Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Mon May 13, 2013 1:49 pm

Astus wrote:
rachmiel wrote:Which is Buddhism closer to?


Neither of that. Buddhism is not about giving clever answers to difficult ontological-epistemological questions. Madhyamaka is about understanding that suffering comes from the reification of concepts, from the ignorance of imagining things to have self-nature. To see that all appearances are without essence, to see them insubstantial and fabricated, is the liberating wisdom of emptiness, i.e. the end of conceptual proliferation.

1. So to find explorations of these kinds of questions -- What's out there, what's real? -- one must look to Western philosophy or science (or ...), not to Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy? When asked to participate in such an exploration, would a Buddhist practitioner or philosopher have nothing to say (except, perhaps, that such an exploration causes suffering, therefore is of no interest to Buddhists)?

2. Doesn't Buddhism reify -- perhaps subtly, but nevertheless -- its own ontological-epistemological laws/concepts, such as the Noble Truths, karma, co-dependent arising, etc.?
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Astus » Mon May 13, 2013 2:30 pm

Rachmiel,

1. It is possible to come up with different answers based on Buddhism. For the majority of Mahayana teachings, the answer is that there is nothing real outside, it is only the product of karma and ignorance, the conceptualisation of mind.

2. All teachings are only skilful means, they are not reified. So, when it is said that everything is mind made, the reason behind the teaching is to liberate beings from suffering. If it is used for something else, that is simply misunderstanding Buddhism.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Mon May 13, 2013 2:52 pm

Thanks, Astus. Will chew on ... :-)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Azidonis » Mon May 13, 2013 4:55 pm

Astus wrote:
rachmiel wrote:Which is Buddhism closer to?


Neither of that. Buddhism is not about giving clever answers to difficult ontological-epistemological questions. Madhyamaka is about understanding that suffering comes from the reification of concepts, from the ignorance of imagining things to have self-nature. To see that all appearances are without essence, to see them insubstantial and fabricated, is the liberating wisdom of emptiness, i.e. the end of conceptual proliferation.


Very well stated.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby jeeprs » Tue May 14, 2013 1:29 am

rachmiel wrote: 1. So to find explorations of these kinds of questions -- What's out there, what's real? -- one must look to Western philosophy or science (or ...), not to Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy? When asked to participate in such an exploration, would a Buddhist practitioner or philosopher have nothing to say (except, perhaps, that such an exploration causes suffering, therefore is of no interest to Buddhists)?



My take: what is 'out there' is indeed the phenomenal realm in all its unending variety and is the theatre of operations of the natural sciences. But the question of 'what is real' is actually subtly different to 'what is out there'. As soon as you start asking about the significance or meaning of what is 'out there' you are actually asking a different kind of question. You will notice that scientific analysis wishes to insist that the fundamental units of reality are objects or must be known objectively. But science has failed to identify anything which is ultimately real in an objective sense.

This is where we come to 'mind-made'. It is the mind that brings together all the disparate elements of things and interprets them in relation to other things, gives them significance and says 'this is what they mean'. That is the sense in which 'the world is mind made'. We impute reality to it continuously through the constructive activities of the mind. It is also the mind that is able to understand rational relations and devise theories about it.

Of course the objective sciences will reject such notions as 'mind-made', because they are seeking explanations in terms of objects. This breaks down at a certain point, but it is a point which philosophers understand, that scientists don't.

Schopenhauer wrote:Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this...can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time.


2. Doesn't Buddhism reify -- perhaps subtly, but nevertheless -- its own ontological-epistemological laws/concepts, such as the Noble Truths, karma, co-dependent arising, etc.?


Some Buddhists do, and it is natural to do that. But in my interpretation, this is the point of 'the parable of the raft', which explains the Buddhist teaching in terms of a raft of twigs and sticks and bits of debris that are flung together and used to 'cross the river', and then discarded 'on the further shore'. This attitude is one respect in which Buddhism differs from other religious traditions. Of course it is easy to loose sight of this principle, but I'm sure that was the point of that particular teaching when it was first given.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Tue May 14, 2013 2:13 am

jeeprs wrote:
rachmiel wrote: 1. So to find explorations of these kinds of questions -- What's out there, what's real? -- one must look to Western philosophy or science (or ...), not to Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy? When asked to participate in such an exploration, would a Buddhist practitioner or philosopher have nothing to say (except, perhaps, that such an exploration causes suffering, therefore is of no interest to Buddhists)?



My take: what is 'out there' is indeed the phenomenal realm in all its unending variety and is the theatre of operations of the natural sciences. But the question of 'what is real' is actually subtly different to 'what is out there'. As soon as you start asking about the significance or meaning of what is 'out there' you are actually asking a different kind of question. You will notice that scientific analysis wishes to insist that the fundamental units of reality are objects or must be known objectively. But science has failed to identify anything which is ultimately real in an objective sense.

This is where we come to 'mind-made'. It is the mind that brings together all the disparate elements of things and interprets them in relation to other things, gives them significance and says 'this is what they mean'. That is the sense in which 'the world is mind made'. We impute reality to it continuously through the constructive activities of the mind. It is also the mind that is able to understand rational relations and devise theories about it.

Of course the objective sciences will reject such notions as 'mind-made', because they are seeking explanations in terms of objects. This breaks down at a certain point, but it is a point which philosophers understand, that scientists don't.

Yeah, this makes good sense to me, and it's why I said/say that "mind co-creates reality." It's a collaborative process: Universe (non-mind-dependent reality) is filled with stuff; mind senses and interprets this stuff. Take away either element (universe or mind) and what we call "reality" disappears. I think science is moving (slowly) more and more towards this take.

Schopenhauer wrote:Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this...can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time.

The veil, yes. I know it well, as do we all (knowingly or not). :-)

2. Doesn't Buddhism reify -- perhaps subtly, but nevertheless -- its own ontological-epistemological laws/concepts, such as the Noble Truths, karma, co-dependent arising, etc.?

Some Buddhists do, and it is natural to do that. But in my interpretation, this is the point of 'the parable of the raft', which explains the Buddhist teaching in terms of a raft of twigs and sticks and bits of debris that are flung together and used to 'cross the river', and then discarded 'on the further shore'. This attitude is one respect in which Buddhism differs from other religious traditions. Of course it is easy to loose sight of this principle, but I'm sure that was the point of that particular teaching when it was first given.

It's important to remember, I think, that the raft parable is just that: a story. There is no raft, no river, no crossing, no near or far shore. The term karma is so loaded with meaning/gravitas for many (most?) Buddhist practitioners that it is, essentially, a reified concept. There is no karma. What keeps the illusion of karma going is misunderstanding. Once the veil is lifted -- really fully lifted -- karma is just another empty term like enlightenment or banana-nut ice cream. (Both of which sound pretty durn yummy to me, empty or not!) Right?

Thanks, jeeprs. :-)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby jeeprs » Tue May 14, 2013 2:25 am

I would be careful with statements about 'non-mind-dependent reality'. Have a look at The Mental Universe.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Tue May 14, 2013 2:44 am

I'm very careful when I talk about non-mind-dependent reality. (Which, of course, doesn't mean what I say is "right.")

"The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual." I don't see things quite that way.

Thanks for the link! :-)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby jeeprs » Tue May 14, 2013 3:11 am

Rachmiel wrote:It's important to remember, I think, that the raft parable is just that: a story. There is no raft, no river, no crossing, no near or far shore. The term karma is so loaded with meaning/gravitas for many (most?) Buddhist practitioners that it is, essentially, a reified concept. There is no karma.


Parables are more than stories. The reason I referred to the Raft parable is because it speaks to the point you made about how Buddhists 'reify' aspects of Dharma. The point of the raft parable is that 'the raft is for crossing over, not for clinging to'. Those words are in the original. So it is a warning against 'reifying' or clinging to Buddhism, right from the outset.

I am surprised by your statement about karma here. I suppose karma might be unreal from the viewpoint of the enlightened, in the sense that it no longer obtains to them, in the same way that gravity might be unreal to an immaterial intelligence. But it certainly is a reality of existence for us living beings, is it not?
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Tue May 14, 2013 4:01 am

Rachmiel wrote:It's important to remember, I think, that the raft parable is just that: a story. There is no raft, no river, no crossing, no near or far shore.

jeeprs wrote:Parables are more than stories.

Any thought or utterance is, for me, a story. It doesn't matter if it's a Grimm's fairy tale or a scripture. Some stories are more compelling than others, some perhaps point more towards the truth than others. But they're all just stories.

The term karma is so loaded with meaning/gravitas for many (most?) Buddhist practitioners that it is, essentially, a reified concept. There is no karma.

I am surprised by your statement about karma here. I suppose karma might be unreal from the viewpoint of the enlightened, in the sense that it no longer obtains to them, in the same way that gravity might be unreal to an immaterial intelligence. But it certainly is a reality of existence for us living beings, is it not?

For non-enlightened living beings, yes. But that doesn't mean it's finally real. Karma is, in essence, a figment of unenlightened delusion, a misunderstanding of what is, an artifact of the veil (of conditioned self). Right?
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby jeeprs » Tue May 14, 2013 6:51 am

I don't think so. Karma is as undeniable as gravity for any jiva. Deny it at your peril. (I once heard someone say "I used to believe that, until my karma ran over my dogma" :smile: ).
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Tue May 14, 2013 7:01 am

jeeprs wrote:I don't think so. Karma is as undeniable as gravity for any jiva. Deny it at your peril. (I once heard someone say "I used to believe that, until my karma ran over my dogma" :smile: ).

No worries. :-) Unenlightened being that I am, karma is still very real for me. But that doesn't prevent me from seeing that karma ultimately derives from maya.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Jnana » Tue May 14, 2013 7:36 am

rachmiel wrote:1. There exists stuff*. The universe is not a stuff-less dream or group hallucination. The mind co-creates what it calls "reality" with this existing stuff. You and I look to the right and agree that we see a tree. Our reality of perceiving that tree depends on: the sensory/interpretive abilities of our minds *and* the existence of some stuff (clump of atoms, waveforms, energy, etc.) that we interpret as "tree."

2. There exists no stuff. The universe is created and sustained 100% by mind. You and I look to the right and agree we see a tree. In reality, there is no you, no I, no right, no seeing, no agreeing, no tree, no stuff. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ... life is but a dream.

Which is Buddhism closer to?

To begin to understand Madhyamaka one needs to understand how mādhyamikas use the two truths. Conventionally there is both stuff and minds, but these can't withstand mādhyamika analysis, and are therefore merely conceptual designations that are not ultimately established (or as some prefer: not established). They have no self-nature (niḥsvabhāva). And in order to understand how to engage in mādhyamika analysis one needs to learn one or more of the five great reasonings:

1. the vajra sliver reasoning
2. the reasoning that negates the arising of existents and non-existents
3. the reasoning that negates arising from the four possibilities
4. the neither one nor many reasoning
5. the reasoning of dependent origination

Any one of these reasonings is enough, although it's useful to learn them all. One or more of them are taught in various mādhyamika texts, including the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. For an overview see Madhyamaka Reasonings by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. More detail on the five great reasonings and how to begin to integrate them with meditation practice can be found in texts such as The Center of the Sunlit Sky by Karl Brunnhölzl (a student of Ponlop Rinpoche). It's very much worth the time and energy to learn how to correctly engage in mādhyamika analysis.

rachmiel wrote:The term karma is so loaded with meaning/gravitas for many (most?) Buddhist practitioners that it is, essentially, a reified concept. There is no karma. What keeps the illusion of karma going is misunderstanding. Once the veil is lifted -- really fully lifted -- karma is just another empty term like enlightenment or banana-nut ice cream.

Again, in terms of the two truths: conventionally there is karma and rebirth and so on, which are ultimately empty.

rachmiel wrote:But that doesn't prevent me from seeing that karma ultimately derives from maya.

Karma doesn't derive from illusion.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby rachmiel » Tue May 14, 2013 11:50 am

Thanks for the links, Jnana. :-)

As for karma ultimately being or not being an illusion, my reasoning goes like this:

An enlightened being experiences no karma, because there is no (separate) self there to experience it.
The sense of being a separate self is an illusion.
When that illusion ends, through enlightenment, so does karma.

Yes? No? Maybe? None of the above? ;-)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Will » Tue May 14, 2013 4:19 pm

A great commentary is by Je Rinpoche, his Ocean of Reasoning. Here is a snip from it:

Candrakırti distinguishes between mere existence and essential existence.
If these are not distinguished, if things were to exist, they would exist
inherently; and if things were not to exist inherently, they would be completely
nonexistent. And so one could never overcome the two extremes of fabrication
and deprecation. As it says in the commentary to Catuhfisataka:
According to the reificationists, as long as things exist, they exist inherently.

[31] When things are devoid of inherent existence there is
no way they can exist at all, like the horn of an ass. Thus one cannot
escape this dilemma, and thus it would be difficult for their assertions
to be consistent. [dBu ma ya, 175b]

And so, through essencelessness one is freed from all extremes of existence;
only on this approach is it possible to posit essenceless causes and effects;
and thereby one is freed from all extremes of nonexistence. This is the
special feature of these two scholars’ (Buddhapalita’s and Candrakırti’s) explanation
of the master’s [Nagarjuna] intent. Therefore, distinguishing the two kinds of existence
and nonexistence is very important.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Astus » Tue May 14, 2013 4:54 pm

Just a side note: Tsongkhapa's madhyamaka is quite unique and differs from the others, usually (a lot) more complicated than madhyamaka is otherwise. As Jnana already did, I also recommend The Center of the Sunlit Sky as a thorough introduction. Other works by Brunnhölzl are also great.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Will » Tue May 14, 2013 5:23 pm

Astus wrote:Just a side note: Tsongkhapa's madhyamaka is quite unique and differs from the others, usually (a lot) more complicated than madhyamaka is otherwise. As Jnana already did, I also recommend The Center of the Sunlit Sky as a thorough introduction. Other works by Brunnhölzl are also great.


True, but on this point of karma being not non-existent, and merely or conventionally existent, he agrees with the rest.

For those who have the book, page 38 is where the snip in my previous post came from.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Jnana » Tue May 14, 2013 7:10 pm

rachmiel wrote:As for karma ultimately being or not being an illusion,

Karma has no self-nature (svabhāva), and is therefore illusion-like (or an illusion). But this doesn't mean that "karma ultimately derives from māyā." Māyā isn't the cause of karma.

rachmiel wrote:An enlightened being experiences no karma, because there is no (separate) self there to experience it.

Common people have no separate self either. The self is a conceptual designation. The basis of that designation is the aggregates, which are impermanent, and therefore not a self.

However, the minds of common people are afflicted by ignorance, craving, and clinging, which are afflictions (kleśa). From these afflictions, volitions and becoming originate, which are actions (karma). From these actions, suffering originates. This is succinctly explained in Nāgārjuna's Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayavyākhyāna:

    Of the twelve constituents, the first is ignorance, the eighth craving and the ninth clinging. Know these three to be afflictions. If it is asked, which are actions? (Then) the second and tenth are actions. The second is volitions and the tenth becoming. Know these two factors to be included in actions. And the remaining seven are sufferings. (Five) constituents are included in afflictions and actions. Know the seven which remain to be included in sufferings. Thus, consciousness, name and form, the six sense spheres, contact, feeling, birth and old age and death....

    From the three which are afflictions: ignorance, craving and clinging, two which are actions, volitions and becoming, originate. From the two (which are actions) seven originate. Thus (those seven) sufferings demonstrated above (that is: consciousness, name and form, the six sense spheres, contact, feeling, birth and old age and death). From these seven, in turn, the three originate which are afflictions. Thus again, from the three (which are) afflictions originate two (which are) actions. Thus the wheel of existence revolves again and again.

rachmiel wrote:The sense of being a separate self is an illusion.
When that illusion ends, through enlightenment, so does karma.

Yes. The Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayavyākhyāna:

    One who understands entities to be impermanent, full of suffering, empty, and insubstantial will not be deluded in regard to entities. Free from delusion, attachment will not originate; free from attachment, aversion will not originate; free from aversion, actions will not be performed; free from actions, clinging to entities will not originate; free from clinging to entities, becoming will not be engendered; free from becoming, rebirth will not occur; and free from rebirth suffering of the body and mind will not originate. Thus the erroneous views, the alternatives of permanence and annihilation etc., are dispelled.

The Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayavyākhyāna is translated in Part Two, Section Three of Causality and Emptiness: The Wisdom of Nagarjuna by Peter Della Santina. It's worth looking into.
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby Will » Tue May 14, 2013 8:50 pm

Another excellent, simpler (but not simple) commentary, much earlier than Je Rinpoche's 'Ocean', is the Ornament of Reason by Mabja Bodhisattva. Snow Lion published it some time back.

http://www.shambhala.com/the-ornament-of-reason.html
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Re: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: Questions and Comments

Postby jeeprs » Tue May 14, 2013 10:32 pm

Rachmiel wrote:An enlightened being experiences no karma, because there is no (separate) self there to experience it.
The sense of being a separate self is an illusion.
When that illusion ends, through enlightenment, so does karma.


This has been described as 'dying to the known'.

Candrakırti distinguishes between mere existence and essential existence.


I would parse 'Essential existence' as being, or as what is. 'What is' and 'things that exist' are not the same thing. 'What is', is the totality, not this or that existent. Reality is the totality, within which things exist.
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