Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby conebeckham » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:25 am

Sorry, I realize my answer comes across as trite. Let me try....

Emptiness, anatman, selflessness are, initially, conclusions arrived at through reasoning, correct?
Conceptual effort is the path, at least in the initial stages, though it is hoped that eventually one will have some sort of "experience" of this conclusion, which transcends conceptual mind. Agreed?

There is a danger, I grant, in approaching things via the via positiva of Tathagatagarbha, which is, after all, explained in conceptual terms. But there is also the way of "pointing out," in dzogchen and mahamudra lineages, and perhaps in other lineages, as well. This relies on teacher/student relationship, and is not dependent on conceptual gymnastics, but is a direct experiential "knowing" that is available to all. You may not believe it, and that's fine, but plenty of Buddhists attest to it. All the Tathagatagarbha doctrine and polemics, is second-rate conceptualizating, and imperfect systemization, after the fact.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:27 am

Thanks for replying, I get what you are saying now.
"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 viniketa » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:57 am

wtompepper wrote:So, beginning from these two different positions, the questions, for me, become which belief can be supported beyond appeal to sutra citations, and which belief leads to less human suffering?


Beliefs often lead to suffering, one such suffering is not that different from another. For me, the question becomes what can be logically or experientially confirmed?

Jnana wrote:
viniketa wrote:I am not familiar with the work you quote nor the Tibetan terms. However, from the wording of the quote, it would seem kha rather than ākāśa is the topic of discussion. Kha is conditioned space, such as that contained in a jar, as opposed to unconditioned "deep space", ākāśa.

The context is the use of space (ākāśa), gold, and water as examples analogous to the revolved basis (āśrayaparivṛtti) in the Dharmadharmatāvibhāgavṛtti, where Go Lotsawa points out that the examples refer to a continuum of impure and pure states. The full passage can be read in A Direct Path to the Buddha Within, pp. 338-39.

But more to the point is that not all Buddhist commentators accept that space or tathāgatagarbha transcend momentariness. In point of fact, not all Buddhist commentators accept that space is unconditioned either.


Thank you for the reference. There are those that hold that ākāśa is conditioned. There are those that hold that the darmatā is conditioned. I have read that all is conditioned, there is no saṃsāra, no nirvāṇa, no sentient beings, and no Buddha.

Sounds like Mr. Pepper's school of Buddhism (whatever it is).

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby muni » Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:15 am

Regarding sutra, permanence-impermanence, individual and so on, the reliances can remind us, to not get stuck.

http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Four_reliances

http://buddhism.about.com/od/becomingab ... iances.htm

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby wtompepper » Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:02 pm

Porkchop: in reply to your last post, once again, I did not say that Nagarjuna does not quote the sutras. If you read beyond the few stanzas you cited, you will realize that he is not presenting the sutras as "evidence," but as a statement of a philosophical truth. He then offers and interpretation, and his extended argument in support of his interpretation is his evidence. There is quite a difference between saying that a position is advanced in some sutra and therefore it must be true, and Nagarjuna's approach which is to presents a concept from a sutra and then make an extended argument to explicate it and prove its truth.

And if you doubt that Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that there is an eternal atman, just read his essay in the latest issue of Tricycle Magazine. He makes this quite explicit there. His position is that "nonself" refers to the phenomenal self we experience, but that there is a "true self" that will endure eternally after the "nonself' is gone.

For many Buddhists in history, and about six of us today, this is not a Buddhist teaching. We believe that Buddhism teaches the complete absence of any "substrate" or eternal entity of any kind, that such "atman" is the Brahmanical teaching which the Buddha explicitly rejects, and which Nagarjuna is trying to recover in the face of a return, by some of his contemporaries, to a belief in some kind of atman under a different name.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby PorkChop » Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:17 pm

wtompepper wrote:And if you doubt that Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that there is an eternal atman, just read his essay in the latest issue of Tricycle Magazine. He makes this quite explicit there. His position is that "nonself" refers to the phenomenal self we experience, but that there is a "true self" that will endure eternally after the "nonself' is gone.


Tried to read the article, but I think it requires a subscription and an online account.
I agree, that description sounds very Atman-ish.
Hope that it's merely something lost in translation.

I guess maybe I miss a lot, because I've never seen a major Buddhist school posit anything different from moment to moment arising based on causes & conditions brought about by previous moments; also ignorance giving rise to karma, karma giving rise to consciousness, etc.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Nov 14, 2012 7:27 pm

I gather this is the difference between Yogacara and Madhyamaka..but weren't there later thinkers who said that there was no essential difference between the two positions?

Whether you put forth a concept of inherent Buddha nature, or claim it is more appropriate to believe in the inherent non-existence of Buddha nature..you engage in essentially the same sort of mental gymnastics either way, just choosing the opposite end of a dualistic view.. which ultimately cannot be a direct realization..right?
"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 PorkChop » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:13 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I gather this is the difference between Yogacara and Madhyamaka..but weren't there later thinkers who said that there was no essential difference between the two positions?

Whether you put forth a concept of inherent Buddha nature, or claim it is more appropriate to believe in the inherent non-existence of Buddha nature..you engage in essentially the same sort of mental gymnastics either way, just choosing the opposite end of a dualistic view.. which ultimately cannot be a direct realization..right?


Well even in Yogacara that is not an agreed upon issue; especially if Asanga and Vasubandu weren't necessarily of that position.
http://www.acmuller.net/yogacara/articles/intro-uni.htm

The Three Self-nature theory (tri-svabhāva), which is explained in many Yogācāra texts including an independent treatise by Vasubandhu devoted to the subject (Trisvabhāva-nirdeśa-śāstra), maintains that there are three "natures" or cognitive realms at play.

1. The conceptually constructed realm (parikalpita-svabhāva) ubiquitously imputes unreal conceptions, especially permanent "selves," into whatever it experiences, including oneself.
2. The realm of causal dependency (paratantra-svabhāva), when mixed with the constructed realm, leads one to mistake impermanent occurrences in the flux of causes and conditions for fixed, permanent entities. It can be purified of these delusions by
3. the perfectional realm (pariniṣpanna-svabhāva) which, like the Madhyamaka notion of emptiness on which it is based, acts as an antidote (pratipakṣa) that "purifies" or cleans all delusional constructions out of the causal realm.
The conceptually constructed realm is the erroneous narcissistic realm in which we primarily dwell, filled with projections we have acquired and habituated and embodied. Paratantra (lit. 'dependent on other') emphasizes that everything arises causally dependent on things other than itself (i.e., everything lacks self-existence). The perfectional realm signifies the absence of svabhāva (independent, self-existent, permanent nature) in everything.
When the causally dependent realm is cleansed of all defilements it becomes "enlightened." These self-natures are also called the Three Non-self-natures, since they lack fixed, independent, true, permanent identities and thus shouldn't be hypostatized. The first is unreal by definition; the third is intrinsically "empty" of self-nature, i.e., it is the very definition of non-self-nature; and the second (which finally is the only "real" one) is of unfixed nature since it can be "mixed" with either of the other two. Understanding the purified second nature is equivalent to understanding dependent origination (pratītya-samutpāda), which all schools of Buddhism accept as Buddhism's core doctrine and which tradition claims Buddha came to realize under the Bodhi Tree on the night of his enlightenment.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Jnana » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:17 pm

wtompepper wrote:No, as I am a Mahayana Buddhist I do not place any stock in concepts like "pratisaṃkhyānirodha or apratisaṃkhyānirodha." These are also concepts of an unconditioned state, not subject to impermanence and dependent arising, and so are also a kind of clinging to the idea of a permanent self.

Firstly, while the translation of asaṃskṛta as "the unconditioned" is fairly common, it's a rather poor translation that all too easily leads to reification. The term asaṃskṛta refers to a negation of conditioned factors, and the meaning is better conveyed by "not-conditioned." Secondly, for Sautrāntika commentators, and many mahāyānika commentators as well, an analytical cessation (pratisaṃkhyānirodha) is a non-implicative negation (prasajyapratiṣedha), i.e. a negation that doesn't imply the presence of some other entity, and therefore nirvāṇa simply refers to a cessation that terminates the defilements and fetters that are abandoned by the correct practice of the noble path. It doesn't refer to an entity or state that is substantially existent (dravyasat).
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby conebeckham » Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:48 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I gather this is the difference between Yogacara and Madhyamaka..but weren't there later thinkers who said that there was no essential difference between the two positions?

Whether you put forth a concept of inherent Buddha nature, or claim it is more appropriate to believe in the inherent non-existence of Buddha nature..you engage in essentially the same sort of mental gymnastics either way, just choosing the opposite end of a dualistic view.. which ultimately cannot be a direct realization..right?


Sure, if one is talking about putting forth concepts, it's the same ultimately. But when we're talking about paths, and practice, those practices which we may say are more in line with Tathagatagarbha doctrine do not rely on analytic examination of an object.

Frankly, the end-point of practices which are based on analytic meditation should be transcend the conceptual "non-finding" of the object as well. Wisdom is nonconceptual, really. "Resting in Wisdom" is something more than just coming to a conclusion after intellectual rigor.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby tobes » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:27 am

Jnana wrote:
wtompepper wrote:As for passages in the Pali Canon, well, it's huge, and quite contradictory. I couldn't make any sweeping generalization about it.

Characterizing the Pāli canon as "quite contradictory" is itself a sweeping generalization, and I'd suggest it's an inaccurate one. The Pāli Nikāyas display a remarkably high degree of internal consistency.

wtompepper wrote:Are these two questions of importance at all in your position? For some schools they would be irrelevant, because the only evidence possible is scriptural authority--the word of Buddha--because we are not enlightened and cannot approach truth on our own, and because human suffering now is irrelevant since our suffering leads to permanent bliss in the afterlife.

I took a quick look around the Speculative Non-Buddhism site the other day and I noticed that you and some of your comrades have a bit of a penchant for drawing rather ridiculous caricatures of other Buddhist traditions. All this does is set up straw man arguments. I suspect that you can probably do better than that, given that this forum is frequented by a very diverse group of Buddhist practitioners and such caricatures can be seen as attempted insults.


Jnana is characteristically spot on.

I like the ethos and political trajectory of Speculative Non-Buddhism - but due diligence with respect to basic Buddhist philosophy (and indeed, sociology and anthropology) is never sufficient. Too many loose and unjustified claims are made - not only in relation to Buddhist thought, but also to Buddhist practice (in the west, and in other places).

That just weakens the whole project and approach.

If the Pali canon or Nagarjuna was read as closely and carefully as Althusser, very fruitful things could emerge.

But if the former are read through the interpretative lens of the latter, they become reduced to mere ideological tools for theoretical point scoring. Maybe that's the point?

I actually think there is potentially more at stake - but this requires a little more scholarly effort.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby wtompepper » Thu Nov 15, 2012 2:20 am

So, Tobes, is this the more properly Buddhist and intellectually rigorous response: make cowardly vague disparaging remarks to discourage people from taking anything more than a "quick look" at something you cannot understand and are frightened of?

If you thought there was more at stake, and actually understood what we were saying, and where we were misunderstanding Buddhist thought, wouldn't the proper response be to point out such errors, in the hope of preventing more people from falling into delusion?

Maybe if you took more than a "quick look" you might find out we know a little bit about Buddhist thought.

Aside from that, how do you see your vague attempt to disparage something you don't understand to contribute to this particular discussion? Even if everything ever written on speculative Buddhism were correctly characterized by jhana, with his uncanny capacity to be "spot on" about things he admits he hasn't read, well, would that have anything at all to do with the question of atman being discussed here? Or is it an attempt at a kind of guilt-by-association argument: this guy said some (unspecified) wrong things somewhere else, so that is proof that buddhanature is not a subtle reintroduction of atman!

If you have the capacity for more "scholarly effort," then why not do it? Why not post something on Speculative Non-Buddhism pointing out our misunderstandings?
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Thus-gone » Thu Nov 15, 2012 4:08 am

Thich Nhat Hanh's use of the phrase "true self" or words like "permanent" or "eternal" is nothing new, and has precedent in the Zen tradition. A lot of Buddhists who are well-read in the scriptures and commentaries find this disturbingly similar to Vedanta. The problem is that, in Zen, we do not consider Buddhism a philosophical system but an experience, and, furthermore, regard all scriptures and commentaries as expedient means rather than as a body of definitive or normative doctrine. While Buddhists whose practice is primarily based on scriptural exegesis tend to emphasise the philosophical differences between Buddhism and other traditions, those whose practice is experience-oriented tend to accentuate the shared qualities of realisation. Thus, we use whatever language or idea suits the occasion.

I personally find the mad dash to reify the differences between Buddhism and other traditions ridiculous and comical. You have people of the same species (human) doing the exact same thing (sitting in meditation) using the exact same techniques (breath work, energy work, visualisation, inquiry, open awareness) and coming to remarkably similar experiences (liberation, unconditional happiness, freedom from suffering, spontaneous compassion, death of the ego) - and yet, because of our petty tribal mentality, we still have to put barriers between our "superior" culture/tradition and that of the barbarians, and all on the basis of language instead of actual experience. What baffles me is how otherwise intelligent people don't see the blinding animalistic stupidity this all is. Well, what else could expect from this species...
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby tobes » Thu Nov 15, 2012 4:38 am

wtompepper wrote:So, Tobes, is this the more properly Buddhist and intellectually rigorous response: make cowardly vague disparaging remarks to discourage people from taking anything more than a "quick look" at something you cannot understand and are frightened of?

If you thought there was more at stake, and actually understood what we were saying, and where we were misunderstanding Buddhist thought, wouldn't the proper response be to point out such errors, in the hope of preventing more people from falling into delusion?

Maybe if you took more than a "quick look" you might find out we know a little bit about Buddhist thought.

Aside from that, how do you see your vague attempt to disparage something you don't understand to contribute to this particular discussion? Even if everything ever written on speculative Buddhism were correctly characterized by jhana, with his uncanny capacity to be "spot on" about things he admits he hasn't read, well, would that have anything at all to do with the question of atman being discussed here? Or is it an attempt at a kind of guilt-by-association argument: this guy said some (unspecified) wrong things somewhere else, so that is proof that buddhanature is not a subtle reintroduction of atman!

If you have the capacity for more "scholarly effort," then why not do it? Why not post something on Speculative Non-Buddhism pointing out our misunderstandings?


To be frank, I have posted on your site before, and despite my grave scholarly limitations, I do have a stake in these kinds of discourses.

My honest opinion has been given; you're well within your rights to disagree - although I think you are unnecessarily dismissive.

It is not fear or cowardliness that prevents me from responding adequately - it is more that I would proceed on these kinds of questions in a very different way, and it would be extremely time consuming to attempt some kind of dialogical encounter.

So I would accept laziness. Fear, vagueness and cowardliness seem a tad presumptuous.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Sherlock » Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:22 am

I think wtompepper could afford to try coming off as less hostile in his posts however, I think it should be acknowledged that tathagatagarbha has historically been eternalistic and defined in many of the same terms as atman. In post-Indian Buddhism in Tibet and China, with the lack of Brahmanical rivals to debate with, there have been and still are Buddhists who subscribe to theories that are really difficult to differentiate from Advaita Vedanta. There has been some discussion in various threads here such as : Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Is Guruyoga based on Pantheism?, Buddhism and Eternalism. There's also a book called "How Buddhism acquired a Soul on the way to China" which goes into detail on the circumstances that created this in China. Whether or not having this view prevents one from reaching liberation is another matter.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby viniketa » Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:19 am

Sherlock wrote:I think it should be acknowledged that tathagatagarbha has historically been eternalistic and defined in many of the same terms as atman.


I see no problem with acknowledging that. It is problematic to re-define ātman such that "anything unconditioned" is equivalent to ātman.

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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:47 am

@ wtompepper

On page 2 you assert that the atman is unconditioned and that Nirvana is a temporary state. This is not Buddhism.

Yet, you then attack others for not being Buddhist and accuse them of Advaitism??? :shrug:
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PS As a moderator I wish to ask you to please tone down the agressive nature of your posts and refrain from ad hominem attacks.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby wtompepper » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:08 pm

Gregkarvanos: That Nirvana is a conditioned state, a relationship to the conventional and not transcendent, is Nagarjuna's position. I take him to be a Buddhist--if you don't see him as Buddhist, you might have a lot of work convincing people of that.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:10 pm

wtompepper wrote:Gregkarvanos: That Nirvana is a conditioned state, a relationship to the conventional and not transcendent, is Nagarjuna's position.

Source please.
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Re: Critical Buddhism and "full strength anatman"

Postby wtompepper » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:53 pm

Try reading the MMK, particularly the chapter where Nagarjuna discusses nirvana.

I would ask you to consider why you feel the need to ask me for sources, but never other commenter?
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