What did consciousness contribute? (Damasio)

What did consciousness actually contribute? (from Self Comes to Mind, by Antonio Damasio, New York 2010) The answer is a large variety of apparent and not-so-apparent advantages in the management of life. Even at the simplest levels, consciousness helps the optimization of responses to environmental conditions. As processed in the conscious mind, images provide details about the environment, and those details can be used to increase the precision of a much-needed response, for example, the exact movement that will neutralize a threat or guarantee the capture of a prey. But image precision is only a part of the advantage of a conscious mind. The lion’s share of the advantage, I suspect, comes from the fact that in a conscious mind the processing of environmental images is oriented by a particular set of internal images, those of the subject’s living organism as represented in the self. The self focuses the mind process, it imbues the adventure of encountering other objects and events with a motivation, it infuses the exploration of the world outside the brain with a concern for the first and foremost problem facing the organism: the successful regulation of life. That concern is naturally generated by the self process, whose foundation lies in bodily feelings, primordial and modified. The spontaneously, intrinsically feeling self signals directly, as a result of the valence and intensity of its affecive states, the degree of concern and need that are present at every moment.

As the process of consciousness became more complex, and as co-evolved functions of memory, reasoning, and language were brought into play, further benefits of consciousness were introduced. Those benefits relate largely to planning and deliberation. The advantages here are legion. It became possible to survey the possible future and to either delay or inhibit automatic responses. An example of this evolutionarily novel capacity is delayed gratification, the calculated trading of something good now for something better later – or the forgoing of something good now when the survey of the future suggests that it will cause something bad as well. This is the trend of consciousness that brought us a finer management of basic homeostasis and, ultimately, the beginnings of sociocultuiral homeostasis (to which Damasio turns later in the book).

Plenty of conscious, highly successfuil behaviors are present in many nonhuman species with complex enough brains: the examples are evident all around us, most spectacularly in mammals. In humans, however, thanks to expanded memory, reasoning, and language, consciousness has reached its current peak. I suggest that the peak came from the strenghtening of the knower self and of its ability to reveal the predicaments and opportunities of the human condition. Some may say that in that revelation lies a tragic loss, of innocence no less, for all that the revelation tells us of the flaws of nature and of the drama we face, for all the temptations it lays down before human eyes, for all the evil it unmasks. Be that as it may, it is not for us to choose. Consciousness certainly has allowed the growth of knowledge and the development of science and technology, two ways in which we can attempt to manage the predicaments and opportunities laid bare by the human conscious state.

More Questions and Answers

question I am not familiar with the term Advayavada.

answer We gave the name Advayavada Buddhism to the radical non-dual standpoint of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism to which we specifically adhere. A sound explanation of the term ‘advayavada’ can be found in for instance professor T.R.V. Murti’s The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: “The sole concern of the Madhyamaka advaya-vada is the purification of the faculty of knowing. The primordial error consists in the intellect being infected by the inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc. These views falsify reality, and the dialectic [of the Madhyamaka] administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata [advayata; non-dual suchness] or bhutakoti [reality-limit; the extreme limit beyond which there is nothing which can be known]. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing..” It is in this sense that we use the term ‘advayavada’.

question What you say seems to me to be an essential teaching of the Mahayana in its complete form. The Unborn Infinite Reality can never be less than Perfect and Whole, and is the True Essence of all Beings, and is ever present. All that is needed is that, in perfect simplicity, we turn to That, and realize that the human manifestation of life is just an imperfect reflexion of That. Simple! but not easy. That is the problem. If we realize what we are, how do we remember to continue to realize it moment by moment, rather than seeking to hold on to the vision of the past?

answer Everything is, indeed, as right as it can be, and the Middle Way devoid of extremes is a perfect reflexion of it at the human level. As for your question, our answer would be that you must see that ‘vision of the past’ for what it really is: a highly selective subjective recollection in the present of things no longer there – please understand that life only happens Now.

question Existence progresses towards better or worse only in a dualistic sense. Life goes towards better, towards worse, only when one has expectations. Current failings? Simply a state of mind brought on by expectations and judgements. That ‘infinite Reality’ (what other reality is there?) will continue to ‘become’ exactly as it must? No, it is, it is exactly as it is.

answer You and the writer obviously do not experience the passage of time, i.e. the duration, the sum duration of the successive phenomena, in the same way. Your ‘reality is exactly as it is’ as opposed to his ‘reality will continue to become exactly as it, by definition, must’ makes this important point very clear. As a result of his prolonged and deep meditation on the true nature of reality, the writer has come to share fully and wholeheartedly the Buddhist view that existence is a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As a serious student of the Madhyamaka theories of existence, particularly of the concepts of emptiness, interdependent origination and the two truths, he has come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as an ongoing reflexion at the level of his own life of existence as a whole becoming over time. By learning to follow the Eightfold Path successfully, he hopes to live every time more and more in tune with wondrous overall existence. For the Advayavadin, Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time. In Buddhism, there is no static being, only dynamic becoming: to live is to become. And in Advayavada Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something else in the future, but as a way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. The Eightfold Path is seen as a proven method to achieve the abandonment of all fixed views and to become oneself in the here and now as existence, as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its right direction. It is by becoming herenow as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now that we free ourselves from suffering and realize happiness.

More Questions and Answers

question I am afraid that your discovery has already been heralded by the Buddha himself, although he does not call it a fourth sign or mark. The fourth mark is sometimes rendered as ashubha, or ugliness. The Buddha identified two modes of conditionality, one which is well known and is illustrated by the Wheel of Becoming, is the 12 nidanas moving from ignorance to old age and death. The other, which is not as well known but is in the Nidana Vagga of the Samyutta Nikaya, is positive and progressive. It moves from suffering through faith, delight, joy, calmness, bliss, concentration, knowledge and vision of things as they really are, disgust, dispassion, liberation, knowledge of the destruction of the biases. The importance of this dynamic sequence is that life can be made to flow towards better. However, life does not flow towards better automatically. It has to be cultivated and worked for, which is why we have to practice the four right efforts.

answer Each school will naturally interpret in its own way the many, often conflicting sayings attributed to the Buddha in the scriptures. It would however be going too far to maintain that the Buddha ever implied that ugliness was the Fourth Mark or Sign of Being. The “disgust for things as they are” of sutta 23 of the Nidana Vagga should be understood strictly within the very limited context of one’s own personal life. And our position is that not humanity, mankind, human beings, the human manifestation of life, let alone one’s own personal life, is the measure of things in space and time, but the overall all-embracing flow of existence itself, which, quite oblivious to our exertions or, for that matter, our disgust, goes on and on in its own one right direction. We take it for granted, as explained, that there is nothing wrong with existence and that the objective of the Buddha’s Middle Way devoid of extremes was and is the abandonment of all fixed views and to reconnect and reconcile us with its true nature as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it.

question I wonder what your support for this interpretation of humans experiencing Nature as progress might be. There’s abundant evidence in media of various sorts — good, bad, or indifferent in quality — of people who contrarily do not experience the overall course of Nature as progressive at all, but instead as destructive and teleologically negative, especially today in conditions of global warming, cyclones, tornados, earthquakes, oceans rising, meteorites, and so on.

answer If you look closely, all those unpleasantnesses you mention do not pertain to overall existence at all but are the result of mistaken views, immorality and mismanagement. When we say how man experiences the course of Nature we of course mean man unencumbered by these contingent shortcomings and mistakes that impair his vision, understanding and accomplishments – the reference standard is overall existence and not failing mankind.

The Madhyamika School (Ch’en)

The Madhyamika School (from Buddhism in China, by Prof. Kenneth K. S. Ch’en, Princeton 1964) The Hinayana doctrine of dependent origination, that all things depend on causes and conditions for their origination, provides the starting point for the Madhyamika viewpoint that ‘what is produced by causes is not produced in itself, and does not exist in itself’. Because all things are produced by causes and conditions, they do not have any independent reality; they do not possess any self-nature. When these causes and conditions disappear, these things also disappear. Hence they are said to be shunya or empty..

Thorough comprehension of the empty, unreal, or relative nature of all phenomena leads to prajña (intuitive wisdom or non-dual knowledge). When we achieve prajña, we reach the state of absolute truth which is beyond thought and conception, unconditioned, indeterminate. This absolute truth cannot be preached in words, but, in order to indicate it, it is called shunyata. “Shunyata is the synonym of that which has no cause, that which is beyond thought or conception, that which is not produced, that which is not born, that which is without measure” (Zimmer). This absolute truth contains nothing concrete or individual that can make it an object of particularization.

Nagarjuna is careful to point out, however, that this absolute truth can be realized only by going through the relative or worldly level of truth. Here we have the double level of truth of the Madhyamika. The relative level consists of man’s reasoning and its products. It causes man to see the universe and its manifold phenomena, and to consider them as real. He cannot dispose of this relative truth by his arguments, just as a person in a dream cannot deny his dream by any argument. Only when he wakens can he prove the falsity of the objects in the dream. In this relative level one sees the distinctions between subject and object, truth and error, Samsara and Nirvana. This relative level is necessary, according to Nagarjuna, because the absolute level can be understood and realized only negatively by the removal of relative truths. The removal of the relative truths must therefore precede the realization of the absolute truth. The truths attained through reasoning and the intellect are not to be discarded even though they are not final. Acceptance of the doctrine of shunyata, or the unreality of all phenomena, does not mean that we have to devaluate all human experience..

The Noble Eightfold Path

“The Fourth Noble Truth is that of the Way leading to the cessation of dukkha (dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada-ariyasacca). This is known as the ‘Middle Path’ (Majjhima Patipada), because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search of happiness through the pleasures of the senses, which is ‘low, common, unprofitable and the way of the ordinary people’; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of ascetism, which is ‘painful, unworthy and unprofitable’.. This Middle Path is generally referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya-Atthangika-Magga), because it is composed of eight categories or divisions..” (Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, first published 1959)

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is understood dynamically as an ongoing and fully autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight, reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, and is composed of (1) our very best (Pali: samma, Sanskrit: samyak) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition (of our intention), (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is.

The writer of these pages shares fully and wholeheartedly the Buddhist view that existence is a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As a serious student of the Madhyamaka theories of existence, particularly of the concepts of emptiness, interdependent origination and the two truths, he has come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as an ongoing reflexion at the level of his own life of existence as a whole becoming over time. By learning to follow the Noble Eightfold Path successfully, he hopes to live every time more and more in tune with wondrous overall existence. For the Advayavadin, Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time. In Buddhism, there is no static being, only dynamic becoming: to live is to become. And in Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something in the future, but as a way to become as something in the here and now. The Noble Eightfold Path is seen as a proven autonomous method or ‘upaya’ to achieve the abandonment of all fixed views and to become oneself in the here and now as existence, as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its right direction. It is by becoming here and now as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now that we free ourselves altogether from suffering and realize complete happiness. In Advayavada Buddhism the Path is understood, in other words, as the sure road to enlightenment. See the Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) here.

The Pali word samma is usually rendered as ‘right’, but allow us to quote as follows from Prof. Archie Bahm’s Philosophy of the Buddha, first published 1958: “Each fold of the Eightfold Path is clearly labelled with the prefix samma. And sam means sameness, ambiguity, universality, equality, regarding willingness to accept things as they are.. Sam is middle-wayedness between over-acceptance and under-acceptance, between attachment to them as more than they are or less than they are. Translation of sam as ‘right view’ etc. fails to convey to most readers the ideal of equanimity which is then to be perfectly sought. […] The term ‘right’, although fitting better into the puritanic, rigoristic, and perfectionistic preconceptions of many Western translators, and into the perfectionistic (extinctionistic) tendencies of Theravada, is only slightly justified.” It is our view that it is only by following the Path in a non-prescriptive way that we shall eventually be able to come to understand the non-conceptual import of ultimate truth, and it was this explanation of the term samma by Prof. Bahm which a.o. prompted us to translate samma in Advayavada Buddhism as ‘very best’ or ‘best possible’. See also the short excerpt ‘The Path Understood Dialectically (Bahm)’ in the relevant excerpts section of this website.

In most other forms of Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is indeed made up of eight largely unrelated factors, often of very differing content and interpretation, and always somebody else is telling you what to be and do. For Advayavada Buddhism, however, it is clear that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, the madhyama-pratipad, being the correct existential attitude expounded by the Buddha, is to reconnect and reconcile us with existence as it truly is beyond our (and most other people’s) commonly limited and biased personal experience of it. The Noble Eightfold Path is therefore understood dynamically as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole becoming over time, of pratitya-samutpada. It is for this reason that the eight steps of the Noble Eightfold Path as advocated by Advayavada Buddhism do depend sequentially on each other, are free of any conventional criteria set beforehand by somebody else to which one is supposed to conform, and are fully ‘actual’ in the sense that they are not done for a further purpose or motive which is not in the step itself. The method created by the Buddha is, as we see it, like a wheel. It has no beginning and no end. When one has meditated well, new and better insight will arise in our minds, and we must lead our lives accordingly until we and the circumstances surrounding us have again changed, until it is time to think things through again, and to start afresh if necessary.

Also the Ven. Narada Mahathera understands the steps sequentially: “Right Understanding, which is the keynote of Buddhism, is explained as the knowledge of the four Noble Truths. To understand rightly means to understand things as they really are and not as they appear to be. This refers primarily to a correct understanding of oneself, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta states, ‘dependent on this one-fathom long body with its consciousness’ are all the four Truths. In the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding stands at the beginning as well as at its end. A minimum degree of Right Understanding is necessary at the very beginning because it gives the right motivations to the other seven factors of the Path and gives to them correct direction. At the culmination of the practice, Right Understanding has matured into perfect Insight Wisdom (vipassana-pañña), leading directly to the Stages of Sainthood.. Clear vision or right understanding leads to clear thinking. The second factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is therefore Right Thoughts etc.” (Narada Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell, first published 1933)

But Diana and Richard St Ruth, on the other hand, say the following in their Simple Guide to Theravada Buddhism, Folkestone 1998: “This [the Eightfold Path] is not a linear path, first perfecting one’s view about things before moving on to perfecting one’s intentions and speech and so on. It is a way of living one’s whole life. It is like saying: Try to live your life in the right way in everything you do. The word ‘right’ or ‘perfect’, of course, is a subjective term, and that is what it is meant to be. There is no definition laid down of what is right; it is not a set of rules. What may be regarded as right effort for one person, for example, may be quite different for another. It is a question of deciding for oneself whether enough effort is being put into what one does, or whether there is a sense of laziness, or of making too much of an effort. There is a delicate balance to be found between too much and too little, and this is something to be discovered for oneself. The eightfold path is a life; it is one’s whole way of life.”

It is not clear what is meant by ‘subjective’ in the aforegoing quotation from the Simple Guide to Theravada Buddhism. In Advayavada Buddhism, the term is used in this context in the Kierkegaardian sense and would not apply to all steps, but only to the noun ‘comprehension’ in the first step: the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism would be in full ‘our very best (or best possible) subjective comprehension of things at this time’. See in this respect the short excerpt ‘Existential Thinking is Subjective (Kierkegaard)’ on the relevant excerpts pages of this website.

Also for the Ven. Walpola Rahula the Path is not sequential or linear. He does, however, teach unqualifiedly that the categories should be developed, not as we deem fit, but ‘as far as possible’ to the best of our ability: “It should not be thought that the eight categories or divisions of the Path should be followed and practised one after the other in the numerical order as given in the usual list above. But they are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.”

According to prof. Peter Harvey, in An Introduction to Buddhism, first published 1990, the eight factors exist in Theravada Buddhism at two basic levels, the ordinary and the transcendent or ‘holy’, so that there is both an ordinary and a Holy Eightfold Path. The first type, which “most Buddhists seek to practise”, only “supports actions leading to good rebirths” and is described as “belief in the efficacy of karma, the reality of rebirth, in the benefit of helping one’s parents, in the existence of levels of rebirth invisible to normal vision, and in the existence of virtuous religious practitioners who have direct knowledge of other worlds”. Practice based on such beliefs is seen as creating a good basis “for the additional development of wisdom”; if and when such practise is perfected, a person will gain a first glimpse of Nibbana and of “the ‘stream’ which leads there”, namely the Holy Eightfold Path. Prof. Harvey also states that the Path immediately leading up to becoming an arahat has two extra factors, right knowledge and right freedom, making it tenfold.

The Rider Encyclopedia reminds us that Bhavaviveka (ca. 490-570), the founder of the Svatantrika school of Madhyamaka, interprets the Eightfold Path as follows: perfect view is insight into the dharmakaya of the perfect one; perfect resolve represents the coming to rest of all mental projections; perfect speech is the recognition that speech is rendered dumb in the face of the dharmas; perfect conduct is the abstention from all deeds directed toward karmic gain; perfect living is the insight that all dharmas are without arising or passing away; perfect effort means becoming intentionless; perfect mindfulness means giving up pondering on being and nonbeing; perfect concentration means being free from opinions in that one does not grasp onto ideas.

John Peacocke tells us in Tricycle magazine that according to the British scholar Richard Gombrich, the Buddhist Middle Way is in fact the middle way between highly materialistic Brahmanism and excessively ascetic Jainism. It’s not just asceticism in general that the Buddha is reacting to, it’s the extreme asceticism primarily associated with the Jains, and, likewise, the household life and the strict and materialistic rituals of the Brahmins. Somewhere in between the two lies the Middle Way of the Buddha’s teachings.

Stephen Batchelor writes in his Confession of a Buddhist Atheist: “I no longer think of Buddhist practice solely in terms of gaining proficiency in meditation and acquiring ‘spiritual’ attainments. The challenge of Gotama’s eightfold path is, as I understand it, to live in this world in a way that allows every aspect of one’s existence to flourish: seeing, thinking, speaking, acting, working, etc. Each area of life calls for a specific way of practising the Dhamma. Meditation and mindfulness alone are not enough. Given the task of responding to the suffering that confronts me each time I open a newspaper, I find it immoral to relegate the demands of this life to the ‘higher’ task of preparing oneself for a postmortem existence (or non-existence). I think of myself as a secular Buddhist who is concerned entirely with the demands of this age (saeculum) no matter how inadequate and insignificant my responses to these demands might be.”

The Noble Eightfold Path compared

1 – samma-ditthi (samyag-dristi) – in Advayavada: our very best comprehension or insight: right doctrine (Arnold), right view (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, St Ruth, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate vision (Batchelor), right understanding (Burt, Dhammananda, Fernando, Humphreys, Keown, Kornfield, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, Stroup), right views (Conze, David-Neel, Dharmapala, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right knowledge (Dharmapala, Khemo), right belief (Narasu); proper views (Edwardes); correct insight (Kloppenborg), correct faith (Scheepers)

2 – samma-sankappa (samyak-samkalpa) – in Advayavada: our very best resolution or determination: right purpose (Arnold, Burt, Horner), right resolve (Bahm, David-Neel, Keown), appropriate thought (Batchelor), right intentions (Bodhi, Conze), right intention (Ch’en, Gethin, Khemo, St Ruth), right thoughts (Dhammananda, Narada), right desires (Dharmapala), right aspirations (Dharmapala, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right thought (Fernando, Rahula, Saddhatissa, Takakusu), right resolution (Grimm), right conception (Guenther), right directed thought (Harvey), right motives (Humphreys), right attitude (Kornfield), right attitude of mind (Stroup), right aspiration (Narasu), right mindedness (Nyanatiloka), right understanding (Watts); proper hopes (Edwardes); correct resolve (Kloppenborg), correct thinking (Scheepers)

3 – samma-vacha (samyag-vac) – in Advayavada: our very best enunciation or definition (as Karl Popper says, putting our ideas into words, or better, writing them down, makes an important difference, for in this way they become objective and criticizable): right discourse (Arnold), right speech (Bahm, Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, David-Neel, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate speech (Batchelor), right speaking (Grimm); proper language of definition (Edwardes); correct speech (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

4 – samma-kammanta (samyak-karmanta) – in Advayavada: our very best disposition or attitude: right behaviour (Arnold), right conduct (Burt, Conze, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right action (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, David-Neel, Fernando, Gethin, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate action (Batchelor), right actions (Dhammananda, Dharmapala), right acting (Grimm); proper behaviour (Edwardes); correct action (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

5 – samma-ajiva (samyag-ajiva) – in Advayavada: our very best implementation, realization or putting into practice: right purity (Arnold), right vocation (Burt, Watts), right livelihood (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Harvey, Horner, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu), appropriate livelihood (Batchelor), right living (David-Neel, Narasu, Nyanatiloka), right mode of life (Grimm), right life (Guenther), right means of livelihood (Humphreys); proper way of earning one’s living (Edwardes); correct living (Kloppenborg), correct livelihood (Scheepers)

6 – samma-vayama (samyag-vyayana) – in Advayavada: our very best effort or commitment: right thought (Arnold), right effort (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, David-Neel, Dhammananda, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Harvey, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup), appropriate effort (Batchelor), right exertion (Dharmapala, Guenther), right endeavour (Bahm, Dharmapala, Horner, Takakusu), right application (Watts); proper effort in the proper direction (Edwardes); correct exertion (Kloppenborg), correct striving (Scheepers)

7 – samma-sati (samyak-smriti) – in Advayavada: our very best observation or reflection and self-correction: right loneliness (Arnold), right alertness (Burt), right mindfulness (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Harvey, Horner, Keown, Malalasekera, Narada, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu), appropriate mindfulness (Batchelor), right attention (David-Neel), right recollectedness (Grimm, Watts), right inspection (Guenther), right recollection (Humphreys, Stroup), right attentiveness (Khemo, Nyanatiloka), right concentration (Kornfield), right thought (Narasu), right remembrance, right memory, right awareness; full understanding of action and thought (Edwardes); correct attention (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

8 – samma-samadhi (samyak-samadhi) – in Advayavada: our very best meditation or concentration towards samadhi: right rapture (Arnold, Eliot, Malalasekera), right samadhi (Bahm, Dharmapala), right concentration (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Khemo, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu), appropriate concentration (Batchelor), right meditation (David-Neel, Humphreys, Keown, Stroup), right illumination (Dharmapala), right awareness (Kornfield), right tranquility (Narasu), right contemplation (Rhys Davids, Watts); absolute concentration of purpose (Edwardes); correct concentration (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

samadhi (Skt.) total or perfect concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absortion in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect dynamic attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

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Contact particulars

The Advayavada Stichting (a.k.a. Advayavada Foundation) was established in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on November 14th, 2001, and registered in the Chamber of Commerce of Amsterdam as a non-profit foundation on November 21st, 2001, under number 34165177.

The purpose of the Advayavada Foundation is the proclamation by all possible means in the Netherlands and abroad of the conviction, embodied in Advayavada Buddhism, that man experiences as progress that which agrees with the direction in which overall existence moves forward over time, and that the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path must in consequence be understood as a reflexion at the human level, and in human terms, of that progress of existence.

Besides carrying out its official main purpose, the Advayavada Foundation seeks to further the implementation of the following universal common ground negotiation formula: In the case of tension and the threat of conflict, to immediately lower our concern and attention to the level of the values we already share and to restart the negotiations from that point onwards as often as necessary.

Our address is:

Advayavada Stichting
Postbus 10502
1001 EM AMSTERDAM
The Netherlands
phone/fax: +31-(0)20-6269602
email: advaya@euronet.nl

Donations: Please instruct your bank to transfer your donation to the Advayavada Stichting, account 81.44.72.079 at the ABN-AMRO Bank, Singel 548, 1017 AZ Amsterdam (IBAN: NL83ABNA0814472079; BIC: ABNANL2A). All amounts welcome. Thank you very much!

Distinction between Advaya and Advaita (Murti)

The Distinction between Advaya and Advaita (from The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, by Prof. T.R.V. Murti, 1955, 1960, London 1968)

In all the three absolutisms [Madhyamaka, Vijñanavada and Vedanta] the highest knowledge is conceived as Intuition, beyond all traces of duality. A distinction must, however, be made between the advaya of the Madhyamaka and the advaita of the Vedanta, although in the end it may turn out be one of emphasis of approach. Advaya is knowledge free from the duality of the extremes (antas or dristis) of ‘is’ and ‘is not’, ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ etc. It is knowledge freed of conceptual distinctions. Advaita is knowledge of a differenceless entity: Brahman (Pure Being) or Vijñana (Pure consciousness). The Vijñanavada, although it uses the term advaya for its absolute, is really an advaita system.

Advaya is purely an epistemological approach; the advaita is ontological. The sole concern of the Madhyamaka advaya-vada is the purification of the faculty of knowing. The primordial error consists in the intellect being infected by the inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc. These views falsify Reality, and the dialectic administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition (prajña) emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata or bhutakoti. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing and not on the known..

The Madhyamika has no doctrine of existence, ontology. This would be, according to him, to indulge in dogmatic speculation (dristivada). To the Vedanta and Vijñanavada, the Madhyamika, with his purely epistemological approach and lack of a doctrine of reality, cannot but appear as nihilistic (sarva-vainashika, shunya-vada). The ‘no-doctrine’ attitude of the Madhyamika is construed by Vedanta and Vijñanavada as a ‘no-reality’ doctrine; they accuse the Madhyamika, unjustifiably, of denying the real altogether and as admitting a theory of appearance without any reality as its ground. In fact, the Madhyamika does not deny the real; he only denies doctrines about the real. For him, the real as transcendent to thought can be reached only by the denial of the determinations which systems of philosophy ascribe to it. When the entire conceptual activity of Reason is dissolved by criticism, there is Prajña-Paramita.

Previous Questions & Answers

question According to your theory all we have to do is just wait and we will naturally become better. I do not think this is correct.

answer Advayavada Buddhism teaches that by following the Buddha’s Middle Way you get in tune with wondrous overall existence and your sorrow immediately starts disappearing. Sorrow is a symptom. It is the indication that one is going against the grain of things. Always bear firmly in mind that there is nothing wrong with existence – how can there be? Clearly, therefore, it is not life that should be improved upon, but man’s mistaken way of living it. What one must try to do is to come to terms with existence as it truly is, i.e. as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it. A proven way to follow to achieve this is the Buddha’s Middle Way devoid of extremes. And to be able to follow this Path one must adhere to the Five Precepts. The very first step is our acceptance of the Five Precepts. The five fundamental Buddhist precepts are not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs [including so-called soft drugs].

question The defilements we have are rooted in our not understanding life or the realities of life as they are. The real cause of problems and sufferings are these defilements and unwholesome states of mind. The solution is to understand our life exactly as it is. By so doing we will understand more what is wholesome and thus we shall be more inclined to wholesomeness.

answer Our position is that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes propounded by the Buddha as the right existential attitude and way of life is to reconnect and reconcile us with overall existence. We see the Middle Way in its dynamic Eightfold Path form as an ongoing and open-ended reflexion at the level of our personal lives and in human terms of wondrous overall existence moving forwards over time in the right direction. Overall existence, not man’s abstract and conceptualized understanding of life, is the measure of things.