Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Josef » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:37 pm

Astus wrote:
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)


Yes. I am familiar with the various views.
I don't personally adhere to them.
I do however, find the Dudjom Rinpoche quote to be an effort at showing how what we refer to as emptiness is not nihilistic and not really all that problematic.
I don't really like Zhentong at all.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby conebeckham » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:51 pm

Namdrol Quoth:
could not disagree more. Buddhism is graveyard of mysticism and of metaphysics.


Namdrol, it depends on how you use the term "metaphysics." Agree with your regarding mysticism, though, again, one often sees the term "Buddhist mystic."

According to "Dictionary.Com":
met·a·phys·ics   /ˌmɛtəˈfɪzɪks/ Show Spelled
[met-uh-fiz-iks] Show IPA

–noun ( used with a singular verb )
1. the branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology.
2. philosophy, especially in its more abstruse branches.
3. the underlying theoretical principles of a subject or field of inquiry.


Buddhism certainly relates to all these definitions, though we may say that ultimately it denies them! Yes?

The way I see it, Buddhism is all about ultimately transcending metaphysics...but, along the way, it certainly makes skillful use of the principle. You disagree?
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby conebeckham » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:58 pm

Tom wrote:
conebeckham wrote: Emptiness is not a thing.


How would you define "thing" in this context?


A phenomena, in general....

The way it was originally used in this instance, "Buddha Nature=Emptiness," might imply a strict correspondence.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby conebeckham » Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:04 am

Slightly off-topic, I know, but here's a quote from 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje's Mahamudra Prayer:

It is not existent--even the Victorious Ones do not see it.
It is not nonexistent--it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana.
This is not a contradiction, but the middle path of unity.
May the ultimate nature of phenomena, limitless mind beyond extremes, he realised.

If one says, "This is it," there is nothing to show.
If one says, "This is not it," there is nothing to deny.
The true nature of phenomena,
which transcends conceptual understanding, is unconditioned.
May conviction he gained in the ultimate, perfect truth.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Anders » Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:08 am

I think Buddhism is tendentious towards metaphysics mainly because our minds are epistemologically wired towards ontology.

Buddhism is all about the death of 'ultimate realities', but it is not always entirely clear that it presupposed that our common sense reality is itself wholly imagined and thus, utterly metaphysical! Simply going to the baker for bread is an experience we lace with [metaphysical] assumptions of reality, namely existence and non-existence.

In that sense, Buddhism is very much an investigation into reality and an investigation into more refined experiences of such 'realities' culminating in the shedding of the notion altogether. But it is perhaps overreaching to suppose that in the course of that, we don't, knowingly or not, stray into metaphysics in various guises, nevermind the fact that delusion inevitably entails a bit of wobbling between extremes and the middle way through the course of practise.

In a formal sense, Buddhism has nothing to do with metaphysics of course. It basically relegates it to a subset of epistemology (a categorisation to which most good meta-physicists would argue "then it is, by definition, not metaphysics!") and a wholly misguided subset at that.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby conebeckham » Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:18 am

Agree with ^.

A college English professor said, at one time, "Everyone has a metaphysics, even if they don't know it...you can't step over a crack in a sidewalk without one!"

I am now not so sure he was correct, but it's an interesting thing to say, is it not?
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab » Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:15 am

I agree with gregkavarnos that
"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."

I also agree with Nangwa that
"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."

I also agree with conebeckham's
"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."

I think the words "metaphysics", "metaphysical", "ontology" and "ontological" have become taboo words to use in describing ultimate reality. That is a pity because when we talk about ultimate reality, we are indeed talking about metaphysics and ontology whether we like it or not.

As I see it, we can only describe things based on our conventional experiences. The Buddhist ultimate experience, by defintion, cannot be described via whatever languages of this conventional realm, but it does not mean that we cannot or should not use languages to point to that ultimate.

The reason why such metaphysics/ontology have become dirty words is that we have a tendency to think that the words used to point to the metaphysical or the ontological, points to something in the realm of the relative, or the realm of the unenlightened, or the realm of conventionalities. That's the mistake.

But that is not all. The so-called ultimate is also said in various terms to be not apart from the relative. For example, we are told that samsara, though not the same, is also not different from nirvana; that form is emptiness, and emptiness is form; all sentient beings possess buddhanature, and etc. This complicates matters and points to the difficulty of understanding what the Buddhist's ultimate is.

It seemed to me that people are so frightened of the words "metaphysics" and "ontological" that they seemed to end up hiding behind thoughts like "the Buddha's teachings were solely soteriological" and utterly afraid to open up their minds to other possibilities.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Tom » Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:42 am

When we talk about the intricacies of svabhava etc. are we not discussing metaphysics? and when we talk about the ignorance that leads to suffering are we not discussing epistemology? If the Buddhist description of the problem of suffering and its cause is so involved with metaphysics and epistemology how is it that its solution avoids it? I am open to answers.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:53 am

conebeckham wrote: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.


Emptiness is generally equated to dependent origination. That which is dependently originated (pratītyasamutpāda) is empty (śūnyatā). Buddha-nature, being the capacity for buddhahood, is dependently originated meaning it occurs due to causes and conditions. Bananas likewise are dependently-originated upon causes and conditions. Both buddha-nature and bananas share the quality of being empty of inherent-nature (svabhava).

There is in Chinese a certain translation by Paramārtha called the Buddha Nature Treatise (Fóxìng lùn 佛性論). The Sanskrit title would probably have been Buddhadhātu-śāstra, but unfortunately it is not extant.

The key assertion of the text is that all sentient beings without exception "possess" buddha-nature and therefore have the capacity for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi which means that any teaching concerning icchantikas being forever unable to free themselves from saṃsāra is merely provisional.

The text actually does equate buddha-nature with emptiness and tathatā. Consider the following:

三為離虛妄執者。若人有此慢心。則於如理如量。正智不得生顯故起虛妄。虛妄者。是眾生過失。過失有二。一本無。二是客。一本無者。如如理中。本無人我。作人我執。此執無本。由無本執故。起無明等。由無明起業。由業起果報。如此三種。無實根本。所執是無故知能執皆成虛妄故。由於此執所起無明諸業果報。並是虛妄故。無受者作者。而於中執有是虛妄。故言本無。二是客者。有為諸法皆念念滅無停住義。則能罵所罵二無所有。但初剎那為舊。次剎那為客。能罵所罵起而即謝。是則初剎那是怨。次則非怨。以於客中、作於舊執、此執不實、故名虛妄。若起此執。正智不生。為除此執故說佛性。佛性者。即是人法二空所顯真如。由真如故。無能罵所罵。通達此理。離虛妄執。

III. Making [beings] free from delusional attachments. There may be a person who has this arrogant mind and then right wisdom, both innate and experiential, cannot manifest and so there arises delusions. These delusions are the errors of beings. There are two errors. The first is reification. The second is transience. “Reification” is where while within the principle of suchness (tathatā) there is fundamentally no self-identity, there is a delusional attachment to a self-identity. This delusional attachment is without a base. As this is a baseless delusional attachment, there arises ignorance (avidyā) and so on. Due to ignorance there arises karma. Due to karma there arises retribution (vipāka). Like this these three types are without a real faculty base. What one is attached to is non-existent and thus it is known attachments all are delusions. Due to these attachments and the arisen ignorance, karma and retribution together being delusions, there is no receiver and no doer, but therein there is the attachment and one has these delusions. Therefore we call this reification (lit. “without base”). “Transient” has the meaning that because dharmas all moment-to-moment extinguish they are without static abiding and so ridiculing and the ridiculed both do not exist. Just as the first moment (kṣaṇa) becomes the former past, the following becomes the present. Ridiculing and the ridiculed arise and then disappear. Thus in the first moment there is one's object of animosity and in the next they are not one's object of animosity. In the present this attachment, created by the former past attachment, is not real and thus it is called delusional. If one arouses this attachment, true wisdom will not be produced. In order to remove this attachment buddha-nature is explained. Buddha-nature is the suchness (tathatā) revealed through the two emptinesses of person and phenomenon. Due to suchness there is no ridiculing or ridiculed. Penetrating this principle one is free from delusional attachments.


The key statement here is, "Buddha-nature is the suchness (tathatā) revealed through the two emptinesses of person and phenomenon." Buddha-nature can be said to be the capacity for realization and attainment of Buddhahood. This capacity, dependent upon causes and conditions ergo empty, is essentially only possible by virtue of tathatā. To say a certain sentient being is without buddha-nature is the same as asserting that this sentient being has the inherit nature of being an unenlightened worldly being. However, we know this is not the case because inherent and fixed ontological natures are untenable.

Consider this further:

難曰。若汝謂我立無根眾生。有二過失者。汝立犯重一闡提人無有佛性。永不得涅槃。亦有二失。一者泰過過失。眾生本以我見無明為凡夫法。尋此無明。由違人空故起。既起無明故有業報。若不違人空。則無無明業報。既無無明業報等三輪。若爾應是聖人作於凡夫。若謂眾生無佛性者。但聖為凡。無凡得聖。此成泰過。二者不及過失。若汝謂有眾生無佛性者。既無空性。則無無明。若無無明。則無業報。既無業報。眾生豈有。故成不及。而汝謂有眾生無佛性者。是義不然。何以故。汝既不信有無根眾生。那忽信有無性眾生。以二失同故。

Criticism – If you think I am establishing [the existence] of sentient beings without faculties then you have two errors. You establish that having violated a heavy [prohibition] the icchantika has no buddha-nature and eternally will not attain nirvāṇa. Again there are two errors. The first is the error of exaggeration (atriprasaṅga). Sentient beings take self-view and ignorance (avidyā) as their worldly dharmas. Investigating this ignorance it arises due to mistaking the emptiness of the person. Having given rise to this ignorance, thus there is karma-retribution (karma-vipāka). If one did not mistake the emptiness of the person, there would then be no ignorance and no karma-retribution – as there would be no three wheels of ignorance, karma and retribution. If this is so then it should be that the holy men (ārya) are made from the worldly ones. If you think that sentient beings have no buddha-nature, then the holy are just only worldly beings and no worldly being could attain holiness. This would constitute the error of exaggeration. The second is the error of unattainability (aprāpya). If you think that there are sentient beings without buddha-nature, then as there would be no emptiness-nature [because buddha-nature is emptiness] and therefore no ignorance. If there is no ignorance, then there would be no karma and retribution – as there would be no karma and retribution, how could sentient beings exist? Thus this constitutes unattainability. However, your thinking that there are sentient beings without buddha-nature: this point is not so. Why? As you do not believe that there are beings without faculties, how could you foolishly believe that there are beings without buddha-nature as these two errors are the same.


The assertion here is that sentient beings only arise by virtue of they themselves being dependently originated. That which is dependently originated is empty. Tathatā. Buddha-nature, equated to tathatā, if utterly non-existent, would mean that sentient beings could not exist in the first place. It would further mean that sentient beings would be unable to ever at all achieve Buddhahood. However, we know neither of these to be the case. There are sentient beings and some do achieve Buddhahood.


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.


The concept of buddha-nature is basically soteriological in function.

It has to be framed in the context of the debate concerning icchantika or those who are said to forever be unable to attain liberation of any kind including arhatship.

問曰。若爾云何佛說眾生不住於性。永無般涅槃耶。

Question – if so why did the Buddha teach that [some] sentient beings do not abide in [buddha-]nature and forever are without parinirvāṇa?

答曰。若憎背大乘者。此法是一闡提因。為令眾生捨此法故。若隨一闡提因。於長時中。輪轉不滅。以是義故。經作是說。若依道理。一切眾生。皆悉本有清淨佛性。若永不得般涅槃者。無有是處。是故佛性決定本有。

Answer – If one has contempt for the Mahāyāna, this way is the cause for being an icchantika. It was in order to have sentient beings abandon this way. If one falls into the causes for being an icchantika, for a long time cyclic existence does not cease. It is because of this idea that the sūtra has this teaching. If you rely on the principle, all sentient beings entirely and fundamentally have pure buddha-nature. If [you suggest] that forever one does not attain parinirvāṇa, there is not the basis for it. For this reason buddha-nature is decidedly fundamentally present.


Basically, the idea of buddha-nature is a provisional metaphysical idea employed to demonstrate that all sentient beings have the capacity for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

It really is just a means to an end, but a necessary one considering that some thinkers in previous ages actively asserted that icchantikas really are forever doomed to eternal suffering in saṃsāra. To counter this one has to demonstrate that all sentient beings "have buddha-nature" which equates to them having the capacity, by virtue of emptiness, the dependently-originated process leading to anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. This process can generally be divided into three types as outlined in the following diagram:

Image

These are specifically defined as the causal processes which may be fostered to produce buddhahood or attainment of the dharmakāya. As you can see the processes are dependent on causes which means they are dependently originated. When we say that all sentient beings have buddha-nature, we mean that all sentient beings have the capacity to initiate the aforementioned causes which lead to the attainment of the dharmakāya.


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?


First one must build the raft and then safely cross the river of birth and death to the other side. Any and all metaphysical ideas within Buddhism must be held as provisional and as means to an end.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab » Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:19 am

Tom wrote:When we talk about the intricacies of svabhava etc. are we not discussing metaphysics? and when we talk about the ignorance that leads to suffering are we not discussing epistemology? If the Buddhist description of the problem of suffering and its cause is so involved with metaphysics and epistemology how is it that its solution avoids it? I am open to answers.

As far as I am concerned, it don't.

To me, it is unavoidable if one is aiming at full enlightenment since it is the view that provides the orientation of one's practice. However, if one is merely aiming to be liberated from the cycle of existence, one does not need to work on a precise view on the nature of the ultimate.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Tom » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:00 am

Sherab wrote:
Tom wrote:When we talk about the intricacies of svabhava etc. are we not discussing metaphysics? and when we talk about the ignorance that leads to suffering are we not discussing epistemology? If the Buddhist description of the problem of suffering and its cause is so involved with metaphysics and epistemology how is it that its solution avoids it? I am open to answers.

As far as I am concerned, it don't.


I can't see how it would either, however I thought maybe some perspectives (maybe non-gradual) might shed some light on the topic ...
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Heruka » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:42 am

if one has the inside baseball, all these ideas melt away like snow flakes on an ocean.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Malcolm » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:43 am

Tom wrote:When we talk about the intricacies of svabhava etc. are we not discussing metaphysics? and when we talk about the ignorance that leads to suffering are we not discussing epistemology? If the Buddhist description of the problem of suffering and its cause is so involved with metaphysics and epistemology how is it that its solution avoids it? I am open to answers.


Buddhism is about knowing your state as a sentient being, doing something about it, and freeing oneself. No svabhāvas need apply.
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Tom » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:56 am

Namdrol wrote:
Tom wrote:
...your state as a sentient being...


A metaphysical topic, no? Are you suggesting a more phenomenological perspective?

When we talk of the base being the two truths are we not doing metaphysics?
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Heruka » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:59 am

Tom wrote:When we talk of the base being the two truths are we not doing metaphysics?


how can a truth be two things? :shrug:
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Tom » Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:46 am

Heruka wrote:
Tom wrote:When we talk of the base being the two truths are we not doing metaphysics?


how can a truth be two things? :shrug:


Who said anything about one truth being two things. I said two truths. Anyways I digress... whilst probably missing your point :smile:
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Apr 21, 2011 7:48 am

Astus wrote: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)
Dear Astus,
First of all I am not misunderstanding you and you have every right to "question" the concept of tathagatagarbha (or any other concept) so don't sweat!
My answer would be a lot along the (party) line of what Cone posted here viewtopic.php?f=66&t=3875&start=20#p35953 I think this quote is VERY relevant. The only thing I would add regarding the Platfrom Sutra quote (and I have immense respect for the Patriarch Huineng and his teachings) is that I believe (or surmise) that it was an expedient teaching aimed at trying to overcome the reification of concepts like the tahagatagarbha that were occuring during the specific historical period of the teaching. An attempt to stir (intelligent) debate. That's my take anyway.

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.
Well it looks like you answered your question to me before I got a chance to answer. Only I think it does say one thing and mean that thing. That is the "problem"with the middle way, it attempts to move us beyond dualistic theorisation. I say problem because we are so caught up in dualism that middle way theory looks like a philosphical juggling act, or better still a card trick, when really it is merely another way of viewing.
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One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Astus » Thu Apr 21, 2011 10:12 am

Huseng,

I don't see how the presented interpretation of buddha-nature as only a capacity and a skilful teaching against icchantika views takes into account that tathagatagarbha is said to be inherently complete with the buddha qualities and such and from that view came all the teachings about the possibility of sudden realisation of buddhahood. But it is not just the buddha-nature teaching that has this metaphysical-ontological scent but the emptiness teachings too fall into it when everything is reduced to emptiness, dependent origination, conceptual proliferation, illusion. In fact the no-substance becomes the sole substance it keeps putting on everything or putting everything in it. We could also say that emptiness is the atheist position within metaphysics (against monists/monotheists and pluralists/polítheists) that is the position of "not one, not many".
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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby tobes » Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:55 am

conebeckham wrote: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?



Beautifully put.

The Buddha clearly made claims about reality. All the various Buddhisms make claims about reality, even if they are skeptical claims, or claims which do not have conceptual efficacy.

Any kind of claim about reality, even that it is unknowable, or indescribable, or must be found phenomenologically, is a metaphysical claim.

Nothing wrong with making metaphysical claims, except when people make them and claim that they are not making them.

It's a bit like ideology: something "the other side" suffers from, but never you.

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Re: Metaphysical tendency in Mahayanists

Postby Malcolm » Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:42 pm

Tom wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
Tom wrote:
...your state as a sentient being...


A metaphysical topic, no? Are you suggesting a more phenomenological perspective?

When we talk of the base being the two truths are we not doing metaphysics?


Nope, we are talking about the difference between undeluded and deluded cognitions. That's all.
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