Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

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Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby pink_trike » Mon May 04, 2009 7:01 am

christopher::: wrote:...and it would make sense (to me) if there is really only ONE of us here, cause then anything anyone does is something "we" are doing. It makes sense if everything terrible that happens is something we are all responsible for, that we all must help as best as we can, cause karma doesn't "belong" to anybody, its just happening cause of situations set into motion by "our" collective ignorance, and we do our best to assist...


Imo, what Christopher is pointing at here is _very_ important - and worth serious consideration as we attempt to understand the recorded so-called "Buddhist" teachings in these confused modern times which are best described as the era of "I don't know".

The contemporary meme of the primacy of the individual is a relatively new mental construct in human history and self-perception - a meme that is taken for granted to the point of delusion by _all_ modern people (you, too) to an unrecognizable depth - this view affects how we see/interpret everything - premodern recollections and wisdom knowledge (suttas) included.

The "individual" is unconsciously (without thought) presumed to be the center of all existence by all modern people - most of us are cognitively jailed by this perception. So, what would happen if we were to "hear" the suttas without the filter of "I" that we unconsciously take for granted, and with which we unconsciously read the suttas? Most premodern societies went to great lengths, even extreme lengths, to de-emphasis an "individual" sense of existence, and vigorously brought to the foreground of perception the idea of a collective sense of existence. An example of this is the many years of enforced migration recorded in the early Hopi chronicles - ritualistic hardship that was designed to burn-out the disease of individuality through decades of uncertainty and constant change. Also, many premodern cultures required an extreme adulthood initiatory experience of community-inflicted pain in order to drive home the perception of the primacy of the human collective existence. Community members would inflict the physical/emotional pain - ranging from intense scarification coupled with emotional belittlement, to enforced deprivation, which were symbolically representative of human vulnerability in a dangerous Earth - and then the community would heal it, driving home the message that humans are vulnerable and need each other in order to survive and thrive in the present, and assumed/implicit in any manifestation of the future. What if we were to read the suttas the same way?

The underlying message was always that the tendency to see ourself as separate was a pernicious dis-ease that needed to be guarded against with extreme measures - viewed with clarity, we are one eusocial organism. The tendency that humans have toward perceptual "separateness" was viewed as an illness that needed strong community intervention. Implicit in this view is the understanding that the needs of the human colony override individual reactive desires.

This perception of a collective human organism (yes, like an ant colony) was pervasive in premodern people - and is quite inconsistent with the modernly perceived idea (nowhere contemporarily illustrated better than in the modern understanding of Buddhist sutta) that seems to place emphasized importance on an individual existence that moves from life to life, at the negative/positive effect of individualistic behavior/thoughts.

I've wondered for decades about the presumed emphasis on the individual "I" in terms of kamma and rebirth in the suttas. It should be obvious by now for all thinking people that the teachings aren't individualistically literalistic. I find it very interesting to read the suttras "queered" by the idea that there was no perceived individual in them...that rebirth and kamma are part of a collective perception that would correspond to our contemporary understanding of dna/genomics and "rebirth" (re-creation) in the context of the organismic existence of the human community. What we individually think/effect through our thoughts/actions in turn affects our collective genetic presence - our individual genetic presence is the forerunner of all human collective genetic existence - the collective quality of mind being determined by individual quality of mind.

What if rebirth and kamma were meant to be understood within a view of a collective human genetic colony, rather than so-called human "individuality? The idea that any premodern thought was interested in "personal" evolution is kinda absurd. Bluntly stated, the quality of our mind now - creates the quality of future collective existence.

What do you think? Is mind the forerunner of all things?
Last edited by pink_trike on Mon May 04, 2009 7:50 pm, edited 13 times in total.
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Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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Re: Human eusocial colony or targeted "individual"?

Postby zavk » Mon May 04, 2009 8:28 am

Hi PT and friends,

I too like the idea of 'collective kamma', which by implication is also to suggest 'collective rebirth'. But let me suspend this question of rebirth for now as I really don't wish to go down that track again.....

Buddhists like David Loy and Ken Jones, who employ Buddhist ideals for social theory, have suggested the idea of 'collective kamma'. This is the idea that the forces that impels us to enact again and again the Three Poisons of greed, ill-will and ignorance are not simply 'internal', 'individual' forces but also collective forces that can be identified in various institutional discourses and practices. It is these collective forces that generate 'collective dukkha'.

I like this idea of 'collective kamma' because it encourages a less individualistic outlook on one's Dhamma practice. As we all know, we cultivate the path to remove kilesas such as greed, hatred, ill-will, etc, etc. It is by the eradication of kilesas that we liberate ourselves from dukkha. And traditionally, kilesas have been explained as 'internal' proclivities that condition how we act, and hence, how we generate kamma.

Loy and Jones use the idea of 'collective kamma' to encourage engaged Buddhism. They formulate the term as a means to extend Dhamma practice beyond the confines of individual concern. According to this idea of 'collective kamma', what drives our actions towards greed, ill-will, etc, can be located 'externally' too. This suggests to me that if we want to eradicate kilesas, we need to also attend to how they are perpetuated 'externally' in various social discourses and practices. In other words, we need to become aware of our position in society, as a collective, to see that such kilesas are shared problems.

We talk about sankharas as the mental formations or dispositions that influence our actions. As I understand it, 'sankhara' also connotes any compounded phenomenon, from the most concrete objects such as mountains to the most abstract ideas such as Quantum Physics. So if Awakening is about understanding the nature of sankharas, shouldn't we also bring 'external' compounded phenomena (which might include anything, from our consumerist behaviour to attitudes about a particular gender/sexuality) within the scope of our practice, as our circumstances allow? Perhaps this is how we might come to really see the individual and society, self and others, as mutually constitutive?

So yes, I agree that it is fruitful to conceptualise Buddhist soteriology in a more collective fashion--this is not a subtle appeal to Mahayana ideals btw; as I have suggested above we can do this with the terms that are normally used in Theravada.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon May 04, 2009 12:17 pm

Hi PT,
pink_trike wrote:...
The contemporary meme of the primacy of the individual is a relatively new mental construct in human history and self-perception - a meme that is taken for granted to the point of delusion by _all_ modern people (you, too) to an unrecognizable depth - this view affects how we see/interpret everything - premodern recollections and wisdom knowledge (suttas) included.
...
I've wondered for decades about the presumed emphasis on the individual "I" in terms of kamma and rebirth in the suttas. ...

I certainly agree that the individualistic ideal seems to be something of an aberration.

While to a certain exent the Suttas could be read from a "collective" point of view, I wonder about passages along the lines of: "beings are the owners of their own kamma..."

It would also be interesting to hear from some of our Abhidhamma experts about whether the Abhidhamma could possibly be interpreted in the way you suggest.

Metta
Mike

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby Dhammanando » Tue May 05, 2009 7:06 am

Hi Pink Trike,

I've wondered for decades about the presumed emphasis on the individual "I" in terms of kamma and rebirth in the suttas. It should be obvious by now for all thinking people that the teachings aren't individualistically literalistic.


Then I suppose I must be a non-thinking person, for to me it's quite obvious that they are.

As I understand it, kamma in the Buddha's teaching concerns the fourth aggregate, volitional formations (saṅkhārā), while vipāka concerns the remaining aggregates, especially vedanā and viññāṇa. Regarding these aggregates the Buddha has said:


    “The five aggregates are truly burdens,
    And the bearer of the burden is the individual (puggala).
    Taking up the burden is suffering in the world,
    Laying down the burden is blissful.”
    (Bhārasutta, SN. iii. 25-6)


So, it's the individual who bears the burden of kamma and its vipāka. Not the family, not the clan, not the tribe, not the local workers' soviet, not the nation, not any supposed universal puruṣa, nor any supposed collective mind of all sentient beings.

Translated into abhidhammic terms, the "individual" (puggala) who bears the burden is a conventional designation for a mind-continuum still afflicted with ignorance and craving, while the "individual" who has laid down the burden is a conventional designation for a mind-continuum liberated from ignorance and craving. And the mind-continua that constitute different sentient beings are conceived as incorrigibly discrete and incorrigibly plural. So a kamma arising, say, in the Dhammanando-continuum, will not yield its vipāka in the Pink Trike-continuum.

What if rebirth and kamma were meant to be understood within a view of a collective human genetic colony, rather than so-called human "individuality?


They weren't.

    “Then Lord Yama says: ‘Good man, through negligence you have failed to do good by body, speech, and mind ... But this evil action of yours was not done by your mother or your father, or by your brother or your sister, or by your friends and companions, or by your kinsmen and relatives, or by recluses and brahmins, or by gods: this evil action was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’”
    (MN. 130)


    By oneself is evil done, by oneself is one defiled;
    By oneself is evil shunned, by oneself is one refined.

    To polish or stain, on ourselves it depends,
    For a person cannot by another be cleansed.
    (Dhammapada 165)

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby zavk » Wed May 06, 2009 12:27 am

Dear Bhante,

If I may ask some further questions...

First of all, thank you for the reminder :anjali: :

“The five aggregates are truly burdens,
And the bearer of the burden is the individual (puggala).
Taking up the burden is suffering in the world,
Laying down the burden is blissful.”
(Bhārasutta, SN. iii. 25-6)


So, it's the individual who bears the burden of kamma and its vipāka. Not the family, not the clan, not the tribe, not the local workers' soviet, not the nation, not any supposed universal puruṣa, nor any supposed collective mind of all sentient beings.

Translated into abhidhammic terms, the "individual" (puggala) who bears the burden is a conventional designation for a mind-continuum still afflicted with ignorance and craving, while the "individual" who has laid down the burden is a conventional designation for a mind-continuum liberated from ignorance and craving. And the mind-continua that constitute different sentient beings are conceived as incorrigibly discrete and incorrigibly plural. So a kamma arising, say, in the Dhammanando-continuum, will not yield its vipāka in the Pink Trike-continuum.

.....

By oneself is evil done, by oneself is one defiled;
By oneself is evil shunned, by oneself is one refined.

To polish or stain, on ourselves it depends,
For a person cannot by another be cleansed.
(Dhammapada 165)



The Buddha's teaching of kamma is perhaps what sets it apart from others. I certainly appreciate how it teaches that one is fully (and can only be) responsible for one's own actions, that one can only direct the course of one's actions not others', nor expect others to change the course of one's own actions. To me, it is a powerful message about responsibility.

But I'm curious about this sentence:

And the mind-continua that constitute different sentient beings are conceived as incorrigibly discrete and incorrigibly plural.


Perhaps I'm being side-tracked by my interpretation of the phrasing used, but I'd like to ask:

- What relationship, if any, is there between the different, incorrigibly discrete and incorrigibly plural mind-continua? The impression I get is that each mind-continuum unfolds independently of others--hence, the kamma in zavk-continuum will only yield vipaka in zavk-continuum--but this raises the next question:

- How then might we avoid thinking of each mind-continuum as self-existing and self-present?

As I say, it could just be my interpretation of the phrasing you used. I'm not inclined to think of mind-continua as self-existing and self-present. But I feel I'm missing something that might 'fill in the gaps', as it were, in my reading of what you have written.

Many thanks. :anjali:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby Dhammanando » Wed May 06, 2009 5:13 am

Hi Zavk,

zavk wrote:- What relationship, if any, is there between the different, incorrigibly discrete and incorrigibly plural mind-continua?


There are all kinds of relationships and mutual affectivities between different mind-continua. In most realms (excluding the Formless ones) these will most commonly consist in the generation of mind-produced materialities (cittaja rūpa) of one sort or another. On one occasion, for example, the generation of wind element by non-greed-rooted cittas may cause one's arm to reach out and give a gift to a beggar. On another occasion, the generation of bodily-intimation materiality (kāyaviññatti-rūpa) by akusala cittas may result in the action conventionally known as "giving someone the finger."

- How then might we avoid thinking of each mind-continuum as self-existing and self-present?


Each continuum consists entirely of dhammas that are dependently arisen and marked by the three characteristics. Given that there is no constituent part that is self-existing, how could the continuum as a whole be?

As for "self-present", can you say what you mean by this?

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 06, 2009 5:35 am

Greetings pink_trike,

pink_trike wrote: Is mind the forerunner of all things?

I find that a pretty blatant instance (intentional or otherwise) of misconstruing what the opening two verses of the Dhammapada are actually saying.

As for the thrust of your argument, no. Venerable Dhammanado demonstrated that this line of argument is inconsistent with the suttas, it's inconsistent with the Abhidhamma and I've little doubt there is much more weight of evidence within the Pali Canon to debunk it

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby zavk » Wed May 06, 2009 6:26 am

Thanks for your response, Bhante. Your answers were most helpful.

In this context, I'm simply using 'self-present' as a kind of antonym for anatta, it's a phrase I borrowed from discussions about Husserlian phenomenology.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby pink_trike » Wed May 06, 2009 7:16 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings pink_trike,


As for the thrust of your argument, no. Venerable Dhammanado demonstrated that this line of argument is inconsistent with the suttas, it's inconsistent with the Abhidhamma and I've little doubt there is much more weight of evidence within the Pali Canon to debunk it

Metta,
Retro. :)

And yet, there it is in all it's logical consistency - if we choose to see it. An exercise in figure/ground. What do we see when we look at the moon? The rabbit, or the man?
Vision is Mind
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Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 06, 2009 7:22 am

Greetings Pink_trike,

How would you then reconcile this perspective with the sutta quotations provided by venerable Dhammanando?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby pink_trike » Wed May 06, 2009 7:26 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Pink_trike,

How would you then reconcile this perspective with the sutta quotations provided by venerable Dhammanando?

Metta,
Retro. :)

I don't reconcile it. I'm just asking questions. Reconciliation comes later, if it comes at all. I don't mind the uncertainty. There is a gap between what I consistently hear in the teachings underneath the "styles" for a lack of a better word, and the literal interpretations of the teachings. I listen to that gap largely without opinion, and I ask questions. I'm not a religionist, I'm a practicist - so I'm fine with deconstructing teachings for their possible encoded meaning or extended application. There are three areas that particularly interest me, for which I (and some scholars) believe there is good reason to inquire about:

1. there is clearly embedded in the teachings the same story that nearly every advanced (and some not so advanced) premodern cultures preserved regarding the "cycles of the heavens" - that has to do with specific realities of astronomy that affect life on Earth. Why this story is embedded in the teachings and then ignored fascinates me.

2. there is a classic shamanic process found in the teachings that are attributed to the Buddha that is found in most premodern cultures extending back into the mists of time. That commonality interests me.

3. Most premodern societies viewed people as a group, and greatly, insistently de-emphasized any idea of "individual". The human species was viewed as a single organism, like coral formations or bee colonies - living in relationship with the whole of life. The practical logic of the 4NT/8FP, kamma, dependent origination are very consistent with this view, yet it is denied by a literal interpretation with it's aberrant primacy of the individual that breaks the bonds of unity. That interests me also.

The longer I study the oral tradition/writings of a wide group of premodern people, the less unique "Buddhism" begins to look under the surface, particularly after scraping away the religiosity.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby Jechbi » Wed May 06, 2009 2:32 pm

That's all fine, Pink, and I find it interesting too. But the question in my mind is, how does all of that help you with your own suffering? From a purely practical standpoint, I don't see how it's helpful to try to engage the teachings broadly as a society. Ideally, it would be wonderful if that would occur. But practically speaking, the only opporutinity you have to truly engage is on an individual level, as Pink Trike.
:smile:
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But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Wed May 06, 2009 3:36 pm

It's an interesting theory presented in the OP. But to me it reads as another way to find a self, it's just more subtle. The "I" is replaced with multiple selves as a functioning unit, like an ant colony or a group of bees. It's still a form of selfing.

:anjali:

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Re: Human eusocial colony, or targeted "individual"?

Postby MMK23 » Wed May 06, 2009 3:52 pm

pink_trike wrote:1. there is clearly embedded in the teachings the same story that nearly every advanced (and some not so advanced) premodern cultures preserved regarding the "cycles of the heavens" - that has to do with specific realities of astronomy that affect life on Earth. Why this story is embedded in the teachings and then ignored fascinates me.


Hi Pink Trike, on this point there is an article that might interest you and perhaps lead you to other areas of study. You may well have read it already:

Cosmology and Meditation: From the Agañña-Sutta to the Mahāyāna, Rupert Gethin, History of Religions, Vol 36, No 3, 97 pp 183-217

In this article Gethin does mention a few competing theories on the meaning, methodology and pedagogy of the cycle of heavens, including one suggestion that the sutta is intended by the Buddha as humourous or ironic. My apologies because I have not read this article comprehensively.

2. there is a classic shamanic process found in the teachings that are attributed to the Buddha that is found in most premodern cultures extending back into the mists of time. That commonality interests me.


I'm interested in the shamanic process that you mention. Can you please share more on this, or PM me with some suggested reading.

Thanks :)


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