Wednesday, October 28, 2015


In the beginning of the "On the Ontological Status of Separation" reading, Ratié summarizes Utpaladeva's theory regarding consciousness, cognition, and memory. Ratié writes, "We must acknowledge consciousness's unity in order to account for our experience of the world: without it, our practical existence (vyavahāra) would remain a perfect mystery, for memory is the basis of our mundane existence, but in the absence of a unitary consciousness, nothing could explain the synthetic awareness through which consciousness can grasp remembered objects" (383). 

What I like about this concept is that it makes sense to me, and not just that I can comprehend the theory. Each individual cognition, thought or memory, must be strung together into a unified consciousness, or memory. Because as Ratié says, memory is how we know we exist. Just thinking about the implications of these words makes me view memory in a way I never have before, but one that I think is fitting. If we didn't have a memory, how would we know what existing even was? Would we even exist without a memory? Because if memory causes us to acknowledge and be aware of out state of existence, and we don't have memory, then we don't know. And if we don't know something, that we exist, is it true? Does it happen if we don't know, and can't know?

I actually thought of a silly scene from 50 First Dates when I read this. I watched the movie a long time ago so my recollections of the scene might be a little off (again, how memory works.) At the hospital or clinic with the memory patients, Adam Sandler's character meets 10 Second Tom, a character who forgets everything every 10 seconds. Tom keeps reintroducing himself every ten seconds because he forgets he already has. When you combine this scene with the quote however, it makes no sense, at least to me. If Tom keeps losing his memory, what forms the basis of his existence? How does he know he exists? Does he exist? 

Does the pot really see me? (and vice versa)

In The Dreamer and the Yogin: On the relationship between Buddhist and Saiva Idealisms, Ratie synthesizes the debate between the externalist and idealist perception of objects by the conscious. Externalist doctrine states that perceived objects exists outside of the consciousness that precedes them (438), while the idealist doctrine states that the objects that are perceived are actually objects of the self. Later, Ratie also discusses the contradictory nature of the object in terms of whether to attribute wholeness to it, if parts of an object constitute its whole, and if so, how does sight and recognition of the object follow. Perhaps the way in which we perceive objects is more of a reflection, suggesting an externalist doctrine. In terms of the pot sees me, and I see it-- how do these two doctrines relate? If objects and cognition are in fact both projections of the self, do you still see the pot as a “pot”? In terms of non-dualist thought and Yogacara, is the mere act of recognizing that the pot can see, a step towards being released from the constructed and dependent nature, towards the perfected? Is there really sight involved if both you and the pot are projections of the self (idealist)? Does your ability to see the pot come from it’s external potness? How can awareness rise in a specific moment if the object is not distinct from consciousness?
I found Ratie's chapter in Puspika both interesting but still a little confusing. However, her periodic restatements throughout the chapter that, "separation [between objects and subjects] is an appearance, yet it is not unreal" (Ratie, 388) did help in bringing me back to the main idea as I was reading. I also found her explanations of the painting and "city in a mirror" metaphors helpful when trying to understand this concept. From my understanding (which may be incorrect), in the painting metaphor if the various colors that make up the painting are perceived as separate, such as "yellow" and "red", then it won't be seen as what it is, which is a painting. When various colors are "grasped" together then the painting emerges, however this can only be done if there is a background in which all the colors are present. The various colors, represent the diverse elements of the world and if a person only has a very "synthetic grasp" on the concept of a painting (various lines of color put together) then they can't see the bigger picture, which is that these seemingly separate elements actually come together while still maintaining their own distinct qualities. And it is the background that unites all of these elements without "dissolving their differences" that is ultimately what allows the colors to become a painting, or in other words, as Abhinavagupta puts it, "the variety of the universe is manifest only if there is a Supreme Lord who consists of nothing but a manifesting consciousness, just as a painting [is manifest only if there is] a background" (as quoted by Ratie, 394). This metaphor makes the background in this scenario the ultimate consciousness or reality (?) in which everything exists.

Hope this is ok as a blog post.. I know I'm mostly just trying to sort out my thoughts rather than have any real insight into these ideas. And I would not be surprised if I got this all wrong, in which case I'd really love to know where I messed up or which concepts I'm getting confused!
Alas, I could not make it. This will be my dropped post.

Thoughts on the relationship between Buddhism and Physics

Duality.  It’s a phenomenon existent in nature and the universe. The Yogacara tradition and the idea of duality in liberation personally hit a note in the way I think about physics and its explanation of the universe. Physics and religion both together have fascinated me in the ideas of the nature of matter and the universal meaning of everything. The first idea that instantly came to mind was the connection of the Yogacaran idea of duality with wave particle duality in quantum physics, where an elementary particle of matter can exhibit dualistic properties of both waves and particles. That quantum entity is not only a particle, but also a wave.  It isn’t one, but both. Additionally, Schrodinger’s wave function also illustrates the idea of duality. Imagining the symmetry of a wave functioning say on the ‘x’ axis in mathematics. The wave can’t exist without the presence of this axis with respect to the ‘y’ axis. On a different note, in physical chemistry, one chemical can exhibit different states when heat or cold is present or propagated. Over time, all these ideas of matter and their properties and nature have interested me as to what their irreducible state really is. Physics and religion, specifically Buddhism traditions share somewhat similar parallels of thought I feel in regards to the nature of the universe (that irreducible, supreme nature of everything) but ultimately fall short in their relationship on a purely complimentary, unifying explanation. The language of both make attempts to complement one another, but the work of physics unquestionably is still reaching towards understanding of the causes and beginnings of the universe. All of these ideas in science influence my insight into the nature of matter, and ultimately of reality, and existence. It introduces thought to formulate new connections of nature both in reality and within ourselves. If the mind is made of matter, and matter can exhibit a dualistic nature, then perhaps it can be said of something within the perfected nature of existence that the Yogacaran tradition seeks to explain. The mind consciousness of the constructed nature of existence plays a role in the perception and rational reasoning of external reality and begs to question if there is deeper meaning in physics not understood that can further explain this perfected state of existence.

Thoughts on Compassion and Karma

Yesterday in class, we learned the story of Asanga, the Buddhist monk who let maggots onto his tongue to save a dying dog without hurting the maggots. I think in Eastern traditions, dogs aren't considered as the respected companions they are in the West, so the fact that Asanga would try to save one is kind of a big deal. Anyway, that amount of great compassion was apparently what it took for Asanga to see Maitreya, but why did it have to go that far? Couldn't Asanga have used some other method to remove the maggots safely and still see Maitreya (I think somebody asked that in class)? At first it really confused me why Asanga had to do something so extreme and gross to have a vision of Maitreya, and why letting maggots in his mouth was his first instinct. After thinking about it a little more, I think I understand. In The Concealed Art of the Soul, Ganeri says that altruism and selflessness are core values in Buddhism, and by committing selfless acts, one can obtain good karma. Asanga committed self-sacrifice in such an extreme way and to an animal that may not have deserved it, and therefore he may have obtained enough good karma that he deserved to see Maitreya. Could it be one of the laws of karma that the more extreme the sacrifice, the more good karma is obtained?

Sorry once again for the short post. 

The Dreamer and the Yogin and The Allegory of the Cave

“Is perception the awareness of objects that have an independent existence and that consciousness simply reveals, just as a lamp lights objects that were already present in the dark?” (Ratié 437)
When beginning reading The Dreamer and the Yogin, this first line in the introduction stood out to me as a concept that I have personally thought deeply about before. Throughout the reading, although this Indian philosophy digs more deeply into the concepts of objects, cognition, and awareness, I was consistently reminded of Plato’s allegory of the cave. I first learned about the allegory of the cave in my religion classes at the Catholic high school that I attended and it was used as an attempt to explain the nature of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until my freshman year philosophy class while reading Plato’s “Republic” that I truly understood the mystery behind this allegory with an open mind.
The allegory is meant to be a visual representation of the effects of education on the human soul. The gist of the allegory is that humans were tied in this cave since childhood facing a wall. Behind them there is a fire and there are other humans that are acting as almost puppeteers. They parade objects in the shapes of people and animals casting shadows for the chained prisoners to see. This is the only sense of reality that the prisoners have. This is what they know to be true. If one prisoner was to be released and was able to go out of the cave and experience the “real world”, it would be hard for him to come back and explain his experience to the still chained prisoners. They would not be inclined to believe him because for years they have understood these shadows as reality and some might even call this “enlightened” prisoner deranged.

This connects well to the concept of ignorance and attaining truth. The Buddha might have experienced this as he became enlightened. He thought that although he now came to an understanding of the truth of suffering and liberation, he thought that he couldn’t explain this to anyone else. Some might call him crazy or not be willing to accept that there is truth beyond what they know. He was encouraged to teach despite his doubts. In the cave, ones perception of these objects was that they were humans and animals walking on a walkway outside of the cave when in reality they are puppets. It takes consciousness and cognition of the true nature of what they are seeing to be revealed and believed.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Complexity and Confusion

This week, the main thing that was clear to me was that the concepts of the readings were not. Although it is really interesting to see the way two very similar but very different traditions relate their conventional world to the external world, it is hard for my shallow mind to comprehend even the existence of an external world which is simultaneously everything and nothing that exists outside of space and time. Bartley even says that the best way to describe brahman is by "eliminating all limiting conditions" and using the expression "'not this.'" It's also very difficult for me to comprehend the idea that our conventional world is erroneous, because it definitely does not feel that way. It makes me wonder how this idea even came about and why it's generally accepted by Hindus. If this is, according to Bartley, part of the introduction to Indian philosophy, frankly, I'm worried about what's to come. 

I'm really sorry that this is a short post with a lack of distinct, smart-sounding thoughts. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

sorry, couldn't post today. I'll see everyone in class tomorrow!

Ram-Prasad (???)

While reading the Ram-Prasad selection on pramāna theory, I found myself pretty consistently confused. Sometimes the actual wording used by the author confused me; some of those sentences made no sense to me no matter how many times I read them. Other times, however, I was able to understand his writing and explanations of Sankara’s philosophy, but I still do not understand the goal. The shorter reading mentioned that Sankara’s goal was “the freedom of the authentic self (ātman) from rebirth,” but I did not see how this tied into the longer, more conufusing reading (Advaita-Vedānta 141).

 Sankara theorized heavily on the concept of experience, I think in an attempt to explain cognitive life (cognition) through an idea known as the subject-object relationship. For his argument, subject and object are fundamentally different, with subjects possessing “ ’I’-ness” and objects possessing “ ‘you’- ness” (Ram-Prasad 31). “ ‘ You’- ness” in this sense merely means “ ‘non-I’ or ‘other thatn the self’ ” (31). This part of Sankara’s theory I understand, but after this is where I started to get lost. Ram-Prasad begins dicussing how subject and object are interrelated and that object conditions subject. Primarily, I do not understand this concept, which made the rest of the reading difficult. What does “condition” mean in this sense? If an object does not have a “self” or atman, how can it condition the subject. Or does conditioning refer to the thoughts and ideas that form a subject’s experience with various objects?

Looking forward to understanding more in class tomorrow.

Know Thyself: Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta is a branch of Hindu philosophy whose primary belief is in the ultimate non-duality of individuals with the overarching soul-self, Brahman (Bartley 162). The world itself is a series of superimpositions--illusions that obscure realization of true oneness, known collectively as "avidya" (Bartley 165). There is some contention within the tradition over what precisely avidya is: either each individual's soul/perceptive ability is an avidya, or that avidya is a force of anti-knowledge, an entity on the scale of Brahman (Bartley 166). Coming to the realization of nonduality (similarly to Buddhism traditions) allows freedom from samsara, moksha (Bartley 139). Interestingly, this realization is a purely mental feat. None of the ritual actions of the Vedas are required. In fact, the value of the Vedas and the Gita is that reading them allows for an intuitive understanding of universal nonduality (Bartley 150-151). Some of the Vedantins value rituals less (like Samkara) some more (like Mandana Misra) (Barley 151) but there appears to be an overall consensus that the rituals are binding. Because they are actions, they are consequence and object oriented, differentiating rather than simplifying. They may positively impact the next life, but they cannot allow escape from the cycle (Bartley 153-154).

The Bartley text also describes Samkara's arguments about how Vendanta differs from Buddhism, but in this I can at least make my own interpretation. They seem similar but have an important and divisive difference. The Vedanta tradition believes that all differentiation is an illusion because everything is one. The Buddhist tradition believes that all differentiation is an illusion but everything is nothing (or not nothing but also not something).

It quite reminded me of your highly amusing Shiva blob comment, actually, Dr. Cat.

Superimposition, Authentic Being, and Vasanas

Instead of writing with a thematic strand in mind, I am going to number my observations and questions. I don't have a focus that runs through them, but rather multiple points I want to post about. They are all based on the chapter from Bartley, Advaita-Vedanta.

  1. When discussing whether or not agency is innate or superimposed, Samkara states that “were agency an essential feature of identity, it could never be separated from it, just as heat is inseparable from fire” (Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya 2.3.40 / 147). However, contrary to identity and agency, “the supposition that the Brahman has a mode of being that excludes consciousness and another mode that has the form of consciousness that is other than being implies that is internally complex. Being is just consciousness and consciousness is just in being” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 2.3.6 / 146). Superimposed qualities depend upon relations with other things for validation and existence, and human beings create these qualities partially based on language. If everything can be encompassed in Brahman and the qualities of Brahman are inexpressible, where is the validity in saying that agency and identity are not one, yet being and consciousness are? By saying that one thing is not essential to the other while another set of things are essentially fused, are we still relying on superimposed qualities (I realize that my language here is a little off, or it seems off, as I am addressing being and consciousness  as things while the first or second page of our reading made the point that neither are considered things and can’t be because both/it are considered absolute meaning-reality (sadba-tattva) My question here, despite my incorrect language, is: how can we understand what is Brahman (in scripture?) and the distinction between essential features if we are still relying on superimposed qualities?)
  2. This is a small comment, but since there is no distinction between subject and object, rather a vision of superimposed qualities, the point “that differences are unreal,” what role do imprints, vasanas, play? Are they also superimposed qualities (I thought we talked about these traces as the defining feature that created one’s karmic stream and therefore differences between the reincarnation of people)?
  3. “It is illogical to hold that the continuing existence of entities depends on other entities when their natures are constituted by their own specific causes. Interdependence is a human concept and not something that belongs to things as they are in themselves” (164)  Authentic being and its relation to the quote above (Samkara’s) is very interesting to me especially when seen in light of Western philosophy and Christianity. To exist for the sake of others is not an authentic existence to Samkara (as true being/ Brahman does not depend on its relation to other things), yet salvation in the Christian sense and as I understand it has everything to do with death and existence for others (Jesus’ crucifixion, the ultimate sacrifice for others, created salvation and a way out of the trappings of humanity, whether that be sin or mortality). 
  4. --I'm done now! Sorry for the long blog post!

The Selfish in Samsara

Upon reading the draft translation of Dunne and McClintock, I began to ponder more deeply the relationship of the Self and it’s aggregates and see the nature of both more clearly. The self is neither a part of nor separate from the aggregates. Thinking of how the aggregates undergo a constant birth and destruction, it would be said then that the self would exercise this as well. Interestingly put, the “aggregates arise form the habitual sense of I” (Line 25 , page 206). This habitual “I” is not indeed the self, but is noted as the self’s substratum. Further on, it is noted how the habitual sense of “I” gives birth to the aggregates, and in essence is unreal in nature. Perhaps in poor metaphorical fashion, I began imagining the Self toting this purse or arsenal of different items that can be defining as an extension of the self. That chapstick, after application, becomes a part of the Self, but is not the true Self. Or contacts – they help aid one in seeing but cannot be in essence part of the Self. These material items existing are all the Self’s possessions, an extension of “I” and owned by the self that can be removed and reapplied, but do not constitute the essence of Self. The atmanina as stated on line 19 of the Analysis of the Self, are the Self’s possessions and aid the self, but do not constitute it. If these extensions and the habitual sense of ‘I’ do not exist and lack the true nature of the Self, then how does the Self, lacking these ‘possessions’ exist? Stated simply in line 10 on page 208, “The aggregates are essentially empty and void; the Element is essentially empty and void”. When the idea of “I” and the extension of it ceases, the Self is empty and “the appropriation ceases” (line 16, page 208). When this appropriation ceases, birth ceases. As learned prior, the ceasing of birth and death in the cycle of samsara serves as the essence of liberation. Dwelling in the self as “I”, one drowns in samsara, with the idea that the Self’s possessions are actually the true Self. Reflecting on the world and the people I come to interact with, it is undoubtedly true that the more unselfish one is, in thought and action, the closer liberation can become. The unselfish dwell in the true nature of Nirvana.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Coming to Understand Prajñā

In Mahāyāna Buddhism, Paul Williams writes about a concept called, prajñā. In it's simplist term, this can be understood as wisdom but I have been struggling to understand what this even means. In my naïve sense of what wisdom is, I think of learning, reading and gaining as much knowledge as one has the capacity to attain. This reading though, gave me a difference sense of how to understand wisdom. Williams explains that there might be two ways to look at what wisdom is. 

“In speaking of wisdom as understanding the way things really are there is correspondingly a distinction between knowing intellectually, through deep, even meditative, analysis, the way things must really be (knowing that ‘Aha – this is the way things really are!’), and the ‘paranormal’ experience of a meditative absorption directed towards the results of such analysis – dharmas or emptiness as the case may be. We thus face another understandable shift in the meaning of prajñā. Prajñā is sometimes a meditative absorption the content of which is the ultimate truth, the way things really are. Thus the Mahāyānasaṃgraha can refer to the perfection of wisdom as ‘nonconceptual awareness’ (nirvikalpakajñāna)” (Williams 50).

It is, in my opinion, this second definition of wisdom that I attach more with the many aspects of Buddhism. The meditative absorbtion which inevitably leads to ultimate truth reminds me of the final moments of enlightenments of the Buddha himself. I picture the satan-like figure, Mara, doing everything possible to distract and put down Siddhartha as he attempts to achieve nirvana. I see Mara calling him useless and in response, Buddha touching the earth and claiming the earth as his witness thus resulting in the earth standing up, giving witness, and defeating Mara. This is when the Buddha entered his final stage of meditation before reaching enlightenment. This is arguably when he gained all the wisdom that the Buddha is said to have because it was in this moments that he learned the ultimate truth of reality.