Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

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Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sat Sep 25, 2010 10:33 pm

Lately I've been digesting ven. Ñanananda's The Magic of the Mind: An Exposition of the Kalakarama Sutta. and I tell you what, this is the most difficult dhamma book I've ever read and has dredged up a lot of good food for thought, but there is one in particular issue that I'm rather stuck on. The book itself is available in pdf form here and the Kalakarama sutta is translated on page 10: http://seeingthroughthenet.net/files/en ... e_mind.pdf

The sutta in question seems to be getting a sort of Buddhist phenomenalism; "Thus, monks, a Tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight; he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer." and so on for hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intellect.

I understand this to mean that the awakened individual does not conceive or assume anything either in the positive or negative about either a doer or thing to which something is done. That is, does not engage in forming a dichotomy of subject versus object, since such an assumption is through analysis shown to be unprovable. In other words he does not form views about experiential phenomena, because any statement of knowledge about the nature of phenomena, besides the fact that they are occurring, is speculation, not direct knowledge, merely "views", there is no direct knowledge of whatever "world" is outside of our experience.

What confuses me is that, this take seems to negate dependent origination, in a sense. The dependent origination of consciousness for example, eye + visible forms, ear + audible sound, and so on for the other pairs that make up the sense-spheres. But this formula itself assumes a "thing-able-to-be-sensed" apart from the bare "sensing" itself, does it not? Which is contradictory to the previous quote in question. It is by understanding the dependent origination of all phenomena (of experience) that we are able to grasp the depth of their unreliability (and by extension unsatisfactoriness and selflessness), at least in part, and so is quite important, is it not?

So the conflict is that dependent origination is both said to be an vital thing to grasp, but then in light of passages like this seems to be undermined and shown to be fundamentally improvable.

But then I also am aware that dependent origination (in the forward sequence/the 12 nidanas proper) is a description of ignorant cognition, of samsara, becoming and dukkha. So then could it be precisely the point that the end of the eightfold path (which is the end of ignorance) culminates in the negation of dependent origination? In the end it is self-contradicting? By understanding the true implications of our deluded cognition, delusion becomes negated and so dependent origination becomes irrelevant and inapplicable?

Am I on the right track at all here? All comments welcome, I'm feeling a little twisted up here.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Reductor » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:26 am

Kenshou wrote:So the conflict is that dependent origination is both said to be an vital thing to grasp, but then in light of passages like this seems to be undermined and shown to be fundamentally improvable.


I don`t think that the above is suggesting DO is improvable, but that the stages are dependent in a way that finds no correspondence with the mind of an arahant. Granted, some parts of the chain can only be clearly directly discerned late along the path, by which time I suspect ignorance is cut off and the knowledge gained no longer applies to ones own mind.

By understanding the true implications of our deluded cognition, delusion becomes negated and so dependent origination becomes irrelevant and inapplicable?

Am I on the right track at all here? All comments welcome, I'm feeling a little twisted up here.


Hmmm, difficult to say for sure.

First I must confess to having not read the book you`re now reading, so I may be missing your point.

That said, I can think of a few reasons to see DO as a mere illustrative device and not as a absolute description of a functioning person. First is avijja, which does not exist for an arahant. So in this way DO is sharply limited in its descriptive scope. Next there`s the duality of namarupa vs salayatana (`six sense spheres`), which reflects the subject vs object experience from which we derive the concept of `contact`.

In that above sutta reference it seems the tathagata does not conceive the object sensed as being independent of the act of seeing, nor that the act of seeing can continue when the object sensed is absent, which strongly suggests the break down of subject-object thinking, or the ceasing of those links in DO. Since it ends with comment on the `seer`, then I think that this also means the concept of seer (namarupa) has ceased.

Of course this interpretation hangs on whether namarupa should be taken as `the arising of the 5 aggregates`or as something else. To which I point to that book by Gombrich, where it is posited that namarupa does not refer specifically to the aggregates but to the individuation of the being in a more ruidimentary sense, using brahmical terms for `naming` (nama) and `perceptible to the senses` (rupa) (concepts also used by brahmins in their birth ceremonies). But I support such a conclusion, and that is because the structure of those first links suggests it on their own merits, esp with samkhara being listed before consciousness, with namarupa following close behind.

In various places sankhara is equated with volitions, and in other places it is divided into three: body, speech, mind. If we remember this when considering this link it is easy to suspect that not only the volition is being implied, but also the action and results. So the question that arose in my mind is how these samkhara actually differ from namarupa, and why these two parts of DO, which seem very likely to be equal, would be listed so closely, with only consciousness between them.

I concluded that the real difference was not what they were composed of, but how they were being regarded; that `samkhara` was suggesting the impersonal nature of formations, while `namarupa` was pointing the the arising of the conceit and I making imposed upon those impersonal formations. So, from such a supposition we see that next link, salayatana, as being the natural consequence of this `subject` making, namely the conceptual making of `objects` (the making of a `world` which stands in opposition to the namarupa, the individual).

So the sutta you reference seems to suggest the end of namarupa, salayatana, contact, which would suggest the end of avijja and feeling too. But since an arahant still volitions, we might conclude that they do so without avijja. So perhaps we might describe their cognition as: vijja, samkhara, consciousness.

Anyway, I`ve got a kid crawling up my leg, so I`ll leave you with those thoughts of mine. Hopefully I have not completely missed the purport of your inquiry.

:anjali:
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The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:58 am

thereductor wrote:I don`t think that the above is suggesting DO is improvable, but that the stages are dependent in a way that finds no correspondence with the mind of an arahant. ..


Perhaps I should reword that a little bit. Weather or not DO can be proved or not is not really relevant, since it is not a description of "how things are" in an absolute sense but the way that we treat them (and the results of that), which is a mistake that I have and continue to make. It is in fact the very point of it all that vijja would negate avijja. The 12 links are a shorthand to the results of avijja, they are, in a manner of speaking, avijja itself.

It figures that DO wouldn't make sense when trying to be understood in the context of the awakened perspective because from that perspective it doesn't make sense anymore, it doesn't apply anymore. Part of how I confused myself was in trying to do just that. Pardon me if I'm seeming wishy-washy, there's an enormous amount of issues at play in all this.

I'll look into your other points later. Need to settle the brains. Heavy stuff.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby alan » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:19 am

It's just you, Kenshou. You are taking your own ideas way too far.
You are doing exactly what Nanananda warns against. You are making a big deal about your own conceptualizations.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:28 am

The fact of the matter is, I know that regardless of the precise workings of all that jibber-jabber it all comes down to the ending of greed, aversion and delusion, so I'm not all that perturbed about it.

But regardless I'd like to learn what I can. It really isn't a "big deal" even thought a lot of words are involved. Feel free to criticize me on a specific point, that's mostly the reason I started this thread. If my attempt to get a better understanding of how dependent origination and awakening fit together is just a bunch of useless conceptualization, then hopefully I'll find that out for myself. But I have to start from where I am.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby alan » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:46 am

Start from where you are. That is a good attitude.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby alan » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:50 am

But get the point of the book. Read it again.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:58 am

Oh, I am. But I didn't really need you to tell me that! You seem to be implying that you read it and understood it. If that's true, mind giving me a hint?
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby alan » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:03 am

We can start by dropping the idea of Phenomenalism.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:14 am

I used that word mostly for the sake of convenience. I think I expressed what I was really trying to get at within the rest of that post. Which was, the apparent conflict between the statement that "a tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight" and the fact that the dependent origination of consciousness (as in, for example, the salayatana-vibhanga sutta,) seems to assume a visible thing apart from sight (and so on for the other senses), which is kind of contradictory.

Which is why I've been asking about it.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby alan » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:21 am

That is nice. Read the book again, and then ask yourself why you really care.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:48 am

Okay, this stops here. You either do not actually know anything at all, or you simply aren't willing to share it for whatever reason. Either way it's no use talking to you, so I am done with you.

Sigh.

If anyone out there has any pointers or specific criticism, I'll gladly listen to it, that is what I would appreciate.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:37 am

alan wrote:That is nice. Read the book again, and then ask yourself why you really care.
This is not at all helpful. It boorish, adding nothing to the conversation, except a level of snottiness. Why don't you take the time and politely point out what Ven Nanananda says that is being missed and that you think should be understood here.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:39 am

alan wrote:We can start by dropping the idea of Phenomenalism.
Not helpful. Why should we drop the idea of phenomenalism?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:46 am

thereductor wrote:First I must confess to having not read the book you`re now reading, so I may be missing your point.


I was a little murky, but the essential bit got teased out in that post a couple back which ends with "Which is why I've been asking about it."

The workings of DO are relevant because I am interested in how it is that you get from one to the other. By which I mean, from the seeming assumption of "objects" in the formula for consciousness, to where such things are not assumed, which is how I've understood that particular tricky passage from the Kalakarama sutta. My best guess so far being, that the assumption of knowledge of external objects is allowed since the point is, to find out how our ignorant cognition works so that we can fix it up (and end dukkha).

That said, I can think of a few reasons to see DO as a mere illustrative device and not as a absolute description of a functioning person...


I think you're right about that. There are a lot of different devices like that in the suttas, some them are clearer than others, and the particulars of the 12 nidanas ain't so clear, but I still want to make the most sense out of it as is reasonably possible!

In various places sankhara is equated with volitions, and in other places it is divided into three: body, speech, mind. If we remember this when considering this link it is easy to suspect that not only the volition is being implied, but also the action and results. So the question that arose in my mind is how these samkhara actually differ from namarupa, and why these two parts of DO, which seem very likely to be equal, would be listed so closely, with only consciousness between them.


Hm, so you're saying that you think that sankhara might refer to the 5 aggregates, right?

I am not entirely sure if sankhara is meant in a wider more general sense (which you are doing?) or a particular type of sankhara. My current best guess is that it does in fact stand for volition, because it makes things simpler, I think, and secondarily that often in the suttas, when sankhara is explained, intention often mentioned exclusively, which implies to me that it is particularly important.

Ignorance might be described as ignorance of the four noble truths, or somewhat equivalently delusions of permanency, self, or satisfactoriness. And isn't it these very delusions that lead to intending, clinging, aversion, fabricating and becoming? Those general intentions lead to the "aiming" of the mind in a certain direction and it is towards that which it leans, resulting in further becoming and the arising of more consciousnesses dependent on where it is the mind was directed. This sutta comes to mind: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

This makes the most sense to me currently on how ignorance > sankhara > consciousness, but it is just a guess so far. :thinking: But I'm also aware of the fact that the simplest or easiest explanation might not be the right one!

I concluded that the real difference was not what they were composed of, but how they were being regarded; that `samkhara` was suggesting the impersonal nature of formations, while `namarupa` was pointing the the arising of the conceit and I making imposed upon those impersonal formations. So, from such a supposition we see that next link, salayatana, as being the natural consequence of this `subject` making, namely the conceptual making of `objects` (the making of a `world` which stands in opposition to the namarupa, the individual).


Good point there on the first part. I am not sure what to make of it, but I hadn't considered that before.

I think I agree with you on the second bold bit, I would only differ slightly in the cause. I think it's reasonable to think that the conceit of self is active in each link in the 12 nidanas, and so because of that we can go right from namarupa to salayatana, since the conceit of self results in the bifurcation of experience into subject vs object as you have said.

I suspect that this bifurcation and it's subsequent removal at awakening has something to do with how it is that an arahant apparently "does not conceive of a sense-able thing outside of the sensing", to paraphrase. But I am unsure how!

So the sutta you reference seems to suggest the end of namarupa, salayatana, contact, which would suggest the end of avijja and feeling too. But since an arahant still volitions, we might conclude that they do so without avijja. So perhaps we might describe their cognition as: vijja, samkhara, consciousness.


What I've been considering is that, since we know that #1 the arahant still "has" the 5 aggregates (right?), and #2, the 12 nidanas are based in delusion, rooted in ignorance with each step, we can conclude that the 12 nidanas don't necessarily stand for those things in general, but only in a specific sense, that is in the sense of being rooted in delusion.

Though it's a given that some of those links are totally incompatible with vijja, craving clinging becoming etc. And apparently salayatana too but I am still a little murky on exactly what this entails, which brings me back to the original pickle, which you got back to in the second to last quote, conveniently.
Last edited by Kenshou on Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby ground » Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:53 am

Kenshou wrote:The sutta in question seems to be getting a sort of Buddhist phenomenalism; "Thus, monks, a Tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight; he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer." and so on for hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intellect.

I understand this to mean that the awakened individual does not conceive or assume anything either in the positive or negative about either a doer or thing to which something is done. That is, does not engage in forming a dichotomy of subject versus object, since such an assumption is through analysis shown to be unprovable. In other words he does not form views about experiential phenomena, because any statement of knowledge about the nature of phenomena, besides the fact that they are occurring, is speculation, not direct knowledge, merely "views", there is no direct knowledge of whatever "world" is outside of our experience.

What confuses me is that, this take seems to negate dependent origination, in a sense. The dependent origination of consciousness for example, eye + visible forms, ear + audible sound, and so on for the other pairs that make up the sense-spheres. But this formula itself assumes a "thing-able-to-be-sensed" apart from the bare "sensing" itself, does it not? Which is contradictory to the previous quote in question. It is by understanding the dependent origination of all phenomena (of experience) that we are able to grasp the depth of their unreliability (and by extension unsatisfactoriness and selflessness), at least in part, and so is quite important, is it not?


I think that the statement "a Tathagata does not conceive of ..." merely hints at what a Tathagata does not do. Period. It does not imply a negation as to objects ("visible forms", "audible sound"). It is simply "not doing", i.e. renouncing (or having let go of) the habit of "conceiving of".
On the other hand "eye + visible forms", "ear + audible sound" is merely a description compliant with conventional language for the audience. It does not imply an ontological affirmation as to the objects of the senses.

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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:59 am

TMingyur wrote:I think that the statement "a Tathagata does not conceive of ..." merely hints at what a Tathagata does not do. Period. It does not imply a negation as to objects ("visible forms", "audible sound"). It is simply "not doing", i.e. renouncing (or having let go of) the habit of "conceiving of".
On the other hand "eye + visible forms", "ear + audible sound" is merely a description compliant with conventional language for the audience. It does not imply an ontological affirmation as to the objects of the senses.


I agree, actually. It is not a negation (and also not an affirmation), simply that no stance is taken.

I suppose I'm simply trying to get a handle on the relationship and connection between the "conventional" truth of "eye + visible forms" etc., and the "awakened" truth of "Well really I can't actually say if there's an object or not." and how it is that a person gets from one to the other.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Shonin » Sun Sep 26, 2010 9:12 am

Interesting question Kenshou - well spotted.

I suspect that TMingyur in on the right track.

TMingyur wrote:I think that the statement "a Tathagata does not conceive of ..." merely hints at what a Tathagata does not do. Period. It does not imply a negation as to objects ("visible forms", "audible sound"). It is simply "not doing", i.e. renouncing (or having let go of) the habit of "conceiving of".
On the other hand "eye + visible forms", "ear + audible sound" is merely a description compliant with conventional language for the audience. It does not imply an ontological affirmation as to the objects of the senses.


There is no contradition between a description of a Tathagata not being involved with ontological assumption and speculation and OD if seen as a provisional device or map rather than as a final description of (the ontology of) reality.
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby beeblebrox » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:20 pm

Kenshou wrote:The sutta in question seems to be getting a sort of Buddhist phenomenalism; "Thus, monks, a Tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight; he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer." and so on for hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intellect.

[ . . . ]

What confuses me is that, this take seems to negate dependent origination, in a sense. The dependent origination of consciousness for example, eye + visible forms, ear + audible sound, and so on for the other pairs that make up the sense-spheres. But this formula itself assumes a "thing-able-to-be-sensed" apart from the bare "sensing" itself, does it not? Which is contradictory to the previous quote in question.

[ . . . ]

Am I on the right track at all here? All comments welcome, I'm feeling a little twisted up here.


I'm not sure, but I see no conflict here. I probably view D.O. a bit differently. The D.O. doesn't say that there are "separate" things that support each other, but points out that in reality, these "separate" things actually rely on each other for their existences.

So, this seems to accord with the quote: "Thus, monks, a Tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight; he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer."
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Re: Phenomenalism vs. Dependent origination? (Kalakarama sutta)

Postby Kenshou » Sun Sep 26, 2010 11:22 pm

beeblebrox wrote:I'm not sure, but I see no conflict here. I probably view D.O. a bit differently. (probably, there's a lot of ways to put it together!)

The D.O. doesn't say that there are "separate" things that support each other, but points out that in reality, these "separate" things actually rely on each other for their existences.


It seems to me the statement that "in reality, these "separate" things actually rely on each other" is contradictory to the "A tathagata does not conceive..." thing because the first statement is trying to say something about reality (do you mean "objective reality" or some other nuance?), while the latter is claiming non-assumption of the same stuff. Perhaps "incompatible" would be more accurate than "contradictory". But then, as I guess I've said before, it might not be that this matters since dependent origination in the forward sequence is a guide to the samsaric mind, and so naturally it would be incomparable to the awakened mind.

What I am interested in also is seeing how exactly the first perspective becomes the other. My best guess is that, due to self-conceit the "world" of experience is divided into subject vs object, and upon the removal of self-conceit that dichotomy collapses, removing the notion of "internal and external", which is the undoing of the six sense-based which rely on that dichotomy. And from that perspective of unconceptualized experience it is known that the notion of an external object is really a speculation, proliferation. Which is of course not a negation of anything but simply the non-forming of views. But I'm not sure, it's tricky!

It's not really a big deal, but it is very interesting.

Also, I've wondered about the implications of that non-proliferating perspective. If, from the perspective of a buddha, without views about anything beyond the experiential, what motivation is there to teach? Why get up and teach the masses that you cannot prove really exist one way or the other? I suppose it was said that a Buddha has the iddhi to know another's mind directly, and through would be able to see "Ah, there is suffering happening there, I could help get rid of that, so I shall." But then to the arahant that lacks such an ability the previous dilemma is still relevant.

I'm certainly not trying to argue in support of the old crap of "Well people don't really exist because everything is empty!", in fact that is the junk that I precisely want to avoid.
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