Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

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Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:48 pm

I've read around a bit in the Critical Buddhism movement in Japan, which takes a stance that is very much like this one (from a user here at DharmaWheel in another thread):

wtompepper wrote:To come back to the topic of the essay, then, perhaps a clarification is in order. On the "no-holds-barred" blog where I originally posted this, I took for granted that readers would know that when I said "bad for Buddhism" I meant bad for what I take to be the form of Buddhism most useful to reduce suffering: that is, a "full-strength" version of anatman that rejects any concept of "original enlightenment" or "substrate consciousness" or "true self." It is my position that those are ideas imported from Taoism or other Asian schools of thought, or vestiges of Brahmanical/Vedantic thought, and so weaken our understanding of anatman. If one takes there to be some kind of non-conceptual consciousness which transcends this world, then I think Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this version of Buddhism quite well, particularly in books like The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. So, I am beginning, in the ongoing discussion on the blog, from my previous essay "Samsara as the realm of Ideology: Naturalizing Buddhism," and other essays as well, where I have argued that such "subtle-atman" schools of Buddhism reproduce, rather than help eliminate, the causes of human suffering.

This is why I don't know that this is possible to pursue here. My interest is in whether, and how, we can help people see the truth of "full-strength" antaman without being abrasive and somewhat obnoxious. The dominant approach here seems to be what I call the "half-strength" version of anatman, which still believes in some kind of essence or consciousness that is permanent and separate from the phenomenal world--and while it may be possible to persuade someone of this version of anatman with kind words (I think Thich Nhat Hanh has succeeded at doing so for many Americans), this is not a goal I would be interested in, because it seems to me that it only makes it that much harder to later accept the full-strength understanding of anatman.


I'd like to consider these claims on their merits:

*anatman (sunyata) and tathagathagarbha are terms in opposition

*tathagatagarbha is not authentically Buddhist, but reflects the influence of another tradition

*hence tathagatagarbha represents a degradation of the teachings

I have my own thoughts on these issues. I'd like to learn what others think.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:00 pm

Two follow-up questions. I'd like to know how the canon of "authentically Buddhist teachings and texts" is established. Inquiring minds want to know is it that a particular way of articulating sunyata is taken as authoritative, while teachings on Buddha-nature and thusness are presented as heretical. This seems a hermeneutic question as much as a philosophical one. There are two aspects to it:

I'd like to know which texts and traditions are drawn on to advocate for such an interpretation. From whence does one produce the claim that "full strength anatman" is the singularly authentic Buddhist teaching? That is, which texts and traditions support this claim, and by what interpretation?

I'd also like to know how advocates for this position deal with contradictory evidence. For instance, are texts such as the Srimaladevi Sutra, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Parinirvana Sutra, the Ratnagotravibhaga dismissed out of hand? Placed under erasure, so to speak? Or are they prioritized underneath a different set of texts (see the question above...)
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:03 pm

You've succeeded in making my simple little head hurt, but i'll participate at least.


On a basic level my skeptical side wonders about Tathagatagarbha, I can actually "see" sunyata by a process of thought - i.e. "this car has no inherent car-ness" and I can actually follow this line of thought to see that the car does not have car-ness.

Buddha Nature on the other hand, seems to be something essentially taken on faith, is there a similar thought experiment to experience it, or am I just able to do when I clear away the defilements?

I have also read some people say that Tathgatagarbha contradicts dependent origination, but I don't really understand how exactly. If it is simply because Tathagatagarbha is unconditioned, then couldn't we also say that the entire concept of Nirvana itself is also in opposition to dependent origination?
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby muni » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:13 pm

How can what we call "people" come to recognition of what is nature, while being caught in habitual apprehension of the conceptual mind?

How can we delete a concept self, full strength?

Nihilism-absolutism?

How can there be a degradation other than by conceptual limitations-ideations? Can there be any "influence of another existence" in nondual nature?

Thanks. :namaste:
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby pueraeternus » Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:22 pm

The concept of an original pureness is found in the earliest teachings of the Buddha:

Pabhassara Sutta
"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn't discern that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — there is no development of the mind."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind."


Hence the Tathagatagarbha is merely a development and elucidation of these teachings.
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby tomamundsen » Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:55 pm

Excellent remark by pueraeternus.

I'm no scholar, so I'm not even going to try to answer most of Jikan's questions. But I'll say that I believe the Mahayana retort would be that what is being called "full strength anatman" could be referred to as "simple anatman." That is to say that the Tathagatagarbha teachings do not at all contradict anatman, but give a more profound understanding of it. Those who can only accept "simple anatman" are afraid of the more profound version, because on the surface it seems to contradict their understanding.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:45 pm

I should add that I started this thread because I think these issues are important and should be taken seriously. If the ideas of Mr. Pepper or the Critical Buddhists are strong and rigorous, then they'll surely stand up to a few questions by a novice like me, on an anonymous discussion board. I'd like to know the evidence and arguments behind these claims; since they are proclaimed in public, surely they merit public scrutiny.

:popcorn:
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jikan » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:48 pm

pueraeternus wrote:The concept of an original pureness is found in the earliest teachings of the Buddha:

Pabhassara Sutta
"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn't discern that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — there is no development of the mind."

"Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind."


Hence the Tathagatagarbha is merely a development and elucidation of these teachings.


Indeed. The reasoning behind this position seems rather straightforward to me:

*since it is possible for someone to be bound by karmic fetters & defilements,
*it must also be possible for someone not to be bound by karmic fetters & defilements.

what's left behind when those defilements are liberated we call Buddhahood or Dharmakaya. This is in the Srimaladevi Sutra. The possibility or potential for awakening is Tathagathagarbha. What's not clear to me is how this is somehow crypto-Taoism or creeping Vedantism. Evidence please?
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:34 pm

Along the same lines..I remember something from one of the earliest Pali suttas along the lines of

"because it is possible to be imprisoned by the Conditioned, escape from the conditioned is possible"

I get the intuitive impression that this "full strength anatman" will actually tend towards nihilism of a sort, where the paradox of The Unconditioned with no consciousness (i'm sure there is a better word than consciousness but I lack the vocabulary) to experience it will crop up.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby pueraeternus » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:02 am

Jikan wrote:What's not clear to me is how this is somehow crypto-Taoism or creeping Vedantism. Evidence please?


People probably read too much into terms such as "permanent" and "indestructible" and came away with such conclusions. Tathagatagarbha sutras should be approached in the light of foundational Buddhist doctrines such as emptiness, non-self, four noble truths, etc.
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

- Leto II, the God Emperor
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby viniketa » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:21 am

There are so many assumptions in the OP it is difficult to find a place to start, but this presents one such place:

The dominant approach here seems to be what I call the "half-strength" version of anatman, which still believes in some kind of essence or consciousness that is permanent and separate from the phenomenal world...


From many years of reading on the topic of the ālayavijñāna, different commentators have taken different positions on the the "eternal" nature of ālayavijñāna. While a few have posited that the ālayavijñāna is eternal, the majority seem to accept that, while continuous, the ālayavijñāna is not eternal. For something to be eternal, it must also be unchanging. The ālayavijñāna is not unchanging. In fact, the whole of Buddhist practice can be seen as the process of cleansing the ālaya such that it reverts to the original purity of tathāgatagarbha.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:37 am

But tathagatagarbha that is empty is fine right?
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jikan » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:37 am

pueraeternus wrote:
Jikan wrote:What's not clear to me is how this is somehow crypto-Taoism or creeping Vedantism. Evidence please?


People probably read too much into terms such as "permanent" and "indestructible" and came away with such conclusions. Tathagatagarbha sutras should be approached in the light of foundational Buddhist doctrines such as emptiness, non-self, four noble truths, etc.


That's how I've been taught as well.

Which reminds me: are there any teachers teaching along the lines the OP outlines? I'm curious to know how this works pedagogically and in practice.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby viniketa » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:52 am

Konchog1 wrote:But tathagatagarbha that is empty is fine right?


Again, this is the subject of much discussion. Most of the literature on tathāgatagarbha equates it with dharmatā. In this sense, it is beyond emptiness and non-emptiness. Recall that "empty" has to do with the emptiness of "self-being". Thusness or suchness has no self of which to be empty, and has no "being". It is potentiality.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby pueraeternus » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:16 am

Jikan wrote:Which reminds me: are there any teachers teaching along the lines the OP outlines? I'm curious to know how this works pedagogically and in practice.


From the way Mr Pepper wrote it, it seems to me he is referring to most Mahayanists? Chan/Zen, all forms of tantra have at their basis the idea of original face or tathagatagarbha. Pureland focuses on the personage of a cosmic Buddha. Lotus-derived schools focuses on the eternal Buddha, and Huayan is grounded on the phenomenal reflections of the dharmadhatu. What else is missing from our ranks? Maybe hardcore sunyatavadins? :tongue:

In any case, as others have pointed out before, his version of full strength anatman leans a bit too much towards nihilism, and ignores some of the curious ways the Buddha describes the luminosity of the mind in the Pali Canon.
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

- Leto II, the God Emperor
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby muni » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:29 am

Jikan wrote:I should add that I started this thread because I think these issues are important and should be taken seriously. If the ideas of Mr. Pepper or the Critical Buddhists are strong and rigorous, then they'll surely stand up to a few questions by a novice like me, on an anonymous discussion board. I'd like to know the evidence and arguments behind these claims; since they are proclaimed in public, surely they merit public scrutiny.

:popcorn:


With respect to your question Jikan, may it become clear by investigation. Yes.

I like not to forget that the several tools-pointing fingers of "Buddhism", is not the same as the meaning "behind" the Buddha's teaching. Therefore regarding the question of Mr Pepper, how people can understand full strenght anatman I have not much to say, but maybe: practice.

May all become clear. :namaste:
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Matt J » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:11 pm

One major issue I see is a dualistic interpretation of a non-dualist view. Whenever there is an opposition, there is a duality.

First, there is an opposition between a transcendent, true or effective Buddhism that stands apart from time and space and Buddhism as it developed through space and time. Our job, under this theory, is to uncover the true, ideal Buddhism that exists beneath it all. So there is a subtle self contradiction in this teachings: nothing has a self, except for this transcendent Buddhism, which possesses the self of a strong no-self teaching! Sadly, this leaves no room for change and innovation as may be required by different beings under different circumstances.

Second, there is an opposition between sunyata and tathagatagarbha. Mr. Pepper refers to a consciousness that is independent and permanent. Yet, I don't think this is what most strands of Mahayana teach. This form of tathagatagarbha stands apart from the universe like an ancient god. This is not what I've learned, anyway. All things are non-separate, and all things are constantly changing, including the tathagatagarbha. Any movement demonstrates emptiness, and without movement, there is no energy, no life, no universe. In my mind, this is what differentiates Mahayana Buddhism from all other forms of nonduality which posit that there is a separate, unchanging whatever.
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If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jnana » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:12 pm

:good:
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jnana » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:17 pm

Probably the best textual source for the ideas of Critical Buddhism (as well as criticisms of Critical Buddhism), is Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm over Critical Buddhism:

    What is Buddhism? According to Hakamaya Noriaki and Matsumoto Shiro, the answer lies in neither Ch’an nor Zen; in neither the Kyoto school of philosophy nor the non-duality taught in the Vimalakirti Sutra. Hakamaya contends that “criticism alone is Buddhism.”

    This volume introduces and analyzes the ideas of “critical Buddhism” in relation to the targets of its critique and situates those ideas in the context of current discussions of postmodern academic scholarship, the separation of the disinterested scholar and committed religious practitioner, and the place of social activism within the academy.

    Essays critical of the received traditions of Buddhist thought—many never before translated—are presented and then countered by the work of respected scholars, both Japanese and Western, who take contrary positions.

The individual chapters are also available on Scribd here.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby viniketa » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:55 pm

Matt J wrote:This is not what I've learned, anyway. All things are non-separate, and all things are constantly changing, including the tathagatagarbha.


I am surprised to see tathāgatagarbha classified as a "thing". May I ask which school teaches this?

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