Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities?

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Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities?

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:52 pm

There are many arguments for rebirth, some of the empirical ones are convincing but don't offer a whole lot in the way of explanation. Alexander Berzin had an interesting approach.

In short:

1. The mind is experiential activity (i.e. mind-ing).
2. Active things are functional phenomena.
3. All functional phenomena come from their own continuities.
4. Therefore the mind must come from its own continuity and not from other phenomenal continuities.

On the surface that makes sense. And it would make rebirth necessary. The problem of mind-body interaction doesn't seem to be an issue in the traditional Buddhist approach because of determinism - while two continuities may give rise to successive functional phenomena within their own continuities, they may also still be dependent upon each other to exist, i.e. the descent into the womb requiring: 1. union, 2. fertility, 3. being about to be reborn.

What kind of problems can you find with this view? Is it convincing?

I hope that was more than enough food for thought to generate some discussion. I provided Berzin's passage below.

The English word mind does not have the same meaning as do the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms that it is supposed to translate. In the original languages, "mind" refers to mental activity or mental events, rather than to something that is doing that activity. The activity or event is the cognitive arising of certain things - thoughts, sights, sounds, emotions, feelings and so on - and a cognitive involvement with them - seeing them, hearing them, understanding them, and even not understanding them. These two characteristic features of mind are usually translated as "clarity" and "awareness," but those English words are also misleading.

...

Looking with sheer logic, we see that functional phenomena all come from their own continuities, from previous moments of something in the same category of phenomenon. For example, a physical phenomenon, be it matter or energy, comes from the previous moment of that matter or energy. It is a continuum.

Take anger as an example. We can talk of the physical energy we feel when we are angry, that is one thing. However, consider the mental activity of experiencing anger - experiencing the arising of the emotion and the conscious or unconscious awareness of it. An individual's experiencing of anger has its own prior moments of continuity within this lifetime, but where did it come from before that? Either it has to come from the parents, and there seems to be no mechanism to describe how that happens, or it has to come from a creator God. For some people, however, the logical inconsistencies in the explanation of how an omnipotent being creates present a problem. To avoid these problems, the alternative is that the first moment of anger in anyone's life comes from its own prior moment of continuity. The theory of rebirth explains just this.
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality. Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:14 am

Ben Yuan wrote:
(Quoting Benzin)
Looking with sheer logic, we see that functional phenomena all come from their own continuities, from previous moments of something in the same category of phenomenon. For example, a physical phenomenon, be it matter or energy, comes from the previous moment of that matter or energy. It is a continuum.

Take anger as an example. We can talk of the physical energy we feel when we are angry, that is one thing. However, consider the mental activity of experiencing anger - experiencing the arising of the emotion and the conscious or unconscious awareness of it. An individual's experiencing of anger has its own prior moments of continuity within this lifetime, but where did it come from before that? Either it has to come from the parents, and there seems to be no mechanism to describe how that happens, or it has to come from a creator God. For some people, however, the logical inconsistencies in the explanation of how an omnipotent being creates present a problem. To avoid these problems, the alternative is that the first moment of anger in anyone's life comes from its own prior moment of continuity. The theory of rebirth explains just this.
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality. Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.


I think Benzin is on the right track, but...
First, we have to be careful when we say "from their own continuities"
because this can be misinterpreted if one forgets about the basic premise, or context of sunyata ("emptiness").
"from continuities" has to indicate a result of a series of events,
but to say "their own" can be incorrectly interpreted as meaning that
what has resulted from a string of events has some intrinsic, possessive reality.

The idea of "same category of phenomenon" is not accurate, because "category" is an imputed characteristic.
For example, a watermelon results from rain, sunshine, soil, and a seed, and various environmental circumstances, and none of these are in a category with any of the others. Water is in the same category as fish, sunshine is in the same category as radiation, etc. We can't really say that watermelon arises from the conditions particular to a watermelon category. Likewise, we can't really say that thoughts arise from conditions particular to a thought category.

So, we have to be careful saying that mind is a continuation of activity, say, "in the mental category".

The example of anger provides a good case in point here. What is experienced as anger (I say is experienced, rather than "what we experience", because "self' can actually be taken out of this) is a chemical compound dosed out by the adrenal gland. In terms of molecular structure, it is nearly identical to what is experienced as fear. That experience includes a rise in body temperature, increase of perspiration, rapid heart beat, some other chemicals go into the brain which cause slight confusion, and so on. That is the experience. With fear, you also get hairs standing on edge, and goosebumps. If we try to find any separate 'anger' arising anywhere, we cannot find it. There may be some object that some sense of being angry is directed at, but the anger itself has no reality to it. It's like an optical illusion, except that it's what we call emotional. A very realistic emotional illusion. Samsara.

I don't know that you can have an experience of emotion and not be conscious of it.

So, yes, there have to be prior moments of mind, or awareness. It is accurate to say this. But, if what benzin is saying is that "anger' as a kind of emotion, exists categorically, and so this category must exist somehow beforehand (and thus rebirth is explained), I do not regard this as a logical explanation, because as I mentioned, categories are random things, imputed for convenience. And the actual feeling of anger, while experienced as real ("I really feel angry!!!") if you actually stop and analyze it, it in fact has no reality. If it has no reality, it cannot really be a continuation of a previous anger.

In his Seventeen Stanzas, Nagarjuna addresses this very topic, that awareness (and subsequently, the experience of mind) cannot suddenly occur from nothing, but must be part of a continuation process.

Benzin is correct in what he says about both the differentiation between Mind and what Buddhists would call (the ground of) awareness, and that mind is not something that experiences, but IS the experience. In other words, when you are tasting a lemon, "the mind" isn't something that is tasting. Mind arises AS the tasting of the lemon. Mind is the event, not the witness of the event.

"Awaremness" (and there really isn't a good word in English for this). The closest term in Sanskrit is Alaya. Chogyam Trungpa gave an example in the term Himalaya as in the Himalayan mountains. "him" means snow and "alaya" means the vast open context of that snow. The space. So, we can think of it as the space in which phenomena appear as the experience of the arising of mind.

So, suppose you are eating a lemon, and you experience tartness and react to that, puckering your mouth or squinting your eyes or whatever. The physiological response, the tastebuds and acidity and everything, that's just the phenomena. If there is no awareness, there is no arising of mind. Those events take place unnoticed. There is no witness. Of course, phenomena also have to include a mouth and a tongue and nerve endings and a brain. But without any of these occurring in the context of awareness (alaya), it's like food quietly digesting in your stomach. No mind arises. there is no consciousness of it (unless a digestive problem occurs).

And awareness itself has no defining characteristics. But if the conditions are right, if awareness and phenomena interact, the arising of mind is experienced (as thoughts, as anger, as flavor, etc.)

Awareness can be thought of as the space around, and between two trees. 3D depth. That space has no defining characteristics. it cannot be cut into two separate things. It is the context in which phenomena, the two trees, occur.

If there are any absolutes in Buddhism, awareness can be called that. The fact of the reality of the ground of awareness cannot be denied, and awareness cannot be divided or broken down into non-awareness parts. Awarenss is not made of components. If anyone asks, "Is there anything that Buddhism regards as ultimately real?" You can answer, "Yes, awareness. But don't confuse this term with the usual meaning of mental awareness of things".

Do functional phenomena come from their continuities?
Yes, but not from their own continuities,
and there are better explanations for rebirth.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 10, 2013 8:33 am

I think that this idea is basically from the Sarvastivadin idea of samanantara-pratyaya.

Oh, and "alaya" doesn't mean "awareness" at all.

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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Simon E. » Wed Apr 10, 2013 9:41 am

Too brief Venerable..please say more.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 4:58 am

An arising of a given phenomenal type (ie. a dharma) comes from a number of conditions. Of these, one condition is the immediately contiguous condition, which is the proceeding moment of a prior phenomena of the same type. Due to continuity it appears that they are the same phenomena, but they are different phenomena, just of the same type. "Own type" (sabhaga), yes; not "own phenomena" (sva-dharma / svabhava).

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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 11, 2013 6:09 am

PadmaVonSamba, I grant most of what you say.
PadmaVonSamba: In other words, when you are tasting a lemon, "the mind" isn't something that is tasting. Mind arises AS the tasting of the lemon. Mind is the event, not the witness of the event.

Of course, but only inasmuch as ignorance is in play.
PadmaVonSamba: The physiological response, the tastebuds and acidity and everything, that's just the phenomena. If there is no awareness, there is no arising of mind. Those events take place unnoticed. There is no witness. Of course, phenomena also have to include a mouth and a tongue and nerve endings and a brain. But without any of these occurring in the context of awareness (alaya), it's like food quietly digesting in your stomach. No mind arises. there is no consciousness of it (unless a digestive problem occurs).

Yes, but if I am not mistaken, without a witness they are not phenomena, there is just suchness.
PadmaVonSamba: And awareness itself has no defining characteristics. But if the conditions are right, if awareness and phenomena interact, the arising of mind is experienced (as thoughts, as anger, as flavor, etc.)

Awareness can be thought of as the space around, and between two trees. 3D depth. That space has no defining characteristics. it cannot be cut into two separate things. It is the context in which phenomena, the two trees, occur.

If there are any absolutes in Buddhism, awareness can be called that. The fact of the reality of the ground of awareness cannot be denied, and awareness cannot be divided or broken down into non-awareness parts. Awarenss is not made of components. If anyone asks, "Is there anything that Buddhism regards as ultimately real?" You can answer, "Yes, awareness. But don't confuse this term with the usual meaning of mental awareness of things".

The point where you turn awareness into an absolute is a bit difficult and confusing for me - though I am aware it is done commonly in Tibetan Buddhism. As Huifeng says, there may be some difficulty with rendering whatever term you are rendering as awareness. I would be willing to grant everything you say if you replaced awareness with emptiness, suchness, dependent origination.
Huifeng: An arising of a given phenomenal type (ie. a dharma) comes from a number of conditions. Of these, one condition is the immediately contiguous condition, which is the proceeding moment of a prior phenomena of the same type. Due to continuity it appears that they are the same phenomena, but they are different phenomena, just of the same type. "Own type" (sabhaga)[svabhāga], yes; not "own phenomena" (sva-dharma / svabhava).

This of course is very clear and I agree this is closer to what Berzin was saying. But is it true?

1. The mind is experiential activity.
2. Active things are functional types.
3. All functional types come from their own continuities.
4. Therefore the mind must come from its own type continuity and not from other type's continuities.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:15 am

Is it true?

All I was trying to say was that if one accepts the basic pratyaya theory of the Sarvastivada and related systems (which most of classical Indian Buddhism would) then at least it would be a valid argument. Of course, valid arguments don't always lead to true conclusions, on the purely logic vs truth level of things.

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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:16 am

Haha, what do you think venerable? Do you think the argument is sound?
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 11, 2013 10:32 am

Well, I actually think that it goes against a couple of teachings that we find in earlier sources than the Abhidharma. Sometimes a good example is in the case for arguments about what happens on entry into so called formless states (mind but no physical form) and also mindless states (physical form but no mind).

Eg. from the formless samapattis being reborn as a human: where does that body come from? If it requires a prior continuity of physical matter, where was that during the life as a formless god?
Or, eg. one enters a mindless state (asamjni) and then comes back into a regular mental state: where does that mental state come from? If it requires a prior continuity of mind, where was that mind during the mindless state?

Now, there were a number of arguments for all of these, different explanations. The Sarvastivadins had a simple one, that the physical form or mind still exist in the past, and can thus act as continuities still. But in general others didn't accept this, considering that so called past things do not "exist in the past" but "existED", hence can have no causal functionality.

The Sautrantika bija theory was better in my mind, but they still basically moved past existence into a different form of potential existence. Ie. they would argue that the potentialities of mind as seeds still exist in an insentient body; and vice versa for formless states. All these potentialities continue in the present, with them linking together as same type continuities of themselves (so to speak, as I explained earlier).

In a sense, it all boils down to what I consider Buddhists' toughest issue to explain since day one: How does one explain causality and continuity when one rejects any sort of permanent or ongoing entity? Not as easy to explain as it sounds. The answer being dependent origination, also known as the middle way.

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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Zhen Li » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:17 pm

Yes, of course it all comes back to dependent origination and the incessant impulses of formations and mental constructions, saṃskāras, driving forward existence. Is the notion of Abhisaṃskāravijñāna, as both constructing and being the screen upon which formations and lives are projected, an Abhidharmic concept? Or is it found in the Suttanikaya/sutragama as well?

There's also this notion of "descent" in the Sutras: the first moment of consciousness when it is about to join with the embryo.

But as far as making any sense out of it all, I'm still no further than I was at the beginning.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Simon E. » Fri Apr 12, 2013 11:29 am

Define 'sense' in this context ?
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Apr 12, 2013 12:20 pm

Huifeng wrote: In a sense, it all boils down to what I consider Buddhists' toughest issue to explain since day one: How does one explain causality and continuity when one rejects any sort of permanent or ongoing entity? Not as easy to explain as it sounds. The answer being dependent origination, also known as the middle way.

In the book, The Essence of The Heart Sutra, HH Dalai Lama discusses this, saying that it is precisely because there is no permanent or ongoing entity that causality and continuity is possible.

What we experience as continuity is like the appearance of some sort of continuous movement when a line of dominoes gets tipped over.

Each event in life sets off another, and because the causes of the first event are nearly identical to the causes of the second, and the second to the third, and so on, the result is nearly identical as well. But over time, you start to notice some change.
This is most evident simply by looking in a mirror.
If you were a department store mannequin, and thus composed of (relatively) non-changing matter, you would not undergo change.

But we can look at this in the same way that a scientific experiment can be replicated to produce similar results, because the causes of those results are pretty much the same. If the causes which produce the effect of "me" are replicated, another "me" which shares some of the same characteristics will result. And when we are talking about patterns of the mind, that's essentially what rebirth is.

As I mentioned before, things become problematic when we talk about phenomena coming from their own continuity, and this is a good example of why. It's not "me" having traits. Its ia an accumulation of traits that appear as some notion of "me".
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Zhen Li » Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:42 pm

No doubt the idea was meant conventionally. Ultimately, where no selves anywhere exist, there's no rebirth at all. But still even conventionally, when discussing dependent origination, it seems like it's unnecessary too.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby undefineable » Sat Apr 13, 2013 8:58 pm

Ben Yuan wrote:No doubt the idea was meant conventionally. Ultimately, where no selves anywhere exist, there's no rebirth at all. But still even conventionally, when discussing dependent origination, it seems like it's unnecessary too.

True, but if it can be demonstrated that all phenomena have other phenomena that fall into the same category (e.g. 'awareness'; 'spatially-oriented energy') as their immediate causes, then the onus falls on materialism to justify why minds should be an exception to this rule by effectively appearing from nowhere and disappearing back into nothing.

This is all a bit more complex than it might appear, since it dredges up old chestnuts of 'cartesian dualism', the distinction between objects and phenomenal processes, and so on :thinking:
"Removing the barrier between this and that is the only solution" {Chogyam Trungpa - "The Lion's Roar"}
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Zhen Li » Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:42 pm

I think one of the difficulties with viewing this as equivalent to a Cartesian Dualism issue is that it is very much experience oriented. Descartes, no matter how much he liked, was fooling himself half the time, and that comes back to a lack of understanding of causal-conditionality and perhaps some religious pre-suppositions. Not only must the mind depend upon the body and the physical world, but it also has set in motion processes that simply cannot stop with the dissolution of the body. Once the wheel is going, a little bit of friction isn't enough to stop this one.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Matt J » Sun Apr 14, 2013 12:38 am

Stephen Batchelor writes about a similar syllogism he learned in his Tibetan Madhyamaka training.

I can't help but but think of the litle Nagarjuna I know, and to paraphrase--- neither from itself, from another, from both, or neither does anything arise at all.

There is simply nowhere to draw the line. How do we split one continuity from another? For me, it seems that the whole universe is one continuity.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Apr 14, 2013 1:26 am

I believe that we are inclined to be mislead by the appearances of things, and I always like to use the example of a watermelon to illustrate this point.

Suppose you have a watermelon seed, and you plant it, water it, and it grows vine and produces a watermelon.
Normally, because of the way we have been taught to look at things, we think of the watermelon as primarily an outgrowth of that seed, the star of what is happening, and that the soil, water and sunlight are for the most part only supporting actors. We see the watermelon as a continuation of the seed.

In my house, we jokingly call watermelons "balls of rain" and when we buy one at the store, we joke that "this sure is a lot to pay for a gallon or two of rain water!" And the reason we joke like this is because in fact, a watermelon is about 99% rainwater.

But, we don't usually think of a watermelon as being a manifestation of rain, or of a storm cloud. We think of it as a continuation of the seed. But really, the seed is only a very tiny part of the picture. I once worked in a grocery store, and I made a sign that we posted by the watermelons. It said, "Every one of these watermelons used to be a cloud." And when you think about it, it's true. But the customers found it to be very confusing.

Of course, speaking about the seed, you can also say, "a tiny watermelon seed can turn a whole cloud red."

So, part of the problem might be in what we experience, but another part of it might just be about how we experience what we experience, the way we size up a situation.

If we are talking about some kind of consciousness thing that persists from one life to another,
we have to look at what is meant by "life", meaning exactly what supposedly starts and ends.

My understanding is that it isn't so much consciousness (cognitive awareness) or mind that upholds some continuation from one life to another, but the causes of that consciousness or mind, and that this is conditional, of course, on the type of living creature in which those causes play out.

So, if we use the watermelon as an analogy for the body, and, say, rain as a metaphor for mind, from the watermelon's point of view, it would wonder how in the world it could be reborn as a watermelon.

But is it actually the melon that is being reborn, or is it the rain? The same water is reborn over and over, as melon, as a cloud, as a swimming pool, as dog pee, according to conditions.

If we solidify some notion of the self, then naturally, we are going to wonder how that self takes rebirth, how karma created by this self bears fruit years later as another self. But this is all starting with an incorrect assumption, because we know from studying the teachings that nothing exists which can truly be called a self.

When the teachings suggest that like creates like or that results resemble their causes (phenomena arising as continuations of themselves) this doesn't mean that the phenomena has any true existence.

What appears as a single thing, we know, is really a collection of component parts, or to be more precise, temporary events. We can liken this to a marching band in a city parade. We hear a unified sound, and we can hear the echo of that sound bouncing off buildings even when the band is still blocks away, and the sound we hear, far away, is almost identical to the sound being produced a the source. That sound is a phenomena which "comes from its own continuity" even though the band is actually made up of component instruments.

You could also consider that the mind doesn't go anywhere at all,
but that it's these damned bodies that keep showing up and leaving.

:soapbox:
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby MalaBeads » Sun Apr 14, 2013 2:09 am

The OP was asking about explanations for rebirth which of course are very lacking. However, i came across something very interesting that may shed some light on the topic in a somewhat roundabout way. Not a scriptural explanation, more like a scientific hint.

I'm sorry i cannot provide the link, but I can direct you where to find it.

I listen to a podcast called Radio Lab. One of their shows is called "Speed" and towards the end they interviewed a Scandinavian woman scientist who has done some interesting experiments with light. Again, my apologies for not being able to explain her work but if you listen you may find some very interesting theses about how light itself can be imprinted and then transferred to another location entirely. I found the implications somewhat mind boggling in light of rebirth ideas.

Just a note: the first part of the broadcast is about the stock market and may not interest you at all. It is the interview towards the end with the woman scientist that is pertinent to this conversation. At least, i think it is.

If it helps, the date of the broadcast is February 5, 2013.
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby Son of Buddha » Sun Apr 14, 2013 10:34 pm

MalaBeads wrote:The OP was asking about explanations for rebirth which of course are very lacking. However, i came across something very interesting that may shed some light on the topic in a somewhat roundabout way. Not a scriptural explanation, more like a scientific hint.

I'm sorry i cannot provide the link, but I can direct you where to find it.

I listen to a podcast called Radio Lab. One of their shows is called "Speed" and towards the end they interviewed a Scandinavian woman scientist who has done some interesting experiments with light. Again, my apologies for not being able to explain her work but if you listen you may find some very interesting theses about how light itself can be imprinted and then transferred to another location entirely. I found the implications somewhat mind boggling in light of rebirth ideas.

Just a note: the first part of the broadcast is about the stock market and may not interest you at all. It is the interview towards the end with the woman scientist that is pertinent to this conversation. At least, i think it is.

If it helps, the date of the broadcast is February 5, 2013.


need more info can you track down a link possibly?
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Re: Do functional phenomena come from their own continuities

Postby MalaBeads » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:23 am

I Googled "Radio Lab" and the episode I referred to is there on the first page. Easy to find. "Speed" February 5, 2013.
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