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.

What is Reality? (Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee)

What is Reality? (adapted from Consciousness and Creativity, in On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee, New York 2004)

People are real, trees are real, my cat is real, the social situations you find yourself in are real. But your understanding of the world and your responses to it are based on predictions coming from your internal model. At any moment in time, you can directly sense only a tiny part of your world. That tiny part dictates what memories will be invoked, but it isn’t sufficient on its own to build the whole of your current perception. … Most of what you perceive is not coming through your senses; it is generated by your internal memory model. So the question ‘What is reality?’ is largely a matter of how accurately our cortical model reflects the true nature of the world.

Many aspects of the world around us are so consistent that nearly every human has the same internal model of them. … The simple physical properties of the world are learned by all people. But much of our world model is based on custom, culture, and what our parents teach us. These parts of our model are less consistent and might be totally different for different people. … Much of psychology is based on the consequences of early life experience, attachment, and nurturance because that is when the brain first lays down its model of the world.

Your culture thoroughly shapes your world model. For example, studies show that Asians and Westerners perceive space and objects differently. Asians attend more to the space between objects, whereas Westerners mostly attend to objects – a difference that translates into separate aesthetics and ways of solving problems. … Different religious beliefs learned in early life can lead to completely different models of morality, how men and women are to be treated, and even the value of life itself. Clearly these differing models of the world can’t all be correct in some absolute, universal way, even though they may seem correct to an individual. Moral reasoning, both the good and the bad, is learned.

Your culture (and family experience) teaches you stereotypes, which are unfortunately an unavoidable part of life. Throughout this book, you could substitute the word stereotype for invariant memory (or invariant representation) without substantially altering the meaning. Prediction by analogy is pretty much the same as judgment by stereotype. Negative stereotyping has terrible social consequences. If my theory of intelligence is right, we cannot rid people of their propensity to think in stereotypes, because stereotypes are how the cortex works. Stereotyping is an inherent feature of the brain.

The way to eliminate the harm caused by stereotypes is to teach our children to recognize false stereotypes, to be empathetic, and to be skeptical. We need to promote these critical-thinking skills in addition to instilling the best values we know. Skepticism, the heart of the scientific method, is the only way we know how to ferret out fact from fiction.

About Giving and Receiving Feedback

The contemplative Practice of Giving and Receiving Feedback (A handout at the Psychology of Awakening course, at the Schumacher College, Devon, November 1998)

In meditative practice, we become mindful of our own experience, on our own, in the receiving and giving of feedback, we have the opportunity to become mindful of how our behaviour is perceived by others and to let others know how we perceive theirs. We can bring the same attitudes to the sharing of feedback that are recommended for our meditation practice: gentleness, precision and openness.

The following guidelines are intended to help you give and receive feedback in a way which makes both the receiving and giving of feedback mindful practices. The purpose of these practices is to enable us to become more aware. Their purpose is not to get ourselves or another person to change in accordance with our desires and preconceptions.

In general, if a person is able to make use of feedback, then he or she is able to learn. If a person consistently discounts or rejects feedback, he or she is not able to benefit fully from learning in a community context. It is the single most important skill to develop in training to be a person who can be of service to others.

Guidelines for the Recipient of Feedback:

1. Have an open mind. Pay attention to simply hearing what is said. Do not assume you already know what the person means. If you need to, ask for clarification.

2. Do not explain. Your job is to hear how the other person experiences you. Resist the impulse to justify, defend or explain yourself.

3. Be curious about your own state of mind. Notice what arises in your mind as you listen to feedback, both to positive feedback and negative feedback.

4. Regard all feedback as an offering. In the Mahayana tradition, there is a slogan which says: “Be grateful to everyone”. The idea is to appreciate the opportunity to learn and develop which the generosity of the other person is providing for you.

5. Contemplate what you have heard. Bring your basic intelligence to what you have heard. Do not assume that the other person’s view is more or less accurate than your own. Neither grasp onto nor reject what you have heard. Discover what is useful for you in the feedback. Do not quickly change your behaviour based on what you have heard.

6. Practice the slogan: “Three objects, three poisons, three virtuous seeds”. Recognise that whatever feelings arise in you are your own. Free them from the object and work with them mindfully.

Guidelines for the Giver:

1. Have the intention to be of benefit. Wrong intention is: a) Giving feedback as a way of getting rid of your own discomfort. Do not use feedback as a way to dump your negativity on someone else. b) “Therapeutic aggression”: the tendency to try to change another person. It is based on rejecting the other person as he or she is. Its intention is usually to make the giver him or herself feel better. c) Giving positive feedback so the person will like you.

2. Be a clean mirror. Be descriptive, not interpretive. Giving feedback is like holding up a mirror for someone else. Try to keep your personal opinions and concerns out of your message. Do not give advice in the guise of feedback. Emphasise ‘what’ rather than ‘why’. Describe behaviour, speech, your own reactions. Do not be judgmental.

3. Present a balanced view. Pay attention to giving both positive and negative feedback.

4. Put yourself in the other person’s place. Consider the readiness of the other person to make use of what you have to say. Pick your time and place in a way which shows respect to the other person.

5. Be specific rather than general. Describe specific behaviour, not your general impression of the person. Refer to specific instances whenever possible. Don’t get diverted into unrelated matters.

6. Own your own experience. Describe your reaction to the other person’s behaviour, acknowledging it as your own. Do not blame. Share your reaction as information, not as pressure to make the other person change.

7. Be direct and fearless. You may feel uncomfortable to say something unpleasant to the person. Remember your intention to be helpful. Keeping information from the person may be more harmful than telling them.

8. Say your piece and let it go. Do not be attached to what the person does with your feedback. Let it be an offering.

Mindfulness of Speech:

Obstacles: Embarrassment and pride.


1. Listen to oneself. Listen to your speech: the way you speak, the way you use words.

2. Listen to the speech of others. Listen to the vowels, the consonants and the speed.

3. Make a conscious effort to slow down speaking.

4. Enunciate clearly. Respect the words you use.

5. Simplicity. Choose words well. Avoid unnecessary words. Minimize.

6. Silence. Regard silence as part of speech. Don’t be afraid to wait before speaking.

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!

The Theory of Karma Involves Descriptive and Normative Claims (MacKenzie)

The Theory of Karma Involves Descriptive and Normative Claims (from Enacting Selves, Enacting Worlds: On the Buddhist Theory of Karma, by Matthew MacKenzie, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, April 2013)

Another key point to recognize about the theory of karma is that it involves both descriptive and normative claims. There is no fact/value dichotomy in the Buddhist tradition, and the theory of karma is meant to provide a framework for interpreting the complex relations between the moral dynamics of human experience and the larger causal order [cf. Advayavada Buddhism]. Specifically, Indian Buddhists understand sentient beings and their world in terms of dependent origination (pratityasamutpada). The focus, then, is on patterns of dependence between events or processes, rather than on, for instance, the operation of external forces on ontologically independent objects. The world is understood as a dynamic network of interdependent events, and the sentient beings within it are understood in the same terms. Karma, then, is a mode (niyama) or special case of dependent origination and is not [sic] co-extensive with it. Indian Buddhists identify five modes or domains (niyama) of dependent origination: physical (utu-niyamabija), biological (bija-niyama), mental (mano-niyama), ethical (karma-niyama), and spiritual (dharma-niyama). The proper understanding of an event may involve some or all of the modes, and it would be a mistake, on this account, to assume that everything that happens to a person is determined by his or her karma.

Moreover, one may interpret the theory of karma, in addition to positing certain kinds of causal connections, as expressing a commitment to a fundamental, internal relation between virtuous action and genuine well-being. The specifics of this connection may rest on empirical claims about human action and psychology, but commitment to the internal relation itself will not be a merely empirical generalization. In the final analysis, then, the general theory of karma expresses a regulative normative commitment to the idea that, as Aristotle put it, “activities in accord with virtue control happiness, and the contrary activities control the contrary”. According to the doctrine of karma virtues are both means to the end of genuine happiness or well-being (sukha) and partly constitutive of the end itself. Thus vices are harmful to oneself in that they detract from one’s objective well-being. In addition, vices will tend to undermine one’s ability to enjoy other things of value, such as worldly happiness or wealth.