The term Advayavada (Murti)

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, 1955, 1960, London 1968, p.217: “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 [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 and not on the known.” It is in this sense that we use the term ‘advayavada’. (from advayavada.org/qanda.htm)

About the Five Precepts in Advayavada.

question You say that ‘man’s observance of the five fundamental precepts in his daily life gives him the moral strength required to embark upon the Buddha’s Middle Way…’ I think you’ve missed the point of the precepts. These are artificial, man-made rules. In actuality, humans can never fully abide by those rules. I personally think that’s why the Buddha enjoined his disciples to follow them. To vow to follow those precepts is to become a living koan. The symbol of the path to enlightenment is a flower, not a ledger of morality. Just ask Mahakashyapa. What is the morality of a flower?

answer Buddhism is a highly ethical teaching and way of life for human beings that is man-made in its entirety like any other. There is, in our view, no such thing as divine law – the golden rule is perfectly rational. Traditionally, to become a lay Buddhist one voluntarily takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and undertakes to comply with at least the first five of the Buddhist precepts. The Five Precepts (pañca-sila, pancha-shila, pansil) are the minimum moral obligations a lay Buddhist freely takes upon him or herself. The precise interpretation of these precepts aside for the moment, it is universally agreed that people who wantonly kill, steal, maybe molest children, cheat and deceive, or enjoy getting drunk or stoned, need not do the effort to embark on the Buddha’s Middle Way until they have first cleaned up their act. Now, as for their exact interpretation, they comprise ‘not only minimal morality, but basic morality capable of many degrees of fulfillment’ (Winston L. King). Whether, for instance, the first precept also forbids meat-eating, whether the third precept forbids alternative sexual practices, or whether the fifth precept forbids all alcoholic beverages and drugs or just the getting intoxicated as some maintain, this is therefore as well our own responsibility. One must only not lose sight of the underlying reason for these fundamental voluntary precepts, which is to become moral individuals able, as such, to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to eliminate existential suffering, angst and regret from our lives.

This might be as good a place as any to warn that for many people social drinking is a potential source of much future suffering. Bear in mind in this context the persistent irrational taboo of not admitting to alcohol abuse by ourselves or those close to us. (cf. Nucleus accumbens [Nacc] research)

question How can one beat alcoholism?

answer One can certainly fully neutralize alcohol addiction by stopping to drink alcoholic beverages altogether, one day at the time, with the help of (a) your GP and (b) a personal psychological coach or counsellor, and (c) by joining a reputable support group to help you develop the necessary emotional counterpunch. The Noble Eightfold Path provides a very appropriate overall training to beat this costly and disruptive biopsychosocial (bps) disease. (from advayavada.org/qanda6.htm)

Unmanifest potentials in Advayavada.

There is no other reality than the phenomenal world and the phenomenal world exists only in the present. It is spontaneously brought about in the present by the interdependent origination or conditioned co-arising or universal relativity of all phenomena, called [madhyamaka-] pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit, which is the immanent incessant dynamic principle of existence. This means that the ingredients of what you call an ‘unmanifest potential’ must be sought amongst present phenomena and that your idea of it is merely a herenow mental deduction or extrapolation. A pre-cognition of unmanifest potentials would imply that they already exist in the future, which is an impossibility. (from advayavada.org/qanda5.htm)

There are not two realities

There are not two realities, but there are, Madhyamaka teaches, two ways of seeing, of experiencing, of understanding the one reality: there are two truths, conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya) and ultimate truth (paramartha-satya). In our everyday application of conventional truth, though we are aware of the intrinsic emptiness of all dharmas or phenomena since we know that all things are interdependently arisen and exist conceptually only by virtue of our idea of them or of their alleged opposite, we nevertheless do take into account and make use of the relative, conceptual aspects of phenomena in our commonplace interaction with other sentient beings and with our environment. As a matter of fact, the Noble Eightfold Path operates throughout exclusively at the level of conventional truth. As we advance along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana by ridding ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasha-, dasasamyojana) that restrict us to Samsara, the fallacies in our perception of Samsara are progressively transformed, purified first into conventional truth, and it is through conventional truth that we shall eventually come to understand the non-conceptual import of ultimate truth. The dialectic of Madhyamaka, with its exhaustive analysis of the nature of reality, indeed takes place at the level of conventional truth. By ultimate truth is meant our awareness of the underlying field of experience where all phenomena stripped of their relative aspects are known to happen: it is our insight into the void beyond all concepts. This field of experience where the real events are known to take place is that of non-dual emptiness, advayata, shunyata, the realm of prajña, non-dual, contentless intuition. To experience existence at this level, which we can truly say lies between the notions of being and non-being, is nothing less than Nirvana.  ~ @advayavada

A true part of the whole

To realize what in Advayavada Buddhism we term ‘to become a true part of the whole’ one must quite simply follow the Eightfold Path. In Advayavada Buddhism, the Path is interpreted dynamically as a fully autonomous process of progressive insight and as strictly non-dual and non-comparative, this in the sense that it bears no reference at all to anything predetermined by others or oneself. A prescriptive method with preset demands and expectations is antithetical to all progress, both of the individual and the group to which he or she belongs. The Path is not seen in Advayavada Buddhism as a means to become something in the future, but as the way to become as something rightaway in the herenow. It is seen as the way to become oneself herenow as existence interdependently becoming over time now in its overall right direction – it is by becoming herenow as the whole of existence as it is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it, that we free ourselves from suffering. Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time, with natura naturans. ~ @advayavada

Mind and Consciousness

The non-dual and life-affirming philosophy way of life we call Advayavada Buddhism, to which we wholeheartedly adhere, is derived from Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka, or philosophy of the Middle Way. For the Advayavadin, Samsara and Nirvana are not different objectively, and there is, in Advayavada Buddhism, no talk of a mind separate from the body. Mind is merely to think and to think is a manifestation of being, as are to walk, to talk or to sleep. It is one of the many ways in which the one ‘person’ exists, i.e. becomes over time. To the Advayavadin, to say that the mind has or does things, sounds like saying that not one but one’s running does the sprinting. This is particularly true when he or she hears other Buddhists saying, for example, that not they but their consciousnesses will eventually enter Nirvana or be reborn or something. However important, consciousness is merely to know, the activity of knowing going on in our brains. Mind (to think) and consciousness (to know) are not things but functions, activities, deeds, events without any substance or corporeality. Also Buddha-nature is insubstantial and not something different or separate from Reality – it is but a name for Reality as it manifests itself in sentient beings. Nirvana, for the Advayavadin, is indeed to live fully in accordance with one’s Buddha-nature. ~ @advayavada

More Questions and Answers

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.

question I would agree with you that the objective of the Middle Way is to reconcile us with existence. Or to be more precise, it helps to understand life as it is. This is a condition for being to go forwards. However we are influenced by many things like greed, hatred and ignorance. These can take us backwards. The way to go forwards then is to develop the Eightfold Path. Or rather the Eightfold Path develops when there are conditions for its development. These conditions are the intellectual understanding of the Eightfold Path.

answer You are asked to accept the preeminence of existence over mankind, and that existence cannot, by definition, be anything but just right as it is, and that the Eightfold Path is an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole becoming over time. We must not see the Buddha’s Middle Way devoid of extremes as an attitude or method that will enable us e.g. ‘to escape from the realities of life’ or ‘to make it somehow in spite of things’, but we must understand the Buddha’s most fundamental teaching correctly as the means to reconnect and reconcile us with wondrous overall existence as a whole as it truly is. We must, in fact, accept that to live the way existence as a whole is, and not some idealized form of humanity, is what is to be sought after by men.

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.

More Questions and Answers

question You speak of progress but make little mention of evolution. Is the Fourth Sign of Being you speak of not evolution?

answer Evolution is an ontological fact and progress is an epistemological concept. What we say is that human beings experience as progress that which accords with the overall course of Nature, which includes, of course, the underlying fact of evolution. Because we experience the Noble Eightfold Path as progress, we know that it coincides with the course of Nature; in a way, Advayavada Buddhism is a or maybe the Buddhist face of the global evolutionary movement.

question Is Advayavada Buddhism, then, a kind of cosmodicie?

answer The cosmodicy meant by Caroline Rhys Davids when she coined the term in the early 20th century would imply that existence as such is ‘good’. This is not what we say. What we believe and teach is that what we human beings experience as good and wholesome, indeed as progress, is that which agrees with the otherwise neutral overall nature of existence. Good and bad are exclusively human concepts which you cannot apply to existence as a whole – the wood is completely silent and only sentient beings hear the falling tree!

More Questions and Answers

question Do you not agree that the vast common ground shared by all people without exception everywhere is predominantly secular? Is it not crucial to develop awareness in society of this fact so that it may become the universally accepted basis for conflict prevention and resolution all over the world?

answer The common ground shared by all ‘isms’ is indeed essentially secular or non-religious. Whether they admit to it or not, all religions and beliefs contain and share a very large secular, nonmetaphysical component. Take, say, the universal struggle against evil, caring for our children or, more simply, eating. We must all eat, whatever our religion or belief. The need to eat, the biological requirement to nourish ourselves, obviously belongs to the neutral common ground of all people without exception. Now, some people say grace before eating. Clearly, only this ritual of saying grace can be said to belong in any way legitimately to the particular religious belief involved, but certainly not the basic need to eat as such. The universal need to eat pertains entirely to the shared secular component we speak of, and it is in our view quite presumptuous for any religion to interfere with this natural human necessity and others, like clothing and sexuality, which all obviously belong unconditionally to the whole of existence. (cf. radical mediocrity)

We therefore say ‘First our common ground, then our religion or belief’, and the ten principles underpinning all our Foundation’s initiatives all essentially belong to, and sustain, the common ground we speak of. They are, for your ready reference, the following unequivocal principles of (1) the secular state; (2) a multicultural society; (3) liberal democratic government; (4) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (5) gender equality and education for all; (6) fair trading and sharing; (7) non-violence and peace; (8) Common Ground conflict resolution; (9) the care for health and environment; and (10) international cooperation and solidarity.

question The human community cannot reclaim its common ground until it can move religion completely off of the property. The various religions of the world are sitting directly on top of it, having hijacked the common ground from its rightful owners. I am referring to the community property of morality and ethics and to the common cause and condition that is fully addressed by the Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path and The Four Signs of Being of Buddhism and certain other secular sources of practical wisdom.

answer Though officially less radical than you, deep in his heart the writer could not agree more – what religion as the main rationale for the present socio-economic organisation of humanity is doing to his beautiful world, to the only world we have, is a source of much pain to him. Nevertheless, he of course accepts and supports that, as stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; that this right includes freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his or her religion or belief in teaching, worship and observance’. When we speak of a multicultural society we indeed mean one freely allowing cultural and religious pluralism and diversity of choice.

question What is ‘radical mediocrity’?

answer La condition humaine postmoderne (Henk Oosterling), utopia vulgaris (John Willemsens). Radical mediocrity, as we understand the term, is our common ground with the cultural overlay caused by our dependency on modern media (tools and appliances, travel, communication, and access to information) which stifles our individuality and, with it, our critical ability. Some see the concept ‘radical mediocrity’ more positively, as having a potential for a new kind of person, an ‘interbeing’ or ‘zwischenmensch’, a ‘dividual’, instead of an ‘individual’, the challenge being to uncover and develop the spiritual and creative dimension of such a postmodern society – the core of radical mediocrity would be affirmative because ‘we want to be connected to all others’. (cf. Chapter 80 of the Tao Te Ching, which propounds the opposite.)

More Questions and Answers

question How do we know about the world? Via the body, perception, sense consciousness and so on, all dependent on this embodied state. But how seldom our awareness rests within this body; how seldom the body and mind are at ease with themselves. We seldom think about our bodies; they are something given. When they work well and provide us with pleasure and happiness, we are satisfied with them and then ignore them. Only when they stop working properly, do we attend to them, and then only as a teacher to an errant pupil; we are angry and disappointed that they have failed us. We have a strangely ambivalent attitude to something so vital to us. It’s not like our relationship with a car; we can’t go out and hire or buy another one when it breaks down; yet we often treat our cars with more care and consideration.

We are born into this body, and when it dies, we die. But does one choose this body or decide its dimensions? Is one even able fully to control it? Can one choose when one wakes, goes to sleep, is ill, is healthy? No, most of what occurs with respect to the body is involuntary. We know, for example, that the body has various repair mechanisms, but it is very rare that we can set these in motion ourselves. Is this what we are, these arms, these legs, this head, eyes, teeth? With modern techniques, an awful lot of it can be made prosthetically. And so what are we? The bit that remains? The brain, two ears and so on? Or is this perhaps not how it is at all, not what we are at all? If the body were simply us, we would have a great deal more to say in the matter!

answer The lion’s share of our body’s activities is fortunately under the control of our peripheral nervous system, which includes the autonomic nervous system. ‘The sensory nerve fibres of the peripheral system carry impulses from e.g. the ear or the skin to the brain, and its motor nerve fibres carry impulses from the brain to e.g. our skeletal muscles. The autonomic nervous system comprises a sympathetic and a parasympathetic system which counterbalance each other. Together they run, for example, our heart rate and the flow of blood through our blood vessels, the contractions of our digestive tract, the ever-changing size of the pupil of the eye, the dilation and constriction of our bronchii, etc.’ We do not think that you would want to have a conscious say in these matters.

You will agree that these nervous systems carry out very complicated and, above all, indispensable and irreplaceable functions. But the relevant fact in the present context is that the systems are things (that belong to the rupa skandha) and what they carry out are not things but activities, processes (that belong to the arupa skandhas). A thing and what that thing does are not two things; they are a thing and an, its, activity or function, and an activity is an event, not a thing. It is for this same reason that Advayavada Buddhism stresses again and again that the mind is not a separate thing but one more function of the body; the mind is to think (and consciousness is to know) and to think is not a thing but an activity, a process, which is an event, not a thing. A mind that is in any way a thing separate from the body, and moreover carries out activities on its own and by itself, is an atman or pudgala, or a soul. To propound that such a thing exists, as you seem to do, contravenes the Buddha’s most basic anatman teaching.

Bearing in mind that the traditional khandhas or skandhas theory is but a very rudimentary presupposition of the actual physiological processes, earlier on we had this to say about the skandhas in this respect: The skandhas in fact do nothing – they are the doing. The cluster of physical existence is the rupa skandha. Also this cluster does nothing – it is physical existence in all its aspects. The four or so non-physical skandhas [traditionally sensations or feelings (vedana), perception (samjña, sañña), mental forces or formations (samskara, sankhara), and consciousness (vijñana, viññana)] are clusters or aggregates of functions, which are events – they denote how the rupa skandha is over time. The rupa skandha does not cause these events, it is them. Like when we say that a tree grows. The tree does not do the growing; it is the growing. This is how the tree is, how it exists in space and time. The growing of the tree is quite obviously an event, and not a thing, let alone a separate thing capable of in turn doing other things by itself. We owe the cohesion and activity of the rupa skandha to the spontaneous incessant dynamic principle of existence: the interdependent and conditioned co-arising or interdependent origination or universal dynamic relativity of all phenomena, called pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit.

important note Advayavada Buddhism supports the view that consciousness (to know) is a biological phenomenon. All living beings – plants, animals and humans – experience the world in their own ways. Each organism engages in a creative relationship with the external world, bringing forth a myriad of different ways of knowing, whereby the physiology of the organism changes accordingly (immanently) in the process.