March 18, 2015

The 20th century gradually saw emergence of a variety of new paradigms simultaneously in various scientific fields that forced philosophy to re-examine the reductionist approach resulting in the emergence of holistic thinking in philosophy. In the scientific field, some new paradigms have been major influences in emergence of holistic thinking. Important amongst these are Relatively Theory, Quantum Mechanics, Big-Bang theory of the origin and evolution of Universe, General Systems Theory, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, mathematics of chaos and fractals, Gaia-hypothesis etc. In primary healthcare, the term ‘holistic’ has been used to describe approaches that take into account social considerations and other intuitive judgements. The term holism, and so called approaches, appeared in psychosomatic medicine in the 1970s (Lipowski, Z. j), when they were considered one possible way to conceptualize psychosomatic phenomena. Instead of charting one-way causal links from psyche to soma, or vice-versa, it aimed at a systemic model, where multiple biological, psychological and social factors were seen as interlinked. Other, alternative approaches in the 1970s were psychosomatic and somatopsychic approaches, which concentrated on causal links only from psyche to soma, or from soma to psyche, respectively. At present it is commonplace in psychosomatic medicine to state that psyche and soma cannot really be separated for practical or theoretical purposes. A disturbance on any level – somatic, psychic, or social – will radiate to all the other levels, too. In this sense, psychosomatic thinking is similar to the biopsychosocial model of medicine. Many alternative medicine practitioners adopt a holistic approach to healing. The new approaches in philosophy together with new paradigms in various scientific and other fields have provided the basis of modern holistic philosophy.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has introduced the concept of noosphere. It has been introduced within the broader evolutionary conceptual framework. The life is explained in terms of natural evolution of self-organizing matter. The evolution, however, is viewed as purposive, leading via man to an eventual ‘Omega point’, a sort of convergence between mankind, the noosphere, and God. John Smuts (1926) had given an evolutionary and spiritual approach to holism having links with such concept of ‘noosphere’.
A.N. Whitehead, in his book SCIENCE AND MODERN WORLD (1925) developed the theory of Organic Mechanism and proposed that the human life history is a part within the life history of some larger, deeper, more complete pattern (p. 109). In his book ADVENTURES OF IDEAS (1933), he developed integrated philosophical apparoach and pioneered a move towards systems thinking which views science and philosophy as different aspects of the human mind.
J.G. Bennett in his four-volume book THE DREAM UNIVERSE (1956-1966) attempted to bring all scientific knowledge within the scope of one comprehensive theory of existence. Dealing with all branches of science, the theory shows the relations between them in terms of a set of fundamental categories derived from empirical observation, a geometry of six dimensions and a set of existential hypotheses defining the subject matter of the chief scientific disciplines.
Oliver Reiser in the book THE INTEGRATION OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE (1958) sought techniques for the integration of all human knowledge and offered a basis for both individual philosophy and a world philosophy. He advocated a synthesis of science and philosophy, and a re-evaluation of man’s knowledge of himself and of the sciences to develop a system of thought linking man to the universe. In COSMIC HUMANISM (1966), he presented a theory of an eight-dimensional cosmos, based on integrative principles from science, religion and art. In COSMIC HUMANISM AND WORLD UNITY (1975) he further developed the concepts of cosmic humanism stating that it “is a complete world view, a theory of knowledge, a cosmology and a possible universal religion”
Ludvig von Bertalanffy, the founder of General Systems Theory, in his book PROFILES OF LIFE (1952) proposed an organic theory of life. He expressed the view that the phenomenon of life can not be resolved into elementary units, but depends upon interactions, organization and dynamic order.
Arthur Koestler in rejecting the reductionist philosophy developed the concept of ‘HOLON’ as a system consisting of subsystems, which is also a subsystem of some supersystem. He further developed the concept of SOHO (Self-regulating Open Heirarchic Order), which is an explanation of a form of dynamic equilibrium (‘homeostasis’) that will occur only if the self-assertive and integrative tendencies of the components of holons counterbalance each other. If this does not happen, there will be disorder and chaos. His theory has profound implications for society and for understanding the human health in totality.
The shift from reductionist to holistic thinking is obvious in various fields of knowledge but what about the consequent social change? Social change is usually evolutionary, but occasionally it is revolutionary and is accompanied by a social paradigm shift. A social paradigm is a constellation of attitudes, beliefs, values and experiences, shared by most of the members of a society and enabling them to communicate successfully and effectively with one another (Kirk McNulty, 1989). The last shift of social paradigm in Europe, from the ‘Medieval Paradigm’ to the ‘Industrial Paradigm’ started during Renaissance. The next shift seems to be a ‘Consciousness Paradigm’ that is underway now (Willis Harman, 1988). The direct observation of a variety of new paradigms provides an evidence for this paradigm shift. In addition, evidence for such shift is also provided by sample survey data about people’s attitudes and attitude shifts. The ‘Consciousness Paradigm’ seems to be very like the new holistic paradigm.


March 18, 2015

The early Greek atomism of Leucippus and Democritus (fifth century B.C.) was a forerunner of classical physics. According to their view, everything in the universe consists of indivisible, indestructible atoms of various kinds. Change is a rearrangement of these atoms. This kind of thinking was a reaction to the still earlier cocepts of Parmenides. Indian Vaisheshik and Nyaya philosophies were also earliest atomistic worldviews.
In the seventeenth century, at the same time that classical physics gave renewed emphasis to atomism and reductionism.
Parmenides, a very early Greek philospher, had argued that at some primary level the world is a changeless unity. According to him, “All is One. Nor is it divisible, wherefore it is wholly continuous…. It is complete on every side like the mass of a rounded sphere.”
The ideas similar to modern holism have ancient roots and its examples can be found throughout human history in the most diverse socio-cultural contexts as has been confirmed by many ethnological studies.
Similar concepts also played a pivotal role in philosophy of Spinoza and more recently in that of Hegel and Husserl.
Spinoza developed a philosophy reminiscent of Parmenides and proposed that all the differences and apparent divisions we see in the World are Really only aspects of an underlying single substance, which he called ‘God’ or ‘Nature’.
Hegel rejected “the fundamentally atomistic conception of the object,” arguing that “individual objects exist as manifestations of indivisible substance-universals, which cannot be reduced to a set of properties or attributes; he therefore holds that the object should be treated as an ontologically primary whole.” In direct opposition to Kant, therefore, Hegel insists that the unity we find in our experience of the world is not constructed by us out of a plurality of intuitions. In his ontological scheme a concrete individual is not reducible to a plurality of sensible properties, but rather exemplifies a substance universal. His point is that it is a mistake to treat an organic substance like blood as nothing more than a compound of unchanging chemical elements, that can be separated and united without being fundamentally altered. In Hegel’s view, a substance like blood is thus more of an organic unity and cannot be understood as just an external composition of the sort of distinct substances that were discussed at the level of chemistry. Thus, in Hegel’s view, blood is blood is blood and cannot be successfully reduced to what we consider are its component parts; we must view it as a whole substance entire unto itself. This is most certainly a fundamentally holistic view. Hegel, too, had mystical visions of the unity of all things, on which he based his own holistic philosophy of nature and the state. Nature consists of one timeless, unified, rational and spiritual reality. Hegel’s state is a quasi-mystical collective, an “invisible and higher reality,” from which participating individuals derive their authentic identity, and to which they owe their loyalty and obedience. All modern collectivist political thinkers stress some higher collective reality, the unity, the whole, the group, though nearly always at the cost of minimizing the importance of difference, the part, the individual. Against individualism, all emphasize the social whole or social forces that somehow possess a character and have a will of their own, over and above the characters and wills of individual members.
Jan Smuts, a South African statesman, in his book, Holism and Evolution (1926) coined the modern term ‘holism’ and defined it as “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”. He believed that the new thinking and convergence in science and philosophy would lead to emergence of new points of view. There would be shift from mechanistic world-view to a wider view of finding ways to link concepts together. It would thus be possible to explore further the relationship between mind, matter and knowledge. Smuts worked out an ascending order of wholes culminating in final values, which, when set free from human personality, are seen as the creative factors in developing ideas and spiritual values.
Alfred Adler (1927) believed that the individual (an integrated whole expressed through a self-consistent unity of thinking, feeling, and action, moving toward an unconscious, fictional final goal), must be understood within the larger wholes of society, from the groups to which he belongs (starting with his face-to-face relationships), to the larger whole of mankind. The recognition of our social embeddedness and the need for developing an interest in the welfare of others, as well as a respect for nature, is at the heart of Adler’s philosophy of living and principles of psychotherapy.
Maurice Leenhardt (1947), a French Protestant missionary, coined the term ‘cosmomorphism’ to indicate the state of perfect symbiosis with the surrounding environment which characterized the culture of the Melanesians of New Caledonia. For these people, an isolated individual is totally indeterminate, indistinct and featureless until he can find his position within the natural and social world in which he is inserted. The confines between the self and the world are annulled to the point that the material body itself is no guarantee of the sort of recognition of identity which is typical of our own culture.
Gestalt psychology was a major holist movement in the early twentieth century. Its claim was that perception is not an aggregation of atomic sense data but a field, in which there is a figure and a ground. Background has holistic effects on the perceived figure.
Logical holism is the belief that the world operates in such a way that no part can be known without the whole being known first.
In philosophy, any doctrine that emphasizes the priority of a whole over its parts is holism. Some suggest that such a definition owes its origins to a non-holistic view of language and places it in the reductivist camp. Alternately, a ‘holistic’ definition of holism denies the necessity of a division between the function of separate parts and the workings of the ‘whole’. It suggests that the key recognizable characteristic of a concept of holism is a sense of the fundamental truth of any particular experience. This exists in contradistinction to what is perceived as the reductivist reliance on inductive method as the key to verification of its concept of how the parts function within the whole. In the philosophy of language this becomes the claim, called semantic holism, that the meaning of an individual word or sentence can only be understood in terms of its relations to a larger body of language, even a whole theory or a whole language. In the philosophy of mind, a mental state may be identified only in terms of its relations with others. This is often referred to as “content holism” or “holism of the mental”. This notion involves the philosophies of such figures as Frege, Wittgenstein, and Quine. Epistemological and confirmation holism are mainstream ideas in contemporary philosophy. Ontological holism was espoused by David Bohm (1980) in his theory of The Implicate Order.
Holism as an idea or philosophical concept is diametrically opposed to atomism. Where the atomist believes that any whole can be broken down or analyzed into its separate parts and the relationships between them, the holist maintains that the whole is primary and often greater than the sum of its parts. The atomist divides things up in order to know them better; the holist looks at things or systems in aggregate and argues that we can know more about them viewed as such, and better understand their nature and their purpose.
Based on pantheistic religious experience, this emphasis on an underlying unity is reflected in the mystical thinking of most major spiritual traditions. It also reflects developments in modern quantum field theory, which describes all existence as an excitation of the underlying quantum vacuum, as though all existing things were like ripples on a universal pond. The twentieth century has seen a tentative movement toward hoilism in such diverse areas as politics, social thinking, psychology, management theory, and medicine, systems theory, and concern with the whole person in alternative medicine. All these have been reactions against excessive individualism with its attendant alienation and fragmentation, and exhibit a commonsense appreciation of human beings’ interdependency with one another and with the environment.
Where atomism was apparently legitimized by the sweeping sucesses of classical physics, holism found no such foundation in the hard sciences. It remained a change of emphasis rather than a new philosophical position. There were attempts to found it on the idea of organism in biology – the emergence of biological form and the cooperative relation between biological and ecological systems – but these too were ultimately reduced to simpler parts, their properties and the relations between them. Even systems theory, although it emphasizes the complexity of aggregates, does so in terms of causal feedback loops between various constituent parts.
It is only with quantum theory and the dependence of the very being or identity of quantum entities upon their contexts and relationships that a genuinely new, “deep” holism emerges. Relational Holism in Quantum Mechanics is of the view that ‘Every quantum entity has both a wavelike and a particlelike aspect. The wavelike aspect is indeterminate, spread out all over space and time and the realm of possibility’. The particle-like aspect is determinate, located at one place in space and time and limited to the domain of actuality. The particle-like aspect is fixed, but the wavelike aspect becomes fixed only in dialogue with its surroundings – in dialogue with an experimental context or in relationship to another entity in measurement or observation. It is the indeterminate, wave-like aspect – the set of potentialities associated with the entity – that unites quantum things or systems in a truly emergent, relational holism that cannot be reduced to any previously existing parts or their properties. If two or more quantum entities are “introduced” – that is, issue from the same source – their potentialities are entangled. Their indeterminate wave aspects are literally interwoven, to the extent that a change in potentiality in one brings about a correlated change in the same potentiality of the other. In the nonlocality experiments, measuring the previously indeterminate polarization of a photon on one side of a room effects an instantaneous fixing of the polarization of a paired photon shot off to the other side of the room. The polarizations are said to be correlated; they are always determined simultaneously and always found to be opposite. This paired-though-opposite polarization is described as an emergent property of the photons’ “relational holism” – a property that comes into being only through the entanglement of their potentialities. It is not based on individual polarizations, which are not present until the photons are observed. They literally do not previously exist, although their oppositeness was a fixed characteristic of their combined system when it was formed. In the coming together or simultaneous measurement of any two entangled quantum entities, their relationship brings about a “further fact.” Quantum relationship evokes a new reality that could not have been predicted by breaking down the two relational entities into their individual properties. The emergence of a quantum entity’s previously indeterminate properties in the context of a given experimental situation is another example of relational holism. We cannot say that a photon is a wave or a particle until it is measured, and how we measure it determines what we will see. The quantum entity acquires a certain new property – position, momentum, polarization – only in relation to its measuring apparatus. The property did not exist prior to this relationship. It was indeterminate. Quantum relational holism, resting on the nonlocal entanglement of potentialities, is a kind of holism not previously defined. Because each related entity has some characteristics – mass, charge, spin – before its emergent properties are evoked, each can be reduced to some extent to atomistic parts, as in classical physics.
The modern holism is not the extreme holism of Parmenides or Spinoza, where everything is an aspect of the One. Yet, because some of their properties emerge only through relationship, quantum entities are not wholly subject to reduction either. The truth is somewhere between Newton and Spinoza. A quantum system may also vary between being more atomistic at some times and more holistic at others; the degrees of entanglement vary.
The primitive societies have an instinctive holistic view, which is derived from their knowledge of the local ecosystems in their environment. Each such society treats the local ecosystem as dominant and makes all human activities subservient to it. This approach is also observed in ancient and oriental civilisations. The holistic thinking continued to prevail in the western world in some or the other form up to the Renaissance Period. However, with the rise of scientific movement in the mid-17th century, the materialistic-mechanistic world-view and the reductionist approach to analysis became dominant. This led to shifting of focus from the whole to parts and the holistic thinking was gradually abandoned. The non-holistic nature of much of the modern education leaves most the people with conceptual frameworks that are too narrow to allow holistic thinking. However, there was a decline in reductionist thinking in the last few decades of 20th century. Serious attempts were made to build a synthesis of ideas and evolve holistic paradigms in every field.


March 17, 2015

Ontology is the theory of being and ontological questions are concerned with existence, reality and the true nature of things. Realism is the ontological position that the external world is real and it ‘exists’ independent of the human observer. This position also takes the view that the ‘really existing’ objects, structures and mechanisms of that world stimulate the sense perceptions of human observer giving their perceptual knowledge. On the other hand, anti-realist position professes complete agnosticism as regard to ontological questions.
Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and epistemological questions are concerned with what can be known about the world and methods of knowledge. Empiricism is the epistemological position that ultimately all the knowledge stems only from the sense experience. On the other hand, rationalism is the position that, besides sense experience as source of peceptual knowledge, reason is true source of real knowledge of reality.
Empiricism on the epistemological level is usually associated with anti-realism at ontological level. On the other hand, justification of realism on the ontological level requires rationalism on the epistemological level. Empiricist philosophy
The rise of empiricist philosophy in Europe in 17th and 18th century was result of the changed intellectual climate following the ‘scientific’ achievements of men like Kepler, Galileo, Harvey, Newton etc. This school of philosophy is largely associated with philosophers like John Locke, George Berkeley and Auguste Comte. In the 20th century, the logical positivists of Vienna Circle and their successors analysed the logical consequences of empiricist thinking. Though there is disagreement on several important points, all the empiricists share the fundamental belief that all knowledge is derived from experience.
Empiricists accept the laws of purely deductive disciplines of logic and mathematics but assert that logical and mathematical deductions are analytic, which means that these do not generate new knowledge and serve to only analyse the existing knowledge. Anti-realism of empiricists makes it necessary to redefine the concepts like causality and objectivity in such a way that they do not presuppose any reality beyond observation. Empiricists do not accept the generative theory of causality that implies that causal relation takes place in the external world independently of our observations. They propose the alternative succession (Humean) theory of causality in which idea of causality is explained in psychological terms. This theory points out that if we observe one event followed by second event several times, our expectation of the occurrence of second event after the occurrence of first event increases. The causal relationship is this expectation, a mental habit, which we erroneously extrapolate to an external world. The succession theory may be refined by analysing in detail the logical relationship between cause and effects.
From the point of view of empiricism, the laws of nature do not tell us what really goes on in the world. Their function is the ‘mnemonic reproduction of facts in the mind’ i.e. these laws are only mental constructions that serve to describe as concisely as possible, the observations made.
The term objectivity is used by empiricists in a very restricted sense. The term has ontological implications and refers to phenomenon believed to exist independently of the observer. Since empiricist position denies this interpretation, empiricists equate objectivity with inter-subjectivity. They assert that if exactly same observation is made by two different observers then the observation statement is said to be objective meaning that it is inter-subjective, public or verifiable. This assertion lead logical positivists of 20th century to formulate a demarcation criterion, which may serve to distinguish those propositions, which are meaningful from those that are not. They proposed a criterion of verifiability according to which only those statements are meaningful, which in principle could be labelled as verifiable. However, this criterion leads to quite serious consequences and difficulties:
According to this criterion, all attempts to discuss moral issues rationally are considered futile. This nihilistic attitude to moral philosophy is called emotivism.
The criterion itself is not verifiable and, therefore, must be regarded as meaningless by empiricist standards themselves. Thus, the criterion is self-defeating.
The criterion leads to the classical problem of induction since the criterion may well be applicable to singular statements. The leap from experience, which always consists of singular observations, to a ‘law of nature’ can not be logically defended as the law can allways be proved false by next observation and this possibility can never be excluded. This logical problem has always vexed empiricist philosophers. Despite much effort by logical positivists in the last century, it has yet not been possible to logically define the jump from singular observation statements to general theory.
Importance of empiricist philosophers’ teaching regarding the importance of empirical evidence is undoubtedly great. However, it is obvious that from a purely philosophical point of view the radical empiricism leads to a dead end and creates insurmountable problems. It imposes a view of the world that is quite counter-intuitive. The empiricist belief that all knowledge is derived solely from the experience has not been established up till now to be fully consistent. The empiricist denouncement of realism has been unsuccessful in clarifying many of the philosophical problems. This forced inquiry along the lines of weakening the empiricist position.
Immanuel Kant did not accept the Locke’s idea that mind was originally like a blank sheet of paper. According to him, space and time are preconditions for the perception of something as an object and, therefore, human beings are ‘programmed’ to think in categories of quantity, quality, casualty, possibility, necessity, existence etc. A human being’s picture of the actual world reflects this a priori organisation of his sense perceptions and his actual observations. Kant, is thus, a rationalist asserting that the empirical knowledge is organised according to a priori principles but, like empiricist, he does not accept the possibility of knowledge of things-in-themselves. Contemporary philosophers and psychologists have also given up the idea that the mind was originally a ‘blank sheet of paper’. They also deny the existence of anything like pure observation. In many scientic examples, theory-dependence of observations can quite obviously be demonstrated. Philosophy of science
It has been dominated by empiricist thinking for the last few centuries. The role of empiricist philosophy in the development of science should be viewed in historical perspective. The metaphysical theories of pre-empiricist era were far too extravagantly rationalistic and realistic. Therefore, it was only natural that empiricists felt that science must start afresh with systematic observations and establishment of the Laws of Nature.
The ontological scepticism of empiricists, though seemingly counter-intuitive, is quite acceptable in advanced science. The empiricism asserts that scientific process starts with observation. Scientists are generally concerned with the study of natural ‘entities and phenomena’, which are not directly observable. They ‘observe’ these by the use of ingenious instruments. It is always debatable whether such ‘entities and phenomena’ exist really or they are just creations of scientists’ imagination that only serve to organise their ideas.
The usefulness of succession (Humean) theory of causality can be shown in discussion of the causation of in many scientific fields . Further, science is generally concerned with general statements, which can not be verified with absolute certainty by experience alone. In view of the empirist analysis of ‘Laws of Nature’ in light of their epistemological positiom leading to the classical problem of induction, Bertrand Russell has simply concluded that ‘induction is an independent logical principle incapable of being inferred either from experience or from other logical principles and that without this principle science is impossible’.
Karl Popper (1965, 1968, 1976) has been the most influential philosopher of science of this century. He has made very important point that observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. He asserts that the first step in scientific process is not observation but the generation of hypothesis, which may then be tested critically by observations and experiments. The goal of scientific effort is not verification but falsification of the initial hypothesis. As empiricists use the criterion of verifiability to distinguish between meaningful and non-meaningful statements, Popper used the criterion of falsifiability to distinguish between those theories that fall within province of science and those that may be labelled as pseudoscience. This thought and the criterion of falsifiability has influenced the modern scientific methodology to a very large extent. However, the criterion of falsifiability, despite its importance from the logical point of view, is not easy to handle in practice. Popper himself has pointed out that there is no such thing as pure observation. Therefore, a scientist who conducts an experiment and contradicts a theory can not be sure whether the theory has been falsified or the observation (or the experimental set-up) was at fault. Further, scientists mostly have to subject their observations to a statistical analysis. Here the final analysis depends not only on the observations but also on the convention as regards the choice of statistical tests and the accepted level of significance. Thus, Popper instead of solving the problem of induction, in a sense, has tried to bypass the problem. The scientists undoubtedly in many cases try to falsify hypotheses but in many other cases, they try to reason inductively. Scientic research papers contain numerous statistical calculations that reflect inductive reasoning. Popper has asserted that we can never be quite sure about our theories being true. The efficacy of modern technology, which is based to some extent on scientific theories, proves beyond doubt that in some areas Popper’s ‘approximation to truth’ has been achieved.
It is quite true that the development of modern science is inextricably bound up with empiricist philosophy, but philosophical reflections and the results of modern science in many areas suggest that the position of classical empiricism is quite untenable. It is seems more appropriate to accept the view of:
realist position on the ontological level that the purpose of science is to explore what really goes on in the world and on the epistemological level, accept existence of pure observations but deny that the observations are the only source of knowledge,
the existence of causal relationships and deny the empiricist succession theory of causation,
existence of a laws of nature being indicated by a causal relationship existing between the two events if one event generates another event through some or the other mechanism (as is quite obvious in some bio-medical situations) and
objectivity of causal relationships and laws of nature in the sense that they exist independently of observation.
Though the realist position does not solve the problem of induction, the knowledge of underlying mechanism sometimes makes the problem less troublesome.
Teething phiosophical problems with the empiricism domiated philosophy of science prevalent for the last few centuries have prompted many philosophers (Smart, J.J.C., 1963; Harre., R., 1970; Hacking, I., 1983; Bhaskar,R., 1975) to favour a realist theory of science. These philosphers point out that scientific knowledge has both a transitive and an intransitive aspect. Knowledge in the form of a scientific theory should be regarded as a changeable social product, and as such, it is transitive. However, the object of that knowledge that does not depend upon the existence of observer, is intransitive.
The importance of this observation is that it reveals the deficiency of two different views of science. On one hand extreme realists disregard the transitive aspect of scientific knowledge while on the other hand extreme empiricists disregard the intransitive aspect. It may be proposed that a balanced philosophy of natural science must take into account both the aspects and the relationship between them. Emergence of ‘Holistic’ thinking in science may lead to a balanced philosophy of science.


March 12, 2015

Religious scriptures may be used to evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey spiritual truths, promote mystical experience, foster communal identity and to guide individual and communal spiritual practice. Many religions believe that their scriptures originated from divine inspiration. The monotheistic faiths view their sacred texts as the ‘Word of Ultimate Universal’ and ‘Divine Revelation’.

The scriptures of the world’s religions have provided humanity with some of the most sublime and profound philosophical insights, spiritual ideals and values that have shaped the moral and spiritual development of humankind. The lofty ideas found in religious texts have shaped the identity of entire peoples, provided the content for their legal codes, offered individuals as well as communities meaning to life and explained the purpose along with the destination of life’s journey for countless followers. The impact of scriptures on world cultures has been and still is immeasurable.
Religious Scriptures in oral form have been an important part of human culture since the beginning of civilization. From the dawn of humanity, humans have attempted to make sense of the cosmos and to explain humanity’s place in it. Sacred stories arose to account for the bewildering variety of phenomena and feelings that comprise the human experience. Such stories developed cosmic significance and gave rise to the different religions and mythologies of the world’s cultures.
Thus, the earliest use of scriptures was not in the form of written texts but ancient oral stories handed down from one generation to the next. Many ancient preliterate cultures (and some modern ones) did not place a strong emphasis on recording their ‘truths’ in written documents, preferring instead to honour their sacred stories through oral memorization and transmission. In ancient India, for example, the body of sacred literature known as Smriti was handed down orally among the Hindus before eventually being written down.
In the time before literacy was widespread, the average lay adherent of any religion would likely come to know the sacred stories of their own tradition through folklore, worship and ritual practices or from literate members of the clergy who would read passages from their scriptures. While those able to read and explain the scriptures were held in high esteem, those who could recite them from memory even more so. Religious instruction in the ancient Brahmin caste of India included a set of mnemonic tools that helped students to memorize the ritual formulae found in the Vedas, which were written down relatively late in history. Similar (but unrelated) systems were used in the recording of the Qua’ran. The Hebrew Bible, recorded in the ancient Hebrew language, is in its original rendering written in such a way that it is recited with a most pleasing rhythm. The ascendancy of written scriptures in the world’s religions developed along side the continuation of oral traditions.


March 12, 2015

Ever since language began, people have used narrative to organize human experience, to orient life in the cosmos. Narrative is part of humanity’s brilliance. Narrative in its broadest sense means stories, the recital of accounts, information and teachings, including scriptures; the framework of worldviews as told in the words of authoritative oral/written texts. In this sense, all scriptures are largely narratives. Each master narrative is a scenario orienting people to some sort of order. Scriptures (from Latin ‘scritura’ meaning ‘writing’) literally are the sacred written texts but in broad sense also include oral ones that serve a variety of purposes in the individual and collective lives of a society, culture and most significantly a religious tradition. These are examples of narrative par excellence telling origin stories, offering expositions of teachings, injunctions, lyrics and wisdom. Scripture narratives, in all their many forms, are so ubiquitous because every coherent life is invariably shaped by some story. Scriptures can thus, be seen to function as ‘attractors’, dynamic system patterns channelling human energies, reminder to people of their place in the scheme of things and thus, channel the passions. At their best, sacred narratives i.e. Scriptures serve as revered repositories storing societal, cultural and religious wisdom. They seem to mirror life, generate order and provide recognizable structures i.e. enduring answers about life’s meanings along with allowing some flexibility for new interpretations and applications as needs arise. They also store information about ideals and make the meanings available and applicable to a great variety of situations by different people over the centuries. Scriptures are kept relevant by commentaries, new translations and adaptive reiterations. At their worst, scriptures can be used to promote unthinking and irrational behavior. With all the research the modern age has accumulated, people still feel growing pains of alternating pride of knowledge power and dismay at ignorance and chaotic change beyond control. Human beings while able in solving some mysteries, continue to face mysteries in the universe that were always in existence since our ancestors started. Common men as well as scholars are still wondering: 1. What is a civilization-founding scripture, and how does it remain significant? 2. How can we begin to better understand the implications of scripture’s global pervasiveness. 3. What new awareness of common bonds and possible cooperation might grow out of respectful encounters with the sacred texts of others? Woefully, even with science growing and new information in every sphere being continuously discovered, meaning of ‘being a person’ is still as elusive as ever was. Perhaps updating current human understanding of the role of scriptures that for so long have oriented so many human lives with ever increasing new knowledge may be a helpful. Assessing anew the importance of scriptures and their meaning in human life. Better understanding of the processes by which they are elevated to authoritative positions and processes involved when they are lowered or lessened in status is also necessary. Perhaps because scientific modernity started treating scriptures, particularly religious scriptures, very shabbily, fundamentalists now upholding them with a vengeance; the pendulum swings both ways. The impact of religious scripture on human behavior has not always been positive. Most of the religions themselves are critical of those who hold to a literal reading of scriptures, which can block comprehension of the ‘Ultimate Universal’. Buddha in his Parable of the Raft spoke about the scriptures as a raft, useful on the path to Enlightenment but ultimately to be abandoned on the other shore as true enlightenment transcends conceptual knowledge (Majjhima Nikaya 1.134-35). Another issue that confounds religious scriptures is whether these contains the whole truth or only a part of the truth. Adherents who believe their scriptures are the complete and full revelation of Ultimate Universal Truth may well have difficulty appreciating the value of other religions’ scriptures. Yet the scriptures themselves counsel humility on this score. Buddha warned his follower Malunkyaputta not to question the philosophical questions that the Buddha had not elucidated, as a person shot with an arrow does not stop the doctor from removing it with questions about who shot it (Majjhima Nikaya 1.426-31).


March 9, 2015

The unity of experience, the being in becoming has alway been an enigma for all. However, its solution does not need introduction of a Platonic demiurge to tie up things. Buddha’s supreme enlightenment gave a new twist to the whole matter and was the beginning of a radical ontology of experience, one which turned our ordinary understanding of substance-oriented ontologies into a new phenomenon of unencumbered existence through conception of Buddhist reality based on the central doctrine of dependent origination (pratiitya-samutpaada) and its implications.
The compounded term ‘dependent origination’ has the dependent nature expressed in Sanskrit by ‘pratiitya’, which breaks down etymologically to prati + ii, which means ‘to go toward’ and ‘to go to meet’ but also means ‘to come back’ and ‘to return’.(26) Thus, the meaning here is inclusive of both the ‘going toward something’ and ‘returning with that something’. In the momentary existence, each moment can be taken to be a singular ‘act’ or movement i.e. a phenomenon of ‘going-returning’ or ‘reaching out-bringing in’. From the initial or incipient condition of dependence (pratiitya), there is a total arising of the moment of existence (samutpaada). This is experiential becoming at its most fundamental level. Our one- or two-dimensional bias in the perception of things would normally assign a single movement, either ‘to go’ or ‘to return’, without being mindful of the nature of continuity. The two movements, furthermore, cannot be conceived together because one movement has to cease before the other takes over. In this way, the continuum of existence is broken off or vitiated but this is a very common understanding issuing forth from the empirically oriented realm. In a way, it shows up the Humean dilemma on giving up on causal connection.
The rise of the moment in its incipient dependent stage (asymmetric nature) shows up the reflexive character, without which the doctrine of dependent origination will lose any sense of continuity in the nature of becoming. Thus, dependent origination is a multidimensional phenomenon which depicts the asymmetric-symmetric nature in the growth of the moment but each currently appearing moment is a vital part of the continuum of existence. The exact nature of the moment or the territory that it occupies cannot be really known. Such knowledge relies on perceptual memory of past events in order to derive some semblance of the characteristics of those events. But how do we intimate with any of the characteristics? The answer to this question was found by early thinkers in the concept of ‘suunyatva’ (emptiness).This concept is neutral in the sense that it does not participate with the elements in the empirical realm. It is pervasive in the sense that it permits the elements to be what they are but at the same time serves as a kind of universal ground for momentary existence.
‘Emptiness’, ‘voidness’, ‘nothingnes’ and so forth are weak translations for the original term, ‘suunyataa’. It does not, mean nonentity in the literal sense. It means empty of content i.e. non-substantive nature but at the same time it connotes the swelling of the locus of reality. Taken in this dual sense, non-substantive nature and swelling, it refers to the fullness of existence. Moreover, both connotations reveal the potency and pregnancy of the moment of existence. The role and function of emptiness are inestimable.(27) It has opened up the floodgates to an understanding of human existence in all its aspects. With its later refinement, it only confirmed the radical ontology ushered in by the Buddha’s momentous experience.
In Mahaayaana Buddhism, the liberal or ‘radical’ wing of Buddhism, the implications of emptiness fostered the development of different schools of thought. However, in all phases of the development, the focus remained rooted in the momentary nature of things, and any of the basic doctrines of early Buddhism was never forsaken. Respective novel doctrines of diverse systems such as Tantrism, Pure Land, Ch’an (Zen), Hua-yen, and so forth, brought their ideas together in the basic context of dependent origination. In time, Mahaayaana Buddhism identified four types of dependent origination. In a way, the four types give a sweeping view of the whole of Mahaayaana development.
1. Dependent origination by karma (action or volitional force). This is the basic type seen in the twelve-linked dependent origination of early Buddhism. In each linking process, there is a karmic effect, which causes the linkage. For example, based on ignorance (avijjaa) the dispositions (sa^nkhaara) arise, and so forth in either a forward or a backward cycle. Mahaayaana Buddhism kept this basic dynamics of becoming.
2. Dependent origination by aalayavij~naana (storehouse consciousness). All phenomena originate from the interplay between the aalayavij~naana and manas (discriminative consciousness). The aalayavij~naana contains the potential or seeds for the manifestation of phenomena (experiential) and the manas provides fresh seeds by perfuming them into the aalayavij~naana. The original impressions for the seeds come to the manas by way of the five sense-consciousnesses and the integrative consciousness (manovij~naana). Vij~naanavaada (Consciousness-only School) subscribes to this type of dependent origination.
3. Dependent origination by tathaagatagarbha (matrix of thus-come). All phenomena originate, regardless of the unenlightened status of mundane beings, from the involvement of the realm of thus-ness that is the enlightened pure realm. In brief, this means that the Buddha-nature is ubiquitous, residing even in insentient beings. This type is expounded, for example, in the Awakening of Truth in the Mahaayaan (Mahaayaana sraddhotpaadasaastra). The Pure Land School makes optimum use of this conception.
4. Dependent origination by dharmadhaatu (realm of factors or elements of existence). All phenomena arise based on the interdependent, interrelated, and interpenetrative natures of the factors of being. In this sense, all phenomena mutually identify each other. This conception was crystallized in the Chinese Hua-yen School, although its rudiments are already found in Indian Buddhism, even in the Buddha’s teachings. Ch’an (Zen) makes liberal use of this idea in its teachings as well as in awakening the devotee to the reality of things.
Despite these four types appearing separate and distinct, are actually expounding on the selfsame reality of dependent origination that is the dynamic cocreative momentary process. The concept of emptiness is the common thread running through them. Emptiness may have various uses in the four types, but all variant forms have the distinct Buddhist quality of leading to or aiming at the nirvaa.nic realm. The T’ien T’ai School in China, for example, uses the emptiness of phenomenal existence in the unique sense of provisional conception and then the emptying of emptiness itself to bring forth the middle way. All three conceptions viz. emptiness, provisionality, middle way are in the final analysis interpenetrative of one another. The variant forms of emptiness only make obvious the extent to which the implications of Buddhist reality or ontology has ranged. With a focus on dependent origination, the Mahaayaana development can generally be seen in terms of two strains: (a) self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence and (b) self-realization through other-realization.
The first (a) is basic to the Buddhist conception of relity. The second (b) is a new perspective on the total nature of things and gives a distinctive Mahaayaana flavor to the conceptulization of reaity.
The nature of dependent origination becomes expanded or more extensive based on the reflexive character. The realm of the wheel of becoming has been widened to include everything on earth. This is the genuine use of the words Mahaa (great) and yaana (wheel). The term Tathaagata is used in a distinctive sense to refer to the Buddha himself. With the reflexive nature, the Mahaayaana has brought forth a new dimension, a greater cosmological extension and effect. That is, the term can be seen in two dimensions, Tathaa + gata (Thus-gone) and Tathaa + aagata (Thus-come). Buddha’s life is then interpreted as one that has gone forth to the nirvaa.nic realm and at once returned to the sa.msaaric realm to save sentient beings. This reflexive interpretation has opened up the realm of existence to include sentients as well as insentients and has given a new meaning to the concept of compassion (karu.naa). In essence, the Mahaayaana not only has moved toward more inclusive philosophic implications for the acts of man and nature, but has provided man a new sense of belonging to the community or of understanding the social nature of things. It has fired up the spirit of community action in terms of the universal dimensions of all actions.
Pure Land Buddhism expands on this reflexive nature of existence by speaking of the Other Power of Amida Buddha manifesting by virtue of the Original Vow to save all sentients. All of this seems mythical, beyond comprehension and is of the nature of faith (`sraddhaa). However, returning to self-realization of the basic nature of momentary existence, Self-realization or self-power is inherent in all Mahaayaana Buddhism, except that some schools will not bring it out into the open as a central issue as may be the case in Pure Land Buddhist practice. But it is fundamental and attractive precisely because it does not deviate from the basic teachings of the Buddha. It entails the discipline necessary to realize the truth of existence. Thus, the Mahaayaana tradition emphasizes meditation, dhyaana or praj~naapaaramitaa, as central thrust for the perfection of personhood.
In Far Eastern Buddhism, the pursuit of life has somehow brought about an amalgamation of self-and other-power elements. In the field of aesthetics, finally, the implications of Buddhist reality (ontology) have propelled Far Eastern art collectively into the status of one of the wonders of the world. In all of this, the role and function of emptiness, couched in the basic, dependently originating nature of things, have played no small part in this development. Thus, however slowly or quickly the wheel of becoming may be turning, the goal is the selfsame realization of the Buddhist Dharma. NOTES:
26. Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963), p. 673. In the Prasannapadaa (The Clearworded), Chandrakiirti comments on Naagaarjuna’s meaning of pratiitya-samutpaada thus: The first part of the term consists of the gerund of the root ‘i’ and the preposition ‘prati’. The root ‘i’ means motion, the preposition ‘prati’ means ‘reaching’. But the preposition (when added to a verbal root) modifies its meaning. It has been said that ”the meaning of the verbal root is changed by the preposition as if it were violently dragged into another place just as the sweet waters of the Ganges (change their savour when reaching) the waters of the ocean”. Therefore, the word ‘pratiitya’, being a gerund, means ‘reaching’ in the sense of being dependent (or relative). The word ‘samutpaada’ means ‘appearance, manifestation’. It comes from the verbal root ‘pad’ which with the preposition ‘samut’ has this meaning. Thus, the term pratitya-samutpada (in our system) conveys the idea of a manifestation of (separate) entities as relative to their causes and conditions ( quote is taken from Th. Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist, revised and enlarged edition with comprehensive analysis and introduction by Jaideva Singh (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), p. 89 (on chap. 1, ‘Examination of Causality’).
27. Naagaarjuna brought the basic Buddhist doctrines in line in a most sweeping manner by emphasising on the traditional concept of emptiness.
Whole realm of human experience could now be glimpsed from both the unenlightened and enlightened nature of things. In Buddhaghosa’s analysis of dependent origination, a verse depicts the voidness of the wheel becoming. This verse also confirms Mahaayaanistic employment of the concept of emptiness in the experiential dynamics of becoming. To this extent, the concept was given a new meaning by Naagaarjuna and heralded the possibility of further developments in Buddhism. There is strong suspicion that there may have been an unknown author or authors of the earliest praj~naapaaramitaa thought or other seminal works who had originally spawned the idea of the uniqueness and power of emptiness.


March 9, 2015

Buddhist conception of reality or ontology is dynamic, focused on the process i.e. on ‘becoming’ and its locus is in the momentary nows. The Four Noble Truths indicate the universal nature of suffering and the way out of it. This universality establishes the fact that the nature of suffering and the cessation of suffering take place in the reality of existence. In both, the ontological status has remained relatively stable throughout the process. Consistent with this understanding and, expanding on it, Buddha stated ”Whatever is of the nature of arising, all that is of the nature of cessation”. This statement reveals one of the great philosophic insights. The term ‘all’ refers to the dhammas (dharmas), the factors of existence/experience, which manifest themselves in the momentary existence. But the same passage goes on to say that there arose the “dustless, stainless vision of the dhamma.”(9) The factors of existence are now seen from the enlightened standpoint. Both the unenlightened and enlightened natures belong to the momentary existence. The arising and cessation of dhammas are two aspects of the dynamics of the moments as they are relative to the state of suffering and the state of release. Arising has to do with the compounding (sa^nkhaara) or grasping (upaadaana) nature of the dhammas and cessation with the non-compounding and non-grasping phenomena. There is parity of existence and this can be labelled the ontological parity for it is centered on momentary existence, whether in the enlightened or unenlightened sense. The fact that the same term dhamma can be seen from two different perspectives means that Buddhist reality is not separated or alienated from our common experiences. On the one hand, common experience functions with the pluralistic dhammas, which are by their very grasped nature are already stained or tainted. On the other hand, that selfsame realm of common experience could function without the pluralistic dhammas or could be envisioned as dustless, stainless dhammas, the singular unified nature of existence. It means that our ordinary sa.msaaric life, as tangled as it is, has all the necessary ingredients for the transformation into the inordinate nirvaa.nic life. This spells out the saving truth of mundane existence and so the Udaana, in a very cryptic way, summed it up as follows:
”There is, O Bhikkhus, an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. Were there not, O Bhikkhus, this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed.(10)”
The passage clearly indicates that there is a way out of the normal conditioned or compounded realm of existence (sa.msaara) because of the functioning parity principle that is intrinsic to momentary existence. The unborn, unoriginated, and so forth is not somewhere aloof or transcendental of the born, originated, and so forth but constitutes the pure realm realizable when the compounding elements are no longer in force. With this concept of the ontological parity of existence in place, the nature of momentary existence may be explored further.
After repeatedly asserting the impermanent nature of things i.e. reference to the five skandhas, Buddha launched into a series of fundamental doctrines. One of the finest philosophical expressions made by the Buddha reads:
”On two things, Kaccaana, does this world generally base its view, on existence and on non-existence. Now he who with right insight sees the arising of the world as it really is, does not believe in the non-existence of the world. But, Kaccaana, he who with right insight sees the ceasing of the world as it really is, does not believe in the existence of the world.’l(11)
The passage is clearly focused on the dynamics of momentary existence. Enlightened, Buddha very well knew that conventional understanding works in devious and dichotomous ways, that is, the extremes of existence (bhava) and nonexistence (abhava), two terms earlier seen on the thirsts of life (ta.nhaa). Within the context of the impermanent nature of things, he saw that these dichotomous terms are the most dominant extremes that human beings are attached to and that, thus conditioned, they are not able to intimate with their own momentary existence. He also saw that without proper vision, the dichotomy will remain and that from this basic dichotomy other dichotomies will arise.
Here he revealed what right insight will do. If one envisions the arising of the world i.e. the rising of a moment, as it really is, then one will not fall into nihilistic tendencies or understanding. On the other hand, if one envisions the ceasing of the world i.e. the ceasing of a moment, as it really is then one will not fall into materialistic or substantive understanding. ‘To envision the world as it really is’ precisely describes the relational dynamics involved in the momentary nature of life, that is, experiencing in a natural mode. In failing to realize that mode, the dichotomous nature swiftly takes over and overwhelms the experiencer but despite the snares of dichotomy, the ontological parity remains nascent and shows a way which is made possible by meditative discipline. The Buddha went further to clarify the first part, thus:
”He who does not go after, does not grasp at, does not take his stand on this system-grasping, this dogma, this mental bias, such an one does not say ‘it is my soul (self, attaa).’ He who thinks, ‘that which arises is but ill (suffering, dukkha), that which ceases, it is ill,’ such an one has no doubts, no perplexity. In this matter, knowledge not borrowed from others comes to him. Thus far, Kaccana, goes right view.(12)”
Buddha points out that in our ordinary views on life and the world, we are prejudiced by ‘dogmas’ and ‘mental biases’ such that we are no longer able to view our existential flow correctly. Thus, we must forsake any metaphysical conceptions, such as the self. Clearly, the right view (sammaa-di.t.thi) expounded by the Buddha is not a mere intellectual alignment, but a truly existential transformation of the primary order. Budhha ends the passage with a series of most profound statements:
“‘All exists’, Kaccaana, that is one extreme. ‘Nought exists,’ Kaccaana, that is the other extreme. Not approaching either extreme, Kaccana, the Tathaagata (Buddha) teaches you a doctrine by the middle way: ‘Conditioned by ignorance comes the activities: conditioned by the activities comes consciousness, and so forth.’ Thus is the arising of this whole mass of ill (suffering). By the utter fading away and ceasing of ignorance comes the ceasing of the activities, and so forth. Thus is the ceasing of this entire mass of ill.”(13)
By not approaching the two extremes of existence and non-existence, Buddha now introduces the doctrine of the middle way (majjhimaapa.tipadaa). And this doctrine is another way of expressing the famous doctrine of dependent origination (pa.ticcasamuppaada). Here a virtual identity of the two doctrines may be noted. Naagaarjuna (150-250 A. D.)later makes the same equation except that he interposes the concept of emptiness (suunyataa).
The foundation suutra that sets in motion the Wheel of Dhamma (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), popularly known as the First Sermon, identifies the middle way with the Eightfold Noble Path of right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. It also says that the middle way gives vision and knowledge thus, leads to calm, insight, enlightenment, and finally Nibbaana (
The identity of the middle way and the Eightfold Noble Path is plausible and acceptable in light of the previous passage on the right view, which constitutes the first step of the path. The right view is the initial and primary corrective measure in which it is necessary for the devotee to engage himself so as to proceed with the rest of the steps in the path ending in right concentration (sammaasamaadhi).
The much neglected middle way is a unique doctrine in Buddhism found nowhere else in either the East or the West. It has nothing to do with the workings of the rational or logical mind, that is, the logical entities with which we carry out logical functions. It is not subject to mensuration or calculation, nor is it subject to a moderating process a la Aristotle or by common sense. It is rather a truly dynamic doctrine delineating the supreme momentary nature of things. It denies all functions of contingent matters or factors of experience. It avoids these elements or factors in order to issue forth the underlying pure, untainted nature of momentariness. If anything, it underlies without involving itself with those elements or factors. However, this should not be construed to mean that the middle way is a receptacle of being or a catchall doctrine. It still remains a strong guiding principle, indescribable by means of contingent elements, and functions like a border guard who checks for contraband but permits the normal flow of traffic. In brief, the middle way is another means of exhibiting things (moments) as they really are.
The dependent origination also depicts Buddhist reality is seen in the following assertion by the Buddha:
”Who sees Conditioned Genesis (pa.ticca-samuppaada) sees Dhamma; who sees Dhamma sees Conditioned Genesis.”(14)
Foremost amongst several implications of this passage is the identity of the Dhamma and conditioned genesis or dependent origination but the identity holds true only from the enlightened realm. Another implication is that conditioned genesis has two facets, the nonempirical (enlightened) and empirical (unenlightened). A further implication is that the two facets are possible and function together because of the ontological parity of existence. Moreover, the parity is assumed in the movement from the empirically oriented dependent origination to the Dhamma. In many respects, empirical dependent origination depicts the rise and fall of experiential events and provides the vital link to the realm of Dhamma. In its empirical mode, the pet formula for dependent origination is: If this is, that comes to be; from the arising of this that arises; if this is not that does not come to be; from the stopping of this that is stopped.(15) At first glance, this formula reminds the general criterion of pragmatism, that is, if certain conditions are met, then certain results will follow. The formula further reveals the subtle empirical dynamics of the rise of suffering and its cessation. The first part of the formula refers to the incessant conditioning or compounding nature of ordinary experience. Ignorance conditions karma-formations; these condition consciousness; which then conditions mind-and-body; etc.(16) With this series of conditionings, the existential continuum will go on forever, that is, the sa.msaara or the wheel of life. The Buddhist naturally seeks to resolve the situation but, once again, the reality of suffering is the ground for an ontological shift, that is, from the rise of sa.msaaric conditions to the cessation thereof. Thus, the second part of the formula precisely describes this shift. From the stopping of ignorance is the stopping of the karma-formations, then the stopping of consciousness and then the stopping of mind-and-body; etc. in series from one another(17)
The suutras rarely elaborate on the specifics of this aspect of cessation. In the Sa.myutta-nikaaya,(18), for example, it says that the Eightfold Noble Path is the course leading to the stopping of karma formations. Right view, the first of the path, is a most profound insight into reality but a tortuous path to take up, much less to understand. Naturally, meditative discipline is prescribed to remove the initial ignorance, the hindrances, and the graspings. The twelve-linked dependent origination has a clockwise flow (anuloma) from ignorance (avijjaa) to aging-death ( and a counter-clockwise flow (pa.tiloma) from aging-death to ignorance. This is another instance of the dimensional nature inherent in momentary existence that depicts the rise and cessation of suffering. We go back necessarily to momentary existence and the uniqueness of each moment, although there is no way to avoid the conditions (paccayas) that must be present or absent, as the case may be, in the flow of momentary existence. The focus is still on that moment which is supremely and vitally ‘appearing’. It is like watching a spot in the ocean where a wave appears and disappears but only to be ‘replaced’ by another wave, ad infinitum.
There is another important dimension in momentary existence. The linking phenomena of dependent origination are linked in serial order, each condition is contiguous to the next and each condition is involved with the immediate past and present in a mutually penetrative sense. In this way, the flow of momentary existence is not limited to a serial order (merely seriatim), but proceeds in a rhythmic asymmetric-symmetric flow, where the present happenings have a backward thrust (asymmetric penetration) before appearing as a present moment. The range of Buddhist reality is seen clearly in these microscopic present happenings. Thus, the concept of dependent origination, by its very compounding nature, shows the asymmetric (dependent) nature as well as the symmetric (origination) nature. This novel asymmetric-symmetric relationship is known only within the framework of the empirical nature of things, the sa.msaaric realm.
The dependent origination in the empirical sense forces the continuity of the process of suffering. This is the wrong path(19) and must be stopped. In the empirical realm, things are going on in truncated ways and only glimpses of the total happenings are available. Only the rim, axle, and spokes of the wheel are seen but not the full function of the wheel itself. Something seems to be missing or lacking in the dynamics. A revealing statement on the fullness of being is found in the Discourse on Complete Purity for Alms-Gathering. The conversation between the Buddha and Saariputta runs:
”Your faculties are very bright, Saariputta, your complexion very pure, very clear. In which abiding are you, Sariputta, now abiding in the fulness thereof? Abiding in (the concept of) emptiness do I, revered sir, now abide in the fulness thereof. It is good, Saariputta it is good. You, Saariputta, are now indeed abiding in fulness in the abiding of great men. For this is the abiding of great men, Saariputta, that is to say (the concept of) emptiness.”(20)
The concept of emptiness (su~n~nataa) adds a new dimension to Buddhist reality. It has revealed at once
(a) the limited nature of empirical functions, that is, empirical dependent origination and
(b) the way out to the unlimited realm in which the dependent origination can resolve itself.
Simply put, the self, mind, chariot, wheels, and so forth are more than their respective constituent parts. They come alive as they are in reality, but their imposed natures have made them into static entities, metaphysically and ontologically speaking. Buddhaghosa, the great Theravaada interpreter, gave an authoritative account of this situation when he brought back a verse depicting the wheel of becoming. Becoming’s wheel reveals no known beginning; No maker, no experiencer there; Void with a twelvefold voidness, and nowhere It ever halts; forever it is spinning.(21) His interpretation was made in the fifth century A.D., but the idea of voidness goes back to the earliest period and may even have filtered back from Mahaayaana developments. Naagaarjuna (150-250 A.D.) had been giving final touches to the elusive concept of momentary existence prior to Buddhaghosa in the Mahaayaana tradition. He had been exposed to the ideas found in the early Mahaayaana suutras, such as the Praj~naapaaramitaa, Avata^msaka, Saddharmapu.n.dariika and Vimalakiirti suutras and his great work, Verses on the Fundamental Middle Doctrine (Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa, hereafter Kaarikaa), is actually a philosophic confirmation of the dynamics of dependent origination as the locus of Buddhist reality. In order to establish this, he had to discuss matters from the standpoint of the middle way, hence the namesake in the title of the work (madhyamaka), to involve (a) the most inclusive view of reality and
(b) the most systematic denial (prasa^nga) of self-existent nature (svabhaava).
By reference to the famous Kaatyaayanaavavaada (Karccaayanagotta Sutta), which is foundational to the understanding of the Middle Way concept, the basic idea on the radical ontology and methodology is kept intact. In his analysis, Naagaarjuna utilizes the concept of emptiness (`suunyataa) to clarify both the epistemological and metaphysical traps into which ordinary beings are prone to fall giving the concept a distinctive ubiquitous quality.
Epistemologically, emptiness keeps at bay any attempt to impose a self-nature or self-existent nature on any externally existing entity or on its image or impression derived thereof in the mind. In this sense, it signifies the function of epistemic nullity. Metaphysically, emptiness disallows any reference to being or nonbeing, or a combination of both. It also disallows any causal order or relationship applied to momentary existence because that would sunder the process in dichotomous ways and thereby strain or distort the dynamics of dependent origination. Naagaarjuna in first chapter of the Kaarika analysed the inanity of causal or relational condition(pratyayas) in terms of establishing the nature of the dependent origination dynamics. It turned the causal conditions themselves against the position inherently subscribing to the concepts of being (sat, bhaava) and non-being (asat, abhaava). The doctrine of momentariness became an issue with the Abhidharma systems because of the element of justifying temporal dimensions in existence i.e. explaining the continuity of the moments of existence. On this matter, the Sarvaastivaada seems to rely on the persistence of factors (dharmas) to describe the moments in question. The Sautraantika, on the other hand, tried to sneak in a specious self (pudgula) to act as an ‘overlord’ of the momentary process. Naagaarjuna sensing the pitfalls of these systems pointed out the inner contradictions that would invariably sink them deeper into the conundrum of existence. He was intensely interested in justifying the present dynamics of momentary existence as expressed in the doctrine of dependent origination. Opponents, including the average intellect do not understand the microscopic process of these dynamics because of the understanding framed within a network of huge chunks of temporal and spatial dimensions. Like Buddha, he also saw that the dynamics reveal more than what is seen in ordinary perception. In this, he was not introducing an entirely new conception of things for he went right back to the fundamental Buddhist doctrines to analyze in a truly philosophic maner the pregnant dynamics of dependent origination. They are said too be ‘pregnant’ in the sense that
(a) they do not focus on a finished product or effect (phala). which would invariably reduce to the hypostatization of an inherent self-nature in the process, but rather
(b) they focus on the very making of the product or effect, the very fiber of dependent orgination.
Yet that product or effect in question is not cognized until consciousness of the conditionality (pratiityasamutpanna) of the event itself i.e. ex post facto understanding. It is perceiving the nature of a conditionality that describes the transpired event. It is understanding the mode of existence of an event in the immediately transpired past tied to the present becoming. Backward dependence as normal perception and immediate memory revealing the presence of events in the rapidity of becomingnessprovide an understanding of events by metaphysical descriptions. The crucial point, however, is that an event is always transpiring in the immediacy, in this present momentary existence and that at that point all descriptions are mute. In this situation, the reality of an event cannot be in the past, howsoever immediate in time it is but it must reside in the present dynamics. It is here that the ‘pregnancy’ of the event takes on an important meaning.(22) To elaborate on the ‘pregnancy’ of an event, revisit to the concept of asymmetric dimension is needed. How the asymmetric relationship occurs is a large problem. Though it is difficult to discuss the borders between symmetric and asymmetric natures yet our common understanding seems to suggest their function. To define or describe the momentary becoming with the symmetric and asymmetric dimensions in mind is clearly to attempt another tortuous trip down the dichotomy lane, a blatant contradiction of the middle way. Further, the meditative discipline should clear away the webs of our inherent dichotomous understanding of things. It is only the middle way that avoids the poles of dichotomy and at once affirms the reality of the rise and cessation of current becomings. The four relational conditions (namely, hetu-pratyaya, aalambana-pratyaya, anantara-pratyaya, adhipateya-pratyaya) are neat ties that cement the elements (svabhaava natures) in the dynamics but on the other hand, they impede rather than foster the current becomings. Thus, Naagaarjuna denied their function in the dynamics of becoming. The famous Eight Noes or Negations (namely, non-extinction, non-origination, non-destruction, non-permanence, non-identity, non-differentiation, non-coming into being, and non-going out of being) are asserted to hold in check any misunderstanding based on the reification of sense impressions or the reification of reification, as the case may implicate itself to be.
Buddhist reality, in brief, is much too dynamic to stay in view in a certain holding pattern (upaadaana effect) and to establish its identity at any time or in any manner. Self-identity is no identity in the becomingness of things. Naagaarjuna answered to the symmetric-asymmetric dimensionality by reaffirming the concept of emptiness in order to ‘cross the borders’ of the alleged dimensions. Like the middle way, emptiness avoids the dichotomy and at once affirms the rise and cessation of current becomings. Emptiness is said to be a provisional concept (praj~napti) pointing at the middle way.(23) It expresses the dynamic open ontological process that has no truck with epistemic and metaphysical entities. It opens up both sides of the borders and in terms of emptying the factors (dharmas) of the wheel of becoming (dependent origination), it serves to identify the realms of sa.msaara and As Naagaarjuna says, emptiness should not be falsely grasped, for it is in reality that which makes momentary becoming possible and without it, momentary becoming would be meaningless and without vitality.(24) The concept of emptiness, to be sure, was central in praj~naapaaramitaa suutras and other Mahaayaanistic works. The Diamnnd Suutra and Heart Suutra present a capsuled accounting of the identity of the five skandhas and emptiness and vice versa.(25) being the clearest expressions of the ontological parity of experiential reality seen in Buddhist literature. In reality, it is not only an expression but a guide and goal in meditative discipline. From the corporeal nature to the conscious realm, the empty nature is basic and confirmed in the dynamics of dependent origination. Being an heir to this tradition, Naagaarjuna simply incorporated the emptiness idea into his own analysis of the fundamental concept of dependent origination, bringing into play rare insight into the dynamics, and thereby he set a high-water mark in Buddhist philosophical understanding. NOTES:
9. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.280; see The Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner (London: Luzac & Co., 1959) vol. 3, p. 330. See also Kindred Sayings, vol. 4, p. 66.
10. The Udaana (The Solemn Utterances of the Buddha), trans. D. M. Strong (London: Luzac & Co., 1902), p. 112. 11. Kindred Sayings, vol. 3, pp. 113-114.
12. Ibid., p. 114.
13. Ibid.
14. Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Texts Though the Ages, trans. by I. B. Horner (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954), p. 65. 15. Ibid., p.66.
16. Ibid., The twelve links of dependent origination are: ignorance, karma-formation, consciousness corporeality-mentality, six bases of sense, impression feeling, craving, clinging or attachment, becoming, rebirth, and aging-death. Treatment of dependent origination by Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification), translated by Bhikkhu ~Naanamoli (Colombo. Ceylon: R. Semage, 1956, XVII, pp. 592-678. 17. Edward Conze, ed., Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, pp. 66–67. 18. Sa.myutta-nikaaya, 2.42-43, Kindred Sayings, vol.2, p. 33. 19. Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga, p. 593.
20. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.294; The Middle Length Sayings, vol. 3, p.343.
21. Buddhaghosa, Visuddhimagga, p. 666. Abiding in the concept of emptiness is also the main theme in two short texts, Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (Cu.lasu~n~nataa Sutta and Greater Discourse on Emptiness (Mahaasu~n~nataa Sutta), in Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.121, 122; see The Middle Length Sayings, vol. 3. pp. 147-162.
22. In the pragmatic tradition, George H. Mead emphasized the preparatory and anticipatory stages of the act, a great insight in expanding on the dimensions of the pragmatic act, although it may
be problematic when applying the pragmatic criteria to Buddhist momentary existence. The dimensions may not coincide on all points. 23. Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa, XXIV. 18
24. Ibid., XXIV. 11, 14.
25. Edward Conze, trans., Buddhist Wisdom Books (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1958).


March 9, 2015

Though there are specialized works for exposition of Buddhist meditation methodology leading to realisation, for example, the basic early Buddhist text on The Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipa.t.thaana Sutta).(1), any meditative discipline would be empty and meaningless unless the devotee has some measure of understanding of the concept and nature of reality in Buddhism.
Since ancient times, both Eastern and Western traditions made brilliant contributions to speculative metaphysics. In all these we are able to perceive two central foci: being and becoming as candidates for reality. Where the former focuses on the permanent, unchanging, eternal entities, the latter focuses on the impermanent, changing phenomena. Men have been fascinated by change from time immemorial, but, more importantly, they were even more interested in the permanent unchanging nature of things. Even Heraclitus, the champion of change and flux in nature, sought in the final analysis to understand the unchanging nature in the changing world. He went back to the concept of logos, the logic of the nature of things, but did not succeed. Pre-Socratics gave us variations on the being-becoming theme but Plato brought it to a climax. He clearly divided the realms of being and becoming and gave the former the superior eternal status. He, exalted the mind by making it the home of the Form (eidos); indeed, the Form expressed the ideality of existence, the nature of truth and knowledge. On the other hand, the “perpetually perishing” realm of becoming is short-lived, transient, unreliable, and unrealizable in any sense. Attachment to this realm denigrates knowledge to the status of an opinion. The way out of this situation is to seek the eternal Form within the becoming world of particulars. Plato postulate that the Form participates in the particular, but how does it participate? Aristotle, puzzled over this question and with a naturalistic inclination, dismissed the Form and concentrated on the realm of becoming. He premised his own metaphysics on substance (ousia) with its attributes to establish a most powerful influence on man’s view of nature in the West. Even today, this substance-oriented metaphysics has lingered on in many quarters, both professional and lay. Over on the Asian side, particularly in India, there were similar attempts to come to grips with changing and unchanging phenomena. Saa.mkhya and Yoga philosophies, for example, emphasized the indestructible nature of the soul ( despite its involvement in the physical nature of things (prak.rti), but in the quest for the enlightened life, the soul would finally triumph over the physical. The same format is seen in the Vedaanta system that postulated the empirical self (aatman) bound up in the changing world, but when its purity is uncovered by virtue of yogic discipline. the self can rise above the impurities to become the greater self (AAtman) and thereby identify itself within the total nature of things (Brahman). This approach certainly was a great spiritual insight; it captured the imagination of the Indians and has enabled the dominant Hindu philosophy to thrive so powerfully up to the present day.
A variety of restrictive elements in our life and society at large act to hinder and actually cover up the true perception of reality. Recent philosophers, like Heidegger and Derrida, have underscored man’s own intended or unintended occluding of reality itself. This has been a long process for mankind to burden (impregnate) human life by subtle blinders that lead us unconsciously for the most part to color and prejudice the perceptions. Nolan P. Jacobson has declared: “The chief cause of disorientation from what is unconditionally real and ontologically open to us is the linguistic system every encapsulated culture-world employs to preserve its identity regardless of its distortion of reality.”(2) Indeed, language as the basis of culture greatly undermines efforts towards clear perception of reality. We are caught up with the objects of perception established with precise correlations to the concepts in use, and such correlations have crystallized to the point of generating a matter-of-fact attitude concerning the whole perceptual process. This prevents the recovery of the original nature of things. It thus becomes difficult to go back to the preconceptual bald existence, the primitive developmental stage prior to the onset of the accepted correlations. Search for true ground of existence must start from the bare ground i.e. the pristine context of things. Realizing this very early Vaisheshiks and particulaly Nyaya philosophies focused on the hinderances to true perception and knowledge through enquiry of epistemological questions. This may have been the initial impulse of Siddhaartha Gautama (Buddha).
Early in the Indian philosophical milieu,the Buddha appeares to give a novel twist to the eternal quest for the unchanging within the changing phenomena. From all indications, the Buddha’s message was a philosophy of the present or an understanding of the nature of the momentary nows in the quest for enlighrenment. In a series of short chapters in the Majjhima-nikaaya, the Buddha repeatedly emphasized that “the past should not be followed after, the future not desired” and, in turn, that one ought to concentrate on the present things, that is, present happenings.(3)
Buddhism was early characterized by the so-called Three Marks, that is, impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and nonself (anattaa). Close examination will reveal that these marks actually refer to the “contents” of the Buddha’s enlightened state. In that state of existence, he experienced the basic momentary nature of existence, the cessation of the nature of suffering, and the uncompounded nature of the self. In contrast, the unenlightened state shows up the exact opposite, that is, the incessant quest for the permanent nature of things, the interminable rise of the nature of suffering states, and the persistence of personal identity or the self. Common knowledge of things sanctions such states of being as real alongwith features of permanence, suffering and self. However, Buddhist response is that in conventionality we do not ‘really’ grasp the truly natural states of existence, but rather go against those states by trying to manipulate the natural flow. It seems quite obvious that life is a process, a series of moments that continue on and on until death overtakes.(4) Even Buddha denied life after death, the immortality of the soul, on the grounds that it would transgress and disregard the normal flow of existence. Thus, if immortality or permanence (eternality) is not to be experienced, then the concentration would have to be on the moment-to-moment existence. In this way, the great insight was not about permanent or eternal life, but on the microscopic behavior within momentary existence. That is, it denied the attachment to permanent entities within the cycle of life (sa.msaara), that each cycle, though unique and independently related, is but a segment of the continuum of life. As such, nothing permanent resides in the continuum, nor is anything made permanent by the cycle or moment in question. Each cycle or moment, moreover, is a compounding phenomenon where its own character is revealed in its own”carving out” process within the continuum. The continuum is more like a symmetrical series of intersecting and overlapping phenomena. But within this context of things, it is so easy to refer to a permanent nature of a self that is directing the compounding activity. This is a simple case of placing the cart before the horse, since the very nature of the self is that; it is already a compounded phenomenon (sa^nkhaata). In other words, to set the self apart from the activity itself is to commit a fallacy of misplaced abstraction or simply to beg the question. The self, therefore, does not exist in the moment-moment continuum. Any reference to it would have to be in terms of what has already transpired. This is looking to the past and not in any way infringing on the present or the future. A potter may claim ownership of the pots he has made but strictly speaking, he can not claim his artisanship as a potter. Put another way, an association is conventionally made with respect to the potter and his pots, but in the reality of pot-making there is neither the potter nor the pot but only pottering. It should be clear that the potter and the pot are always involved in the dynamics of the continuum of existence and that references to them are mere abstractions and belong to “dry metaphysics.”
Understanding the nature of universal suffering is the key. Buddha repeats over and over again that failure to accept the impermanent nature of things will result in suffering, that is, seeking permanent elements in the impermanent, and the resolution can only come when one realizes that there is no self that seeks the permanent, indeed no self at all.(5) Specifically, Buddha expounded the cause of suffering in terms of the incessant thirst (tanhaa=trishnaa) that keeps the life cycle going. He mentioned three phenomena of this thirst. The first deals with the perpetuation of the whole biological nature of human beings, the thirst for sensual pleasures (kaama-ta.nhaa), that is, the constant gratification of our senses in permanent ways, like sustained eating or seeing something appealing or attractive. This is the most common of the three phenomena and thus the easiest to understand and accept as a basis for the continuance of the life cycle.(6) The second and third phenomena are highly psychological in nature in that there is a conscious intent involved, though deviant in nature, either to continue or to discontinue in the life cycle. The second is known as the thirst for existence or the becoming nature (bhava-ta.nhaa), which is perhaps akin to Schopenhauer’s celebrated will to live or to Freud’s general nature of eros. It can be illustrated by the child’s conscious effort by imitation or other means to grow up as fast as possible, to become a teenager, or it can even be manifested in the case of an elderly person who does everything possible to slow down the pace of life in order to increase longevity. In either instance, something forced or strained or manipulatory has entered to distort the natural life cycle. The third phenomenon is the thirst to annihilate oneself (vibhava-ta.nhaa) manifesting as tendency toward self-destruction. Naturally, it includes suicidal attitudes as well as the fascination with death or the dead. In this respect, it is akin to Freud’s reference to thanatos. These three phenomena are basic drives in man which may or may not be apparent or consciously striven for, and yet, over a period of time, they do appear in more obvious or crystallized forms.
Buddha, immediately after enlightenment, was quite reluctant to expound on the nature of his enlightenment precisely because human beings are fundamentally consumed by these drives or thirsts. They are so blinded by the elements of these desires or thirsts that they are prevented from probing the very foundation of the momentary happenings. Their unreal existence is so ingrained that they would not be jolted sufficiently enough to experience the true, real holistic perception of things. However, Buddha reconsidered and decided to expound his nirvaa.nic experience in the form of the famous Four Noble Truths, which are essentially the truth of universal suffering and the way out of it.
Why Buddha decided to expound the Four Noble Truths, which was greatest moment in the story of Buddhism?(7) Although the suutras do not precisely record his inner feelings or thoughts, it may be speculated that therein may be found the fundamental basis of the Buddha’s truth of existence (Dhamma, Dharma) and his helping hand. He might have decided to expound on his enlightenment not only because he was prompted by his infinite compassion for his fellow creatures but for the sake of revealing a deeper nature of momentary existence that resides in the compassionate act itself.
Buddha came to the realization that existence is a truly open nature and that individuals mirror that very openness in their momentary existence. Every moment of existence, in its openness, absorbs indiscriminately as well as relates equally with everything in its wake. However, in ordinary perceptions (due to our volitional karmic force) everything is molded by a process of selection, restriction, and retention in order to clarify and continue individual flow of karmic activities. Thus, holistic nature or framework in which everything is naturally flowing alonwith whole openness, the vastness in every momentary existence remains hidden from ordinary perception. The selectivity and fragmentation of momentary existence though sharpen momentary individual perceptions yet narrow the existential compass of beings obstructin holistic perception .
Buddha most probably saw another unique dimension to the total nature of things, the reflexive nature of existence. The momentary existence means that at each moment or cycle, the total or holistic nature is reflexive in the sense of a vital or dynamic two-way phenomenon. It reaches as far as it will go in manifesting its own nature but, simultaneously, it reflects back at each step of the expanding process. This dimension is missing, neglected, or even ignored in ordinary treatment of human experience. The phenomenon though basic in every human behavior, is selectively ignored in ordinary perception. Impact of neglecting the perception of reflexivity are most dramatic in mutual human relationship.
The relationship we speak of in human contacts is, from the Buddhist perspective, always a two-way reflexive process. A person’s behavior toward another is always reflexive, mutually speaking, although the reflexive nature of mutuality is generally uncognized and unfelt by the persons involved. The nature of reflexivity is indeed subtle, but its presence must be perceived and respected in human relations. In many respects, it provides the vital component for the fruition or fullness of momentary existence. Concepts such as mutuality and human relations are normally interpreted in a more limited framework, but it should be noted that there is also much of the unlimited nature that goes along with the limited. That things are in mutuality means that they mutually support each other in their natures, that is, they reflect each other, and each can not exist without the other. Such being the case, it would be apparent that a focus on the limited alone does not give us the whole picture on the involvement of the relationship in question. Yet, this is precisely the kind of truncated perception and understanding that we normally pursue, promote, and perpetuate.
To sum up, Buddhist conception of reality or ontology is dynamic, focussed on the process i.e. on ‘becoming’ and its locus is in the momentary nows, however elusive, nebulous, and uncharacterizable they may be. Notes:
1. Diigha-nikaaya, 22. Maha Satipa.t.thaana Suttana (Setting up of mindfulness); see Dialogues of the Buddha (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1959), pp. 327-346. Also, there is the Majjhima-nikaaya, 10, Satipa.t.thaanasutta (Discourse on the applications of mindfulness; see The Middle Length Sayings (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1954). pp. 70-82. P.279
2. The Heart of Buddhist Philosophy, published by Southern Illinois University Press.
3. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.131, 132, 133, 134; see Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner, Pali Text Society translation series (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1959), vol. 3, pp. 233-248.
4. A most graphic illustration of the impermanent nature of life is presented in a short piece from the Angutrara Commentary, 225-227, entitled Kisaa Gotamii, in which a woman who has lost her beloved son seeks medicine to revive him. The Buddha tells her to go into the city and inquire at each household if no one has ever died in the family and, if such be the case, to collect tiny grains of mustard seedfrom there. She makes her rounds, but cannot obtain a single mustard seed. She soon realizes that death is an inevitable human phenomenon, and she brings her dead child to the cremating ground. She realizes that all things are impermanent and becomes the Buddha’s disciple (Eugene Watson Burlingame, Buddhist Parables (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1922), pp. 92-94).
5. For example, Sa.myutta-nikaaya, Part IV 35.1-26; see The Book of Kindred Sayings, trans. F. L. Woodward, Pali Text Society translation series (London: Luzac & Co., Ltd., 1956). vol. 4, pp. l-14.
6. The Sa.myutta-nikaaya, 3, is devoted to an analysis of the khandhaa (skandhas). It presents fine arguments on why our cravings for the permanent nature of things are based on the skandhic graspings. It is literally a burden that we carry with us without knowing about the mechanism involved. So long as the skandhic natures remain, the notion of the self cannot be dispelled (Kindred Sayings, vol. 3). Famous account supporting the impermanent nature of things is the Fire Sermon, which says that everything is on fire, the analogously referring to the skandhic graspings (Kindred Sayings, vol. 4, pp. 10-11).
7. This momentous decision is reflected clearly in the Mahaayaana tradition, where the Bodhisattva Dharmaakara vowed to save all sentient beings. More specifically, it refers to the Original Vow (pra.nidhaana), that is, to delay entrance into until all sentients are liberated from their suffering, a vow which is basic to Pure Land Buddhist faith.
8. Majjhima-nikaaya, 3.280; see The Middle Length Sayings, trans. I. B. Horner (London: Luzac & Co., 1959) vol. 3, p. 330. See also Kindred Sayings, vol. 4, p. 66.

Buddhist Concept of Reality

March 9, 2015

There has been a continuous quest to devise some methodolgy that would lead to making an individual human life healthy, happy, wholsome and in harmony with its physical, psychological, social and every other aspect of its environment. Even today’s ‘scientific’ quests are basically aimed at this quest.
It appears that by understanding Budddhist reality, it is possible to establish a meaningful beginning in any dialogue of Buddhism vis-a-vis any other system of thought that aims to bring wholeness and happiness to human life. This thereby may help in constructing a solid basis for understanding human existence as well as a methodology leading to wholesome happiness.
The perception of the nature of reality in Buddhism is a consequence of the Buddha’s original enlightenment. Failure to recognize this fact has caused many problems in the understanding of Buddhism. Taking enlightenment to be strictly a private affair and not involving it in any discussion, especially within the framework of other doctrines and principles of Buddhism, serves no purpose at all. Enlightenment and the exposition he gave of it are the greatest gift of the Buddha to mankind. The content of the enlightenment undoubtedly revealed a rare philosophic vision of reality though the vision has eluded the best minds and still remains the greatest challenge for all followers.
By focusing on the nature of Buddhist reality, we can see later developments in Buddhism in a better light. Whole development of Buddhist epistemolgy and logic that also influenced greatly non-Buddhist thinking was a result of inquiry into method(s) of knowing about reality.
S. R. Bhatt in article ‘Logic and language in Buddhism’ (in: Brian Carr, Indira Mahalingam (eds.) – Companion Encyclopedia of Asian philosophy – London, Routledge, 1997, pp. 414-415) writes “In the non-Buddhist traditions of Indian philosophical thought, and perhaps also in early Buddhist thought, there appears to be a tacit acceptance of the possibility of acquiring knowledge of reality. However, Nâgârjuna (about AD 250), a later Buddhist dialectical thinker, raised serious doubts about the possibility of acquiring knowledge by pointing out the self-contradictory character of all means of acquiring knowledge, Nâgârjuna’s objections stimulated and compelled all subsequent philosophers to provide a solid foundation to epistemology and logic before proceeding with the formulations of their philosophical positions.
In Buddhist circles Asanga (about AD 405) and Vasubandhu (about AD 410) made pioneering attempts to construct epistemology and logic on the Buddhist pattern. However it was Dignâga (about AD 450) who put Buddhist epistemology and logic on a solid footing and gave them a distinctive character. He is, therefore, rightly regarded as the father of Buddhist epistemology and logic, and also of medieval Indian epistemology and logic in general, for he not only gave a precise formulation to Buddhist epistemology and logic but also imparted a new direction to Indian epistemology and logic by way of composing independent treatises on these two interspersing the treatment of metaphysical problems within them, a style which was later on followed by Gangesa (about the twelfth century AD), the founder of the school of Navya-Nyaya. Buddhist literature prior to Dignaga deals with the problem of knowledge and the means of knowing either very casually or not at all. There seems to be no work devoted to the problem. But Dignaga felt the necessity for a distinct treatise on epistemology and logic to establish the Buddhist doctrines in a logical manner. He explicitly mentions in the Pramâna-samuccaya that its composition was led by the need to establish the means of valid cognition.
The task initiated by Dignaga was brilliantly continued by Dharmakirti (about 635), a doyen of Buddhist epistemology and logic. His Pramâna-vârtika, Pramânaviniscaya and Nyaya-bindu are masterpieces of Buddhist epistemology and logic. When Dignaga undertook an examination of the logical tenets of other philosophical schools in his treatise there were reactions from the latter. For instance, Uddyotakara and Kumarila (about AD 500) tried to controvert the views of Dignaga. Dharmakirti therefore defended and modified the views of Dignaga, thereby strengthening the foundations of Buddhist epistemology and logic. However, his exposition, which was ended to explain and defend the views of Dignaga, superseded and eclipsed the original by its superior merit. This tradition of Dharmakirti was carried forward by Darmottara (about AD 847) and subsequently by, amongst others, Jnanasrimitra about AD 1040.”
Therfore, it seems fundamental to focus on the following three aspects of the Buddhist reality underlyig all Buddhist thought and philosophy: (1) reality and its locus,
(2) the nature and function of reality, and
(3) the implications of reality.

Lokāyata (Cārvāka) school of philosophy

March 4, 2014

The Cārvāka school of philosophy had a variety of atheistic and materialistic beliefs. They held perception to be the only valid source of knowledge.[21] and rejection of inference as a means to establish metaphysical truths.[8][9].

In syllogism, the middle term, which is found in both the subject (minor term) and is invariably connected with the predicate (major term), is seen as the cause of knowledge. This invariable connection between middle term and predicate is unconditional and causes inference not by virtue of its existence, like the existence of the eye is the cause of perception, but by virtue of it being known. To the Cārvākas there were no reliable means by which this connection could be known and therefore the efficacy of inference as a means of knowledge could not be established.[8]
To prove that inference was not a reliable means of knowledge Cārvākas examined and refuted each of the various means of knowing the connection between the middle term and the predicate individually:
External perception, or perception which involves the use of the senses, could not be the required means because although it is possible that the actual contact of the senses and the object could produce the knowledge of the particular object, there can never be such contact in the case of the past or the future. Therefore if external perception were the means on knowing the connection then inference related to objects of the past and future could not happen.
Internal perception, or perception which involves the mind, could not be the required means either because one cannot establish that the mind has any power to act independently towards an external object and is thought to be dependent on the external senses.
Nor could inference be the means since if inference were the proof of inference, one would also require another inference to establish this inference, and so on, leading to the fallacy of an Ad infinitum regression.
Nor could testimony be the means since testimony can be classified as a type of inference. Moreover, there is no reason for one to believe the word of another. Besides, if testimony were to be accepted as the only means of the knowledge of the invariable connection between middle term and predicate, then in the case of a man to whom the fact of the connection had not been pointed out by another person, there could be no inference.
Comparison (Upamana) could also be rejected as the means of the knowledge of the connection since the objective of using Upamana is to establish a different kind of knowledge than is being sought here, the relation of a name to something so named.
Absence of a condition (Upadhi), which is given as the definition of an invariable connection to restrict too general a middle term, could itself not be used to establish inference because it is impossible to establish that all conditions required to restrict the middle term are known without recourse to inference and inference, as has been proven earlier, cannot establish itself.[22]

Since none of the means of knowing were found to be worthy to establish the invariable connection between middle term and predicate, Cārvākas concluded that the inference could not be used to ascertain metaphysical truths. Thus, to Cārvākas, the step which the mind takes from the knowledge of something to infer the knowledge of something else could be accounted for by its being based on a former perception or by its being in error. Cases where inference was justified by the result were seen only to be mere coincidences.[23]
Therefore, Cārvākas denied metaphysical concepts like reincarnation, extracorporeal soul, efficacy of religious rites, other worlds (heaven and hell), fate and accumulation of merit or demerit through the performance of certain actions.[18] Cārvākas also rejected the use of supernatural causes to describe natural phenomena. To them all natural phenomena was produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things.[24] “ The fire is hot, the water cold, refreshing cool the breeze of morn; By whom came this variety ? from their own nature was it born.[24]”

Consciousness and Afterlife
Carvakas thought that body was formed out of four elements (instead of five) and that consciousness was an outcome of the mixture of these elements. Therefore, Carvakas did not believe in an afterlife. To them, all attributes that represented a person, such a thinness, fatness etc., resided in the body. To support the proposition of non-existence of any soul or consciousness in the afterlife Carvakas often quoted from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.[21][25] “ Springing forth from these elements itself
solid knowledge is destroyed
when they are destroyed—after death no intelligence remains.[21]”

Cārvāka believed that there was nothing wrong with sensual pleasure. Since it is impossible to have pleasure without pain, Cārvāka thought that wisdom lay in enjoying pleasure and avoiding pain as far as possible. Unlike many of the Indian philosophies of the time, Cārvāka did not believe in austerities or rejecting pleasure out of fear of pain and held such reasoning to be foolish.[21]
“ The berries of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, What man, seeking his true interest, would fling away because covered with husk and dust?[26]”

Cārvākas rejected religious conceptions like afterlife, reincarnation, religious rites etc. They were extremely critical of the Vedas and thought that Vedas suffered from three faults – untruth, self-contradiction and tautology. To them, Vedas were just incoherent rhapsodies. They also held the belief that such texts were invented and made up by men and had no divine authority.[24]
“ The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing one’s self with ashes, Were made by Nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness.[24]”

No independent works on Cārvāka philosophy can be found except for a few sūtras composed by Brihaspati. The 8th century Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta (ca. 8th century) is often cited as the only extant authentic Cārvāka text, but which also shows Madhyamaka influence. Shatdarshan Samuchay and Sarvadarśanasaṅ̇graha of Vidyaranya are a few other works which elucidate Cārvāka thought.[27]
One of the most important references to the Cārvāka philosophy is the Sarva-darśana-sangraha (etymologically all-philosophy-collection), a famous work of 14th century Advaita Vedanta philosopher Mādhava Vidyāraṇya from South India, which starts with a chapter on the Cārvāka system. After invoking, in the Prologue of the book, the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu (“by whom the earth and rest were produced”), Vidyāraṇya asks, in the first chapter:[28]“…but how can we attribute to the Divine Being the giving of supreme felicity, when such a notion has been utterly abolished by Charvaka, the crest-gem of the atheistic school, the follower of the doctrine of Brihaspati? The efforts of Charvaka are indeed hard to be eradicated, for the majority of living beings hold by the current refrain:
While life is yours, live joyously; None can escape Death’s searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn, How shall it e’er again return?[28]”

Ain-i-Akbari, written by Abul Fazl, the famous historian of Akbar’s court, mentions a symposium of philosophers of all faiths held in 1578 at Akbar’s insistence. Some of the beliefs of Cārvāka are recorded from this symposium, in which, some Cārvāka philosophers are said to have participated.[29] Sanskrit poems and plays like the Naiadha-carita, Prabodha-candrodaya, Āgama-dambara, Vidvanmoda-taraṅgiṇī and Kādambarī contain representations of the Cārvāka thought. However, the authors of these works were thoroughly opposed to materialism and tried to portray the Cārvāka in unfavourable light. Therefore, their works should only be accepted critically.[18]

There was no continuity in the Cārvāka tradition after the 12th century. Whatever is written on Cārvāka post this is based on second-hand knowledge, learned from preceptors to disciples and no independent works on Cārvāka philosophy can be found.[18] Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of its ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:
“ “Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organised school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these.”[30]

Representation of Cārvāka in Āstika, Buddhist and Jain literature
Buddhists, Jains, Advaita Vedantins and Nyāya philosophers considered the Cārvākas as one of their opponents and tried to refute their views. These refutations are sources of Cārvāka philosophy since they continued to be made even after all the authentic Cārvāka/Lokāyata texts had been lost. However, the representation of the Cārvāka thought in these works is not always firmly grounded in first-hand knowledge of Cārvāka texts and should be viewed critically.[18]
Though Cārvākas accepted direct perception as the surest method to prove the truth of anything, they might also have accepted a limited usage of inference. The perception that Cārvākas had a rigid stance against the application of inference might have been a result of caricaturing of their arguments by their opponents. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya quotes S. N. Dasgupta:
“ “Purandara (a Lokāyata philosopher) […] admits the usefulness of inference in determining the nature of all worldly things where perceptual experience is available; but inference cannot be employed for establishing any dogma regarding the transcendental world, or life after death or the law of karma which cannot be available to ordinary perceptual experience.”[31]”
Likewise, the charge of hedonism against Cārvāka might have been exaggerated.[16] Countering the argument that the Cārvākas opposed all that was good in the Vedic tradition, Dale Riepe says, “It may be said from the available material that Cārvākas hold truth, integrity, consistency, and freedom of thought in the highest esteem.”[32]

‪1.‬ Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Princeton paperback 12th edition, 1989. ISBN 0-691-01958-4. p. 227.
2.‬ “Philosophical & Socio” by M.h.Siddiqui, p. 63|quote=”Carvaka is classified as a “heterodox” (nastika) system”, “part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism” 3.‬^ Radhakrishnan and Moore, “Contents”.
‪4.‬ p. 224. Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
‪5.‬ Though this school of thought is not commonly considered as a part of six orthodox schools of Indian Philosophy, Haribhadra Suri, a Jain mendicant from c. seventh century, considers this school as a part of those six in his book ShaDdarshan Samucchaya. Potter, Karl H. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Buddhist philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publications. pp. 435–436. ISBN 978-81-208-1968-9.
6.‬ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. A Source book in Indian Philosophy. (Princeton University Press: 1957, Twelfth Princeton Paperback printing 1989) pp. 227–49. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.
‪7.‬ Bhattacharya 2011, p. 9.
‪8.‬ a b Cowell and Gough, p. 5.
‪9.‬ Bhattacharya 2011, p. 58.
‪10.‬ Richard King (1999). Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Edinburgh University Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7486-0954-3.
11. N. V. Isaeva (1 January 1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. SUNY Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7914-1281-7. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
12.‬ Monier-Williams (1899); the name literally means “speaking nicely”, from cāru “agreeable” and vāk “speech”
13.‬ Cowell and Gough, p. 2; Lokāyata may be etymologically analysed as “prevalent in the world ” (loka and āyata)
‪14.‬ Bhattacharya 2011, p. 27.
15.‬ Bhattacarya 2002, p. 6.
16.‬ a b c d Bhattacharya, Ramakrishna. History of Indian Materialism. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
17.‬ Bhattacharya 2011, p. 29.
18.‬ a b c d e Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Materialism in India: A Synoptic View. Retrieved 27 July 2012. ‪19.‬ a b see Schermerhorn (1930).
20.‬ Rangacharya, M. Sarva Siddhanta Sangraha of Sankaracarya: Text with English Translation, Introduction, Notes and Glossary. Eastern Book Linkers (2006). Ch. 1. ISBN 8178541084.
21.‬ a b c d Cowell and Gough. p. 3
22.‬ Cowell and Gough, p. 6-9.
23.‬ Cowell and Gough, p. 9.
‪24.‬ a b c d Cowell and Gough. p. 10
‪25.‬ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Translated by Swami Madhavananda. Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta. Verse II-iv-13 states: “After attaining (this oneness) it has no more consciousness.’l
26.‬ Cowell and Gough, p. 4.
‪27.‬ Joshi, Dinkar. Glimpses of Indian Culture. Star Publications (P) Ltd, Delhi. P. 37. ISBN 81-7650-190-5.
28.‬ a b Cowell and Gough, p. 2.
29.‬ Ain-i-Akbari, Vol. III, translated by H. S. Barrett, pp 217–218 (also see Amartya Sen [2005], pp 288–289)
‪30.‬ Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Eighth Reprint Edition. (University of Calcutta: 1984). p. 55.
31.‬ Indian Philosophy, p. 188
‪32.‬ Riepe, Dale. The Naturalistic Tradition of Indian Thought (Motilal Banarasidas, Varanasi) p.75

Bhatta, Jayarashi. Tattvopapalavasimha (Charvaka Philosophy).
Bhattacharya, Ramakrishna. Cārvāka Fragments: A New Collection, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 30, Number 6, December 2002, pp. 597–640.
Bhattacharya, Ramakrishna. Studies on the Carvaka/Lokayata (Cultural, Historical and Textual Studies of Religions). Anthem Press; Bilingual edition (December 15, 2011). ISBN 0857284339.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1959). Lokāyata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People’s Pub. House.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1964). Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction. New Delhi: People’s Pub. House.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1969). Indian Atheism: A Marxist Analysis. Kolkata: Manisha.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1976). What Is Living and What Is Dead in Indian Philosophy. New Delhi: People’s Pub. House.
Cowell, E. B.; Gough, A. E. (2001). The Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy: Trubner’s Oriental Series. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-24517-3.
Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gokhale, Pradeep P. The Cārvāka Theory of Pramānas: A Restatement, Philosophy East and West (1993).
Koller, John M. Skepticism in Early Indian Thought, Philosophy East and West (1977).
Nambiar, Sita Krishna (1971). Prabodhacandrodaya of Krsna Misra. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass.
Phillott, D. C. (ed.) (1989) [1927]. The Ain-i Akbari. by Abu l-Fazl Allami, trans. Heinrich Blochmann (3 vols. ed.). Delhi: Low Price Publications. ISBN 81-85395-19-5.
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Princeton paperback 12th edition, 1989. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.
Riepe, Dale (1964). The Naturalistic Tradition of Indian Thought (2nd ed. ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Salunkhe, A. H.. Aastikashiromani Chaarvaaka (in Marathi).
Schermerhorn, R. A. When Did Indian Materialism Get Its Distinctive Titles?, Journal of the American Oriental Society (1930).
Sen, Amartya (2005). The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-9687-0.


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