In my quest to go postmetaphysical a few of my several concerns follow: 1) How to interpret states and stages of consciousness; 2) How to practice secular meditation free from metaphysical baggage; and 3) How to share the former in a contemporary, western community with a focus on some form of liberation, or at least alleviation, of human suffering. Stephen Batchelor has been invaluable in this quest. (See our prior discussion of him here.) One of his essays is instructive along these lines, "The agnostic Buddhist: a secular vision of dharma practice." Here are a few select excerpts:

 

It is important to distinguish between those questions that are addressed by the core teachings of the Buddha, and those which are not really of central concern. I was listening on the radio not long ago in England to a discussion about religious belief. All of the participants were engaged in a heated discussion about the possibility of miracles. It is generally assumed that being a religious person entails believing certain things about the nature of oneself and reality in general that are beyond the reach of reason and empirical verification. What happened before birth, what will happen after death, the nature of the soul and its relation to the body: these are first and foremost religious questions. And the Buddha was not interested in them. But if we look at Buddhism historically, we'll see that it has continuously tended to lose this agnostic dimension through becoming institutionalised as a religion, with all of the usual dogmatic belief systems that religions tend to have. So, ironically, if you were to go to many Asian countries today, you would find that the monks and priests who control the institutional bodies of Buddhism would have quite clear views on whether the world is eternal or not, what happens to the Buddha after death, the status of the mind in relation to the body, and so on.

 

So, what would an agnostic Buddhist be like today? How would we even start to think about such a stance? Firstly, I would suggest that an agnostic Buddhist would not regard the Dharma or the teachings of the Buddha as a source which would provide answers to questions of where we are going, where we are coming from, what is the nature of the universe, and so on. In this sense, an agnostic Buddhist would not be a believer with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena and in this sense would not be religious. I've recently started saying to myself: "I'm not a religious person," and finding that to be strangely liberating. You don't have to be a religious [or spiritual] person in order to practice the Dharma.

 

Secondly, an agnostic Buddhist would not look to the Dharma for metaphors of consolation. This is another great trait of religions: they provide consolation in the face of birth and death; they offer images of a better afterlife; they offer the kind of security that can be achieved through an act of faith. I'm not interested in that. The Buddha's teachings are confrontative; they're about truth-telling, not about painting some pretty picture of life elsewhere. They're saying: "Look, existence is painful." This is what is distinctive about the Buddhist attitude: it starts not from the promise of salvation, but from valuing that sense of existential anguish we tend either to ignore, deny or avoid through distractions.

 

"Emptiness" is a singularly unappetising term. I don't think it was ever meant to be attractive. Herbert Guenther once translated it as "the open dimension of being," which sounds a lot more appealing than "emptiness." "Transparency" was a term I played with for a while, which also makes emptiness sound more palatable. Yet we have to remember that even two thousand years ago Nagarjuna was having to defend himself against the nihilistic implications of emptiness. Many of the chapters in his philosophical works start with someone objecting: "This emptiness is a terrible idea. It undermines all grounds for morality. It undermines everything the Buddha was speaking about." Clearly the word did not have a positive ring back then either. I suspect that it might have been used quite consciously as an unappealing term, which cuts through the whole fantasy of consolation that one might expect a religion to provide. Perhaps we need to recover this cutting-edge of emptiness, its unappealing aspect.

 

I like to think of the Buddha's awakening under the Bodhi tree not as some kind of transcendental absorption, but as a moment of total shock. Neils Bohr once said about quantum mechanics: "If you're not shocked by quantum theory, then you don't understand it." I think we could say the same about emptiness: If you're not shocked by emptiness, then you haven't understood it.

 

Now, whether we follow the Indo-Tibetan analytical approach or the Zen approach of asking a koan like "What is this?," such meditative inquiry leads to a mind that becomes more still and clear. But paradoxically this does not mean that things then become more clear-cut, that you reach some final understanding of who you are or of what makes the universe tick. Because, at the same time as such things become more vivid and clear, they also become more baffling. One encounters, as it were, the sheer mystery of things. A deep agnosticism would be one founded on this kind of unknowing: the acknowledgement that, in terms of what life really is, I really do not know. And in that unknowing there is already a quality of questioning, of perplexity. And as that perplexity becomes stabilised through meditation, one enters increasingly into a world that is mysterious, magical in a sense, and not containable by narrow ideas and concepts.

 

But this is not where the practice ends. This is only half the project. What we also discover in this open space, in this mysterious experience of non-self, are the wellsprings of creativity and imagination.... The process of articulating the Dharma goes on and on according to the needs of the different historical situations that it encounters. We could read the whole history of Buddhism, from the moment of the Buddha's awakening until now, as a process of seeking to imagine a way to respond both wisely and compassionately to the situation at hand.

 

All of us have experiences of what it means to imagine and create something. It struck me very forcibly one day…that preparing myself to put into words what had not yet been put into words was to enter a very similar frame of mind to that of sitting on a cushion in a zendo, asking: "What is this?" The creative process seemed very comparable to the meditative process. Awakening is only complete -- in the same way that a work of art is only complete -- when it finds an expression, a form, that translates that experience in a way that makes it accessible to others. That again is the balance between wisdom and compassion. The creative process of expressing the Dharma is not just a question of duplicating in words something etched somewhere in the privacy of my soul. The living process of understanding is formed through the encounter with another person, with the world. You've probably all had the experience of someone coming to you in a state of distress and blurting out their problems, and you suddenly find yourself saying things that you were quite unaware you knew. The process of awakening is one of valuing and connecting with that capacity to respond in authentic ways to the suffering of others. The imagination is the bridge between contemplative experience and the anguish of the world. By valuing imagination, we value the capacity of each person, each community, to imagine and create themselves anew.

 

In the contemporary world Buddhism encounters a culture that places a positive value on the power of each individual's creativity and imagination. It's interesting that in most Buddhist traditions these things are not strongly encouraged, or, if they are, it's usually only within highly formalised settings. I like to think of Dharma practice today as venturing into a world of imagination, one in which each individual, each community, seeks to express and to articulate their vision in terms of the particular needs of their own situation. Buddhism would then become less and less the preserve of an institution, and more and more an experience that is owned by ordinary people in ordinary communities.

 

Of course, there are dangers here. But these are hardly new. Historically, Buddhism has always had to find ways of responding effectively to the danger of becoming too acculturated, of becoming too absorbed into the assumptions of the host culture. Certainly such a danger exists here in the West: Buddhism might, for example, tend to become a kind of souped-up psychotherapy. But there's the equal danger of Buddhism holding on too fiercely to its Asian identity and remaining a marginal interest amongst a few eccentrics. Somehow we have to find a middle way between these two poles, and this is a challenge which is not going to be worked out by academics or Buddhist scholars; it's a challenge that each of us is asked to meet in our own practice from day to day.

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On the nature of the ego-witness I found this old thread on image schemas. It provides a sort of summary of many other threads and only has 8 posts, so about a 5-10 minute read.

I was re-reading this blog post so thought I'd put some of it here.

In the thread where Pepper criticizes Wallace, Batchelor commented in the original linked discussion. I copied some of Batchelor's comments in the Pepper thread below, with some additions. He said:

"What is striking in the case of Alan Wallace is that the position he appears to present in his book regarding an atman-like (yes!) consciousness that underpins all experience (and reality itself?) is strongly influenced by Dzogchen, a practice and philosophy found in the Nyingma school, but a view that is rejected vehemently by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Geluk school.... The Prasangika-Madhyamaka philosophy of the Gelukpa has no time at all for any kind of primordial or pristine consciousness, which, correctly I believe, it regards as a return to Vedanta. Much of Tsongkhapa’s polemical writings are taken up with rejecting this practice and its philosophical corrollary of gZhan sTong ('Other Emptiness').... It has always struck me that the “Mind and Life” dialogues between the Dalai Lama and scientists have suffered from a strong, though often unstated, bias towards Dzogchen and its reified and idealistic notion of atman-like consciousness. Many of the leading Buddhist voices at these events have been Dzogchen practitioners: the Dalai Lama himself, Matthieu Ricard, and Alan Wallace. (On another note, this kind of view is becoming normative of much 'Eastern spirituality' in the West, particularly under the influence of the neo-Vedantist Ken Wilbur and his followers/admirers — it is hardly surprising that Wilbur practices and endorses Dzogchen).... I believe that by positing an atman-like consciousness, Dzogchen (and similar teachings found in Chan/Zen – and even in the Theravada Forest Tradition) are implicitly abandoning the a-theism of the Buddha and embracing another theos called Pristine Consciousness/ the One Mind/ the One Who Knows etc."

hi balder

i am as you and theurj suggested looking up the capriles flashes that existed already in the past in your site

doing this i came across your reply to lol here and have to point out to you that you evidently misread the section because neither lol nor capriles talk about namkai norbu rinpoche , our present master BUT about another man altogether , a historic man ,called namkhai nyingpo, he was a direct disciple , one of the 25 , of  guru padmasambhava in the 8th !! century when padmasambahava brought his teaching to tibet . see? here is the quote of capriles again : "Namkhai Nyingpo, one of the main direct disciples of Padmasamb-hava, was a realized practitioner of Shantarakshita’s tradition of gradual Mahayana, as well as one of the most realized Tibetan practitioners of the Chinese Ch’an School, which transmits the Tönmun or “sudden” tradition of the Mahayana."

this is an important "little" detail because it shows that chan was taught and studied in the chinese tradition before the indian even came to tibet and it was mastered to. ......

now this namkhai nyingpo also being already a chen master then saw that padmasambhava taugth something further ......something more....see?

max



Balder said:

Hi, Lol, yes, I should have looked at the context.  I also was not aware that Namkhai Norbu had trained in Ch'an as well as Dzogchen.  This does make him more qualified to compare the orientations and results of both paths.  However, this claim would be more compelling to me if there were examples of Zen masters trained outside of the Tibetan context (where Dzogchen is already considered the pinnacle) who also report that they have discovered a fuller, more complete soteriology in Dzogchen.

 

(On a related note, if only tangentially, I learned recently that Tenzin Wangyal will be moving to my area.  I have been away from a Dzogchen practice context for quite a long time and would like to begin practicing with him again, so I will begin visiting his community once he settles in.)

hi theurj

as i am reading the capriles backlog i came upon this. well here it is important to notice that capriles in his trilogy is refuting the view of tsongkapa as not correct madyamika even.

so there has been always quite a bit of creative tension in the different tibetan schools and it is not just now that they wake up to that.its exactly for these reasons that find capriles quite usefull because thereis a section where he differentiates dzog chen from advaita views in very clear unmistaken terms and that is the official correct view and not HIS own  invention. ken wilbers and other neoadvaitists sloppy use of the term dzog chen is here to be blamed and thats what capriles trieds to accomplish. it needs to be clarified or else we find ourselves exactly in this kind of its all the same anyway soup. ken is one of the worst offenders in this regard. max



theurj said:

I was re-reading this blog post so thought I'd put some of it here.

In the thread where Pepper criticizes Wallace, Batchelor commented in the original linked discussion. I copied some of Batchelor's comments in the Pepper thread below, with some additions. He said:

"What is striking in the case of Alan Wallace is that the position he appears to present in his book regarding an atman-like (yes!) consciousness that underpins all experience (and reality itself?) is strongly influenced by Dzogchen, a practice and philosophy found in the Nyingma school, but a view that is rejected vehemently by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Geluk school.... The Prasangika-Madhyamaka philosophy of the Gelukpa has no time at all for any kind of primordial or pristine consciousness, which, correctly I believe, it regards as a return to Vedanta. Much of Tsongkhapa’s polemical writings are taken up with rejecting this practice and its philosophical corrollary of gZhan sTong ('Other Emptiness').... It has always struck me that the “Mind and Life” dialogues between the Dalai Lama and scientists have suffered from a strong, though often unstated, bias towards Dzogchen and its reified and idealistic notion of atman-like consciousness. Many of the leading Buddhist voices at these events have been Dzogchen practitioners: the Dalai Lama himself, Matthieu Ricard, and Alan Wallace. (On another note, this kind of view is becoming normative of much 'Eastern spirituality' in the West, particularly under the influence of the neo-Vedantist Ken Wilbur and his followers/admirers — it is hardly surprising that Wilbur practices and endorses Dzogchen).... I believe that by positing an atman-like consciousness, Dzogchen (and similar teachings found in Chan/Zen – and even in the Theravada Forest Tradition) are implicitly abandoning the a-theism of the Buddha and embracing another theos called Pristine Consciousness/ the One Mind/ the One Who Knows etc."

So much to grok in this thread. Thank you for pointing it out to me theurj. Im a little confused about some of your interpretations regarding Non-duality and Dzogchen/Ken's take on it. But I'm reading most of the sources you presented. Needless to say, I am fascinated by a mind as strong as yours, which also sees some of these fundamental points differently, and I love that your challenge of Ken's take resides primarily in his theory and not his person. Its rather refreshing to have competing perspectives on some of these rather "primordial" issues of emptiness and form as it comes to what kind of worldview I utilize to ground my own meditative practice. Thank you for sharing all of this.. 

You are quite welcome and I'm glad my ramblings are of some use. It's an ages-old debate that is not 'resolved' to this day, but perhaps updated with contemporary findings. Balder and I have gone round and round about it over the years too. Like in the Tibetan temples it's good mental exercise.

I think I'll bring some posts over about Rosch from another thread starting in this post. She co-authored The Embodied Mind with Varela and Thompson. She's a good example of the shentong view.

This is also interesting, from footnote 5:

"Here we come to a watershed in Tibetan Buddhist teachings and, in fact, in Buddhist teachings in general. Three of the four major Tibetan lineages (Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma) adhere to the shentong (other empty) interpretation of emptiness in which all things are empty of other than wisdom. Put another way, things are empty of self nature but filled with wisdom (filled with the essence). Put in a yet more advanced way, all that things really are is wisdom essence. Historically shentong is traced from the Buddha nature (Tathagatagarbha) schools of Mahayana Buddhism. The fourth Tibetan lineage, the Gelugpa, adheres to the rangtong (self empty) interpretation in which things are simply empty of self nature, a reversion to an earlier Mahayana position. There has been a good deal of conflict in Tibet over this point. Many of the parallels with Sufism that I am exploring in this chapter depend upon the shentong view because it is a view that says there is a way of knowing beyond the limits of the mind. (See Gyamtso, 1986, and Hookham, 1991 for a detailed account of this distinction.)"

I have no qualms with Rosch’s descriptions on nonconceptuality or the rest, except for what she herself points out in “beginner’s mind” as the “innate primordial wisdom in the world as it is.” Which of course she identifies with the shentong view, and with which there “has been a good deal of conflict in Tibet over this point” between the rantong view. The latter view also seems to agree with all of the other points she makes, as does the L&J view, except that L&J might also disagree on this one point as would their pragmatic forbears like Mead. (James though would likely be on the shentong side.) As I said, same old argument over this sticky point.

Rosch openly admits what her tradition espouses: in the terms of this thread, the identity with essence. There is one thing exempt from emptiness, Tathagatagarbha, awareness of and identity in (Buddha) essence. She also admits that this shentong view in not accepted by the rangton, the “earlier” Mahayana view. I have used experts before to show that this earlier view was indeed Nagarjuna's, and that the shentong was an addition of Yogacara ideas. It's the same difference with how Rosch and Lakoff use the same cognitive research, but again with this core disagreement. Recall Lakoff from PF: 

“We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have purely uncategorized and nonconceptual experience. Neural beings cannot do that” (18).

Now I've also made arguments that we can allow the nonconceptual and the absolute, but it depends on how we define them. Yes, define, like with the polydoxers doing so in a non-essential and non-identifying way. And they tend to do so with an emphasis on the “compliments” as not completely different nor completely the same, both absolute and relative informing each other. So while there is no “purely” nonconceptual there is also no “purely” conceptual, for it requires the implication of that groundless ground (khora) like we've seen in Derrida. Whereas the more metaphysical notion is where they are extreme and completely different poles of different and pure kinds altogether, contradictions, with one being enlightenment and the other illusion though in some kind of relation nevertheless, generally nested hierarchies with said synthesis.

How about just "bio-social"?  Or... ?

'Embodied' is a good term because it refers to all types of bodies, from the bio to the social to the cultural and the hermeneutic. It's one reason L&J call it embodied realism, since there is a 'real' but it requires a body of some kind (but not any particular kind). In kennilingus the body is not at the lowest end of the spectrum but co-arises with an inside (of some kind but not any particular kind) at every level. The word 'suobject' (or intersobject) is all of that, and more (or less), no explanation required.

I've edited some excerpts from Batchelor's essay "Buddhism and postmodernity." This is some rather poetic prose which reminds me of Wilber when he's at his best.

"A postmodern world that takes for granted the plurality and ambiguity of perception, the fragmented and contingent nature of reality, the elusive, indeterminate nature of self, the arbitrariness, inauthenticity and anguish of human existence, would seem to fit Buddhism like a glove. [...] The element of postmodernity that potentially promises Buddhist voices access to contemporary culture is implicit in Jean-François Lyotard’s simplified but seminal definition of ‘postmodern’ as ‘incredulity toward grand narratives.

"If Buddhists find themselves in sympathy with postmodern incredulity towards grand narratives, then they might be compelled to imagine another kind of Buddhism altogether. They will try to rearticulate the guiding metaphors of Buddhist tradition in the light of postmodernity. [...] The key notion in such an endeavour would be ‘emptiness.’ For here we have a notion that shares with postmodernism a deep suspicion of a single, non-fragmentary self, as well as any ‘transcendental signified’ such as God or Mind. It too celebrates the disappearance of the subject, the endlessly deferred play of language, the ironically ambiguous and contingent nature of things.

"Proponents of the doctrine of emptiness, at least from the time of Nagarjuna, have been subjected to the same kind of criticism as postmodernists receive today. They too have stood accused of nihilism, relativism, and undermining the basis for morality and religious belief. And not only from non-Buddhists; the concept of emptiness is still criticized within the Buddhist tradition itself. The history of the idea of emptiness has been the history of the struggle to demonstrate that far from undermining an ethical and authentic way of life, such a life is actually realized through embracing the implications of emptiness.

"The emptiness of self, for instance, is not the denial of individual uniqueness, but the denial of any permanent, partless and transcendent basis for individuality. The anguish and uncertainty of human existence are only exacerbated by the pre-conceptual, spasm-like grip in which such assumptions of transcendence hold us. While seeming to offer security in the midst of an unpredictable and transient world, paradoxically this grip generates an anxious alienation from the processes of life itself. The aim of Buddhist meditations on change, uncertainty and emptiness are to help one understand and accept these dimensions of existence and thus gently lead to releasing the grip.

"By paying mindful attention to the sensory immediacy of experience, we realize how we are created, moulded, formed by a bewildering matrix of contingencies that continually arise and vanish. On reflection, we see how we are formed from the patterning of the DNA derived from our parents, the firing of a hundred billion neurons in our brains, the cultural and historical conditioning of the twentieth century, the education and upbringing given us, all the experiences we have ever had and choices we have ever made. These processes conspire to configure the unrepeatable trajectory that culminates in this present moment. What is here now is the unique but shifting impression left by all of this, which I call ‘me.’

"Moreover, this gradual dissolution of a transcendental basis for self nurtures an empathetic relationship with others. The grip of self not only leads to alienation but numbs one to the anguish of others. Heartfelt appreciation of our own contingency enables us to recognize our inter-relatedness with other equally contingent forms of life. We find that we are not isolated units but participants in the creation of an ongoing, shared reality.

"A postmodern perspective would question the mythic status of Buddhism and Agnosticism. In letting go of ‘Buddhism’ as a grand, totalizing narrative that explains everything, we are freed to embark on the unfolding of our own individuation in the context of specific local and global communities. We may find in this process that we too are narratives. Having let go of the notion of a transcendental self, we realize we are nothing but the stories we keep telling ourselves in our own minds and relating to others. We find ourselves participating in a complex web of narratives: each telling its own unique story while inextricably interwoven with the tales of others. Instead of erecting totalitarian, hierarchic institutions to set our grand narratives in brick and stone, we look to imaginative, democratic communities in which to realize our own petits recits: small narratives. Such a view is inevitably pluralistic."

I wanted to bring up this post from another thread and expand on it with more of Loy's writing. In the link Loy noted that Buddhism has to get a new story because it arose in the Axial period where dualism was rampant within all religions. It expressed in Buddhism as the strict dichotomy between nirvana and samsara, otherwise known as the two truths. He said:

"Like other Axial developments, Buddhism basically rests on cosmological dualism. Instead of God and the created world, it’s samsara versus nirvana. […] On the popular level of understanding, however, Buddhism devalues this world as a place of suffering, craving, and delusion, and the goal of Buddhist practice is to transcend it."

I'd say it was far more than just "on the popular level" but at the root of shentog and even  rangtong, but not as pronounced. This thread has explored that in depth. So I'd like to introduce here Loy's chapter "Beyond transcendence: A Buddhist perspective on the Axial Age." I just skimmed it for now so will read carefully and report. It begins with this:

"The implication is that nirvana is not that attainment of some other reality or transcendent dimension but realizing the true nature of this world, right here and now" (156).

I'd note for now that Loy is in the zen tradition, infamously part of shentong. It's one thing to speculate on the "true nature" of this world but another to fully 'realize' in some meditative state of consciousness (satori). even if we interpret that state as 'natural' (samsara) and nondual.

 what you guys should take note off

is that there exist a 9 levels stack of buddhist views.

so IF we say buddhism has to do this or that we should specify

which one of the 9 quite different buddhist schools holding a view or more (even contradictionary ones)

are we talking about ? i mean we do share the 21 st century ? no ?

so this ought to be common knowledge by now.

at least in the evolutionary avabthagarde integralis academia culture.....

and no, it is not all the same anyway.

I'd suggest you read the thread, which explores who is shentong and who is rangtong. It focuses on the Tibetan schools but if I recall it at least mentions some history from Indian and middle eastern Buddhism. And perhaps some from China and Japan, like chan and zen. If not the predecessor thread most likely did, linked at the beginning of this thread.

i have read it and shentong and rangtong is not very much

at all.

i guess its o.k if you think its all about theory ....: )

anyway take this a synchronizity:

i am still listening to the grateful dead concert i posted on the andrew thread

and just as my post here got deleted because i guess it was too colourfull language

or not academic enough or whatever , hey i don´t mind : )

but this is what garcia was singing at the time

: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HTcet_BgYM

isn´t the universe wonderfull : ))))

whatever IT is it sure got a great sense of humour folks

 

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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