Buddhism and Realism

This is a continuation of a discussion from this thread:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=352138

I am responding to Rossum’s post, #54.

Not strictly correct. Reality may well exist, it is just that we can never get hold of it. All we can actually sense is electrical impulses arriving in our brains from out ears, eyes etc. Those electrical impulses are not reality. Nor are the models we build inside our brains of what we think that external reality is. All attempts to directly sense reality are doomed because all we can ever sense are electrical impulses in our sensory nerves.

I wouldn’t argue against this premise on a logical level, but I will argue against it as a matter of principle. If we can not really sense the outside world, then it is also true that we can’t form logical conclusions about anything based on our perceptions. Since all of our logical conclusions are based on perception, this rules out all conclusions and reasoning, including Buddhism. The only reasonable principle is to accept what our senses tell us, barring stronger contrary evidence; anything else undermines all thought and conclusion, and even Buddhism is not possible. For example, you can’t base any arguments on perceived change, as Buddhism does, because you don’t actually perceive change but rather what you assume is change.

Mahayana Buddhism uses the word sunyata - emptiness - to describe reality. It also warns very strongly against mistaking emptiness for “nothingness” - it is compared to grasping a snake by the tail rather than by the head. Emptiness is compared to a mirage. A mirage looks like water, but it is not. Just so, emptiness looks like one thing but is is actually not that thing but something else; it is not what we think that it is. Nothingness on the other hand is not like a mirage. Nothingness does not look like water, it looks like nothingness.

I apologize, I thought you were advocating Therevada Buddhism, which is the Buddhism I know the most about, and the one I feel is the best representative of Buddha’s thought. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism I find to be more reasonable, even if it is divorced a bit from the direct teachings of Guatama, IMO.

With that in mind, I’ll respond now to your previous post.

continued…

If reality dose not exist, than neither can be it known whether or not reality exists. But the fact is, human thought and free-will are not bound to the senses. So, since they exist, than we humans must be real, since they exist in us. And if we exist, than that means the world we exist in is real. It might not be the joy and peace we desire, but that joy and peace is in God. That is why certain people, when they delve into the dark night of the soul, see the world as unreal. It is a realization that God suffices, that He alone can give us the rest we long for, and that the world isn’t all there is - there is also spiritual realities like angels and Heaven, sin and demons, Hell and Purgatory, grace and souls.

We have a limited sense of the outside world. A dog has a far richer sense of smell than we do. A hawk has much keener eyesight. A pit viper can ‘see’ infra-red. Our perceptions of the outside world are inevitably imperfect. All the sense data is transformed into electrical impulses in our nerves and processed into a model inside our brains. The model inside our head is not the real world, and it is a mistake to think that it is. There are obviously many correspondences between our model and what is actually out there - everybody agrees that dogs have four legs. That those correspondences exist do not mean that our model is perfectly accurate. It can never be an exact or perfect representation of reality - in the final analysis it is an internal construct.

Since all of our logical conclusions are based on perception, this rules out all conclusions and reasoning, including Buddhism.

We can agree on much that is common across our models - dogs have four legs. On a conventional level there are few problems since by and large our internal models are reasonably accurate and consistent with each other. On a philosophical level much that we assume for practical purposes breaks down. This accounts for many of the apparent paradoxes in Mahayana philosophy.
“Subhuti, do not say that the Buddha has the idea, ‘I will lead all sentient beings to Nirvana.’ Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Buddha to lead to Enlightenment. If the Buddha were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. Subhuti, what the Buddha calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Buddha does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can speak of them as ordinary persons.”

Diamond Sutra - Chapter 25

I apologize, I thought you were advocating Therevada Buddhism, which is the Buddhism I know the most about, and the one I feel is the best representative of Buddha’s thought. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism I find to be more reasonable, even if it is divorced a bit from the direct teachings of Guatama, IMO.

My practice is mostly Theravada but my theory is Madhyamika, as you might have surmised from my references to Nagarjuna. I started off as Theravada, but I found Dharma theory unsatisfying. Nagarjuna is much more difficult, but to me he seems to have got a lot closer to what the Buddha was pointing at. The Theravada is certainly a good starting point for the study of Buddhism; it is much more difficult to understand what Nagarjuna is getting at if you do not understand Dharma theory. Nagarjuna’s opponents were mostly Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas, who were closer to modern Theravada than to any other extant schools of Buddhism.

Much Mahayana philosophy relies on the difference between conventional truth and ultimate truth. Conventional truth asssumes that our internal models are good enough copies of external reality to be accepted without any further problem; it is perfectly good for day to day activities. Ultimate truth does not make that asumption and examines the relationship between the external reality and the internal model a lot more closely. That close examination throws up a lot of problems.

rossum

Reality does indeed exist, the problem is that our knowledge of it is imperfect and our model of it inside our heads is also imperfect.

But the fact is, human thought and free-will are not bound to the senses. So, since they exist, than we humans must be real, since they exist in us.

I can imagine a unicorn. Are unicorns real? I can have an image of someone in my head, but that image of them is deficient; a dog would have a far more detailed picture of how they smelled while a bee would have a picture of them in polarized light. Which of these different pictures is the “real” person. The parable of the blind men and the elephant applies here.

rossum

You might have a model in your head, but I doubt anyone else dose. Man may be imperfect, but he has science, reason, common sense, and a conscience that help him find the truth. I encourage you to look for the truth outside the box - i.e., without religion’s help. That’s how I find the truth myself. Because faith is founded on reason, not reason on faith.

I can imagine a unicorn. Are unicorns real? I can have an image of someone in my head, but that image of them is deficient; a dog would have a far more detailed picture of how they smelled while a bee would have a picture of them in polarized light. Which of these different pictures is the “real” person. The parable of the blind men and the elephant applies here.

rossum

Tell you what, come back with adult thinking and I’ll consider talking with you about reality. But so long as you use childish reasons and ramble on about animals being more perceptive than man, I’m not going to bother discussing reality.

Look at the word “manifold”. Manifold = “many fold” = multiple = more than one. An act cannot be both single and manifold. That is equivalent to saying 1 = 2; and given that you can logically prove anything.

One thing to keep in mind is that human language is generally insufficient for describing absolute simplicity, and room must be given both for analogy and for “massaging” certain terms to fit pure simplicity.

Manifold, in this context, does not mean multiplication by dividing, but rather the multiplication of experience. A simple act, when perceived from time, can either be singular, as the simple act of a thought, or it can be multiplied by experience even as it exists simply. To understand this you must take an analogy without reading too much into it, or picking it apart. If we take a line and use it to represent, from left to right, the flow of time, and we place two seperated fingers from one hand down on the line we have two points of contact from one act, an “earlier” point of contact to the left, and a “later” one to the right. From the perspective of time, this simple and single act is multiplied, is manifold.

Another way that a simple act can be manifold is by mental division and distinction. If you imagine a red square, you are making a single act with your mind. This simple act is manifold, however, in that you have designated both shape and color with this single act. You have also designated four equal sides, yet your mind did not require for distinct steps to manifest the thought of the square. So it is not a contradiction at all to say that an act is simple, singular, and also manifold, so long as the terms “simple, singular” and “manifold” are not understood in exactly the same sense. It is true that a thing can not be both round and flat in the same sense, as a square circle, but it is not true that a thing can’t be both round and flat in different senses or aspects, as a coin.

It is you who have introduced the contradiction be asserting that 1 = 2. A single act cannot be manifold. The act of making a universe without planet earth is not the same as the act of making a universe with planet earth.

This is an example of something containing contradictory terms in the same sense. On the other hand, both statements of yours can be true if taken in different senses.

I can imagine making a universe without planet Earth at the same time as imagining the same universe being made with planet Earth, and in fact we do exactly that when we consider the Big Bang, or any other creation theory of the universe. There is a time when the universe is, and the Earth is not, and there is a time when the same universe is, and the Earth is as well. It is only a contradiction if we say the universe at one moment both contains Earth and does not contain Earth, and even then only if we mean “contains” in precisely the same way.

I have said that I deny all reifying. The difference between “essential” and “non-essential” change is a form of reification. There is only change.

If you deny reification, then you deny human communication. The fact is that humans do in fact reify, and these concepts are in fact real in some manner. Take, for example, the idea of circle. Circle, in order to be a concept applied to many different things, must have its own reality and nature apart from the individual things observed. When I imagine circle, I don’t imagine ball, or coin, or any other such thing, but the term circle really applies to them all. A coin does not have the same dimensions as a beach-ball, and yet the concept of circle can be applied to both even if I only abstracted circle from examining one of them. Having known “circle” from the coin, I can also know it in the ring. What’s more, you and I share the same concept of circle, despite never having witnessed the same objects. If the concept of circle did not hold its own unchanging reality, we would never be able to talk about it. We would never be able to talk about anything, in fact, and even Buddha could not have passed along his teachings.

This is not the same as arguing for Platonic Idealism, mind you. I’m not saying that “circle” exists as a seperate substance and that all circular things participate in it. I am merely saying that “circle” must really exist, materially in the coin and immaterially in the mind, for any communication of meanings to occur. If abstracted ideas are not constants in some manner, then all communication is a lie.

continued…

Your movement takes place in time, so the tree is older. Some of its cells have died; some of its cells have divided into new cells. Some fuel has been burned; some new fuel has been photosynthesised. Of course the tree has changed. Everything changes all of the time. One of the Three Marks is change - it applies to everything.

You’re making the error of reading the analogy on points that are not relevant to the meaning. The point of the analogy is not that, in time (and there was no time in the analogy, incidentally) the tree changes by its own processes, but that it has not changed in nature simply because I am next to it or not.

On the contrary, nirvana exists. The Buddha attained nirvana at age 35 and he died age 80. That is 45 years of living and existing in nirvana. To quote from Theravada scriptures:

[The Buddha said:] “There is an Unborn, a Not-become, a Not-made, a Not-compounded. If there were not, this Unborn, Not become, Not-made, Not-compounded, there could not be made any escape from what is born, become, made, and compounded. But since there is this Unborn, Not become, Not-made, Not-compounded, therefore is there made known an escape from what is born, become, made, and compounded.”

The Buddha was not speaking as if this thing exists, or has being. If he was, then there would be no distinction in his teaching from that of Brahmins. He was speaking of nirvana in the same way we speaking of nothingness, even though properly speaking there can’t even be a word for nothingness. It is a mental distinction made because of our worldly limitations, not an admission of existing properties in nirvana.

The Buddha “existed in nirvana” in the sense that he had unfettered his senses and thoughts, he had cleansed his mind of self-orientation and self-realization, but the ultimate goal is the ending of the cycle of rebirth, which occurs at permanent death. This is why, in Theravada Buddhism, it is emphasized that Buddha no longer exists, he has been totally “snuffed out” like a flame blown out by the wind. Guatama was not speaking about escaping to this “Unmade” (as Catholics speak of being united with God, the Unmade), but to escape from being altogether. Had he been speaking of escaping to a new state, he would have been no different than the Hindus he broke from.

Peace and God bless!

Everybody does. You cannot hold reality inside your head, all you can hold is a model of reality. Have you ever looked at an elephant? Can you fit the real elephant inside your head? Can you fit a perceptual model of that elephant inside your head?

rossum

Agreed. All descriptions of reality are false to some extent merely by the fact of their being descriptions.

Manifold, in this context, does not mean multiplication by dividing, but rather the multiplication of experience. A simple act, when perceived from time, can either be singular, as the simple act of a thought, or it can be multiplied by experience even as it exists simply. To understand this you must take an analogy without reading too much into it, or picking it apart. If we take a line and use it to represent, from left to right, the flow of time, and we place two seperated fingers from one hand down on the line we have two points of contact from one act, an “earlier” point of contact to the left, and a “later” one to the right.

If time is reduced to the line, then whatever dimension the hand is moving in is not time; call it “faarn”. If we define “change” as “difference in one or more dimensions”, then we have either “difference in time” (along the time line) or “difference in faarn” outside the line; either way we still have change.

I am afraid that one of the methods of argumentation Nagarjuna uses is to “pick apart” and analyse his opponents analogies.

Another way that a simple act can be manifold is by mental division and distinction. If you imagine a red square, you are making a single act with your mind.

A red square is not a single object, except by convention. When analysed it is a conjunction of at least two parts: redness and squareness. Squareness itself is further analysable into four sides and four right angles. Theravada Buddhism spends a lot of time analysing mental objects into their constituent parts. Nagarjuna shows that those parts (Dharmas/Dhammas) are not real, but merely another mental model we have.

I can imagine making a universe without planet Earth at the same time as imagining the same universe being made with planet Earth, and in fact we do exactly that when we consider the Big Bang, or any other creation theory of the universe.

If we accept change then the universe changes from universe-without-earth to universe-with-earth. By insisting on a single act of creation you have to merge those two contradictory universes into one. That is not possible. If creation is a process rather than an event, then different universes are possible, because a process implies change over time. However that moves away from a single act of creation to an ongoing changing process of unfolding.

If you deny reification, then you deny human communication. The fact is that humans do in fact reify, and these concepts are in fact real in some manner.

Reification is useful for ordinary life and ordinary conversation. The problem arises when people make the philosophical error of mistaking their reified model of reality for the real thing. It is an extremely good Virtual Reality simulation, but in the final analysis it is only a VR simulation of the real thing and not the real thing itself. Part of the Buddhist analysis of suffering is to point to the various disconnects between our internal model and the external reality. Many meditation techniques are focused on helping us to realise that the internal model and the external reality are different and that we must not mistake one for the other.

I do not accept the “nature” of the tree. The word “tree” is just a label we attach to a particular set of parts arranged in a particular way. If I start with an acorn, I would not call it a “tree” because it lacks many significant parts a tree should have. However there is a continuous process that transforms “acorn” into “tree”. At what point in the process does “tree” suddenly become appropriate? There is a single continuous changing process to which we apply different labels at different times. The process labeled tree is and must be changing all the time. Change is inherent in everything.

The Buddha “existed in nirvana” in the sense that he had unfettered his senses and thoughts, he had cleansed his mind of self-orientation and self-realization, but the ultimate goal is the ending of the cycle of rebirth, which occurs at permanent death. This is why, in Theravada Buddhism, it is emphasized that Buddha no longer exists, he has been totally “snuffed out” like a flame blown out by the wind. Guatama was not speaking about escaping to this “Unmade” (as Catholics speak of being united with God, the Unmade), but to escape from being altogether. Had he been speaking of escaping to a new state, he would have been no different than the Hindus he broke from.

Correct. All descriptions of nirvana are false, as are all descriptions of the Buddha after his final death. In the absence of nirvana there is no escape from suffering; with nirvana such an escape is possible.

rossum

Ah, you’ve fallen into the trap of nihilism. A very common error.:smiley:

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata exists: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?"
“…no…”
“Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”
“…no…”
“Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”
“…no…”
“Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”
“…no…”

"Vaccha, the position that
"…‘after death a Tathagata exists’…
"…‘after death a Tathagata does not exist’…
"…‘after death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist’…
“…‘after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist’…
is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.”

If Nibbana were merely non-existence (of the sort imagined to occur after death by materialist philosophers), then it would not be called “the highest happiness”, “nibbanam paranam sukham”.

If Nibbana were merely non-existence, then the Buddha would have congratulated the materialists philosophers of ancient India as correctly describing what happens after death for those who have realized Nibbana. Instead, the Buddha categorically refuted such ideas.

If Nibbana were merely non-existence, then it would not be called a “dhamma”, as in “sabbe dhamma anatta”.

Nibbana is indeed a “state”, or a dhamma. Buddhists and Hindus, as well as Jewish and Christian mystics, have all spoken of a state that is neither being nor non-being, or both being and non-being, or “beyond all conceptualization”, or any number of paradoxical labels. The uniqueness of Buddhism does not lie in what Buddha or Buddhists “say” about Nibbana, since pretty much anyone can “say” the same thing about Brahman, or Atman, or Ain Sof, or the Godhead, or Parasiva, or Al-Haqq. Buddhism’s uniqueness exists in its method, which then determines that the goal is realized, rather than merely aimed at.

If time is reduced to the line, then whatever dimension the hand is moving in is not time; call it “faarn”. If we define “change” as “difference in one or more dimensions”, then we have either “difference in time” (along the time line) or “difference in faarn” outside the line; either way we still have change.

I don’t know what you mean by your definition of change, so I can’t address it. That being said, you are apparently not grasping the point of the analogy. The hand, considered within the confines of the analogy, is not changing its act at all. In moving along the line, we come across two different experiences of this single act without changing anything in the hand.

I am afraid that one of the methods of argumentation Nagarjuna uses is to “pick apart” and analyse his opponents analogies.

Picking apart analogies is well and good, and is in fact the Thomistic method as well. What you are doing is not arguing, however, but rather clouding the issue with sophistry. In picking apart an analogy as a form of argument you must address the point of the analogy and show how the elements presented don’t illustrate the point, but what you are doing is attacking elements that are aside from the point of the analogy, avoiding any actual engagement with the point at all. That is not argumentation, that is avoidance at best, and sophistry at worst.

A red square is not a single object, except by convention. When analysed it is a conjunction of at least two parts: redness and squareness. Squareness itself is further analysable into four sides and four right angles. Theravada Buddhism spends a lot of time analysing mental objects into their constituent parts. Nagarjuna shows that those parts (Dharmas/Dhammas) are not real, but merely another mental model we have.

This is a perfect example of my above point: you are not engaging the analogy at all, but attacking a side issue. In fact, I not only accept that the square is composite, but utilize that fact in my point, which you seem to be missing (I will not assume that you are merely intentionally engaging in sophism and muddying the discussion). The point is that the square is indeed composite, but it is imagined in a single act and not part by part. When I imagine a red square, I imagine the red, the four lines, the angles all at once in a single mental act; I do not assemble it line by line and then color it in. It is a simple, singular act, but the result is indeed composite.

If we accept change then the universe changes from universe-without-earth to universe-with-earth. By insisting on a single act of creation you have to merge those two contradictory universes into one. That is not possible. If creation is a process rather than an event, then different universes are possible, because a process implies change over time. However that moves away from a single act of creation to an ongoing changing process of unfolding.

Your reasoning here follows on your missing the point of the previous analogy. I can, with a single act of the will, create a universe that at one moment will not contain Earth, but through a process will contain the Earth at a later time. Willing a process is not the same as going through a process myself; creation can be a process on the side of the creature, but a single act on the side of the creator, especially when the creator is responsible for the entire existence of the creature, and not merely kicking off the process and leaving it to itself.

continue…

Reification is useful for ordinary life and ordinary conversation. The problem arises when people make the philosophical error of mistaking their reified model of reality for the real thing. It is an extremely good Virtual Reality simulation, but in the final analysis it is only a VR simulation of the real thing and not the real thing itself. Part of the Buddhist analysis of suffering is to point to the various disconnects between our internal model and the external reality. Many meditation techniques are focused on helping us to realise that the internal model and the external reality are different and that we must not mistake one for the other.

The problem here is that the idea does in fact transcend the internal in some manner, and if it did not then communication would not be possible at all, not even as a convention. It is certainly possible to have erroneous ideas about “circle”, but if circle were not in some sense the same between our minds, then no communication could take place. If I told you to draw a circle, and there was no constant in the idea of circle, then there would be no way I could recognize your drawing as my mental conception of circle; there would be no parity between our minds and ideas.

do not accept the “nature” of the tree. The word “tree” is just a label we attach to a particular set of parts arranged in a particular way. If I start with an acorn, I would not call it a “tree” because it lacks many significant parts a tree should have. However there is a continuous process that transforms “acorn” into “tree”. At what point in the process does “tree” suddenly become appropriate? There is a single continuous changing process to which we apply different labels at different times. The process labeled tree is and must be changing all the time. Change is inherent in everything.

You are once again falling into the trap of sophistry, intentionally or not. It doesn’t matter for my point whether the tree has its own stable substance, or if it is a process we call “tree”; what matters is that me standing next to it or not does not enter into the process of “that tree”. That is the difference between a real relation and a mental relation.

Correct. All descriptions of nirvana are false, as are all descriptions of the Buddha after his final death. In the absence of nirvana there is no escape from suffering; with nirvana such an escape is possible.

The descriptions of nirvana are not false because they are limited, but because nirvana has no substance to describe. It is a mere condescension to human language and mindset to speak of nirvana at all, just like we speak of darkness as if it were a real thing, rather than a mere negation of light. Nirvana is escape precisely because it does not exist, it is “real” only in the sense that elimination of existence is possible and not merely an illusion or delusion.

Peace and God bless!

SedesDomi:

If Nibbana were merely non-existence, then the Buddha would have congratulated the materialists philosophers of ancient India as correctly describing what happens after death for those who have realized Nibbana. Instead, the Buddha categorically refuted such ideas.

Materialists do not believe in the ending of existence, but merely the changing of existence. Buddha, in the scripture you cited, is denying all references to “being” or “not being” because both positions assume that there is something to be or not be, which is precisely what he is refuting. We can’t say that now Ghosty exists, and now he doesn’t exist, because we are implicitely accepting “Ghosty” as real, whether actually or potentially, in either definition.

This is why he says that when the flame goes out, we don’t ask where it goes, but merely say it is extinguished. It doesn’t change states, or move to a new level of being, or any such thing. This is why nirvana is not a state, because a state assumes permanent existence, which is fundamentally denied by Buddha.

The idea of “bliss” comes later that Buddha; what Buddha is describing is the absence of suffering, not some kind of eternal joy, because joy or bliss require a self to experience them. That is the transformation from Theravada Buddhism to Mahayana Buddhism, where it cuts beyond practice and touches the deeper principles of the two traditions. What you are describing fits well with the metaphysics of the latter, but would not be accepted by my dear friend who was a monk in Thailand. :slight_smile:

The difference is not merely in practice, as is often assumed when people bring up the “individualistic” Theravada versus the “communal” Mahayana, but is actually much more deeply rooted.

Peace and God bless!

My discussion of the definition of change was required. In your analogy time is confined to the line, and the hand is moving outside the line representing time. In such a situation we have to define what we mean by “change” when that change is happening outside of time. Usually change means a change in time; if we move outside time then the normal definition of change is problematical hence to need to discuss what we mean by the word in that situation…

Picking apart analogies is well and good, and is in fact the Thomistic method as well. What you are doing is not arguing, however, but rather clouding the issue with sophistry. In picking apart an analogy as a form of argument you must address the point of the analogy and show how the elements presented don’t illustrate the point, but what you are doing is attacking elements that are aside from the point of the analogy, avoiding any actual engagement with the point at all.

The point of your analogy was to attempt show that a single act outside time can be reflected as multiple different acts inside time. My emphasis on the definition of change was to show that your analogy is not correct because it requires a redefinition of “change” to include the new extra-temporal dimension I arbitrarily called “faarn”. It is you who introduced faarn in your analogy, but failed to work through the implications of doing so. The assumption of time is common in language: “before”, "after, “during” for example are all meaningless outside time, or they need extended definitions to work in faarn as well as in time.

The point is that the square is indeed composite, but it is imagined in a single act and not part by part.

Since the red square is composite, then any imagining of that square is also composite. You have to imagine the square’s redness (you could have imagined a blue square), you have to imagine the four sides and the four right angles (you could have imagined a red triangle). You are not making a single imagining but a multiple imagining. Your imagining can be broken down into parts, so it is multiple and not singular.

Your reasoning here follows on your missing the point of the previous analogy. I can, with a single act of the will, create a universe that at one moment will not contain Earth, but through a process will contain the Earth at a later time.

A process is extended in time. Therefore it cannot be a single action in time, but must be an extended action in time. Again it can be broken down into parts: “Let there be light”, “Let there be stars”, “Let there be armadillos” etc. and so it is multiple, not singular.

Our internal ideas do indeed have much similarity, so we can converse sensibly about “circle”, “horse”, “armadillo” and so forth. I have no problem with things on that level. When we get down to details I see that there are differences between our different models of reality, and that those different models do not conform exactly to reality but must be some sort of approximation. Ordinary conversation is a reflection of the fact that for most purposes the approximations are reasonably close. Philosophically they are still approximations and not to be taken for exact replicas of the thing thay are approximations of.

The descriptions of nirvana are not false because they are limited, but because nirvana has no substance to describe.

On the contrary, nirvana is samsara; the world that we live in is the same world that the enlightened live in. The Buddha lived in the same world as everybody else for 45 years after his enlightenment.

Nirvana is escape precisely because it does not exist, it is “real” only in the sense that elimination of existence is possible and not merely an illusion or delusion.

You will never find that description in any Buddhist text, whether Theravada or Mahayana.

rossum

My discussion of the definition of change was required. In your analogy time is confined to the line, and the hand is moving outside the line representing time. In such a situation we have to define what we mean by “change” when that change is happening outside of time. Usually change means a change in time; if we move outside time then the normal definition of change is problematical hence to need to discuss what we mean by the word in that situation…

I didn’t introduce any concept of change outside of time. In fact, the entire point of the analogy was that there is no change outside of the line. Perhaps I should have said that the hand is on the line, rather than that it is placed down on the line, but I didn’t think that made enough of a difference given the focus of the analogy.

The assumption of time is common in language: “before”, "after, “during” for example are all meaningless outside time, or they need extended definitions to work in faarn as well as in time.

They don’t apply to the hand at all, and thats the point. No modification of terms necessary.

Since the red square is composite, then any imagining of that square is also composite. You have to imagine the square’s redness (you could have imagined a blue square), you have to imagine the four sides and the four right angles (you could have imagined a red triangle). You are not making a single imagining but a multiple imagining. Your imagining can be broken down into parts, so it is multiple and not singular.

The point is that the act of imagining is singular; it is a single, simple act. The image itself is indeed composite, and that was part of my point. Even though it’s composite, you don’t “compose it step by step”, but all at once in a sincle act. Perhaps in your brain you draw every line and detail when you picture something, but I doubt that very much.

A process is extended in time. Therefore it cannot be a single action in time, but must be an extended action in time. Again it can be broken down into parts: “Let there be light”, “Let there be stars”, “Let there be armadillos” etc. and so it is multiple, not singular.

The process is indeed in time, but the willing is a singular moment. I will a universe that will develop stars, and later armadillos, and that is a single willing. I do not need to go through the process of “filling it in” step by step, any more than I have to will one line, then another, then another, then another, and fill in the center with red.

Our internal ideas do indeed have much similarity, so we can converse sensibly about “circle”, “horse”, “armadillo” and so forth. I have no problem with things on that level. When we get down to details I see that there are differences between our different models of reality, and that those different models do not conform exactly to reality but must be some sort of approximation. Ordinary conversation is a reflection of the fact that for most purposes the approximations are reasonably close. Philosophically they are still approximations and not to be taken for exact replicas of the thing thay are approximations of.

It’s not necessary to say that our ideas are exact replicas to say that our ideas are real. It would not be possible to communicate if there was not some central “real” thing that is being approximated. For an approximation to be close, the thing must be real and stable; if the reference point is constantly moving then there is no “close” to be had, and certainly no “close” that is universal to all parties, as is required for communication with language. For anything to be “close”, there must be something to be “close” to, and that is what we call the nature or essence of the thing. We may have faulty perceptions, but we can’t have an approximation without a proximity.

On the contrary, nirvana is samsara; the world that we live in is the same world that the enlightened live in. The Buddha lived in the same world as everybody else for 45 years after his enlightenment.

That is the Mahayana position, but it’s definitely not the view of the Thai monks I’ve spoken with. We can be detached, and have our passions “snuffed out” in this life, but nirvana is most certainly not the same as samsara.

You will never find that description in any Buddhist text, whether Theravada or Mahayana.

It is the position taught to me by my friends who were Thai monks, and also the only logically consistant position to take from Buddhas own teachings. There can be no experience of bliss without a subject of the experience, a self, and since Buddha denied the self, and taught the extinction of the notion of self, all descriptions of nirvana as a state or experience can only be condescensions to human limitations. The only other option is that Buddha did not actually believe in an extinction of “I”, which is a much less tenable position since it was the very focus of his teaching, while discussion of the nature of nirvana was discouraged.

Peace and God bless!

<mode=picky, picky, picky>How can you justify “is”, the present tense, in the absence of time? Past, present and future tenses are not meaningful outside time. :slight_smile:

Examine the very tips of the fingers. Are they inside time or outside the time line? If they are outside it then they cannot be detected from within time. If they are inside time then they are changing from “not yet present” to “present” to “formerly present”. Anything inside time must be changing; anything outside time cannot have an impact inside time because it is not present there.

The point is that the act of imagining is singular; it is a single, simple act.

I disagree, the imagining is a compound act, which can be analysed into separate parts. It is convenient to treat it as a single act in many contexts but it is not fundamentally single.

It’s not necessary to say that our ideas are exact replicas to say that our ideas are real. It would not be possible to communicate if there was not some central “real” thing that is being approximated. For an approximation to be close, the thing must be real and stable; if the reference point is constantly moving then there is no “close” to be had, and certainly no “close” that is universal to all parties, as is required for communication with language. For anything to be “close”, there must be something to be “close” to, and that is what we call the nature or essence of the thing. We may have faulty perceptions, but we can’t have an approximation without a proximity.

We can communicate about unreal things provided we have reasonably similar ideas about those things: unicorns for example have a reasonably well established list of properties despite not being real.

Change does not always negate communication. Provided change is slow, as with mountains, or confined within known boundaries, as with a river, we can easily communicate about changing things. Where change is fast I agree that we cannot always communicate: “Look at that bird!”, “What bird?”, “Too late, you missed it.”

I do not have a problem with the usefulness of general classifications, such as “bird”, which cover a number of separate objects with similarities and differences. I reject the reifying of that useful classification into some hidden essence of “Bird”. The word “bird” is merely a useful classification with no deeper philosophical implication.

That is the Mahayana position, but it’s definitely not the view of the Thai monks I’ve spoken with. We can be detached, and have our passions “snuffed out” in this life, but nirvana is most certainly not the same as samsara.

I was indeed quoting from a Mahayana source.

all descriptions of nirvana as a state or experience can only be condescensions to human limitations.

Agreed.

The only other option is that Buddha did not actually believe in an extinction of “I”,

He did not. How can you extinguish something that does not exist in the first place? Is it possible to kill a unicorn? What is to be extinguished is the incorrect notion that we have an “I” or self.

Buddhism is not, and never has been, about extinguishing your “self”; it has always been about realising that you have never ever had a self and that you were mistaken when you thought that you did.

while discussion of the nature of nirvana was discouraged.

One of the differences in approach between the Theravada and the Mahayana is that the Theravada are reluctant to speak about nirvana in order to avoid giving the wrong impression of it. The Mahayana on the other hand try to avoid giving the wrong impression of nirvana by giving long descriptions of what nirvana is not like. Either approach is valid and the different approaches work for different people.

rossum

This is very Platonic.

Hi SedesDomi,
Ok, if what you say is true and Jewish and Christian “mystics” (a dubious distinction) agree about a non-conceptual state of awareness, then why are they not Buddhists? I mean, if they have realized a Buddhist truth about life then why are they still Jewish or Christian?
In other words, what is so significant about this state of mind?

How can you justify “is”, the present tense, in the absence of time? Past, present and future tenses are not meaningful outside time

The “is” is merely the language of the analogy, and has nothing to do with the hand within the analogy. That being said, “is” is the only term that CAN apply outside of time, since it does not denote a sequence of events. Time is the flow of moment to moment, but outside of time there is only the “eternal now”, the moment that abuts all temporal moments. “Is”, then, is the most appropriate term, and is in fact the very term God uses to describe Himself (“I Am That Am”, or “I Am that Is”, in Hebrew).

Examine the very tips of the fingers. Are they inside time or outside the time line? If they are outside it then they cannot be detected from within time. If they are inside time then they are changing from “not yet present” to “present” to “formerly present”. Anything inside time must be changing; anything outside time cannot have an impact inside time because it is not present there.

You are mistaking the movement of time with change within the fingers. This seems to be an ongoing problem for you: you constantly apply terms that do not fall with the definition of the “nature” or “process” to the thing itself. That the experience of the finger is future, then now, then past, does not indicate a change in the finger at all, because “future, now, and past” describe my relation, in time, to the event of the finger. The terms describe my temporal relation, not the thing itself.

I disagree, the imagining is a compound act, which can be analysed into separate parts. It is convenient to treat it as a single act in many contexts but it is not fundamentally single.

The image is compound, the imagining is not. If the imagining were compound, one would have to imagine each individual trait and then compile them step by step. The imagining is simple, because it is a single act and movement of the will.

There are ways in which imagining can be considered compound, but not in the way you are saying. For the purposes of the analogy, the act is simple; the ways in which the act can be considered compound do not fall within the purview of the analogy.

We can communicate about unreal things provided we have reasonably similar ideas about those things: unicorns for example have a reasonably well established list of properties despite not being real.

You’re using too narrow a definition of “real”. You seem to be mistaking “real” for “actually existing materially”, but that is not a sufficient definition. The unicorn is “real” in the imagination: it is a real image, and a real idea. It just doesn’t exist outside the mind, except by some artistic representation.

What is not real is a true square circle, or any other self-contradiction; they can’t exist in any real way.

Change does not always negate communication. Provided change is slow, as with mountains, or confined within known boundaries, as with a river, we can easily communicate about changing things. Where change is fast I agree that we cannot always communicate: “Look at that bird!”, “What bird?”, “Too late, you missed it.”

If there are boundaries that are established, then there is something that is unchanging. The definition of river is set, even if the word comes to cover a broader or narrower category (from river of water to river of time, for example). If the concept of river changes, then communication is impossible. We can’t even speak of it changing quickly or slowly, because any change is an absolute change; materially speaking, the river is absolutely a different river from one moment to the next, and the mountain is absolutely a different mountain from one moment to the next. It is the form in the mind that is unchanging, and that is how communication is possible. You and I have literally never seen the same mountains or rivers, but we can speak of them as concepts and understand eachother because the ideas are stable, and the mind forms a real concept by abstracting from our experiences of mountains and rivers.

He did not. How can you extinguish something that does not exist in the first place? Is it possible to kill a unicorn? What is to be extinguished is the incorrect notion that we have an “I” or self.

One can certainly extinguish a lie without believing it to have had its own seperate reality. Extinguishing the “I” does not mean that there was a real “I” to extinguish, but to extinguish the faulty perception of “I”, the desires and sense of self that leads to suffering. Buddha also believed that flames were an illusion of matter, and didn’t carry their own fundamental, abiding reality, yet he spoke of extinguishing flames.

The “I” is the perception that arises from being caught up in various desires, which are like fuel to the flame. Remove the fuel, and the flame is extinguished, remove the desires and the “I” is likewise extinguished.

Peace and God bless!

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