Conceptuality in Buddhism

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Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sun Nov 27, 2011 4:48 pm

tobes wrote:
...how can you explain the fact that if a Buddha still speaks to sentient beings, she must apprehend the concepts which those sentient beings communicate?

Those concepts are necessarily conventional.

So, does it not follow, that a Buddha must be able to apprehend the conventional phenomena of ordinary speech?




First, I don't regard that as a fact. The rest of your statement depends upon me accepting that fact, but I don't.

The primary Mahayāna sutra metaphor for a Buddha is a wishfulfilling gem because a wishfulfilling automatically gem fulfills the wishes of sentient beings without concepts.

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Yontan » Mon Nov 28, 2011 2:13 am

The Buddha never taught a word. "Karuna" and "compassion" both have a very shallow meaning, of sharing the pain of another. Whether you like the term or not, "responsiveness" doesn't entail personhood nearly as strongly, and allows for the dharma to be simply the equal and opposite reaction to confusion. Buddha needs no convention - our own mind supplies plenty.
Tibetans use the term "truth" in regard to kundzob. Do the Sanskrit texts? The idea of a "false" truth is absurd, isn't it? Truths are in accord with reality, and nothing else is true. This can be hard for our mind, to avoid the leap to "nothing exists."
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:15 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:
...how can you explain the fact that if a Buddha still speaks to sentient beings, she must apprehend the concepts which those sentient beings communicate?

Those concepts are necessarily conventional.

So, does it not follow, that a Buddha must be able to apprehend the conventional phenomena of ordinary speech?




First, I don't regard that as a fact. The rest of your statement depends upon me accepting that fact, but I don't.

The primary Mahayāna sutra metaphor for a Buddha is a wishfulfilling gem because a wishfulfilling automatically gem fulfills the wishes of sentient beings without concepts.

N


It's a nice metaphor - but is it the case that we can only rely on metaphors to answer this question?

As I have said, I think there is quite a lot at stake here; I'm not convinced that I'm right (i.e. that a Buddha in dialogue must necessarily be engaged with the concepts of ordinary beings)......but so far I haven't heard a very plausible refutation.

What is your reasoning or explanation for why you do not accept that fact?

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:28 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:Notice how you're leaning on a tantric text to support your argument?

There is nothing in Nagarjuna, nor Chandrakirti which asserts vajra speech. The assumption clearly comes from elsewhere.




There are sutra statements to similar effect. Anyway, it merely proves the point, which, in essence, is that people hear what they want to hear regardless of who is speaking.

N


Right - but how can any sentence that is heard be devoid of concepts?

What you're really saying is that vajra speech emanates from the dharmakaya right (i.e. as the sambogakaya)? So it is ontologically distinct from ordinary speech.

I would accept the argument that sambogakaya contains a multiplicity of different communicative modes, many of which are not linguistic.

But when there is linguistic communication, that involves words, symbols, signs, signifiers. So I suppose the question is: how can a signifier (or chain of signifiers which comprise a sentence) not be a concept?

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Malcolm » Mon Nov 28, 2011 4:03 am

tobes wrote:Right - but how can any sentence that is heard be devoid of concepts?



Concepts are formed by sentient beings concerning what they interpret as speech acts by Buddhas.


What you're really saying is that vajra speech emanates from the dharmakaya right (i.e. as the sambogakaya)? So it is ontologically distinct from ordinary speech.

I would accept the argument that sambogakaya contains a multiplicity of different communicative modes, many of which are not linguistic.

But when there is linguistic communication, that involves words, symbols, signs, signifiers. So I suppose the question is: how can a signifier (or chain of signifiers which comprise a sentence) not be a concept?


What I am saying is really simple: Buddhas do not have conceptual minds, therefore, their acts of speech are not connected with concepts and signs.




:anjali:[/quote]
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby RichardLinde » Mon Nov 28, 2011 4:39 am

Namdrol wrote:their acts of speech are not connected with concepts and signs.


Do you mean to say that that the speech of a Buddha is not a pointer (a "sign") to the truth? That the speech of a Buddha is not a finger which points to the moon?

In the context of Western culture, a "concept" is defined as a thought or idea, according to the Oxford dictionary. Surely it wouldn't be correct to say that a Buddha has no thoughts or ideas?

Or does the word "concept" have an entirely different meaning within the context of Buddhism?
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:14 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:Right - but how can any sentence that is heard be devoid of concepts?



Concepts are formed by sentient beings concerning what they interpret as speech acts by Buddhas.


What you're really saying is that vajra speech emanates from the dharmakaya right (i.e. as the sambogakaya)? So it is ontologically distinct from ordinary speech.

I would accept the argument that sambogakaya contains a multiplicity of different communicative modes, many of which are not linguistic.

But when there is linguistic communication, that involves words, symbols, signs, signifiers. So I suppose the question is: how can a signifier (or chain of signifiers which comprise a sentence) not be a concept?


What I am saying is really simple: Buddhas do not have conceptual minds, therefore, their acts of speech are not connected with concepts and signs.

:anjali:
[/quote]

If I read you sympathetically, that kind of makes sense in a broad Mahayana cosmological context. Although, you're not really prepared to give an explanation or argument, but merely an implication which follows from your definition.

Do you think that is a plausible response to the discourses of the historical Buddha?

He was quite emphatic about using ordinary parlance, wasn't he? How could one use the ordinary parlance of Northern India at the time, and not also use the grammers, signifiers and concepts of the speakers of those languages? How could Gautama's speech acts be divorced from those phenomena?

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Tom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:26 am

tobes wrote:
If I read you sympathetically, that kind of makes sense in a broad Mahayana cosmological context. Although, you're not really prepared to give an explanation or argument, but merely an implication which follows from your definition.

Do you think that is a plausible response to the discourses of the historical Buddha?

He was quite emphatic about using ordinary parlance, wasn't he? How could one use the ordinary parlance of Northern India at the time, and not also use the grammers, signifiers and concepts of the speakers of those languages? How could Gautama's speech acts be divorced from those phenomena?

:anjali:


Tobes,

I am interested if you agree that for example when I ask my iPhone a question and Siri provides an answers that although I understand the answer in terms of concepts I can not attribute a conceptual mind to Siri.

If you agree with this then it seems to fall to you to explain why the Buddha requires conception to give a teaching. At the moment it seems your argument is simply an appeal to the complexity of the Buddha's discourse - am I right? Or am I missing your argument?
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby RichardLinde » Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:54 am

Tom wrote:I can not attribute a conceptual mind to Siri.


Does not Siri use concepts, or at least appears to - even if the concepts are not its own?

I assume that's what we would mean if we said that the Buddha "had" concepts.
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Tom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 6:20 am

RichardLinde wrote:
Tom wrote:I can not attribute a conceptual mind to Siri.


Does not Siri use concepts, or at least appears to - even if the concepts are not its own?

I assume that's what we would mean if we said that the Buddha "had" concepts.


As I see it, the tension here is that the Buddha is said not to have a conceptual mind and also said to engage in activities such as giving teachings.

The tension arises because it is assumed that to give teachings requires conceptual thought on the part of the person teaching and since concepts are associated with false perception we want to avoid attributing them to a Buddha.

A way of resolving this tension is to understand that we can receive information via the form of speech without having to posit the source as having a conceptual mind. No Siri does not have a conceptual mind nor does the Buddha. Still, the Buddha provides information via the medium of speech as does Siri.

The analogy is not meant to be perfect - just make the above point - obviously I do not want to reduce the Buddha to the status of Siri. Besides as I mentioned before in some ways I prefer Tsongkhapa's take.
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby RichardLinde » Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:18 am

Tom wrote:since concepts are associated with false perception


I don't see that concepts have to be associated with false perceptions. Perhaps this is a special use of the word within the context of Buddhism. Generally speaking, a "concept" refers to "a thought or idea", and these don't need to be associated with false perceptions, even though they commonly are.

A way of resolving this tension is to understand that we can receive information via the form of speech without having to posit the source as having a conceptual mind. No Siri does not have a conceptual mind nor does the Buddha. Still, the Buddha provides information via the medium of speech as does Siri.


The problem I see with this approach is that it discards perfectly good words, such as "concepts", "thoughts", "ideas", etc, from the language. We use these words because they are useful to us. I think that such a radical transformation of language would need to have very good justification before we embarked on it.
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:40 am

Tom wrote:
tobes wrote:
If I read you sympathetically, that kind of makes sense in a broad Mahayana cosmological context. Although, you're not really prepared to give an explanation or argument, but merely an implication which follows from your definition.

Do you think that is a plausible response to the discourses of the historical Buddha?

He was quite emphatic about using ordinary parlance, wasn't he? How could one use the ordinary parlance of Northern India at the time, and not also use the grammers, signifiers and concepts of the speakers of those languages? How could Gautama's speech acts be divorced from those phenomena?

:anjali:


Tobes,

I am interested if you agree that for example when I ask my iPhone a question and Siri provides an answers that although I understand the answer in terms of concepts I can not attribute a conceptual mind to Siri.

If you agree with this then it seems to fall to you to explain why the Buddha requires conception to give a teaching. At the moment it seems your argument is simply an appeal to the complexity of the Buddha's discourse - am I right? Or am I missing your argument?


I don't really like the example, because Siri is also not endowed with prajna, upaya, karuna etc - it is not an act of relation taking place. Whereas frankly, I would hold that an act of commuication between a Buddha and an ordinary being is indeed an act of relation.

I don't think my argument hangs on the complexity of the Buddha's discourse - I think it kind of becomes complex in the context of Madhyamika, where it is very easy to fall either side of the logical tightrope.

I suppose, to be clear, I am not asserting that a Buddha "has" a conceptual mind - more that in the immanence of relating to sentient beings, she must necessarily be able to relate to their concepts; that in speaking with them, she is engaged in that linguistic community, which includes grammatical rules, particular signifiers et al.

And.....that if the above is established, we need to consider the status of language, speech and concepts in relation to the two truths.

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:08 am

RichardLinde wrote:
Tom wrote:since concepts are associated with false perception


I don't see that concepts have to be associated with false perceptions. Perhaps this is a special use of the word within the context of Buddhism. Generally speaking, a "concept" refers to "a thought or idea", and these don't need to be associated with false perceptions, even though they commonly are.



Right, I tend to agree. Certainly in earlier Buddhisms, there is a pretty clear distinction to be made between conceptual thought and conceptual proliferation (papanca). Only the latter is considered problematic because it leads to attachment to false views.

A good account of that can be found here: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=rL0 ... AQ6AEwBzge

But then, once we're in Prajnaparamita-Madhyamika territory, the question does become more vexed; the direct apprehension of emptiness is pretty clearly defined as the cessation of conceptual thought - alongside the cessation of the processes of the samjnaskandha and samskaraskandha.

Hence the tension.

But I think that you're basically right in that the Buddhist account of 'concept' is different from modern western accounts.....and maybe the tension is essentially that.

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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Tom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:38 am

tobes wrote:
Right, I tend to agree. Certainly in earlier Buddhisms, there is a pretty clear distinction to be made between conceptual thought and conceptual proliferation (papanca). Only the latter is considered problematic because it leads to attachment to false views.

A good account of that can be found here: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=rL0 ... AQ6AEwBzge

But then, once we're in Prajnaparamita-Madhyamika territory, the question does become more vexed; the direct apprehension of emptiness is pretty clearly defined as the cessation of conceptual thought - alongside the cessation of the processes of the samjnaskandha and samskaraskandha.

Hence the tension.

But I think that you're basically right in that the Buddhist account of 'concept' is different from modern western accounts.....and maybe the tension is essentially that.

:anjali:



Tobes / Richard,

I was under the impression the context of this discussion was that of Madhyamaka philosophy and specifically Candra's presentation of the two truths as per the previous posts.

Within that context there is nothing controversial about presenting the nirminakaya as the manifestation of phenomena that might benefit beings such as teachings in the form of wind through the trees - let alone speech. What is controversial within this context is suggesting that the Buddha apprehends things by way of conceptions/signs or that he know things through inference. So far I have not seen a convincing argument in favor of this position. Indeed it would have to be a very strong argument given the implications this position has with regards to the two truths.

btw, Richard I am not suggesting that terms such as "concepts", "thoughts" and "ideas" aren't useful again refer to Candra's presentation of the two truths
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Mariusz » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:27 am

Tom wrote:Within that context there is nothing controversial about presenting the nirminakaya as the manifestation of phenomena that might benefit beings such as teachings in the form of wind through the trees - let alone speech. What is controversial within this context is suggesting that the Buddha apprehends things by way of conceptions/signs or that he know things through inference. So far I have not seen a convincing argument in favor of this position. Indeed it would have to be a very strong argument given the implications this position has with regards to the two truths.

Nothing wrong, it is just interesting. How Nirmanakaya could be born out of Dharmakaya "non-division", and so on? I quess if the Buddhahood apprehends things by way of conventions it leads to some paradoxes and if the Buddhahood not apprehends things by way of conventions it also leads to some paradoxes. In "the Center" it is explained what paradoxes are when the Two Truths would be separated, and what paradoxes when unseparated. But paradoxes could be grosser or subtler, in endless process, only directed to the complete view, so somehow little useful for the theory but not so much soteriologically efficient for the practice. I think the direct realization today is possible only by pointing-out instruction like Tantra Mahamudra or Dzogchen and its practice, where these paradoxes do not so much matter.
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby RichardLinde » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:10 am

tobes wrote:The direct apprehension of emptiness is pretty clearly defined as the cessation of conceptual thought


I am suspecting that there has been an error in translation. Can you give a reference to a text that defines the apprehension of emptiness as "the cessation of conceptual thought".

I mean, I could understand if it was defined as the cessation of papanca (deluded conceptual proliferation).
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Tom » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:35 pm

Mariusz wrote:
it is just interesting. How Nirmanakaya could be born out of Dharmakaya "non-division", and so on?


I agree. A way around the paradox is to explain Nirmanakaya not as a manifestation of the Dharmakaya but to differentiate Nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya by explaining that Nirmanakaya exists only in terms of how the Buddha appears to an ordinary being. However, I think this becomes problematic.

I know the context is Madhyamaka but a better explanation I think might be found in Vajrayana. Vajrayana talks about the wind and mind being one entity and doesn't say the wind manifests from the mind. Since these are the basis of the Nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya it seems to also follow. Maybe the answer has to do with the fourth empowerment …
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Malcolm » Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:07 pm

RichardLinde wrote:
Namdrol wrote:their acts of speech are not connected with concepts and signs.


Do you mean to say that that the speech of a Buddha is not a pointer (a "sign") to the truth? That the speech of a Buddha is not a finger which points to the moon?

In the context of Western culture, a "concept" is defined as a thought or idea, according to the Oxford dictionary. Surely it wouldn't be correct to say that a Buddha has no thoughts or ideas?

Or does the word "concept" have an entirely different meaning within the context of Buddhism?


Hi Kevin Solway:

Buddha don't have thoughts, therefore, they have no concepts. They are however omniscient.

N
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby Malcolm » Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:30 pm

RichardLinde wrote:
tobes wrote:The direct apprehension of emptiness is pretty clearly defined as the cessation of conceptual thought


I am suspecting that there has been an error in translation. Can you give a reference to a text that defines the apprehension of emptiness as "the cessation of conceptual thought".

I mean, I could understand if it was defined as the cessation of papanca (deluded conceptual proliferation).


MMK 18:

    aparapratyayaṁ śāntaṁ prapañcair aprapañcitaṁ
    nirvikalpam anānārtham etat tattvasya lakśaṇaṁ|

    །གཞན་ལས་ཤེས་མིན་ཞི་བ་དང༌། །སྤྲོས་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་མ་སྤྲོས་པ།
    །རྣམ་རྟོག་མེད་དོན་ཐ་དད་མེད། །དེ་ནི་དེ་ཉིད་མཚན་ཉིད་དོ།

    Not known from another; peaceful; lacking proliferation with proliferations;
    non-conceptual; undifferentiated — that is the characteristic of reality.



Buddhapalita comments:

    "'Not known from another"; here not known from another i.e. not scriptural, but one's direct perception, thus it is a convention for one's direct perception. "Peaceful" is a convention for "empty by nature". "Lacking proliferation with proliferations" is a convention for freedom from mundane phenomena. "Non-conceptual" means not designated "This is this". Undifferentiated means not different objects such as "though it this, it is also this". Why is that? Because of lacking concepts, there is no proliferation with proliferations. Why? Because there is no proliferation by mundane phenomena. Why? Because that is peaceful, it is undifferentiated. Therefore, the knowledge of such a nature is a personal knowledge, not known from elsewhere. That should be understood to be the characteristic of reality.

According to Mahāyāna, a buddha is in a state of continuous equipoise on reality. It is impossible therefore that a buddha will experience concepts.

N
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Madyamika Sautrantika vs Prasangika

Postby RichardLinde » Tue Nov 29, 2011 4:16 am

Namdrol wrote:Buddha don't have thoughts, therefore, they have no concepts.


Ok, so Buddhas don't have thoughts, ideas, and concepts. And nor do they have arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, toes, mind, etc, etc.

But that's not how we use language is it?

If a person appears to have arms then we say "they have arms".

If a person appears to have legs then we say "they have legs".

If a person appears to have thoughts then we say "they have thoughts".

And Buddhas appear to have concepts, so we say they have concepts.

In order for us to say that Buddhas don't have concepts then we need to create a completely new meaning for the word "concept", to use in that particular context - which is awkward.

I can understand why people would do it, for poetic purposes, but it's still awkward.
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