Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

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zan
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Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by zan »

The following is based on a misconception, misunderstanding, ignorance and utter stupidity on my part and is COMPLETELY incorrect.

So I erroneously always thought that the aggregates were a person or being.

That the aggregate of form was a being's body, the aggregate of feelings were a being's feelings, perceptions were a being's perceptions and so on.

Today I learned that the aggregate of form includes ALL form, feelings include ALL feelings and likewise with the other aggregates. So that means when a being is referred to as the aggregates, or whenever the aggregates are referred to at all, that being or those aggregates are a monism and what is being referred to is everything in the universe?

So ultimately there is a great monism, no individual beings, no separation, just one big blob called "the aggregates"?

If this is the case, why in the world are all of these categories and terms discussed when the suttas could simply discuss "oneness" like so many other religions?

Why are there five aggregates when they encompass the entire universe? Should they not just be called "the all" as the six senses and their bases are called in a sutta?

Even if the aggregates are designating a single being then that being must be a monism since that single beings aggregates include everything in the universe, right? If they are not designating a single being, then are they not still a monism?

Here is why I am asking:

The definition of of the aggregates goes like this:

"The Blessed One said, "Now what, monks, are the five aggregates?

"Whatever form is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: That is called the form aggregate."

And likewise for the other aggregates.

-SN 22.48

And

"And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations? ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct? They construct conditioned form as form; they construct conditioned feeling as feeling; they construct conditioned perception as perception; they construct conditioned volitional formations as volitional formations; they construct conditioned consciousness as consciousness. ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations."

-SN 22.79

I always thought this was referring to an individual beings form, feelings, etc. in other lives, as referencing "far or near" in time (past lives), not space, but that it was still talking about a single entity and that there were many of these entities. But it appears that it is referring to everything all at once, and never to a single entity? And if volitional formations can make every single aggregate, then they make everything in the universe and so we have a dual layer of self contained, self generating oneness where everything is generated by everything, right?

So a planet in another galaxy is the form aggregate ("near or far") when referring to one being or just the aggregate itself, so is another being's form, space dust light years away, rocks on the other side of the Earth, everything. Likewise with a perception on that planet, another being, etc. and so on for the other aggregates.

So outside of the aggregates there is nothing but Nibbana?

We have monism and Nibbana?

Why not discuss things as "oneness" or whatever like every other religion? Most religions talk of oneness but still differentiate between normal experience, said oneness and some kind of afterlife.

So could we not just have suttas explaining oneness and how to give up clinging to oneness or manyness or whatever is seen as the problem so that one may enter Nibbana after death?

Instead there are countless categories and distinctions. Lists upon lists explaining every little thing when all that is meant is "everything" I don't get it.

Could someone please clear this up for me?

Am I wrong? Do the suttas differentiate between individual beings, things, etc.? Or is it monism and there is ultimately nothing to differentiate? Where things are discussed in terms of beings and things, etc. but the ultimate teaching is that of oneness?

Rather like Mahayana and the conventional reality where there are distinctions and ultimate reality where all is one? In the Mahayana even Nirvana and Samsara are one, although I do not believe that this is possible in the Nikayas.
Last edited by zan on Wed Jul 19, 2017 2:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.
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Javi
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Javi »

The Buddha rejects monism in various suttas, like the Alagaddūpama Sutta MN 22 and in the SN 12.48 Lokayatika Sutta.

So clearly he's not saying that all the aggregates are part of one big aggregate pudding. The Great Pudding would be considered eternalism, which is an extreme and hence not the middle way.

The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness".
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14
Caodemarte
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Caodemarte »

Javi wrote:The Buddha rejects monism in various suttas, like the Alagaddūpama Sutta MN 22 and in the SN 12.48 Lokayatika Sutta.

So clearly he's not saying that all the aggregates are part of one big aggregate pudding. The Great Pudding would be considered eternalism, which is an extreme and hence not the middle way.

The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness".
Would it be a tasty pudding ?

The Middle Way rejects both extremes, but this does this mean that it splits the difference or forms a synthesis or mishmash? Clearly not in the Mahayana's Madhyamaka (see "The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of Madhyamika System" by T.R.V. Murti which traces this to early Buddhism), precisely to reject untenable monism and the untenable isolated elements position. David Kalupahana's "Nagarajuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way" controversially argues that Madhyamaka thought is indeed Theravada thought. Is this correct or does orthodox Theravada hold that the Middle Way is to form a synthesis, take a position that has a little of both (like bring a lttle bit pregnant) or be equally distant to both? If so, we seem right back to monism or isolated aggregates.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Wed Jul 19, 2017 1:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
zan
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by zan »

Javi wrote:The Buddha rejects monism in various suttas, like the Alagaddūpama Sutta MN 22 and in the SN 12.48 Lokayatika Sutta.

So clearly he's not saying that all the aggregates are part of one big aggregate pudding. The Great Pudding would be considered eternalism, which is an extreme and hence not the middle way.

The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness".
Thanks.
I know of the SN sutta as well and that's the way I have always understood it. Then I read SN 22.79 and have been extremely confused since.

Could you post the section from MN 22 where The Buddha rejects monism? I am unable to find that part.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.
zan
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by zan »

I think maybe I understand where I got confused.

I was thinking the aggregates denoted a single being at a time.

Then I learned that they are much broader categories that include everything.

This lead to me thinking that all things are generated by one set of aggregates or one being which is TECHNICALLY allowed in this vein of thinking.

However the suttas clearly speak about a multitude of beings and a multitude of aggregates and refute oneness.

This means that while the aggregates do include and produce all things, there are many factors involved and many beings in play meaning that all of these things are interacting with each other and no one being is producing all experience but rather all beings share each other's experiences.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.
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Javi
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Javi »

Caodemarte wrote:
Javi wrote:The Buddha rejects monism in various suttas, like the Alagaddūpama Sutta MN 22 and in the SN 12.48 Lokayatika Sutta.

So clearly he's not saying that all the aggregates are part of one big aggregate pudding. The Great Pudding would be considered eternalism, which is an extreme and hence not the middle way.

The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness".
Would it be a tasty pudding ?

The Middle Way rejects both extremes, but this does this mean that it splits the difference or forms a synthesis or mishmash? Clearly not in the Mahayana's Madhyamaka (see "The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of Madhyamika System" by T.R.V. Murti which traces this to early Buddhism), precisely to reject untenable monism and the untenable isolated elements position. David Kalupahana's "Nagarajuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way" controversially argues that Madhyamaka thought is indeed Theravada thought. Is this correct or does orthodox Theravada hold that the Middle Way is to form a synthesis, take a position that has a little of both (like bring a lttle bit pregnant) or be equally distant to both? If so, we seem right back to monism or isolated aggregates.

No its not a synthesis or a mishmash. That's actually the Jain position (syadvada) "in some ways" it is and it isnt.

It's a letting go of all positions (papañca).
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14
Caodemarte
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Caodemarte »

Javi wrote:

No its not a synthesis or a mishmash. That's actually the Jain position (syadvada) "in some ways" it is and it isnt.

It's a letting go of all positions (papañca).
On at least this point then Murti and Kalupahana, op. cit., are then correct that the Madhyamaka is not a change from Nikaya Buddhist thought (Murti) or Theravada teaching (Kalupahana). If we let go of all positions then we restore Theravada as a path to liberation (leading to the abandonment of clinging to our positions and imposition of conditions which is the path to conditionless Nibbana). I would take then the "construction" of matter or aggregates as the imposition of the mental categories we cling to so strongly. This is the (mental) "creation" of matter and the aggregates. They have no separate existence or non-existence and therefore cannot be created as God creates the universe in the Abrahamic religions.

That's my uneducated reading anyway.
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Sam Vara »

Javi wrote: The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness". [....]


It's a letting go of all positions (papañca).
Could you please explain this a little more? How is the idea of "letting go of all positions" midway between two other positions? Normally in English we don't say that something midway between two positions is in fact a letting go of those positions and all others. We would normally mean that we have taken a bit of both positions; or that we had synthesised the two positions to create a third position. Is this an idiosyncratic use of the term that we only find within Buddhism?

If we drop all positions (taking "positions" to mean a view or opinion as to the facts of the case) does that mean in this case that we give up trying to formulate such a position? If we can't say that "collections of aggregates are totally separate from one another", nor that "all aggregates are one big oneness", then what can we say of the agregates to answer the question?
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by vinasp »

Hi zan,

"The Blessed One said, "Now what, monks, are the five aggregates?
"Whatever form is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: That is called the form aggregate." -SN 22.48"

It seems that the form aggregate is intended to include all form in some sense. But it probably means all the form that one is experiencing at any given time, and not all the form which exists in our modern objective sense. Note that 'experiencing' is here intended to include memory, and imagination.

Consider this passage from MN 28:

"... But when internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range and there is the corresponding conscious engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness.

“The material form in what has thus come to be is included in the material form aggregate affected by clinging. The feeling in what has thus come to be is included in the feeling aggregate affected by clinging. The perception in what has thus come to be is included in the perception aggregate affected by clinging. The formations in what has thus come to be are included in the formations aggregate affected by clinging. The consciousness in what has thus come to be is included in the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging. He understands thus: ‘This, indeed, is how there comes to be the inclusion, gathering, and amassing of things into these five aggregates affected by clinging. Now this has been said by the Blessed One: “One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen..." [MN 28]

This seems, to me, to be saying that ones state of mind at any given moment will include (experienced) form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness. The ordinary man automatically clings to all these things.

So perhaps SN 22.48 should be understood as saying:
"Whatever form is [experienced whether] past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: That is called the form aggregate."

Another interpretation would be that actual form is not the same as the form aggregate. The form aggregate consists of 'objectified form', which means a mental object constructed as a counterpart to a subject which is also constructed.

In my opinion, the Aggregate teaching is not yet understood, so perhaps we should not jump to conclusions.

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by aflatun »

I don't think you can have a proper monism without substance or essence, and DO would seem to make such things impossible.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16
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Javi
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Javi »

Sam Vara wrote:
Javi wrote: The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness". [....]


It's a letting go of all positions (papañca).
Could you please explain this a little more? How is the idea of "letting go of all positions" midway between two other positions? Normally in English we don't say that something midway between two positions is in fact a letting go of those positions and all others. We would normally mean that we have taken a bit of both positions; or that we had synthesised the two positions to create a third position. Is this an idiosyncratic use of the term that we only find within Buddhism?

If we drop all positions (taking "positions" to mean a view or opinion as to the facts of the case) does that mean in this case that we give up trying to formulate such a position? If we can't say that "collections of aggregates are totally separate from one another", nor that "all aggregates are one big oneness", then what can we say of the agregates to answer the question?
Yea I'd say that the way the Buddha uses the phrase "middle way" is not the same Aristotelian or Hegelian way we would use it here in the West (as "meeting in the middle" or synthesis of thesis and antithesis).

Rather it is a letting go of both extreme positions and in some cases four extremes using the model of the tetralemma.

How do we talk about the aggregates? We can say a lot about them from a phenomenal descriptive perspective without talking about their ontological existence. Form has a hardness to it sometimes, also a quality of flowing and wetness, temperature, etc.

But we are not making absolute statements about it, just describing it. What is it "really?" or "in itself" though? The Buddha has no position on this.
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by vinasp »

Hi everyone,

The idea that the aggregates are not individual is found in the Abhidhamma and the Commentaries.

For example, Bhikkhu Bodhi said in a 1976 paper:

"There is actually no such thing as "one's own aggregates" or "the aggregates of others", differently classifiable according to the perspective. There are only aggregates internal and external, and all aggregates internal or external that can become objects of the cankers and clingings are to be classified as the five clinging aggregates."

[Aggregates and Clinging Aggregates. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Pali Buddhist Review, vol. 1, No. 2, 1976, page 96.]

This is a difficult topic because most of us are familiar only with the discourses.

My own opinion is that the Abhidhamma is a teaching which differs from the discourses in substantial ways.

Since the Commentators seem to base their expositions on the Abhidhamma system this raises the question of whether or not the Commentaries are correctly interpreting the discourses.

My own view is that the earlier teachings were re-interpreted to meet the needs of the followers of the popular religion which developed over the two hundred year period after the Buddha's demise.

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Sam Vara »

Javi wrote: Yea I'd say that the way the Buddha uses the phrase "middle way" is not the same Aristotelian or Hegelian way we would use it here in the West (as "meeting in the middle" or synthesis of thesis and antithesis).

Rather it is a letting go of both extreme positions and in some cases four extremes using the model of the tetralemma.
Thanks. I would have thought that the concept of "middle" is independent of culture and does not lend itself well to idiosyncratic use, and therefore is a matter of simple common sense. I don't really understand why the Buddha used the term majjhima patipada in that context, but I suppose context is everything, and you are right to point out that he didn't use it to mean "in between" or "partaking of both", etc. I thought that your initial phrasing:
The answer to your question lies in the middle between "collections of aggregates are totally separate from each other" and "all aggregates are one big oneness".
meant that you thought that in this case he did. "Between" means something more precise than "other than".
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Javi
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Javi »

Yes, I should have been more clear
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14
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Sam Vara
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Re: Other than distinction between everything and Nibbana, is Nikaya Buddhism monistic?

Post by Sam Vara »

Javi wrote:Yes, I should have been more clear
No worries, and thanks for your response. It's always useful for me to think these things through.
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