not contradict the mere existence of the object. Phenomena do indeed exist, but not in the way we think they do.
What is left after analysis is a dependently existent phenomenon. When, for example, you examine your own body, its inherent existence is negated, but what is left is a body dependent on four limbs, a trunk, and a head.
If Phenomena Are Empty, Can They Function?
Whenever we think about objects, do we mistakenly believe that they exist in their own right? No. We can conceive of phenomena in three different ways. Let us consider a tree. There is no denying that it appears to inherently exist, but:
We could conceive of the tree as existing inherently, in its own right.
We could conceive of the tree as lacking inherent existence.
We could conceive of the tree without thinking that it inherently exists or not.
Only the first of those is wrong. The other two modes of apprehension are right, even if the mode of appearance is mistaken in the second and the third, in that the tree appears as if inherently existent.
If objects do not inherently exist, does this mean that they cannot function? Jumping to the conclusion that because the true nature of objects is emptiness, they are therefore incapable of performing functions such as causing pleasure or pain, or helping or harming, is the worst sort of misunderstanding, a nihilistic view. As the Indian scholar-yogi Nagarjuna says in his Precious Garland, a nihilist will certainly have a bad transmigration upon rebirth, whereas a person who believes, albeit wrongly, in inherent existence goes on to a good transmigration.

Allow me to explain. You need a belief in the consequences of actions to choose virtue in your life and discard nonvirtue. For the time being, the subtle view of the emptiness of inherent existence might be too difficult for you to understand without falling into the trap of nihilism, where you are unable to understand that phenomena arise in dependence on causes and conditions (dependent-arising). Then for the sake of your spiritual progress it would be better for now to set aside trying to penetrate emptiness. Even if you mistakenly believe that phenomena inherently exist, you can still develop an understanding of dependent-arising and apply it in practice. This is why even Buddha, on occasion, taught that living beings and other
phenomena inherently exist. Such teachings are the thought of Buddha's scriptures, but they are not his own final thought. For specific purposes, he sometimes spoke in nonfinal ways.
In What Way Is Consciousness Mistaken?

Because all phenomena appear to exist in their own right, all of our ordinary perceptions are mistaken. Only when emptiness is directly realized during completely focused meditation is there no false appearance. At that time, the dualism of subject and object has vanished, as has the appearance of multiplicity; only emptiness appears. After you rise from that meditation, once again living beings and objects falsely appear to exist in and of themselves, but through the power of having realized emptiness, you will recognize the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Through meditation you have identified both the false mode of appearance and the false mode of apprehension.

Let us return to the central point: All of us have a sense of "I" but we need to realize that it is only designated in dependence upon mind and body. The selflessness that Buddhists speak of refers to the absence of a self that is permanent, partless, and independent, or, more subtly, it can refer to the absence of inherent existence of any phenomenon. However, Buddhists
do value the existence of a self that changes from moment to moment, designated in dependence upon the continuum of mind and body. All of us validly have this sense of “I.” When Buddhists speak of the doctrine of selflessness, we are not referring to the nonexistence of this self. With this “I,” all of us rightfully want happiness and do not want suffering. It is when we exaggerate our sense of ourselves and other phenomena to mean something inherently existent that we get drawn into many, many problems."
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:30 pm

Huseng wrote:
Jack Dawkins wrote:Whether phenomena appear to so-called ordinary people to be inherently existent is an empirical question. It is not something to be established or refuted by abstract argument.


It is through argument that we can demonstrate that things appear inherently existent and how this is, while seeming so real, is fallacious.


Are you saying that the question of whether people innately grasp outer objects as existing inherently can be answered by logic alone, without any data? In other words, are you denying that it is an empirical question? Alternatively are you accepting that it is an empirical question but claiming that the data we have from our own individual experiences is sufficient?

In my reading, I have not seen this conclusion argued for at all – it is just asserted. In other words, none of the texts I have read indicate that the claim is other than a factual, empirical one (and frankly this is obvious). I am not saying the claim is definitely false – I suspect it is, but as it requires evidence which no-one has gathered, I can't express a final view.

Psychologists investigate questions about how perception works and how people view reality as empirical questions, ie by observation and experiment. Are you saying they are misguided in this, and if not what makes this particular question unsuitable for that approach?
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby kirtu » Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:46 pm

Jack Dawkins wrote:Hi


Hi :hi:

There seems to be a problem with this approach in that any perception that arises in the world depends on at least some other things in the world - the brain, for one thing - and the opponent is not bound to admit that these lack inherent existence. It seems to me that any example can only work for those who are already convinced that all things lack inherent existence, or in other words that it can only work when it is not needed.


No - the examples are given (moon in water) and then the argument is extended (it seems to me that the argument begins with the lack of inherent existence of the skandhas in which case the lack of inherent existence of the brain, etc. is established).

The issue is that people do grasp at inherent existence of things and this is almost always missed: racists claim that the objects of their hatred really have the properties that are attributed to them [the X people are lazy, dirty, stupid, slow, dangerous, engaged in a conspiracy to harm the Y people, etc.], some cynics claim that "people never change" [and they mean it], some people divide people into allies and enemies [this is the basis of a lot of social interaction], objects of desire [esp. sexual desire] are seen as actually having attractive properties, etc.

Grasping at the inherent existence of things is (mostly) compulsive and emotional and requires analysis to cut through this grasping.

Kirt
Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby Jack Dawkins » Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:59 pm

BFS wrote:Hi JD,

Some info and a couple of links you may find helpful, or should keep you busy for a wee while at least


Thanks - some interesting material there.

The reference to Yogacara reminded me of something I'd previously read which has a bearing on my original post. It seems that part of the problem the early Yogacarins had with the so-called second turning was that, as Paul Williams puts it, "there must be a real basis, for without a real basis erroneous construction, the conceptualized nature, could never take place" (Mahayana Buddhism, The Doctrinal Foundations (2nd ed) p. 91). This is precisely the objection referred to in my initial post - so perhaps I should look the debate between Madhamikas and Yogacarins for more on that.
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Re: Appearances without an underlying reality

Postby White Lotus » Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:31 pm

:namaste: to quote BFS/14th Dalai...
"According to the explanation of the highest Buddhist philosophical school, Madhyamaka-Prasangika, external phenomena are not mere projections or creations of the mind. External phenomena have a distinct nature, which is different from the mind.


i agree that external phenomena are not mere projections... they are however still Mind... Mind matter.

external phenomena are one with mind though in appearance initially discrete individualities, however fundamentally all things are of the same nature which is Mind/Tathata.

to say that there are two natures is wrong... ultimately there is only one nature... dharmakaya/buddha nature.

emptiness is the mist that hides the holy grail... Mind. through studying the teachinigs on emptiness one approaches to the hidden realm of mind, which really is not hidden at all but is directly experienced in what is right before your eyes right now and in what is in your heart right now, however normal that may seem.

Mind is the basis. emptiness is a function. its function is to lead to direct congnisance of Mind.

madhymaka complements yogacara, the two are mutually of the same family, however Mind is the heart, emptiness the body that surrounds the heart.

best wishes, White Lotus.

two ways of seeing,
really ony one supreme.
emptiness will do for a while.
but sooner or later a goal must be scored.
when you see the mist, you know that
the treasure is near.
emptiness will guide you.
Mind will be found.
in any matters of importance. dont rely on me. i may not know what i am talking about. take what i say as mere speculation. i am not ordained. nor do i have a formal training. i do believe though that if i am wrong on any point. there are those on this site who i hope will quickly point out my mistakes.
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