I'm not really happy with what I have written, on two accounts. Firstly I feel there is a high change that I am simply misrepresenting what the author has said. Secondly I very much doubt I have made anything more concise, I have simply elaborated in an attempt to make things clearer. The more I progress into this seeming quagmire, the less I become certain that there's a coherent argument within, there is a vast amount of text left at the bottom which I really couldn't progress with, mostly because I don't know how I would rephrase it. I'm glad I've at least given it a try, anyway:
A lot of what Ven. Nyanavira says only makes sense with a good degree of background in the method of thought he employs. Ven Nyanavira's argument originates from his emphasis on direct reflexive experience, this places the objective world and science in brackets, and excludes it from having any value in our attempts to understand the Buddha's teachings, which he sees as entirely concerned with the individual. Thus his argument against flux is primarily intended for an audience which have already accepted and cultivated the subjective view, he is in a sense preaching to the converted.
Ven. Nyanavira believed that any attempted solution to the problem of one's existence that ignored the 3 laws of thought
(a) was necessarily frivolous. He states that if the thinker abides by these laws and examines what comprises his existence he will sooner or later stumble upon a contradiction he cannot solve - The existence of the thinker himself (b), which is the same problem that the Buddha shows a solution to. These laws are for Ven. Nyanavira axiomatic and he employs them to no small degree in his writings.
So we come to the question of flux which Ven. Nyanavira says can be expressed as follows:
A = B, B = C, A is not equal to C, where A, B, and C, are consecutive (Poincaré's definition of continuity).
I assume this equation to mean that A becomes B and B becomes C, whereby the relationship between A and B is equal, as is B and C, but there is no clear relationship between A and C. Now let us bring in the laws of thought
A is, as it is.
A is not both B and not B
A is either B or not B.
A -> B -> C.
A = B, B = C, A does not equal C.
On the face of things this appears well and good, but when we examine it we can see that such an idea violates the principle of identity, for if A = B, and B = C then A must equal C, however it does not. Thus for the flux argument A is not A, it has no self identity, and thus they say, it is anicca = anatta.
This, of course, destroys the principle of self-identity, 'A is A'; for unless something endures unchanged for at least a certain interval of time you cannot even make the assertion 'this is A' since the word 'is' has lost its meaning.
So for A to be, it must be what it is for at least some amount of time, and since flux denies that A is A on principle by asserting a constant becoming, it cannot be said that anything is
, instead it is stated that 'it is not
'. This is an argument against pure flux, and the assumption is that it is the view that your average Theravadin holds to. This assumption cannot be verified. However the story may be with regard to the average Theravadin's views, it might be beneficial to contrast the flux view of 'it is not' with a sutta passage:
“Matter (Feeling…; Perception…; Conditions…; Consciousness…) that is impermanent, woeful, and liable to change is reckoned to exist by the sages in the world; and of that I too say ‘It is
.’” — S. XXII,94: iii,139.
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:The misunderstanding arises from failure to see that change at any given level of generality must be discontinuous and absolute, and that there must be different levels of generality. When these are taken together, any desired approximation to 'continuous change' can be obtained without contradiction.
Rephrased, when people:
- Ignore the necessity for discontinuous and absolute change.
- Ignore that there must be different levels of generality.
Then they can arrive at the notion of continuous change without contradicting themselves. The 'necessity' does not seem to be explained.
Different levels of generality are described by Ven. Bodhesako in his essay 'Change' which really needs no adjustment:
Ven. Bodhesako wrote:The usual argument for flux runs like this: We can see that comparatively major changes (the manufacture and eventual destruction of my concrete slab, for example) occur infrequently. Subsidiary changes (e.g. cracks; chipping around the edges) are more common events. Minor changes (scratches on the surface, accumulation of dirt) can be noticed yet more often. It is easy enough to perceive in this progression a principle: less significant changes tend to occur more frequently than more general ones. There is the temptation to leap from this to the notion that below the threshold of perception changes are occurring, though we cannot observe them, with yet-greater frequency. It requires only one further extrapolation to reach the conclusion that ultimately (as opposed to merely conventionally) everything is changing, on an atomic level, all the time: flux. And, it is explained, it is because we fail to see this truth that we form attachments to the impermanent, thereby exposing ourselves to misery.
It is seen at once that this argument (which is certainly reductio, if not ad absurdum) bases itself upon the observation that things change at diverse rates, subsidiary changes occurring more frequently, and that it concludes with the view that things change at the same rate, constantly. Not everyone will accept a conclusion which contradicts its own premises, but those who will do so once must be prepared to do so twice. For the whole purpose of this double extrapolation from observed discrete change to hypothesized continuous change — based as it is upon analogy rather than upon necessity — is to then use this very flux as an explanation of that same discrete change. Manifest discrete impermanence is taken as the gross outcome of the extremely subtle hypostasized changes that constitute a Reality as yet hidden from our perception. Flux is thus conceived as a sort of primordial essence.
If everything changes at the same rate then how is it that we are aware of slow and fast, and base our lives upon this perception? Ketchup pours slowly, but a shooting star flashes across the sky. Are we to ascribe this to a misperception of reality? Do meteors fall slower for enlightened beings? Does ketchup pour faster? But if an enlightened being perceives different rates of change he cannot also perceive continuous universal change. If some things change faster then necessarily there must be some moments (if we insist upon this concept of “moments”) when other things do not change at all. Therefore if we posit a relationship between constant and variable change then that relationship is necessarily self-contradictory. However, if the relationship is severed then either the notion of flux must remain divorced from the realm of experience or else we must suppose a world in which continuous and discontinuous change are operative independently — a schizoid world!
Ven. Nyanavira wrote: But change, as marking 'the passage of time', is no more than change of aspect or orientation: change of substance is not necessary, nor is movement.
To the individual (who is our concern).
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:Kierkegaard (op. cit., p. 277) points out that Heraclitus, who summed up his doctrine of universal flux in the celebrated dictum that one cannot pass through the same river twice, had a disciple who remarked that one cannot pass through the same river even once. If everything is changing, there is no change at all.
While the latter statement is perfectly crystalline, I cannot quite make out it's relevance to the former.
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:The assumption of a single absolute time, conceived as a uniform continuity (or flux) of instants, leads at once to a very common misconception of the Dhamma:
A. Even if I now perceive things as self-identically persisting in time, my present perception is only one out of a flux or continuous succession of perceptions, and there is no guarantee that I continue to perceive the same self-identities for two successive instants. All I am therefore entitled to say is that there appear to be self-identities persisting in time; but whether it is so or not in reality I am quite unable to discover.
Here we superimpose the abstract notion of time and flux upon our experience - our perception of a self identity and theorize that because of flux, my self identity is not necessarily the same self identity in the next instant and therefore self-identity only appears to persist in time. A wholly speculative effort.
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:B. The Buddha's teachings of impermanence and not-self answer this question in the negative: In reality no things exist, and if they appear to do so that is because of my ignorance of these teachings (which is avijjá).
The above should be quite clear given our discussion above on flux as anicca = anatta.
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:But we may remark: (i) That A is the result of taking presumptively the rational view of time, and using it to question the validity of direct reflexive experience. But the rational view of time is itself derived, ultimately, from direct reflexive experience -- how can we know about time at all, if not from experience? --, and it is quite illegitimate to use it to dig away its own foundations.
When we question whether our self identity is the same self identity in the next moment, we're using an abstract notion, this abstract notion we can only come to have known through our direct experience of change, the subjective experience.
Ven. Nyanavira wrote:The fault is in the act of rationalization, in the attempt to see time from a point outside it; and the result -- a continuous succession of isolated instants each of no duration and without past or future (from a timeless point of view they are all present) -- is a monster. The distinction in A (as everywhere else) between 'appearance' and 'reality' is wholly spurious. (ii) That since our knowledge of time comes only from perception of change, the nature of change must be determined before we can know the structure of time. We have, therefore, no antecedent reason -- if we do not actually encounter the thing itself -- for entertaining the self-contradictory idea (see Poincaré above) of continuous change. (iii) That, whether or not we do actually perceive continuous change, we certainly perceive discontinuous changes (so much is admitted by A), and there is thus a prima-facie case at least in favour of the latter. (iv) That the experiments of the Gestalt psychologists indicate that, in fact, we perceive only discontinuous changes, not continuous change (cf. Sartre, op. cit., p. 190). (v) That if, nevertheless, we say that we do at times and in the normal way have intuitive experience, distinct and unambiguous, of continuous change, and if we also say that continuous change, in accordance with B, is what is meant by the teaching of impermanence, then it will follow that at such times we must enjoy a direct view of 'reality' and be free from avijjá. Why, then, should we need a Buddha to tell us these things? But if we reject the first premiss we shall have no longer any grounds for having to assert a uniformly continuous time, and if we reject the second we shall have no longer any grounds for wishing to assert it.
Our undeniable experience of movement and similar things (e.g. the fading of lights) will no doubt be adduced as evidence of continuous change -- indeed, it will be said that they are continuous change. That movement is evidence of what it is, is quite certain; but it is not so certain that it is evidence of continuous change. We may understand movement as, at each level of generality, a succession of contiguous fixed finite trajectories (to borrow Sartre's expression), and each such trajectory, at the next lower level, as a relatively faster succession of lesser trajectories, and so on indefinitely. But, as discussed in FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE [h], our ability to perceive distinctions is limited, and this hierarchy of trajectories is anomalously apprehended as a series of discrete continuities of displacement -- which is, precisely, what we are accustomed to call movement. In other words, it is only where our power of discrimination leaves off that we start talking about 'continuous change'. (Consideration of the mechanism of the cinematograph -- see the foregoing reference -- is enough to show that continuous change cannot safely be inferred from the experience of movement; but it must not be supposed that the structure of movement can be reduced simply to the structure of the cinematograph film. See also FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE [m].)
a: Identity—"A is A;” Contradiction—"A is not both B and not B;” Excluded Middle—"A is either B or not B.”
b: http://nanavira.xtreemhost.com/index.ph ... &Itemid=50
c: http://pathpress.wordpress.com/bodhesak ... -for-flux/