Contradictions to be taken literally… (Deguchi c.s.)

Contradictions meant to be taken literally, be accepted, and as unambiguous (from The Way of the Dialetheist: Contradictions in Buddhism, by Yasuo Deguchi, Jay L. Garfield and Graham Priest, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu, July 2008)

We have seen that there are various ways in which apparent contradictions in Buddhist discourses may be defused. And some contradictions, as we have seen, are best defused in this way. But we have also seen that contradictions may not always be defused by these mechanisms. Indeed, the discussion has taken us to the point of seeing why some contradictions in some Buddhist texts cannot be defused. To suppose that one ought to defuse them would be to misunderstand.

There are no ultimate truths. As we have put is before [elsewhere]: “Ultimate truths are those about ultimate reality. But since everything is empty, there is no ultimate reality. There are, therefore, no ultimate truths. We can get at the same conclusion another way. To express anything in language is to express truth that depends on language, and so this cannot be an expression of the way that things are ultimately. All truths, then, are merely conventional.”

If Buddhists were content merely to point mutely to ultimate reality, there would be nothing more to be said. But they are not. They explain how conventional reality is simply the imposition of conventional conceptual categories on ultimate reality, and they explain the delusion about the nature of ultimate reality to which this gives rise. In the very process, they describe certain things about ultimate reality. The indescribable is described; indeed, even to say that is is indescribable is to describe it. In this respect, Buddhism is akin to any of a number of positions that claim that there is an ineffable reality, and then go on to explain why this is so, in the process, saying things about that reality. The phenomenon is to be found, for example, in Neoplatonism, in Advaita Vedanta, and in Heidegger on Being.

It could be said that such descriptions are simply upaya, to be jettisoned as soon as one can appreciate the nature of ultimate reality directly. Although they might be seen in this way, this would not do justice to the texts. The texts in question are simply too carefully reasoned and too explicit, and are read by their commentators as correct. There is indeed a difference recognized in all Mahayana Buddhist traditions between, on the one hand, the conceptually mediated, and hence indirect, apprehension of ultimate reality that one obtains through reasoning and discursive practices, and, on the other hand, the immediate, direct, perception of emptiness that is the goal of meditative practice. However, the object of these two modes of apprehension is the same: emptiness, which is identical with [inter]dependent origination – the ultimate truth, which is in turn identical with the conventional truth properly understood. The descriptions of ultimate reality, however thin they may be, and however imperfectly they capture the object of yogic direct perception, are, nonetheless, taken to be veridical. And again, since the things claimed about ultimate reality are often contradictory to things claimed about conventional reality, if these two things are ultimately the same reality it is a contradictory one.

It might be suggested that although such contradictions are true, their truth is incomprehensible. Such truths, in this view, have the deictic function of ostending the incomprehensibility of ultimate reality, but cannot themselves be understood. This view concedes our point that such contradictions are intended as true, but we do not concede the view that they are incomprehensible. Those who hold that contradictions are always and obviously only false will of course find supposing them to be true incomprehensible. However, despite various orthodoxies, East and West, the view that some contradictions are true is a perfectly coherent and intelligible view, as modern studies in dialetheism and paraconsistency have established.

Nirvana truly realized is Samsara properly understood (Iyer)

Nirvana truly realized is Samsara properly understood (from Buddha and the Path to Enlightenment, by Raghavan Iyer, Theosophy Library Online, Internet 1986)

The Madhyamika school traces its origin to Nagarjuna, the brilliant philosopher and formidable dialectician who flourished in the late second century A.D. Taking Buddha’s advocacy of the Middle Way between harmful extremes, between avid indulgence and austere asceticism, and between sterile intellectualization and suffocating mental torpor, Nagarjuna developed a rigorous dialectical logic by which he reduced every philosophical standpoint to an explosive set of contradictions. This did not lead to the closure of scepticism, as the less vigorously pursued pre-Socratic philosophies did, but rather to the elusive standpoint that neither existence nor non-existence can be asserted of the world and of everything in it. The Madhyamikas, therefore, refused to affirm or deny any philosophical proposition. Nagarjuna sought to liberate the mind from its tendencies to cling to tidy or clever formulations of truth, because any truth short of shunyata, the voidness of reality, is inherently misleading. Relative truths are not like pieces of a puzzle, each of which incrementally adds to the complete design. They are plausible distortions of the truth and can seriously mislead the aspirant. They cannot be lightly or wholly repudiated, however, for they are all the seeker has, and so he must learn to use them as aids whilst remembering that they are neither accurate nor complete in themselves.

By the fifth century two views of Nagarjuna’s work had emerged. The followers of Bhavaviveka thought that Madhyamika philosophy had a positive content, whilst those who subscribed to Buddhapalita’s more severe interpretation said that every standpoint, including their own, could be reduced to absurdity, which fact alone, far more than any positively asserted doctrine, could lead to intuitive insight (Prajña) and Enlightenment. Chandrakirti’s remarkable defence of this latter standpoint deeply influenced Tibetan Buddhist traditions as well as those schools of thought that eventually culminated in Japan in Zen. Nagarjuna’s dialectic revealed the shunya or emptiness of all discursive, worldly thought and its proliferating categories.

For the Madhyamikas, whatever can be conceptualized is therefore relative, and whatever is relative is shunya, empty. Since absolute inconceivable truth is also shunya, shunyata or the void is shared by both Samsara and Nirvana. Ultimately, Nirvana truly realized is Samsara properly understood. The fully realized Bodhisattva, the enlightened Buddha who renounces the Dharmakaya vesture to remain at the service of suffering beings, recognizes this radical transcendental equivalence. The Arhant and the Pratyeka Buddha, who look to their own redemption and realization, are elevated beyond any conventional description, but nonetheless do not fully realize or freely embody this highest truth. Thus for the Madhyamikas, the Bodhisattva ideal is the supreme wisdom, showing the unqualified unity of unfettered metaphysics and transcendent ethics, theoria and praxis, at the highest conceivable level.

Bayle on the rights of erroneous conscience (Curley)

Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) on the rights of erroneous conscience (from Bayle vs. Spinoza on Toleration, by Edwin M. Curley, Mededelingen vanwege het Spinoza Huis #95, Voorschoten 2009)

[P]erhaps his most distinctive and interesting argument occurs quite late in the Commentaire [philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ, constrains-les d’entrer], where he contends, in replying to an objection, that an erroneous conscience has the same rights as an enlightened conscience. Here’s a summary of this argument:

I. To say that your conscience judges an action to be good or evil is the same as saying that your conscience judges it to be pleasing or displeasing to God. (Volume II of Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. Elisabeth Labrousse [OD II], p.422b; Pierre Bayle, Ouvres diverses, ed. John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas [KK], p.220)

II. If a man’s conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God. (OD II, 422b-423a; KK, 220)

III.Whoever acts with the intent of offending and disobeying God necessarily sins.

IV. So, if a man’s conscience tells him that an action is evil and displeasing to God, and he nevertheless does it anyway, he necessarily sins. Or more succinctly: whatever is done against the dictates of conscience is a sin. (OD II, 422b; KK, 220)

Bayle recognizes that this argument will not be persuasive to an atheist, but that may not be a problem for his purposes. His primary opponents are Christians, who may not be troubled by the theistic aspects of his assumptions. I presume most Christians – and most theists in general – would readily grant that if you act with the intent of offending and disobeying God, you sin. The first premise of Bayle’s argument will be more controversial. As he formulates it, it requires a commitment to what we might call ‘analytic theological voluntarism’, the theory that the meaning of ethical terms is to be analyzed by using the concepts of what is or is not pleasing to God. Many Christian philosophers would grant that Plato’s Euthyphro showed that analysis of ethical language to be faulty. But perhaps there is a way of reformulating I [the first premise] which would avoid the commitment to voluntarism.

[Note: According to Advayavada Buddhism, what human beings experience and identify as good, right or beneficial, indeed as progress, is, in fact, that which takes place in the otherwise indifferent direction that wondrous overall existence flows in of its own accord.]

Metaphysics in Henri Bergson (Takatura)

Metaphysics in Henri Bergson (from Metaphysics – A Critical Survey of its Meaning, by Takatura Ando, second enlarged edition, The Hague 1974)

Being a radical dualist in the French tradition since Descartes, Bergson maintained that intelligence and intuition were quite heterogenous. The function of intelligence is analysis and interpretation by means of symbols, and this kind of knowledge constitutes positive science.The function of intuition is immediate sympathy with the object, and this is the method of metaphysics. To go from intuition to analysis is easy, but the opposite direction is impossible. For this reason metaphysical knowledge is considered to be superior to and more profound than science. Bergson says repeatedly that scientific knowledge is ruled by practical interest – and this is also the fundamental idea of William James’ pragmatism. What distinguishes Bergson from James is that he makes much of the disinterested knowledge of metaphysics whilst James sticks to pragmatic knowledge. Science is an instrument for action, but philosophy or metaphysics is pure contemplation. This is not a new idea. The idea of dividing knowledge into theoretical and practical, philosophy being theoretical, is classical, whereas that of making practical knowledge the essence of science can be traced back to Francis Bacon. What is peculiar to Bergson is only his special use of the concepts of intuition and intelligence – [in French and] best translated as ‘Understanding’. Intuition is the method of philosophy, intelligence the method of science.

French philosophers generally do not distinguish Understanding and Reason. This neglect of our heritage from ancient and mediaeval times, to say nothing of Kant and Hegel, is a great disadvantage to them. It may result in their making the notion of Understanding too wide, so as to contain Reason. But in Bergson’s case intelligence [Fr.] in general has an extremely restricted role and cannot include intellectual activities other than that of understanding. Besides understanding he admits no faculty other than intuition, so that the intellectual activities excluded from intelligence [Fr.] are forced into intuition. Bergson seems to be a little ashamed that he is forced to use the term ‘intuition’. He confesses that he hesitated for a long time to use the word, and apologizes for using it to express metaphysical activity, which is mainly the inner cognition of spirit by spirit, and secondarily the cognition of [the] essence which exists in matter. We understand what Bergson means by the word ‘intuition’: it is above all immediate consciousness. “Intuition signifies first of all consciousness, immediate consciousness, a vision which is hardly distinguished from the object seen, knowledge which is in contact and even coincidence.” But as far as it is immediate consciousness, it is not even distinguished from sensation or perception, whereas metaphysics is by no means mere sense-perception. Bergson is therefore forced to invent another kind of immediate consciousness. “This experience, when it is concerned with a material object, will be called vision, touch, or in general external perception, and when it tends to spirit it will take the name of intuition.” This is a “super-intellectual intuition”. As an example of intellectual intuition, we have Aristotle’s ‘nous’ [intellect], also immediate consciousness like sense-perception but yet concerned with intelligible objects. Does Bergson really mean that his metaphysics is a system of intellectual ‘nous’-like intuition? This is quite implausible, for he is a firm anti-Aristotelian, though in fact his thought is not so divergent from Aristotle’s as he imagined. Anyhow, the difference between Bergson’s intuition and Aristotle’s ‘nous’ is that intuition and its object, spirit, are in time and movable, while ‘nous’ is concerned with eternal forms. According to Bergson, “the intuition of which he is talking is concerned first of all with inner duration. It seizes succession, which is not juxtaposition, a growth from inside, the uninterrupted prolongation of the past into the present which encroaches upon the future. This is the direct vision of spirit by spirit”. With regard to the ordinariness of this concept of time, we only suggest reference to Heidegger’s criticism [in his Sein und Zeit]. What is most important for the moment is to see how Bergson’s spirit is situated in a lower order than is Aristotle’s ‘nous’. Instead of an eternal and universal principle, spirit is a formless entity changing and floating in time. It is a rather indefinite material principle which the Greeks called ‘hyle’ [matter, stuff]. In other words, it is nothing but consciousness as a purely psychological phenomenon. Consequently, metaphysics which is yielded by such intuition is reduced to psychology, not the psychology as an objective positive science, but psychology in the vulgar sense of the word as a description of subjective consciousness. We wonder if it is really necessary to distinguish intuition from sensation for the sake of such a kind of metaphysics. We may distinguish spirit from matter by the differentiae of time and space. But to characterize spirit by its intelligibility, as distinct from our sensible consciousness, we cannot dispense with concepts. This way is, however, closed to Bergson by his own rejection of all intellectual elements from metaphysics.

The Explosive Rise in Individualism (John Stewart)

The Explosive Rise in Individualism (from Evolution’s Arrow – The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity, by John Stewart, Canberra, Australia 2000)

Particularly in the last two hundred years, a significant proportion of individuals in more complex human societies has developed a strong capacity to use internal linear modelling to critically evaluate their own beliefs. Increasingly, this has produced a decline in the extent to which individuals are internally hard wired by inculcated beliefs to behave in ways that produce a cooperative and easily-managed society. For more and more individuals, god, tradition and duty are all dead. Their behaviour is now guided largely by internal reward systems that are mostly self-centered, except for the legacy of the kin selection and reciprocal altruism mechanisms. These continue to predispose us toward some cooperation within our families and friendship groups. But this aside, our reward systems tend to promote behaviour that advantages the individual – they largely ignore the effects of our behaviour on others.

This undermining of belief systems that previously helped organise social behaviour has led to the explosive rise in individualism of the last century. Increasingly, it has been left solely to external management in the form of government to manage self-centered individuals in ways that align their interests with those of the society as a whole. In large part, the rise of self-centred individualism has necessitated the massive increase in the size and scope of government that we have seen this century.

As the capacity of rulers for systemic modelling improved during the last 10,000 years, they were better able to cope with diversity and creativity within their societies (…) Improved ability to manage diversity and change also enabled governments and other rulers to establish the controls that have allowed large-scale economic markets to arise and flourish. At their heart, economic markets are made up of the same types of exchanges between individuals that underpin reciprocal altruism. An individual gives goods or services to another, and the other reciprocates with goods, services, or money of equivalent value. But the reciprocal altruism mechanism is incapable of establishing the types of exchanges that are essential to modern markets. As we have seen, reciprocal altruism cannot organise exchanges between individuals who are not known to each other and who may not deal with each other again. Rather than cooperate, strangers will pursue their own immediate interests by cheating in exchanges and by stealing. And without cooperative exchange between strangers, modern markets will not emerge.

So the reciprocal altruism mechanism was not responsible for the emergence of large-scale modern markets. Large-scale markets were made possible only by the existence of governments or other rulers and institutions. External managers could make market exchanges work by patching up the failings in the reciprocal altruism mechanism. They could do this by establishing a system of controls that prevented cheating and theft. Governments and other rulers and institutions typically developed laws and enforcement systems that punished cheating in exchanges, enforced contracts, and prevented theft by establishing enforceable property rights.

Spinoza and the Idea of the Secular (Lloyd)

Genevieve Lloyd, in Spinoza and the Idea of the Secular, Mededelingen vanwege het Spinozahuis, Voorschoten 2013:

Spinoza saw the belief in immortality not as merely irrelevant to morals but as an obstancle to true virtue. For him, the dread of punishment after death was not just an inadequate basis for virtue; it was inimical to it. Virtue not only does not depend on the belief in an after-life; it depends on the rejection of that belief. In this respect, his approach to virtue echoes the ancient Epicurean/Lucretian philosophy. His rich but mystifying articulation of the eternity of the mind, in Part Five of the Ethics – whatever we make of it – is clearly not an orthodox doctrine of continued existence after bodily death, in any form which would allow for susceptibility to punishment or reward. For the basis of human well-being and virtue, Spinoza looked, not to an after-life, but to the joy associated in the present life with the love of a God who does not transcend Nature.

Spinoza was strongly committed to the rejection of the after-life; but he also passionately believed that the common perception of him as an ‘atheist’ was deeply, dangerously, misconstrued. It is in the striking conjunction of those two concerns – to reject prevailing beliefs in the after-life and to repudiate the perception of his philosophy as involving atheism – that we see most clearly how he prepared the way for the modern idea of the secular.

There is on the face of it something puzzling here. From our own temporal perspective – in the light of the connotations ‘atheism’ now has – Spinoza seems clearly to qualify as an atheist: he rejects the belief in a transcendent God, the belief in the supernatural. Yet I think it is also clear that he is genuine in his vehement rejection of the ‘atheist’ label. To see what is at stake here, I want now to look at some significant portions of his correspondence [not included here], which indicate, not only that he did not regard himself as an atheist, but that he thought that misconception threatened what he saw as the very core of his philosophy. He was deeply concerned about the imputation of atheism – not only fot he sake of his reputation, but fot the sake of the right understanding of what he describes as the ‘true philosophy’ for which he lived.

Weighing the Butter, Levels of Explanation, and Falsification (Newland)

Weighing the Butter, Levels of Explanation, and Falsification: Models of the Conventional in Tsongkhapa’s Account of Madhyamaka (by Guy Martin Newland, in  Moonshadows – Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy, by The Cowherds, Oxford 2011)

Following Candrakirti’s interpretations of Nagarjuna, Tsongkhapa (LRC [Byang chub lam rim che ba, Xining 1985] 606-607) argues that if things had any sort of essence or intrinsic nature [svabhava] of their own, this nature would have to be located under ultimate analysis. Therefore, the fact that things are not found under ultimate analysis means that they utterly lack intrinsic nature (not that they are nonexistent). Things lack the sort of existence that would be found, were it there, through ultimate analysis. For Tsongkhapa, not existing under ultimate analysis, not existing ultimately, and not existing intrinsically or essentially are three ways of saying the same thing. The knowledge that things lack essential reality is a liberating insight into emptiness, the absence of intrinsic existence [nisvabhava].

(The difference between Prasangika and Svatantrika, according to Tsongkhapa, is that Svatantrikas, while recognising that nothing withstands ultimate analysis, regard things as having an intrinsic nature conventionally, while Prasangikas take intrinsic nature to be just that which would be found by ultimate analysis if it existed, concluding from the fact that nothing withstands ultimate analysis that nothing has any intrinsic nature at all, even conventionally.)

Thus, the deeper and ultimate ‘level of explanation/analysis’ in Madhyamaka is in fact that level upon which we see the utter lack or absence of any core or pith to which all matters can be reduced. This very lack, emptiness, is all that is ever discerned at that level. It is the entirety of what can be observed from that perspective – but is certainly not on that account the only thing that exists. Still, it must give us pause to consider that ultimate analysis – the mind that knows the final nature of things – does not at all find persons or cars. When persons and cars cannot withstand such rational analysis, when their vivid and seemingly solid presence recedes and finally evaporates as they are scrutinized, then does this not suggest that scrupulous investigation has at last refuted them? And if so, then how can anyone talk about things having any kind of meaningful existence at all once they have been refuted by reasoning?

Tsongkhapa has an interlocutor pose this very question (LRC 606). In response, he argues that this question comes about through conflating (1) the inability to withstand rational analysis with (2) invalidation or refutation by reason. While it would be foolhardy to claim that things are refuted by reason and nonetheless exist, he argues, things may very well exist although being unable to withstand rational analysis. To ask whether something can withstand rational analysis is to ask whether it is ‘found’ or demonstrated by a line of reasoning that analyses what exists ultimately. This kind of analysis is intent upon seeking out the essential nature that is the core reality behind an appearance. When such reasoning analyses a car, it does not find any such essential reality, and this is what it means to say that a car is ‘unable to withstand rational analysis’ (LRC 606-610).

Thus, the unfindability of a car under ultimate analysis is not a sign of a car’s nonexistence; it is only a sign of a car’s not existing in the manner sought by this sort of analysis. That is, it is a sign of the utter nonexistence of an essentially real car. We do not expect to see Saturn looking through a microscope; we do not expect a sociologist to find quarks; we do not expect rational analysis to find conventional existence and so do not conclude that there is none just because it is not found thereby. As Tsongkhapa says, we cannot expect to see sounds even when we look with utmost care.

The So-Called Narrative View of the Self (Westerhoff)

The So-Called Narrative View of the Self (from Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka, A Philosophical Introduction, by Jan Westerhoff, Oxford 2009)

Nagarjuna’s rejection of entities existing by svabhava is not restricted to the study of the external world around us. At least as important as refuting the existence of fundamental substances which provide the basis for a world independent of human interests and concerns is the refutation of a substantial self, which constitutes the fixed point around which our internal world revolves. Such a substantial self is an essentially unchanging entity, distinct from our physical body and psychological states, which unifies our sensory input and mental life and acts as a foundation of our agenthood in the world. Nagarjuna wants to replace this prima facie plausible and compelling view of a self, which, however, he claims to be mistaken, by a conception of the self as a set of causally interconnected physical and psychological events. He sets out to account for the fact that we normally do not see ourselves in this way by arguing that this set of events is usually under the misapprehension of its own properties: it sees itself as a substantial self, even though it is not.

It is interesting to note that this alternative view of the self presented here (which, to be sure, is not a Madhyamaka specialty but widely shared between different Buddhist traditions), despite its intuitive implausibility, finds a surprising amount of support in recent research on cognitive science. Of particular interest in this context is the so-called narrative view of the self, a theory that has been explored in detail by Daniel Dennett [most famously in his Consciousness Explained, London 1991], who also presents supporting evidence from our current knowledge of how the brain works. One of Dennett’s central observations is that the processing of neurophysiologically encoded information is spread across the entire brain. There is no place in the brain where “it all comes together”, no “Cartesian theatre” where the stream of sensory information is unified into mental content and presented to consciousness. He argues that not only is there no neurophysiological analog to the self anywhere in the spatial organization of the brain, also the temporal sequence of events in the brain cannot be used as a foundation of a continuous self. Dennett shows that in certain cases the order of events as the appear in our consciousness does not line up with the temporal order of their underlying neurophysiological bases. The view of our selves as continuous, temporally extended entities therefore cannot be seen as a mere reflection of a series of events in the brain, but requires a significant deal of conceptual construction. Our subjective feeling of spatial and temporal location cannot be grounded on the spatially and temporally spread out, discontinuous series of events in the brain in a straightforward manner. Our view of the self as an essentuially unchanging unifier and agent cannot be based on the structure of the piece of matter that occupies the space where we locate the center of gravity.

Dennett argues instead that the self is a product of our linguistic capacities. The capacity to use language is hard-wired into our brain, and once we start using language, we tell stories, including stories about ourselves which continuously create that very self. The self emerging on this theory is not the author, but the authored. Dennett notes that “our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us. The human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is the product, not their source”. For this reason there is no fundamental difference between the self created by our own narrative and the selves created in works of fiction. It is not the case that the former are intrinsically more real than the latter; in fact they belong fundamentally to the same class of things (even though the fictional selves, unlike our own narrative selves, are usually not open ended). Both are conceptual constructs produced by our brain regarding a narrative, our own or that in some text, as revolving around a single fixed point.

The Identity of Man with the World and its Soul in Hinduism (Melamed)

The Identity of Man with the World and its Soul in Hinduism (adapted from a reprint of Spinoza and Buddha, Visions of a Dead God, by S.M. Melamed, Chicago 1933)

What Spinoza called substance the ancient Hindu thinkers called Atman. While Spinoza’s substance never underwent any changes, Atman shows many stages of development. Originally it meant the cosmic ego, which later vanished, leaving only indeterminate, infinite, and inarticulate substance. From this cosmic principle the Hindu sought to deduce the world. This deduction seemed to be the more necessary since this is an articulate world, full of words, expressions, and thoughts, while Atman is indeterminate and inarticulate. This chasm between Atman and the world the Hindu bridged with Brahman, the holy word, accompanying the sacrificial rites. Brahman, or the logos, became the second cosmic force, and then united with Atman to form one cosmic principle. Both, as a oneness, represent the physical and the logical principle of the world.

Just as Spinoza called thinking the son of God, so did the ancient Hindus regard Brahman, the logical principle, as the first-born in this world. In this Atman-Brahman idea, ancient Hindu thought found its kindling-point and anchor ground. It, too, is no more a Deity in the theological meaning of the term than is Spinoza’s Deus. It is a mystical cosmic principle, a dead God. It does not demand that man pray to, adore, or venerate it. It does not pretend to be man’s teacher and guide. Atman-Brahman means ‘I am the all’, ‘I am the cosmos’, and is expressed in the formula ‘Tat tvam asi’, ‘Thou art that’. In this recognition man loses the feeling of limitation and finiteness, and feels himself to be part of the infinite whole, a link in the infinite chain. He is at one with the world and with God, and hence need not face them in opposition. There is no inside or outside, no subject or object. The world is a oneness which manifests itself in variety. None of the parts is isolated from the whole. God’s relationship to the world is identical with [its] inner ground and outer manifestation.

Atman-Brahman is in the final analysis the identity of man with the world and its soul. It is often referred to in the Upanishads as Karya Brahman, the nature of Brahman, or what Spinoza would call natura naturans, as distinguished from Karana Brahman, or natura naturata. This Brahman has all the properties of Spinoza’s substance and is the true hen kai pan [One and All]. It is the infinite in all things finite, and the eternal in all things fugitive. It is the ultimate and highest reality.

This conception presupposes a type of knowledge which cannot possibly be empirical in nature. The senses cannot possibly furnish us with the truth of the absolute. Empiric knowledge is only fragmentary in character. Only knowledge of the whole, which is created intuitively, can furnish us with truth. Only intuitive knowledge makes the unheard become heard, the unperceived perceived, and the unknown known. This form of knowledge also enables man to grasp the highest reality, frees him from passion and suffering, and unites his soul with eternity. It is man’s greatest spiritual treasure. This theory of knowledge is common to all mysticism, including Spinozism.

Nagarjuna and the Madhyamika School (Ling)

Nagarjuna and the Madhyamika school (from A History of Religion East and West, by Prof. Trevor Ling, 1968, Basingstoke 1988)

We have seen that one of the earliest developments in Buddhist thought in the Mahayana direction was the idea that even dhammas (regarded by the Theravadins as the indivisible ultimate events of which all existence is composed) are in fact substanceless; all things, even dhammas, are void of substance, or shunya. This idea is first found in a Mahayana text which was translated into Chinese at the end of the second century C.E. and which may therefore be regarded as having had its origin somewhere in north-west India in the first century C.E.

Those who assert (vadin) this doctrine of the voidness of substance (shunya) even in dhammas, are called shunyavadins. Another name for this school of thought is the Madhyamika school, or school of the ‘middle position’ (madhya is cognate with Latin media). The middle position referred to was not that of the earlier period of Buddhism, when the Buddha’s teaching was known as ‘the Middle Way’, that is, between self-mortification and sensuality, but between the complete realism of the Sarvastivadins who asserted that all dhammas, past, present and future, were real; and the absolute idealism of the Yogacharin school.

The Madhyamika school is generally regarded as having been founded by Nagarjuna in the second century C.E. It is significant that Nagarjuna was a brahman from south central India (Andhra) who had thrown in his lot with Buddhism. The school of thought which he developed certainly has affinities with brahman philosophical thought; although it was developed in opposition to certain of the orthodox brahman philosophies (Sankhya and Vaishesika), it was generally more akin to these schools than to the early Abhidhamma of Pali Buddhism. An excellent account of the Madhyamika school has been provided by T.R.V. Murti (1955). His view of the development of this school is that it may be described in terms of a dialectic. The original thesis was the atma-affirming doctrine of the Upanishads; the antithesis to this was the denial of any enduring atta (atma) in early Buddhism, formalised in the Abhidhamma; the synthesis is found in the Madhyamika.

According to Murti is was the inadequacy and inconsistency of the Abhidhamma system, especially the Sarvastivadin Abhidhamma, which led to the development of the Madhyamika. The essential concern of the Madhyamika is with the relation between the empirical world of the senses, which in Buddhist thought generally is known as Samsara (the continued round of existence), and the transcendental reality Nirvana. According to the Madhyamika, Nirvana is present in Samsara, but men are prevented from recognising this and entering into it because of the false constructions they put upon the world. The removal of these false constructions (the negation of the negation) and the attainment of Nirvana is the religious goal, in the Madhyamika Buddhist view. The way to do this is by cultivating a view of the substanceless nature of things. To accomplish this, they hold, needs a long course of meditational training.