Conceptuality in Buddhism

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:05 am

gregkavarnos wrote:Sorry, but I'm going to take it back to Sarahas poem. Saraha quite clearly states that to talk about the nonceptual is basically impossible, to try to replicate or fabricate it purposefully through meditation is delusional, the only way to truly get an answer to your answer is to recognise ones true nature. To become enlightened. With a direct view of the nature of the Buddhas mind (ie "our" own enlightened mind) the answer is clear as the full moon in the autumn sky.

You don't believe what Saraha says?
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Look Greg, I have a great deal of time for Saraha and the late Indian mahamudra masters.

But I have been pressing for a response within the Madhyamakin dialectic - there is confusion on this because my posts have regularly been moved from the thread on Madhyamika.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:34 am

Got it!

Over and out!
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:49 am

tobes wrote:My posts have been moved a number of times from the Madhyamika vs Svatantrika thread. Not my idea, and seemingly not a very good idea.

They are explicitly about the relation between emptiness and the conventions of language - and it was a while ago now, but there was fruitful dialogue on the matter.

This topic cannot in any way be "a kind of imponderable" unless you want to also classify the preoccupations of just about every Mahayana tradition as similarly futile and irrelevant to liberation.

:anjali:


Moved posts? I did all that thinking for nothing? Oh, that's just depressing that is. I guess you'll just have to disregard the lot. Nothing else for it.

Maybe I can salvage something... when you use the phrase "This topic" in the above quoteback, were you referring to my "this topic" or yours? Emptiness is not an imponderable, but I think there is credible argument that the inner workings of a Buddha's mind often are. It could even be fitted into one of the classic 14/10/8 imponderables. (Number varies with sources used).
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby devilyoudont » Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:35 pm

tobes wrote:Critical to what?

Practice.

If you think it is Critical For Practice, you've fallen into Eternalism. If you think it is Not Critical For Practice, you've fallen into Annihilationism.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Dechen Norbu » Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:40 pm

Academic discussion forum, fellows... at least please provide the rationale for your assertions. :smile:

I don't want to be a drag, but we really need to raise the standards a little. Otherwise there's no point in having this forum.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby LastLegend » Fri Dec 09, 2011 4:47 pm

Conceptual thinking + grasping is the problem. The purpose of DO is to dismantle this particular habit.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Acchantika » Fri Dec 09, 2011 9:24 pm

catmoon wrote:Oh well, that much is easily answered. The Buddha was asked about the origin of the universe, and answered that when an origin is sought, a beginning is not seen. Notice that he did not say there was no beginning, nor did he deny it. This because the concept of a beginning simply does not apply. I suggest that to an omniscient mind, the nature of the universe is evident, but it is so radically different from everything we assume about the nature of reality, that the true state of things simply cannot be jammed into our preconcieved paradigms.

So it appears the Buddha cannot answer the imponderables and thus does not know. But the appearance is false.

Does that help? It's not quite answering the exact question you asked, but it's close.


Not exactly, though I appreciate the effort.

I have read that Vasubandhu can be interpreted as stating that the Buddha's omniscience is non-empirical. If that is true then it is not possible to explain it in common terms anyway.

I had interpreted omniscience to mean that a Buddha, by perceiving the nature of all things, knows all things in their totality. Hence, by apprehending emptiness completely without obstruction, they "know everything".

However, it has been stated in this thread that this is categorically not what is meant; and what is meant is that Buddhas know all objects of knowledge, either immediately or if they choose, such as the number of hairs on an ant's leg in Africa or whatever. So not (just) knowing the nature of the Universe, but knowing all the possible variations of trivial facts about the Universe.

This seems contradictory both to the idea that Buddhas do not apprehend mental objects and also to dependent origination - to the extent that knowledge of ants and so on are not even relatively true, as ants and hairs are conceptual designations of the most base kind, they have no existence whatsoever beyond mere imputation and categorisation of a deluded perceiver. There is nothing there to know, since they are all empty.

So I am wondering how this is explained and so on. There must be a conventional explanation for it, or else it wouldn't be taught. It is taught constantly. So it is not as easy to move aside, as with questions of "when did time begin" and so on.

I consider this to be related to the topic, but perhaps it is not. Sure, it is conceptual proliferation. But perhaps to just abandon the problem that would be responding to attachment with aversion, not understanding. If all conception is proliferation, what use is a Buddhist forum? Presumably, it is to generate relative understanding, hopefully as a basis for ultimate understanding. So it has a function. If what is functional is ignored or bypassed, it becomes dysfunctional, not virtuous. But, hey-ho, I can just add it to the list of "shit I don't understand" if it comes to it. Cup of tea, anyone?
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Sat Dec 10, 2011 1:57 am

catmoon wrote:
tobes wrote:My posts have been moved a number of times from the Madhyamika vs Svatantrika thread. Not my idea, and seemingly not a very good idea.

They are explicitly about the relation between emptiness and the conventions of language - and it was a while ago now, but there was fruitful dialogue on the matter.

This topic cannot in any way be "a kind of imponderable" unless you want to also classify the preoccupations of just about every Mahayana tradition as similarly futile and irrelevant to liberation.

:anjali:


Moved posts? I did all that thinking for nothing? Oh, that's just depressing that is. I guess you'll just have to disregard the lot. Nothing else for it.

Maybe I can salvage something... when you use the phrase "This topic" in the above quoteback, were you referring to my "this topic" or yours? Emptiness is not an imponderable, but I think there is credible argument that the inner workings of a Buddha's mind often are. It could even be fitted into one of the classic 14/10/8 imponderables. (Number varies with sources used).


I'm referring to the topic my posts have been engaged with.

The references to a buddha's mind are merely a synonym for shunyata/ultimate reality. i.e. in relation to the two truths, the perspective of paramatha satya.

I don't think it's credible to argue that this is anything like an imponderable topic.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Sat Dec 10, 2011 1:59 am

Acchantika wrote:
catmoon wrote:Oh well, that much is easily answered. The Buddha was asked about the origin of the universe, and answered that when an origin is sought, a beginning is not seen. Notice that he did not say there was no beginning, nor did he deny it. This because the concept of a beginning simply does not apply. I suggest that to an omniscient mind, the nature of the universe is evident, but it is so radically different from everything we assume about the nature of reality, that the true state of things simply cannot be jammed into our preconcieved paradigms.

So it appears the Buddha cannot answer the imponderables and thus does not know. But the appearance is false.

Does that help? It's not quite answering the exact question you asked, but it's close.


Not exactly, though I appreciate the effort.

I have read that Vasubandhu can be interpreted as stating that the Buddha's omniscience is non-empirical. If that is true then it is not possible to explain it in common terms anyway.

I had interpreted omniscience to mean that a Buddha, by perceiving the nature of all things, knows all things in their totality. Hence, by apprehending emptiness completely without obstruction, they "know everything".

However, it has been stated in this thread that this is categorically not what is meant; and what is meant is that Buddhas know all objects of knowledge, either immediately or if they choose, such as the number of hairs on an ant's leg in Africa or whatever. So not (just) knowing the nature of the Universe, but knowing all the possible variations of trivial facts about the Universe.

This seems contradictory both to the idea that Buddhas do not apprehend mental objects and also to dependent origination - to the extent that knowledge of ants and so on are not even relatively true, as ants and hairs are conceptual designations of the most base kind, they have no existence whatsoever beyond mere imputation and categorisation of a deluded perceiver. There is nothing there to know, since they are all empty.

So I am wondering how this is explained and so on. There must be a conventional explanation for it, or else it wouldn't be taught. It is taught constantly. So it is not as easy to move aside, as with questions of "when did time begin" and so on.

I consider this to be related to the topic, but perhaps it is not. Sure, it is conceptual proliferation. But perhaps to just abandon the problem that would be responding to attachment with aversion, not understanding. If all conception is proliferation, what use is a Buddhist forum? Presumably, it is to generate relative understanding, hopefully as a basis for ultimate understanding. So it has a function. If what is functional is ignored or bypassed, it becomes dysfunctional, not virtuous. But, hey-ho, I can just add it to the list of "shit I don't understand" if it comes to it. Cup of tea, anyone?


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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:40 am

tobes wrote:I'm referring to the topic my posts have been engaged with.

The references to a buddha's mind are merely a synonym for shunyata/ultimate reality. i.e. in relation to the two truths, the perspective of paramatha satya.

I don't think it's credible to argue that this is anything like an imponderable topic.

:anjali:


There are at least two strikingly different ways to frame up the topic, as I see it. And we must bear in mind that I'm still looking for most of the moved posts, so i'm not seeing the whole picture. Let me count the ways.... warning incoming tetralemmic logic!

We can not frame it at all. We can ignore the subject.
We can frame the topic in terms of conventional reality, in which objects and thought are taken to have their own existence.
We can frame the topic in terms of ultimate reality, in which case we could run out of things to say quickly.
Or, most difficult, we can attempt to transcend the conventional/ultimate duality and see things from the point of view of a Buddha.

The first is case is trivial, and my experience of the last case is that such attempts founder on the shoals of confusion, usually due to ambiguous terminology.
So I think the way to go is to develop case 2 or 3. If it is case 4 that is really of interest, then the only fruitful approach I can think of is to first thoroughly develop cases 2 and 3 and then carefully, carefully look for commonalities and an encompassing understanding.

Any comments so far?
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:53 am

tobes wrote:
catmoon wrote:
tobes wrote:My posts have been moved a number of times from the Madhyamika vs Svatantrika thread. Not my idea, and seemingly not a very good idea.

They are explicitly about the relation between emptiness and the conventions of language - and it was a while ago now, but there was fruitful dialogue on the matter.

This topic cannot in any way be "a kind of imponderable" unless you want to also classify the preoccupations of just about every Mahayana tradition as similarly futile and irrelevant to liberation.

:anjali:


Moved posts? I did all that thinking for nothing? Oh, that's just depressing that is. I guess you'll just have to disregard the lot. Nothing else for it.

Maybe I can salvage something... when you use the phrase "This topic" in the above quoteback, were you referring to my "this topic" or yours? Emptiness is not an imponderable, but I think there is credible argument that the inner workings of a Buddha's mind often are. It could even be fitted into one of the classic 14/10/8 imponderables. (Number varies with sources used).


I'm referring to the topic my posts have been engaged with.

The references to a buddha's mind are merely a synonym for shunyata/ultimate reality. i.e. in relation to the two truths, the perspective of paramatha satya.

I don't think it's credible to argue that this is anything like an imponderable topic.

:anjali:



As Candrakirti makes extremely clear, the two truths are for ordinary persons and not buddhas.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Sat Dec 10, 2011 6:26 am

Namdrol wrote:As Candrakirti makes extremely clear, the two truths are for ordinary persons and not buddhas.


Indeed. If you look at my previous posts, I have already clearly stated that Chandrakirti's position on this is well established.

However, I think that Nagarjuna is far more ambiguous on the question; and am especially interested in the connection between Nagarjuna's position and how we ought to conceive of Gautama's discourses.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Sat Dec 10, 2011 6:32 am

catmoon wrote:
tobes wrote:I'm referring to the topic my posts have been engaged with.

The references to a buddha's mind are merely a synonym for shunyata/ultimate reality. i.e. in relation to the two truths, the perspective of paramatha satya.

I don't think it's credible to argue that this is anything like an imponderable topic.

:anjali:


There are at least two strikingly different ways to frame up the topic, as I see it. And we must bear in mind that I'm still looking for most of the moved posts, so i'm not seeing the whole picture. Let me count the ways.... warning incoming tetralemmic logic!

We can not frame it at all. We can ignore the subject.
We can frame the topic in terms of conventional reality, in which objects and thought are taken to have their own existence.
We can frame the topic in terms of ultimate reality, in which case we could run out of things to say quickly.
Or, most difficult, we can attempt to transcend the conventional/ultimate duality and see things from the point of view of a Buddha.

The first is case is trivial, and my experience of the last case is that such attempts founder on the shoals of confusion, usually due to ambiguous terminology.
So I think the way to go is to develop case 2 or 3. If it is case 4 that is really of interest, then the only fruitful approach I can think of is to first thoroughly develop cases 2 and 3 and then carefully, carefully look for commonalities and an encompassing understanding.

Any comments so far?


Being a conventional discourse, there is no possibility but framing it from a conventional perspective.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Tom » Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:02 am

tobes wrote:
Namdrol wrote:As Candrakirti makes extremely clear, the two truths are for ordinary persons and not buddhas.


Indeed. If you look at my previous posts, I have already clearly stated that Chandrakirti's position on this is well established.

However, I think that Nagarjuna is far more ambiguous on the question; and am especially interested in the connection between Nagarjuna's position and how we ought to conceive of Gautama's discourses.
:anjali:



How would Nagarjuna explain the following excerpt from the Heart Sutra?

Then the Bhagavan arose from that concentration and commended the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara saying: “Well said, well said, son of the lineage, it is like that. It is like that; one should practice the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have indicated; even the tathagatas rejoice.”

Does a Buddha really leaves the meditative equipoise on emptiness to engage in teaching? No, I think Nagarjuna would say this scenario is described from the perspective of the audience and not from the Buddha's perspective. It would be a mistake to infer such things about the Buddha's own experience from this description.

I also think the same mistake is made when you infer that because there appears in the world Buddhas that teach, then it follows an enlightened mind must have concepts. To gain insights into the content of a Buddha's experience we need to refer to the teachings on the Dharamkaya and not the Rupakaya.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:59 am

Tom wrote:
tobes wrote:
Namdrol wrote:As Candrakirti makes extremely clear, the two truths are for ordinary persons and not buddhas.


Indeed. If you look at my previous posts, I have already clearly stated that Chandrakirti's position on this is well established.

However, I think that Nagarjuna is far more ambiguous on the question; and am especially interested in the connection between Nagarjuna's position and how we ought to conceive of Gautama's discourses.
:anjali:



How would Nagarjuna explain the following excerpt from the Heart Sutra?

Then the Bhagavan arose from that concentration and commended the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara saying: “Well said, well said, son of the lineage, it is like that. It is like that; one should practice the profound perfection of wisdom just as you have indicated; even the tathagatas rejoice.”

Does a Buddha really leaves the meditative equipoise on emptiness to engage in teaching? No, I think Nagarjuna would say this scenario is described from the perspective of the audience and not from the Buddha's perspective. It would be a mistake to infer such things about the Buddha's own experience from this description.

I also think the same mistake is made when you infer that because there appears in the world Buddhas that teach, then it follows an enlightened mind must have concepts. To gain insights into the content of a Buddha's experience we need to refer to the teachings on the Dharamkaya and not the Rupakaya.


I take your point Tom. I suppose we need to consider that in The Heart Sutra it is Avokiteshvara who gives most of the discourse - you're right that the Buddha does not really seem to leave meditative equipoise.

However, The Heart Sutra and The Prajnaparamita Sutras in general are a fairly long way away from the discourses of the Buddha (Gautama) as presented in the Pali suttas......I think we ought to pay attention to this shift, and especially, to this central question of the kinds of engagement a buddha (or the Buddha) may have had with his disciples.

Whilst we need to be very careful about assuming that the Pali suttas contain 'the real teachings of the historical Buddha' whilst the Prajnaparamita sutras are merely literary constructions from the very early Mahayana or Mahasangika period - we should also be very careful about the religious narrative that the Prajnaparamita sutras were originally spoken by the Buddha and then hidden by Nagas for 500 years....

So the question of 'what would Nagarjuna say' is a pretty complex one.

I don't think it's as clear cut as saying that Nagarjuna is asserting a view exactly concomitant with the Prajnaparamita sutras which is simultaneously a critique of earlier dharmas. The only thing that is very clear is that he is refuting Sarvistivadan realism. All the rest we are inferring.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Tom » Sun Dec 18, 2011 4:29 pm

tobes wrote:
I take your point Tom. I suppose we need to consider that in The Heart Sutra it is Avokiteshvara who gives most of the discourse - you're right that the Buddha does not really seem to leave meditative equipoise.


Actually, I think it is more interesting that the Sutra implies that the Buddha needed to arise from meditative equipoise to say "well said" - My point is that inferring about the Buddha's mind from descriptions of him teaching in the Sutras leads to untenable consequences such as the Buddha at times not being in equipoise or that the enlightened mind has conception.

tobes wrote:However, The Heart Sutra and The Prajnaparamita Sutras in general are a fairly long way away from the discourses of the Buddha (Gautama) as presented in the Pali suttas......I think we ought to pay attention to this shift, and especially, to this central question of the kinds of engagement a buddha (or the Buddha) may have had with his disciples.


True, but surely we need to rely more on the Mahayana sutras than the Pali suttas to shed a Madhyamaka light on the subject.

tobes wrote:Whilst we need to be very careful about assuming that the Pali suttas contain 'the real teachings of the historical Buddha' whilst the Prajnaparamita sutras are merely literary constructions from the very early Mahayana or Mahasangika period - we should also be very careful about the religious narrative that the Prajnaparamita sutras were originally spoken by the Buddha and then hidden by Nagas for 500 years....


I don't think the point I was making relies on the traditional account of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.

tobes wrote:So the question of 'what would Nagarjuna say' is a pretty complex one.

I don't think it's as clear cut as saying that Nagarjuna is asserting a view exactly concomitant with the Prajnaparamita sutras which is simultaneously a critique of earlier dharmas. The only thing that is very clear is that he is refuting Sarvistivadan realism. All the rest we are inferring.


I am not saying Nagarjuna has a view exactly concomitant with the Prajnaparimita sutras. Actually, my point was that he could not have accepted the sutra literally.

I also don't agree that other than understanding Nagarjuna as a critiques of Sarvistivadan realism is inference on our part. For example, I think it is pretty clear that Nagarjuna is responding to Nyaya epistemology in Refutations. Also, I think Walser's makes a good case for understanding Nagarjuna through the alliances he forges than those he critiques.

However, I agree "what would Nagarjuna say" is a complex question. At the same time I also think there are some things we can be confident that he would not say.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:00 am

You make an interesting point about The Heart Sutra.....

but it's not really clear to me why we should rely more on the Mahayana sutras rather than the Pali suttas.

What are your reasons for that?

After all, it is only the latter in which an actual Buddha is actually discoursing with his human disciples - surely that is potentially more revealing on this question, and surely Nagarjuna is interested in giving an account of that.

Otherwise, we're sort of playing this game where we have to pretend that there never was a historical Buddha talking to historical people - replacing that with a more mystical or abstract idea of a buddha who never has an empirical context.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:04 am

As an aside, at a few different points in this thead - including the posts which were moved from the prasangika thread - I have alluded to a palpable distinction between Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti....two figures who are unreflectively often taken (canonically and academically) as espousing precisely the same view.

It just so happens that I read an excellent article this afternoon on the matter, so if you're interested in pursuing it, PM me and I'll send it to you.

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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:47 pm

tobes wrote:Otherwise, we're sort of playing this game where we have to pretend that there never was a historical Buddha talking to historical people - replacing that with a more mystical or abstract idea of a buddha who never has an empirical context.
Well that's more or less what happens in the Mahayana isn't it? Shakyamuni was a Buddha in some pure land and appeared on earth to "apparently" become enlightened and "apparently" teach in order to "apparently" liberate? Wasn't that the reason that the tahagatagarbha or pure land "salvation" theories had to be "invented"? The Theravadra ideal seems infinitely "simpler" in this regard: Shakyamuni was a "regular" dude (with some heavy duty positive acts in the past to back him up) that was born, grew up, practiced, gained enlightenment and taught the method of enlightenment to regular dudes that then developed into regular saints.
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Re: Conceptuality in Buddhism

Postby tobes » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:15 am

gregkavarnos wrote:
tobes wrote:Otherwise, we're sort of playing this game where we have to pretend that there never was a historical Buddha talking to historical people - replacing that with a more mystical or abstract idea of a buddha who never has an empirical context.
Well that's more or less what happens in the Mahayana isn't it? Shakyamuni was a Buddha in some pure land and appeared on earth to "apparently" become enlightened and "apparently" teach in order to "apparently" liberate? Wasn't that the reason that the tahagatagarbha or pure land "salvation" theories had to be "invented"? The Theravadra ideal seems infinitely "simpler" in this regard: Shakyamuni was a "regular" dude (with some heavy duty positive acts in the past to back him up) that was born, grew up, practiced, gained enlightenment and taught the method of enlightenment to regular dudes that then developed into regular saints.
:namaste:


Right - there's a lot at stake here, soteriologically. And it gets interesting with respect to Nagarjuna, because the difference you're pointing to is fundamentally related to whether there is or is not causal efficacy. So I actually think this is more a very foundational metaphysical issue, as opposed to competing ideals or cosmologies. Later Prasangika interpretations more or less tacitly accept the tathagatagarbha theory - but I don't necessarily think that it's there in Nagarjuna......which means that enlightenment is causally produced, not uncovered.

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