Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

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Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:04 am

"Although at present we rarely think in the same terms as the Samkhya philosophers, there has long been — and still is — a common tendency to create a "Buddhist" metaphysics in which the experience of emptiness, the Unconditioned, the Dharma-body, Buddha-nature, rigpa, etc., is said to function as the ground of being from which the "All" — the entirety of our sensory & mental experience — is said to spring and to which we return when we meditate. Some people think that these theories are the inventions of scholars without any direct meditative experience, but actually they have most often originated among meditators, who label (or in the words of the discourse, "perceive") a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, identify with it in a subtle way (as when we are told that "we are the knowing"), and then view that level of experience as the ground of being out of which all other experience comes."
http://www.dhammavinaya.com/sutta/mn/1.html

Is the above criticism justified or does it reflect an inability of Theravadins to understand how Mahayanists look at ultimate reality?
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:26 am

It is justified in many cases.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Anders » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:49 am

It's often justified, at least among students. It's ironic considering Nagarjuna probably provided the most thorough and compelling refutation of the metaphysical tendency and you'll be hard pressed to find a Mahayanist who doesn't think he is the bee's knees.

I think it is largely a case however, of students taking certain presentations more literally than they should. The teachers who present them often undermine these presentations themselves in one way or another. But significantly, this can perhaps be hard to pick up, if you are learning it from books. In that sense, I think it can be said that a fair few scholars are at fault in this regard as well, for wrongly interpreting what they read.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:24 pm

There's actually a whole movement called Critical Buddhism based on refuting what they call dhatu-vada where dhatu stands for an underlying absolute as the source and basis of all (like the dharmadhatu).

I wouldn't say it's just the less talented students who misunderstand certain teachings. In Zen the mind is regarded as the source of all, in Huayan it is the Dharmadhatu, in Mind Only it is the alayavijnana, etc. Vajrayana also has some similar concepts with Primordial Buddha and nature of mind.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:25 pm

If you read the Sutta there are a number of points about misapprehension that are repeated again and again, now there is something that Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu seems to overlook, a key point, when he makes the above quoted statement, here I will reproduce part of the Sutta for clarity:
"There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives ... as .... Perceiving ... as ..., he conceives [things] about ..., he conceives [things] in ..., he conceives [things] coming out of ..., he conceives ... as 'mine,' he delights in .... Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.
Tathagatagarbha, emptiness, rigpa and all the other "terms" that Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu lumps together as mistaken and a source of misapprehension do not fulfil one of the categories in particular: "he conceives ... as 'mine' " There is no 'mine' in Tathagatagarbha, rigpa or emptiness.
Then there are no [things] coming out of rigpa, emptiness or Tathagatagarbha, because we know that ultimately there are no [things] (phenomena). The problem arises when somebody who is misinformed or only partially informed about these terms misapprehends their significance and then projects non-existent qualities onto them. Tahagatagarbha is a classic case as most (uninformed) people project the concept/properties of soul or atman onto this quality. It is not the quality that is to blame but the misapprehension of the quality. It seems that the Sutta instead of being a refutation of Tathagatagarbha, rigpa or emptiness actual supports a true understanding of them.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Anders » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:38 pm

Astus wrote:I wouldn't say it's just the less talented students who misunderstand certain teachings. In Zen the mind is regarded as the source of all, in Huayan it is the Dharmadhatu, in Mind Only it is the alayavijnana, etc. Vajrayana also has some similar concepts with Primordial Buddha and nature of mind.


The key is whether they fundamentally hold to this though.

ie, in Zen "all things return to the one, yet do not even hold to the one." Madhymika is elegant in the sense that the structure of its own arguments quite logically undermines itself as being any kind of ultimate or fundamentally true position as well. Other methods of presentation may not have quite the same intellectual elegance, but the same pattern can be found.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:39 pm

Greg,

Surely there are further explanations about those terms that makes them fit for a middle way view. However, if we apply a strict criticism of them we find them refuted as skilful means only because they are apparently reificating concepts that objectify nirvana. The same could be said about Abhidhamma with its nibbana-dhamma/dhatu and they too say it is anatta. On the other hand it is similar to misunderstanding selflessness and emptiness as nihilism.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:43 pm

Anders Honore wrote:The key is whether they fundamentally hold to this though.

ie, in Zen "all things return to the one, yet do not even hold to the one." Madhymika is elegant in the sense that the structure of its own arguments quite logically undermines itself as being any kind of ultimate or fundamentally true position as well. Other methods of presentation may not have quite the same intellectual elegance, but the same pattern can be found.


True. However, Zen is not a unified teaching but a group of different teachings. Some teachers teach this, others teach that. And even when it is said that no nature is true nature it makes no difference when it comes to the concept that all phenomena are manifestations of buddha-mind and that original enlightenment is the true characteristic of mind.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Apr 20, 2011 1:54 pm

Astus wrote:Surely there are further explanations about those terms that makes them fit for a middle way view.
Of course, I whiped up that post in five-minutes, others have applied all the wisdom and knowledge they have accumulated over countless lifetimes to these points! :smile:
However, if we apply a strict criticism of them we find them refuted...
A strict criticism according to whose/what criteria? This can make a crucial difference.
...as skilful means only because they are apparently reificating concepts that objectify nirvana.
Please explain what you are trying to say here, it is not so clear to me and I don't want to post a reply based on (wrong) assumptions.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 2:13 pm

What I mean is that when ultimate reality is talked about as a thing, or more than that even as a living being, it is hardly different from any atmavadin or substantialist view. Buddha-nature/mind is described as original purity (never defiled in sentient beings), as original source (from what all arises and returns to), as the final subject (who experiences everything), as the true doer (what makes a body alive). These are views that appear as universal and personal bases of existence.

By strict criticism I meant analysis based on any classical Buddhist system (abhidharma, madhyamaka, yogacara).

"Long ago, before the split between samsara and nirvana occurred, within the basic spaciousness that is the natural state of everything, exactly as it was since the beginning, glorious Samantabhadra, the self-existing buddha of natural awareness, awakened to true enlightenment in the nature of equality - the very state within which both samsara and nirvana first arise and then again subside. This is why he is known as the primordial buddha, original protector, and as the universal forefather of all samsara and nirvana."
(Wellsprings of the Great Perfection, p. 13)
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Apr 20, 2011 6:23 pm

Astus wrote:These are views that appear as universal and personal bases of existence.
The answer lies in the question/statement.
"Long ago, before the split between samsara and nirvana occurred, within the basic spaciousness that is the natural state of everything, exactly as it was since the beginning, glorious Samantabhadra, the self-existing buddha of natural awareness, awakened to true enlightenment in the nature of equality - the very state within which both samsara and nirvana first arise and then again subside. This is why he is known as the primordial buddha, original protector, and as the universal forefather of all samsara and nirvana."
(Wellsprings of the Great Perfection, p. 13)
And this is a perfect example of why in the Vajrayana there is such an overwhelming emphasis on the role of the teacher and the importance of oral explanations. I imagine (know) that a teacher could easily spend a couple of hours analysing this text for you. Sifting through its levels of meaning (from the coarsest to the most subtle) so that you will finally understand EXACTLY what is meant rather than taking the appearance ( the coarse level) as the true (or only) meaning. That's the thing with esoteric/mystical traditions, they tend to be esoteric and mystical! :smile:
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:53 pm

Greg, don't misunderstand me, I'm not attacking tathagatagarbha teachings but actually subscribe to them as a follower of the Buddha-mind School (i.e. Zen). Nevertheless, the concepts of Buddha-mind, original purity, etc. are literally substantialist teachings. Here is something to ponder in that regard (Platform Sutra, ch. 8, tr. by John R. McRae):

[Xingchang] said, “Your disciple has been reading the Nirvana Sutra constantly, but I do not understand its doctrines of permanence and impermanence. I beg Your Reverence, in your compassion, to explain these for me briefly.”
The master said, “That which is impermanent is the buddha-nature. That which has permanence is all the good and evil dharmas and the mind of discrimination.”
[Xingchang] said, “What Your Reverence has said is quite different from the text of the sutra. ... The sutra teaches that the buddha-nature is permanent, but Your Reverence says it is impermanent. [The sutra says that] the good and evil dharmas and the mind of bodhi are all impermanent, but Your Reverence says they are permanent. This difference has made this student even more confused!”
The master said, “Do you understand? If the buddha-nature were permanent, then no matter what good and evil dharmas one explained, not a single person throughout the entire eon would generate bodhicitta. Therefore, I preach that it is impermanent. This is precisely the Way of true permanence preached by the Buddha. Furthermore, if all the dharmas were impermanent, then everything would have its own self-nature that would experience birth and death, and those true and permanent natures would not be omnipresent. Therefore, I preach that they are permanent, which is precisely the true doctrine of impermanence preached by the Buddha. Because ordinary people and heretics are attached to false permanence and those of the two vehicles consider permanence to be impermanence, together forming the eight confusions, the Buddha in the authoritative teaching of the Nirvana [Sutra] destroyed their prejudices and revealed his explanation of true permanence, the true bliss, the true self, and true purity. You are now relying on the words but going against the meaning. With an annihilationist impermanence and a deterministic permanence, you have misunderstood the Buddha’s last words.”


As for the mystical and esoteric, they might have some value in being cryptic, but I find that the case is rather that integrating a contradictory teaching requires only the right amount of explanation. Like, the sutra says one thing but actually it means another thing. This is creative exegesis.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Josef » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:06 pm

Astus wrote:Vajrayana also has some similar concepts with Primordial Buddha and nature of mind.

It would be more accurate to say that some Vajrayana students have similar concepts or misinterpretations.
Primordial Buddha's, buddha nature, etc. are symbolic and should in no way be interpreted as asserting an identity.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Josef » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:09 pm

Sherab wrote:
Is the above criticism justified or does it reflect an inability of Theravadins to understand how Mahayanists look at ultimate reality?


I think its a bit of both.
The criticism is certainly valid but in general the Theravadin critiques of the other yana's, in my opinion, are based more on an unwillingness to understand the other perspectives rather than their inability to do so.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:12 pm

Nangwa wrote:Primordial Buddha's, buddha nature, etc. are symbolic and should in no way be interpreted as asserting an identity.


Do you take the view that the doctrine of buddha-nature is provisional and a skilful means only similarly to those who follow the so called second turning? Still, there are others who think that tathagatagarbha is a definitive teaching, and those are not just students.
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Josef » Wed Apr 20, 2011 9:20 pm

Astus wrote:
Nangwa wrote:Primordial Buddha's, buddha nature, etc. are symbolic and should in no way be interpreted as asserting an identity.


Do you take the view that the doctrine of buddha-nature is provisional and a skilful means only...?


Not really. I actually think Buddha-nature is emptiness. That it is in no way an entity or phenomena at all. I admit that there are people who think it is.
If one really digs under the surface of what is being presented through Uttaratantra and Madhyamaka its pretty clear that so-called Buddha Nature has been misinterpreted and misrepresented more than just about any other Buddhist concept.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Wed Apr 20, 2011 10:31 pm

Nangwa wrote:Not really. I actually think Buddha-nature is emptiness. That it is in no way an entity or phenomena at all.


Have you heard that buddha-nature is also "not empty, but is endowed with numberless excellent qualities"? You might also be familiar with the Zhentong teachings where "naturally radiant self-cognizant pristine awareness that is not divided from the expanse is known as ultimate reality". Also from the Nyingmapas, "It is wrong to refer to the mere emptiness, which is nothing at all, as the ultimate truth. Thus, absolute reality is the pristine cognition of the non-dual nature of just what is. It is indicated by the words buddha-body of reality or essential buddha-body which genuinely transcends the phenomena of consciousness."(Dudjom Rinpoche: The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, p. 185)
"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: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby conebeckham » Wed Apr 20, 2011 10:38 pm

Nothing is "emptiness." Not even "emptiness." Emptiness is not a thing. It could be said that "Buddha Nature" is "empty," but to say that "all emptiness" is the same as "Buddha Nature" is not right. "The Emptiness" of a banana, for example, is not equal to "The Emptiness" of Buddha Nature. Emptiness does not exist apart from it's object...the two truths, Conventional/Relative and Absolute, are inseparably conjoined in this way.

If "Buddha Nature" were "emptiness," then why would it not just be called "emptiness?" If there are three turnings of the Wheel, then we must assume the teachings or main points of each wheel-turning are at least provisionally, or conventionally, different. There would be no sense in creating a new term, concept, metaphor, or whatever, called "Buddha Nature" as the term, concept, metaphor "emptiness" had already been introduced.

You can take the position that "Buddha Nature" is a provisional teaching, an expedient means for counteracting nihilism, as some do. You can also take the position that "Buddha Nature" is the expression of some Absolute Nature or Ultimate Reality, as some do. You can take the position of Mahamudra and Dzokchen, as well...explanations which are more concerned with the practicum of experience, and of the awareness called "Ordinary Mind," or of "Rigpa," which is "beyond Mind." Both "Emptiness" and "Buddha Nature" relate to these explanations, but they are not synonymous.

All of these positions, assertions, are just conventionalities in the end, however, as, in the final analysis, nothing can truly be said. Reality transcends our conceptuality, our reification, and our language.

Mahayana, and in my opinion, all Buddhism, tend toward metaphysics, as they must. This is because, try as they might, they are frameworks, apparatii (?), attempting to describe something which is beyond description, don't you think?
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Malcolm » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:11 pm

conebeckham wrote:
Mahayana, and in my opinion, all Buddhism, tend toward metaphysics, as they must.


I could not disagree more. Buddhism is graveyard of mysticism and of metaphysics.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Tom » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:14 pm

conebeckham wrote: Emptiness is not a thing.


How would you define "thing" in this context?
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