Tuesday, November 26, 2013

the Tao of Nagarjuna

Golden statue of Nagarjuna at Samye Ling Monastery.
The search for a Self and a Consciousness in the enactionist view considering worlds of consciousness and experience without ground has its root in the teachings of Nāgārjuna (about 150-250 CE), founder of the Madhyamika tradition of the Mahāyāna buddhism, the first to declare the consciousness arising as a co-dependent/co-production/co-emergence between the conscious subject and its world:


The Middle Way

Nāgārjuna and the Madhyamika Tradition

Hitherto we have spoken of the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness/awareness as though it were all one unified tradition. And in fact, the teachings of no-self-the five aggregates, some form of mental factor analysis, and karma and the wheel of conditioned origination-are common to all of the major Buddhist traditions. At this point, however, we come to a split. The teaching of emptiness (sunyata), which we are about to explore, according to the Buddhist tradition itself as well as to scholarship, did not become apparent until approximately 500 years after the Buddha's death, at which time the Prajñāpāramitā and other texts that expound this doctrine began to appear. During those 500 years, the Abhidharma tradition had become elaborated into eighteen different schools that debated each other about various subtle points and debated the many non-Buddhist schools within Hinduism and Jainism. Those who adopted the newer teachings called themselves the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna) and designated those who continued to adhere to the earlier teachings the Lesser Vehicle Hīnayāna)-an epithet to this day widely loathed by non-Mahayanists. One of the eighteen original schools, the Theravāda (the speech of the elders) has survived with great vigor in the modem world; it is the undisputed form of Buddhism in the countries of Southeast Asia-Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Theravada Buddhism does not teach sunyata. Sunyata is, however, the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism (the form that spread to China, Korea, and Japan) and of the Vajrayana, the Buddhism of Tibet.
In approximately the first half of the second century CE, the Prajñāpāramitā teachings were put into a form of philosophical argument by Nagarjuna (according to some Mahayana schools and many, but not all, Western scholars). Nagarjuna's stature in Mahayana and Varjayana Buddhism is enormous. His method was to work solely by means of refutation of the positions and assertions of others. His followers soon split into those who continued this method, which is very demanding for the listener as well as for the speaker (the Prasangikas) and those who made positive arguments about emptiness (Svatantrikas).
The Madhyamika tradition, although it delighted in debate and logical argument, is not to be taken as abstract philosophy in the modem sense. For one thing, the debate was considered so meaningful in the social context of the courts and universities of early India that the losing side in a debate was expected to convert. More important, the philosophy was never to be divorced from meditation practice or from the daily activities of life. The point was to realize egolessness in one's own experience and manifest it in action to others. Texts discussing the philosophy included meditation manuals for how to contemplate, meditate, and act on the topic.
In exposition of Nagarjuna in the present day, there is a split between Buddhist practitioners (including traditionally trained practitioner scholars) and Western academic scholars. Practitioners say that Western scholars are making up issues, interpretations, and confusions that have nothing to do with the texts or with Buddhism.
Western scholars feel that the opinions (and teachings) of "believers" are not an appropriate source for textual exegesis. Since in this book we wish to bring into contact the living tradition of mindfulness/awareness meditation with the living tradition of phenomenology and of cognitive science, for our exposition of the Madhyamika we will draw from the practitioner as well as from the scholarly side of this interesting sociological detente.
Śūnyatā literally means "emptiness" (sometimes misleadingly translated as "the void" or "voidness"). In the Tibetan tradition, it is said that sunyata may be expounded from three perspectives--sunyata with respect to codependent arising, sunyata with respect to compassion, and sunyata with respect to naturalness. It is the first of these, sunyata with respect to codependent arising, that most naturally fits with the logic we have been exploring in the discovery of groundlessness and its relationship to cognitive science and the concept of enaction.

Nagarjuna's most well known work is the Stanzas of the Middle Way (Mulamadhyamikakarikas). From the perspective that we will now examine, it carries through the logic of codependent arising to its logical conclusion.
In the Abhidharma analysis of consciousness, each moment of experience takes the form of a particular consciousness that has a particular object to which it is tied by particular relations. For example, a moment of seeing consciousness is composed of a seer (the subject) who sees (the relation) a sight (the object); in a moment of anger consciousness, the one who is angry (the subject) experiences (the relation) anger (the object). (This is what we have called protointentionality.) The force of the analysis was to show that there was no truly existing subject (a self) continuing unchangingly through a series of moments. But what of the objects of consciousness? And what of the relations? The Abhidharma schools had assumed that there were material properties that were taken as objects by five of the senses-seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching-and that there were thoughts that were taken as an object by the mind consciousness. Such an analysis is still partially subjectivist/objectivist because (1) many schools, such as the basic element analysis discussed in chapters 4 and 6, took moments of consciousness as ultimate realities, and (2) the external world had been left in a relatively unproblematic, objectivist, independent state.
The Mahayana tradition talks about not just one but two senses of ego-self: ego of self and ego of phenomena (dharmas). Ego of self is the habitual grasping after a self that we have been discussing. Mahayanists claim that the earlier traditions attacked this sense of self but did not challenge the reliance on an independently existing world or the mind's (momentary) relations to that world. Nagarjuna attacks the independent existence of all three terms-the subject, the relation, and the object. What follows will be a (synthetically constructed)example of the kind of argument that Nagarjuna makes. What is it that we mean when we say that the one who sees exists independently or when we say that that which is seen exists independently? Surely we mean that the one who sees exists even when she is not seeing the sight; she exists prior to and/or after seeing the sight. And likewise we mean that the sight exists prior to and/or after it is seen by the seer. That is, if I am the seer of a sight and I truly exist, it means that I can walk away and not see that sight-I can go hear something or think something instead. And if the sight truly exists, it should be able to stay there even when I am not seeing it-for example, it could have someone else see it at a future moment.
Upon closer examination, however, Nagarjuna points out that this makes little sense. How can we talk about the seer of a sight who is not seeing its sight? Conversely how can we speak of a sight that is not being seen by its seer? Nor does it make any sense to say that there is an independently existing seeing going on somewhere without any seer and without any sight being seen. The very position of a seer, the very idea of a seer, cannot be separated from the sights it sees. And vice versa, how can the sight that is being seen be separated from the seer that sees it?
We might try a negative tack and reply that all this is true and that the seer does not exist prior to the sight and the seeing of it. But then how can a nonexistent seer give rise to an existing seeing and an existing sight? Or if we try to argue the other way round and say that the sight didn't exist until the seer saw it, the reply is, How can a nonexistent sight be seen by a seer?
Let us try the argument that the seer and the sight arise simultaneously. In that case, they are either one and the same thing, or they are different things. If they are one and the same thing, then this cannot be a case of seeing, since seeing requires that there be one who sees, a sight, and the seeing of the sight. We do not say that the eye sees it~elf. Then they must be two separate, independent things. But in that case, if they are truly independent things, each existing in its own right independently of the relations in which it happens to figure, then there could be many relations beside seeing between them. But it makes no sense to say that a seer hears a sight; only a hearer can hear a sound.
We might give in and agree that there is no truly existent independent seer, sight, or seeing but claim that all three put together form a truly existent moment of consciousness that is the ultimate reality. But if you add one nonexistent thing to another nonexistent thing, how can you say that that makes a truly existent thing? Indeed, how can you say that a moment of time is a truly existent thing when to be truly existent, it would have to exist independently- of other moments in the past and future? Furthermore, since one moment is but an aspect of time itself, that moment would have to exist independently of time itself (this is an argument about the codependence of things and their attributes); and time itself would have to exist independently of that one moment.
At this point, we might be seized with the terrible feeling that indeed these things do not exist. But surely it makes even less sense to assert that a nonexistent seer either sees or does not see a nonexistent sight at a nonexistent moment than to make these claims about an existent seer. (That this argument has actual psychological force is illustrated by an Israeli joke: Man 1 says, "Things are getting worse and worse; better never to have existed at all." Man 2 says, "How true. But who should be so lucky?--one in ten thousand!") Nagarjuna's point is not to say that things are nonexistent in an absolute way any more than to say that they are existent. Things are codependently originated; they are completely groundless.
Nagarjuna's arguments for complete codependence (or more properly his arguments against any other conceivable view than codependence) are applied to three main classes of topics: subjects and their objects, things and their attributes, and causes and their effects. By these means, he disposes of the idea of noncodependent existence for virtually everything-subject and object for each of the senses; material objects; the primal elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space); passion, aggression, and ignorance; space, time, and motion; the agent, his doing, and what he does; conditions and outcomes; the self as perceiver, doer, or anything else; suffering; the causes of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the path to cessation (known as the Four Noble Truths); the Buddha; and nirvana. Nagarjuna finally concludes, "Nothing is found that is not dependently arisen. For that reason, nothing is found that is not empty."
It is important to remember the context within which these arguments are employed. Nagarjuna's arguments fasten on psychologically real habits of mind and demonstrate their groundlessness within the context of mindfulness/awareness meditation and Abhidharma psychology. A modem philosopher might believe himself able to find faults with Nagarjuna's logic. Even if this were the case, however, it would not overturn the epistemological and psychological force of Nagarjuna's argumentation within the context of his concerns. In fact, Nagarjuna's arguments can be summarized in a way that makes this point apparent:

1. If subjects and their objects, things and their attributes, and causes and their effects exist independently as we habitually take them to, or exist intrinsically and absolutely as basic element analysis holds, then they must not depend on any kind of condition or relation. This point basically amounts to a philosophical insistence on the meanings of independent, intrinsic, and absolute. By definition, something is independent, intrinsic, or absolute only if it does not depend on anything else; it must have an identity that transcends its relations.
2. Nothing in our experience can be found that satisfies this criterion of independence or ultimacy. The earlier Abhidharma tradition had expressed this insight as dependent coarising: nothing can be found apart from its conditions of arising, formation, and decay. In our modem context this point is rather obvious when considering the causes and conditions of the material world and is expressed in our scientific tradition. Nagarjuna took the understanding of codependence considerably further. Causes and their effects, things and their attributes, and the very mind of the inquiring subject and the objects of mind are each equally codependent on the other. Nagarjuna's logic addresses itself penetratingly to the mind of the inquiring subject (recall our fundamental circularity), to the ways in which what are actually codependent factors are taken by that subject to be the ultimate founding blocks of a supposed objective and a supposed subjective reality.
3. Therefore, nothing can be found that has an ultimate or independent existence. Or to use Buddhist language, everything is "empty" of an independent existence, for it is codependently originated.
We now have a context for understanding emptiness with respect to codependent origination: all things are empty of any independent intrinsic nature. This may sound like an abstract statement, but it has far-ranging implications for experience. We explained in chapter 4 how the categories of the Abhidharma were both descriptions and contemplative directives for the way the mind is actually experienced when one is mindful. It is important to realize that Nagarjuna is not rejecting the Abhidharma, as he is sometimes interpreted as doing in Western scholarship. His entire analysis is based on the categories of the Abhidharma: what sense would arguments such as that of the seer, the sight, and the seeing have except in that context? (If the reader thinks that Nagarjuna's argument is a linguistic one, that is because he has not seen the force of the Abhidharma.) It is a very precise argument, not just a general handwaving that everything is dependent on everything. Nagarjuna is extending the Abhidharma, but that extension makes an incisive difference to experience.
Why should it make any difference at all to experience? One might say, So what if the world and the self change moment to moment whoever thought that they were permanent? And so what if they are mutually dependent on each other-whoever thought they were isolated? The answer (as we have seen throughout the book) is that as one becomes mindful of one's own experience, one realizes the power of the urge to grasp after foundations-to grasp the sense of foundation of a real, separate self, the sense of foundation of a real, separate world, and the sense of foundation of an actual relation between self and world.
It is said that emptiness is a natural discovery that one would make by oneself with sufficient mindfulness/awareness-natural but shocking. Previously we have been talking about examining the mind with meditation. There may not have been a self, but there was still a mind to examine itself, even if a momentary one. But now we discover that we have no mind; after all, a mind must be something that is separate from and knows the world. We also don't have a world. There is neither an objective nor subjective pole. Nor is there any knowing because there is nothing hidden. Knowing sunyata (more accurately knowing the world as sunyata) is surely not an intentional act. Rather (to use traditional imagery), it is like a reflection in a mirror-pure, brilliant, but with no additional reality apart from itself. As mind/world keeps happening in its interdependent continuity, there is nothing extra on the side of mind or on the side of world to know or be known further. Whatever experience happens is open (Buddhist teachers use the word exposed), perfectly revealed just as it is.
We can now see why Madhyamika is called the middle way. It avoids the extreme of either objectivism or subjectivism, of absolutism or nihilism. As is said by the Tibetan commentators, "Through ascertaining the reason - that all phenomena are dependent arisings - the extreme of annihilation (nihilism) is avoided, and realization of dependent-arising of causes and effects is gained. Through ascertaining the thesis-that all phenomena do not inherently exist-the extreme of permanence (absolutism) is avoided, and realization of the emptiness of all phenomena is gained. " But what does all this mean for the everyday world? I still have a name, a job, memories, and plans. The sun still rises in the morning, and scientists still work to explain that. What of all this?

Tao quartet

Zentralfriedhof, Vienna (Wien), Austria

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tao Paradoxico-Philosophicus 9-10

    Un dieu donne le feu     
     Pour faire l'enfer;      
      Un diable, le miel     
       Pour faire le ciel.  


9 Nervous system: consider one or more closed organizations that intersect with a living organism and its cognitive domain, expanding it.
9.1 A logical observer distinguishes the nervous system only within the living organism and interprets sensory surfaces and effector surfaces as “inputs” to and “outputs” from the nervous system that match “outputs” from and “inputs” to a world “out there”.
9.2 A paradoxical observer interacts with and tentatively distinguishes the activity of the nervous system as “nerve” impulses that encode only “how much” not “what” the living organism “perceives”.
9.21 Since everything “perceived” translates into nerve impulses, the nervous system does not discriminate (distinguish) between impulses coming from an “outside” world and those originated “within” the nervous system (“inside” or “outside” blend into “inside and outside”).
9.22 For this same observer, the encounter with other observers triggers the invention of a tentative world “in and out there”.
9.23 While some of these observers adjust, share, and thus “confirm”, tentatively the invention, others do not.

10 Environment: logical observers distinguish the intersection of their cognitive domains as a common dwelling and call it their environment.
10.1 The distinction of an environment appears to these observers as an invitation to extract or deduce further distinctions.
10.12 These further distinctions appear to these observers as processes (events in time) that produce components (objects in space) forming open networks of processes and components that exclude these and other observers.
10.2 Language and communication emerge in this way from the activity (of processes) in the nervous system and thus, the logical observer invents a world “out there” independent of the observers.
10.3 Since processes, components, open networks of processes and components, and an environment neither define nor maintain themselves, logical observers may only distinguish (extricate or deduce) them from organizationally closed unities (paradoxical context), which will appear open and no longer organizationally closed (nor paradoxical) for these observers.
10.4 Paradoxical observers interact with and tentatively distinguish an environment as a world “in and out there”, through which they may, with some difficulty, relate to logical observers.

Tractatus Paradoxico-Philosophicus

A Philosophical Approach to Education
Un Acercamiento Filosófico a la Educación
Une Approche Philosophique à l'Education
Eine Philosophische Annäherung an Bildung

Ricardo B. Uribe

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Tao Paradoxico-Philosophicus 7-8