Advayavada Study Plan – week 11

[week 11] In week 10 we implemented our improved way of doing things (fifth step on the Noble Eightfold Path), and, to continue with this quarter’s 13-week Advayavada Study Plan, in week 11 we shall concentrate on mustering our very best effort and commitment to fulfil our improved objective. This task is based on the sixth step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-vayama (in Pali) or samyag-vyayama (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s personalized usage: our very best effort and commitment; in Dutch: onze beste inspanning (de zesde stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). Importantly, as we advance properly along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana, we shall be ridding ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasa-samyojana) that restrict us to samsaric life: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, 8) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our ignorance. (from advayavada.org/#plan)

Advayavada Study Plan – week 37

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Path is understood 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 in its manifest direction. When followed conscientiously, it becomes nothing less than the main karmic factor in one’s share in the universal interdependent origination process (madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada). It is composed stepwise of (1) our very best (samma in Pali and samyak in Sanskrit) 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 oneness with the universe, which brings us to (1) a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

The Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year. In weeks 27 to 31 we treated the preliminary subjects, in week 32 we honestly reviewed and took stock of our personal situation (first step), in week 33 we took an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course (second step), in week 34 we put our decision and purpose in writing (third step), in week 35 we further developed our very best attitude (fourth step), in week 36 we implemented our improved modus operandi (fifth step), and, to continue with the current third quarter, in week 37 we shall concentrate on mustering our very best effort and commitment to fulfil our improved objective.

This task is based on the sixth step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-vayama (in Pali) or samyag-vyayama (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best effort and commitment; in Dutch: onze beste inspanning (de zesde stap op het edele achtvoudige pad).

Importantly, as we advance properly along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana, we shall rid ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasa-samyojana) that restrict us to samsaric life: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, 8) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our fundamental ignorance (avidya, avijja).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
advayavada.org/#plan

Advayavada Study Plan – week 24

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

Our quest 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 three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths (which were, this quarter, the subjects of weeks 14 to 18) suffice to start off on this Path at any time.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year.

The purpose of the autonomous ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

My own specific personal objective this quarter is to improve my understanding of the practice of meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit, jhana in Pali) whose purpose is to attain a deeper concentration of the mind (Samadhi in Sanskrit and Pali), but without becoming preoccupied, however, with a factually non-existent self (svabhava-shunyata, lit. self-nature emptiness, is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy) – what’s your specific objective this quarter?

In week 14 we observed and studied the impermanence or changeability of all things, in week 15 we studied the selflessness and finitude of all things, in week 16 we observed the ubiquity of existential suffering in the world, in week 17 we continued to deepen our understanding that ignorant craving and attachment are the immediate causes of existential suffering, and in week 18 we surveyed the Noble Eightfold Path that eliminates the immediate causes of existential suffering, thus concluding the preliminary subjects.

In week 19 we honestly reviewed and took stock of our personal situation (first step), in week 20 we took an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course (second step), in week 21 we again put our decision and objective in writing (third step), in week 22 we further developed our very best attitude to carry out our improved objective (fourth step), in week 23 we implemented our improved way of doing things (fifth step), and, to continue this 13-week action plan, in week 24 we shall concentrate on mustering our very best effort and commitment to fulfil our improved objective.

This task is based on the sixth step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-vayama (in Pali) or samyag-vyayama (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best effort and commitment; in Dutch: onze beste inspanning (de zesde stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). And importantly, as we advance properly along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana, we shall rid ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasa-samyojana) that restrict us to samsaric life: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, 8) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our ignorance.

Other translations of the sixth step are: 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, Thich Nhat Hanh), 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), right striving (Melamed), correct striving (Scheepers), right exercise (Warder).

Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of our existential suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation and harmonization with reality as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it; the unremitting persistency of human distress, alienation and conflict is undeniably due to the very many not knowing or not understanding or simply disbelieving the true nature of existence.

Feel free to share these ASP instalments.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

Advayavada Study Plan – week 11

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

Our quest 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 three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths, which were the subjects of weeks 1 to 5, suffice to start off on this Path at any time.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated four times a year.

The purpose of the autonomous ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

(My own specific personal objective this quarter is to observe and interpret as closely as possible the workings in my own life of pratityasamutpada, i.e. the process of universal relativity or interdependent origination, understood as in Madhyamaka, where ‘all causes are effects and all effects are causes’, and karma, understood as the everchanging knotlet of biopsychosocial events in which I am personally embedded – what’s yours?)

In week 6 we reviewed and took stock of our personal situation and circumstances, in week 7 we took an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course, in week 8 we put our decision and objective in writing as precisely as possible, in week 9 we further developed our very best attitude to carry out our improved personal objective, in week 10 we implemented our improved way of doing things as best as possible and, to continue our current 13-week plan of action, in week 11 we shall concentrate on mustering our very best effort and commitment to fulfil our improved objective.

This task is based on the 6th step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-vayama (in Pali) or samyag-vyayama (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best effort and commitment; in Dutch: onze beste inspanning (de zesde stap op het edele achtvoudige pad). And importantly, as we advance properly along the Buddha’s Middle Way responding to his promise of Nirvana, we shall rid ourselves of the so-called ten fetters (dasa-samyojana) that restrict us to samsaric life: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, 8) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our ignorance.

Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of our existential suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation and harmonization with reality as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it; the unremitting persistency of human distress, alienation and conflict is essentially due to the very many not knowing or not understanding or simply disbelieving the true nature of existence.

Other translations of the 6th step are: 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), right striving (Melamed), correct striving (Scheepers), right exercise (Warder).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

Rejection of Material Attachments (Alan Fox)

Both Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and [the legendary and obscure ‘proto-daoist’] Yangzi seem to be as concerned with the quality of life as they are with its length. Thoreau further believes that the simple life is conducive not only to individual health, but also ultimately to social stability: “I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.”

That is, it is to a certain extent our emphasis on, and imbalanced distribution of, material goods that cultivates negative moral values. This concern is consistent with the Yangist and Daoist traditions. As A.C. Graham points out [in his Disputers of the Tao, Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, Chicago 1989]: “In the present-day version of the Lao-tzu there are many passages expressing this idea of prizing life and despising material things.” Besides the resemblance to, among others, chapter 3 of the Daodejing, where Laozi suggests that “not valuing what is hard to come by will prevent the people from considering thievery”, what is significant here is a utopic conception of primal simplicity. On the individual level, this kind of simplicity, for Thoreau as well as for Yangzi, constitutes a kind of efficiency, which conserves vital resources and ensures the maximum enjoyment or sense of fulfilment of life. On a social level, it leads to social stability and lack of friction and conflict in general social intercourse. In the broadest, most comprehensively ecological sense, we can also say that this kind of conservationism is also conducive to a healthy natural environment. Individuals, societies, and whole ecologies work better when they are allowed to operate in the most simple and efficient manner, according to this model.

In this regard, Thoreau and Yangist thought both seem inconsistent with adherence to formalities that involve affected manners and empty courtesies. On the other hand, such behaviour constitutes an unrecoverable waste of human and natural resources. But further, it also represents hypocritical distractions from the more subtle but truly important concerns of life. Thoreau says: “I delight to come to my bearings, not to walk in procession with pomp and parade, in a conspicuous place, but to walk even with the Builder of the universe, if I may, not in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by. What are men celebrating? They are all on a committee of arrangements, and hourly expect a speech from somebody.”

This is generally reminiscent of the very common critiques of Confucian rites and manners (li) found in the writings of the Mohists and some of the Daoists. In some of these accounts, superficial virtues are accused of crowding out more substantial and authentic ones. For example, chapter 5 of the Daodejing emphasizes that the imposition of moral standards tends to impede the natural course of events, and specifically repudiates the cardinal Confucian virtue of ren (often translated as humaneness, benevolence or perfect social integration) as artificial and arbitrary. And Thoreau says of the truly good person that “his goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious”. That is, it is better to be good than to act good. Thus, the artificial, ‘manufactured’ quality of ceremony is rejected by the ideal person as inhibiting one’s intrinsically determined evolution and development. (Adapted from Rejection of Material Attachments, in Guarding what is Essential: Critiques of Material Culture in Thoreau and Yang Zhu, by Alan Fox, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, July 2008)

More Questions and Answers

question Your contention that “the absolute and phenomena” are “exactly the same thing” but “observed subjectively from a different perspective” is reminiscent of Japanese Tendai’s hongaku thought, the chief characteristic of which is world-affirmation (genjitsu kotei). The major problematic of this doctrine, as you are aware, is that identity (advaya) amounts to the equivocation of phenomena with enlightenment – a quasi-pantheism. On the other hand, some Buddhists argue that identity takes place at the level of final enlightenment, sub specie aeternitatis. After a careful reading of your letters, I must assume that the so-called advayic identity of “absolute and phenomena” takes place at a phenomenal level for you, which I take is your position. By analogy, you are postulating that grasses and trees realize Buddhahood because of the identity (advaya) of subject and its environment. Yet it is easy to see that “grasses and trees” remain such as the environment remains such, neither losing its separate identity. How therefore is this identity, seems puzzling? In what way are even the grasses and trees identical? How is the sky identical with the trees and so on? I apologize if I am not making myself very clear. I enjoy our correspondence. We are like two old fools playing chess in the park!

answer Your closing remark, which made us laugh very much over here, is very zenny and almost like a haiku. Two old fools playing chess in the park, indeed! We are very grateful for your pleasant and forthcoming attitude. We are also enjoying this correspondence very much.

Tendai Buddhism, you might agree, risks becoming in the end, as a result of the exaggerated syncretistic zeal of its followers, no more than a well-meant ontological fantasy. The non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life that we call Advayavada Buddhism is, on the other hand, purely an epistemological standpoint. In accordance with the doctrine of shunyata all distinctions are understood to be fundamentally illusory and artificial – dualisms as Nirvana and Samsara, or absolute and phenomena, are revealed as figments of our imagination. The term advaya in Advayavada means not-two in the sense of knowing that objectively there are not two realities nor two conditions or aspects of reality. When we say that Samsara and Nirvana are the same thing, we do not mean that they are identical in the sense of being two-but-the-same, as is meant by the Hindu term advaita, but that they are simply not two, that they are very literally one-and-the-same thing: rather simply put, Samsara is the name we give to reality as experienced conventionally and Nirvana is the name we give to the same one reality but as experienced by the fully enlightened mind – this identity is, indeed, also the third truth of basic Tendai philosophy.

The tendency to view reality as two is a result of our fundamental ignorance of the true nature of reality, as professor Murti writes in The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The Spinozean expression sub specie aeternitatis is frequently used by Buddhists to indicate that we would see for ourselves that there are not two realities if we were able to view existence from the completely non-conceptual standpoint of eternity. We can however ascertain rightnow, as indeed Madhyamaka proves, that there is no basis whatsoever to suppose that besides phenomena there is a second, transcendent and, moreover, superior reality. The specific purpose of Advayavada Buddhism, which literally means not-two-ism, is to actively propound the conclusions of Madhyamaka philosophy in this respect. Your grasses and trees are indeed two of the many different manifestations of vegetable life. Advayavada Buddhism does not maintain that they are identical phenomena; what Advayavada Buddhism maintains is that there is no reason at all to believe that there is a further second reality, invisible to the eye, parallel to these life forms or any other phenomena. In Advayavada Buddhism there are no other two than part and whole, numerator and denominator.

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.

question What are those ten fetters you just mentioned?

answer In Advayavada Buddhism, the ten samyojana or fetters that restrict us to samsaric life are: 1) belief in the self, 2) scepticism regarding the Path, 3) attachment to rituals, 4) partiality for certain things, 5) prejudice against certain things, 6) clinging to physical life, 7) hope of a hereafter, eight) conceit and pride, 9) intolerance and irritability, and 10) the last remnants of our ignorance.

question Do I count three realms of experience in your description of the dvaya-satya doctrine: Samsara, conventional truth, and ultimate truth or Nirvana (more or less along the lines of the three kinds of knowledge in Spinoza: opinion, reason and intuition)?

answer Though Nagarjuna’s dvaya-satya teaching is very much a two-truths doctrine, as its Sanskrit name indicates, some aspects are comparable to Spinoza’s teaching. Our application in Advayavada Buddhism of this essential Madhyamika doctrine is as follows: Samsara is to experience the phenomenal world at the level of conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya). However, our initial perception of the phenomenal world normally contains many fallacies (mithyasamvriti) and the conversion of these fallacies into true conventional truth (tathyasamvriti), by following the Noble Eightfold Path, occurs entirely within the realm of Samsara. At the same time the fetters that restrict us to Samsara are broken one by one. Ideally, our perception of Samsara becomes in the end wholly pure conventional truth, whilst all ten of the restraining fetters have also been shattered along the way. Now, it is as a result of this thorough purification of our perception of the phenomenal world, at the level of conventional truth, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth. Ultimate truth (paramartha-satya) is truth divested of all our preconceptions, including eventually those expressed here. Nirvana is to understand and experience the one phenomenal world at this level of ultimate truth – to experience the phenomenal world thus, brings about the complete extinction (nirodha) of all suffering (duhkha, dukkha) as a direct result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is. The fully liberated person has continually at his or her disposal, then, two truths: the everyday conventional truth of the phenomenal world and the ultimate truth of its pure, unblemished becoming, its Emptiness.