Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

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Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby jeeprs » Fri Jun 28, 2013 12:48 am

I have just noticed a really interesting title on Amazon - Absorption - Human Nature and Buddhist Liberation by Johannes Bronkhurst.

This book argues for the central role played by absorption in the functioning of the human mind. The importance of absorption makes itself felt in different ways; the two studies combined in this book concentrate on two of them. The first study, The Symbolic Mind, argues that, largely as a result of language acquisition, humans have two levels of cognition, which in normal circumstances are simultaneously active. Absorption is a (or the) means to circumvent some, perhaps all, of the associations that characterize one of these two levels of cognition, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as mystical experience, but which is not confined to mysticism and plays a role in various "religious" phenomena, and elsewhere. In the second study, The Psychology of the Buddha, Prof. Bronkhorst provides a theoretical context for the observation that absorption is a source of pleasure, grapples with Freud, and illustrates his observations through translations of ancient Buddhist texts from the Pali and Sanskrit languages along with his psychological commentary.


Through debating on Internet forums, I have formed the view that modern culture has become so enmeshed in the 'symbolic/representational' mode of being, that it appears as the only reality for us. This is vastly amplified by computers and the internet. We only think in terms of symbols and in terms of the way that the mind represents reality. But in doing that, we overlook the fact that this 'representation' is also a 'construction' (vikalpa). We become convinced that this representational mode is reality itself, instead of it being a constructive mental activity.

Through meditation you learn to open up to the non-representational 'felt' mode of being characterized by empathy and relatedness. This is the import of the Zen teaching of 'direct pointing'. But if we try and understand this non-representatonal mode, we will usually do it verbally and symbolically, which undermines the very point.

I have had many debates on Internet forums about 'idealism', but really what they're about is this very topic - the way the mind 'constructs' reality. I think that yogacara and Zen both understand and communicate this very clearly, but if you haven't had that 'aha!' moment where you really see for yourself how the mind is doing that, it is impossible to understand.

Anyway I wonder if anyone has read this Bronkhurst book? It is sitting in my Amazon cart (along with Norman Fischer's Zen Training on Lojong) - I'm about to go 'click'.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby lobster » Sat Jun 29, 2013 12:04 pm

jeeprs wrote:I'm about to go 'click'.


Aren't we all . .

:popcorn:

Books and language as well as the more overtly symbolic are all maps or pointers, not the reality itself. Most of my present reading is from this seductive media of the Internet. However the real reading, the real book, as you mention is our own self . . .
Let us know how you get on :twothumbsup:
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby jeeprs » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:35 pm

I did get hold of the Bronkhurst text in electronic form ( :thanks:) Still going through it. Bronkhurst has an interesting cross-disciplinary perspective. The first section on 'the symbolic mind' was pretty straightforward, the second rather more technical, but overall it's a worthwhile read.

That distinction between 'the map and the territory' was one of the ideas that stuck with me after reading The Tao of Physics all those years ago.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby Ramon1920 » Sun Jun 30, 2013 7:13 am

Jeepers, Western academia is known for terrible blunders when it comes to properly explaining Buddhism.

It's pathetic that this tradition of trying to recompile Buddhism into some other philosophical/psychological system is continuing.

It's like trying to explain apples in terms of oranges; just a waste of paper.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby jeeprs » Sun Jun 30, 2013 7:18 am

well, as it happens, I have just finished a two-year degree in Buddhist Studies, so I would rather hope that it is not all a trackless waste.

And I don't think it is. I think there are some valuable perspectives from 'Buddhist Studies' even if they are quite different from 'traditional practitioners'. I hope to try and incorporate elements of both.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby Ramon1920 » Sun Jun 30, 2013 7:52 am

Jeepers, my information about the state of Western education is rapidly becoming outdated. There was a time when I spent many hours forcing professors to change their curriculum with discrimination charges and many letters to other universities.

The time spent correcting ill informed instructors has left me with a prejudice. As time wears on I'm sure that prejudice will become unwarranted. Until then I'll keep using my experience to pull weeds and throw monkey wrenches where I can.

I hope your 2 year degree doesn't inspire you to write a book about Buddhism. The world has already been inundated with books like that.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby jeeprs » Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:21 am

well if I do, I'll be sure not to invite you to the launch :smile:
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby lobster » Sun Jun 30, 2013 10:14 am

If writing a book, thickness and squidgieness are important, too many books are too thin to sit on without companions. I am glad some are still studying and considering these issues . . . :thumbsup:
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby nyx » Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:12 pm

jeeprs wrote:... the second rather more technical, but overall it's a worthwhile read.


Hi, I read the thing couple of times - very interesting presentation, specially for those who, like me, were initially inspired by Bronkhorst's previous book The Two Traditions, with it's central claim regarding the paramount importance of pleasure states in buddhist meditation. Would you care to say what did you exactly mean by "more technical" above? Thanks.
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Re: Representational and Symbolic Modes of Being

Postby jeeprs » Wed Aug 28, 2013 1:26 pm

I think I meant 'rather more difficult reading than the first section' - although I am travelling at the moment and away from the computer on which my copy is filed, so I can't recall exactly what prompted that comment at the time. I am intending to re-read it when I get home, but that will be in a few weeks.
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