A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
zan
Posts: 1167
Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2016 1:57 pm

A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by zan »

We have a forum that contains a massive amount, possibly a majority of crypto-Madhyamaka-Yogacarins (everything is non existent, and/or imaginary/hallucination). The most common method of debate is to "find" Madhyamaka and/or Yogacara teachings in the Pali Canon, and then deny that these are Madhayamaka/Yogacara, and to claim that these views, in fact, come from the Pali Canon, while still agreeing that Nagarjuna and/or Vasubandhu had it right, or at least parroting what they taught, while, bafflingly, denying them entirely. The Pali Canon, we are told, teaches that nothing exists and/or that all is imaginary. In a typical debate, many quotes will be provided on emptiness that seem to agree with and support Nagarjuna's interpretation of the Dhamma. Thus, it may be interesting and useful for any classical Theravadins who find themselves in one of these debates, or find themselves confused and possibly even believing that Nagarjuna or Vaubandhu was right, and the suttas do teach that nothing exists, and/or everything is a hallucination, to learn that Nagarjuna was actually a realist, and his successors conclusively refuted the idea that nothing exists, and the idea that everything is a hallucination, going so far as to demonstrate that the argument that nothing exists is self refuting.

These points are elucidated here:

Madhyamaka is Not Nihilism, by Jay Garfield: https://jaygarfield.files.wordpress.com ... ilism1.pdf
Taking Conventional Truth Seriously, by Jay Garfield: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40666588?r ... b_contents

The Mulamadyhamakakarika's (Nagarjuna's foundational work) message is "not to say either that emptiness, dependent arising or conventional phenomena are nonexistent — that they are hallucinations. Indeed it is to say the opposite."
-Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Jay Garfield, p 177

Nagarjuna is in fact a robust realist, offering an analysis, not a refutation of existence.

Madhyamaka is Not Nihilism, page 1
Jay L Garfield
Smith College
University of Melbourne
Central University of Tibetan Studies
And here are just a few of the many quotes that demonstrate beyond any doubt (and can only be argued against by eel wiggling and redefining words) that the Buddha's teachings are wholly incompatible with the "nothing exists/everything is imaginary" school.
At Sāvatthī. “Bhikkhus, I do not dispute with the world; rather, it is the world that disputes with me. A proponent of the Dhamma does not dispute with anyone in the world. Of that which the wise in the world agree upon as not existing, I too say that it does not exist. And of that which the wise in the world agree upon as existing, I too say that it exists"

...

“And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as existing, of which I too say that it exists? Form that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists. Feeling … Perception … Volitional formations … Consciousness that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists.

“That, bhikkhus, is what the wise in the world agree upon as existing, of which I too say that it exists.

-SN 22.94

Commentary by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

This portion of the sutta offers an important counterpoint to the message of the Kaccānagotta Sutta (12:15). Here the Buddha emphasizes that he does not reject all ontological propositions, but only those that transcend the bounds of possible experience. While the Kaccānagotta Sutta shows that the “middle teaching” excludes static, substantialist conceptions of existence and nonexistence, the present text shows that the same “middle teaching” can accommodate definite pronouncements about these ontological issues. The affirmation of the existence of the five aggregates, as impermanent processes, serves as a rejoinder to illusionist theories, which hold that the world lacks real being.
Feeling, perception, and consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes. Therefore these qualities are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them."

...

What is the difference between one who is dead, who has completed his time, and a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling?"

"In the case of the one who is dead, who has completed his time, his bodily fabrications [breathing] have ceased & subsided, his verbal fabrications [thoughts] ... his mental fabrications [perceptions & feelings] have ceased & subsided, his vitality is exhausted, his heat subsided, & his faculties are scattered.

But in the case of a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, his bodily fabrications have ceased & subsided, his verbal fabrications ... his mental fabrications have ceased & subsided, his vitality is not exhausted, his heat has not subsided & his [physical sense organ] faculties are exceptionally clear [clean]. This is the difference between one who is dead, who has completed his time, and a monk who has attained the cessation of perception & feeling.
-MN 43
"If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. If internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range, but there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. 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." "Now there comes a time when the external water element is disturbed. It carries away villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries."
-MN 28
Here is a wonderful response, from another thread, by the Venerable Dhammanando to the question of what suttas support the Classical Theravada position that matter exists and is not imaginary:
Dhammanando wrote: It can be inferred from the fact that in the blind man simile the assertion of the contrary view is used as a simile for stupidity by the Buddha in MN 99 and Kumārakassapa in DN 23. Had the Buddha or his disciple held esse est percipi to be the case (or some other view along similar lines), then the simile would make no sense.
“Student, suppose there were a man born blind who could not see dark and light forms, who could not see blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms, who could not see what was even and uneven, who could not see the stars or the sun and moon. He might say thus: ‘There are no dark and light forms, and no one who sees dark and light forms; there are no blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms, and no one who sees blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms; there is nothing even and uneven, and no one who sees anything even and uneven; there are no stars and no sun and moon, and no one who sees stars and the sun and moon. I do not know these, I do not see these, therefore these do not exist.’ Speaking thus, student, would he be speaking rightly?”

“No, Master Gotama. There are dark and light forms, and those who see dark and light forms…there are the stars and the sun and moon, and those who see the stars and the sun and moon. Saying, ‘I do not know these, I do not see these, therefore these do not exist,’ he would not be speaking rightly.”

“So too, student, the brahmin Pokkharasāti is blind and visionless.
(Subhasutta, MN 99)

Here are some other relevant suttas:

MN 28
SN 35.33
SN 12.2
MN 99 DN 23
DN 15
SN 22.94
SN 12.15
DN 1 + MN 43


Finally, I've seen where crypto-Madhyamaka-Yogacarins argue that even the Abhidhamma taught that all is non-existent or imaginary, well, that also is false, as this can be found therein, where it is taught, quite clearly:
“All form is that which is...

void of idea,
neither feeling, nor perception, nor synthesis,
disconnected with thought,”
“form exists which is not due to karma having been wrought”
-Ds 2.2.3
And of course, the Katthavatthu of the Abhidhamma presents conclusive arguments to defeat these interpretations of the suttas. See Kv 9.3, where the idea that matter is subjective is defeated, Kv 7.7 where it is demonstrated that the Earth is not the result of kamma, Kv 22.8, where it is explained that mountains and oceans, and the external world in general are not momentary objects that coincide with consciousness, among others.

So, it becomes quite clear that the idea that the suttas teach that nothing exists or that all is imaginary is entirely false.
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.
User avatar
SDC
Posts: 7111
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:08 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by SDC »

zan wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 6:01 pm So, it becomes quite clear that the idea that the suttas teach that nothing exists or that all is imaginary is entirely false.
Of course it’s false.
Spiny Norman
Posts: 8331
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Spiny Norman »

IMO the inclusion of the mahabhuta in the suttas is significant here, particularly given the distinction made between internal and external mahabhuta (see MN140).
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
Ceisiwr
Posts: 13243
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:36 am

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Ceisiwr »

zan wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 6:01 pm
We have a forum that contains a massive amount, possibly a majority of crypto-Madhyamaka-Yogacarins (everything is non existent, and/or imaginary/hallucination).NThe most common method of debate is to "find" Madhyamaka and/or Yogacara teachings in the Pali Canon, and then deny that these are Madhayamaka/Yogacara, and to claim that these views, in fact, come from the Pali Canon, while still agreeing that Nagarjuna and/or Vasubandhu had it right, or at least parroting what they taught, while, bafflingly, denying them entirely...

to learn that Nagarjuna was actually a realist, and his successors conclusively refuted the idea that nothing exists, and the idea that everything is a hallucination, going so far as to demonstrate that the argument that nothing exists is self refuting.
I’m confused. Is Madhayamaka/Yogacara realist or not? If so, does that mean Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu then are in agreement with the Pali canon?
"Besides the two categories of paramattha (the real) and paññatti (concept), a third category does not exist. One who is skilful in these two categories does not tremble in the face of other teachings."

Abhidhammāvatāra by Ven. Buddhadatta
asahi
Posts: 737
Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2020 4:23 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by asahi »

Ceisiwr wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:03 pm I’m confused. Is Madhayamaka/Yogacara realist or not? If so, does that mean Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu then are in agreement with the Pali canon?
What do you mean by realist here ?
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
Posts: 24718
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Contact:

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings,
zan wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 6:01 pm We have a forum that contains a massive amount, possibly a majority of crypto-Madhyamaka-Yogacarins (everything is non existent, and/or imaginary/hallucination).
I don't know of anyone on this forum who holds such a view. It would appear to be a strawman you have created due to misunderstanding or misrepresenting alternative positions.

:strawman:

All the best.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
User avatar
DooDoot
Posts: 11380
Joined: Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:06 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by DooDoot »

zan wrote: Tue Jun 15, 2021 6:01 pm We have a forum that contains a massive amount, possibly a majority of crypto-Madhyamaka-Yogacarins (everything is non existent, and/or imaginary/hallucination).
Solipsism? :shrug:
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/paticcasamuppada
https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/anapanasati
Pulsar
Posts: 1320
Joined: Tue Feb 05, 2019 6:52 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Pulsar »

Zan wrote
The Pali Canon, we are told, teaches that nothing exists and/or that all is imaginary.
Can you pl clarify, "we are told", anyone can make up stuff like this, we are told, or they told us this.
Who told us this? Can you specify the person and the context in which it was told? Do you believe everything folks randomly tell you?
Would you not go to the Pali canon and try to verify the claim? If it turns out to be a lie, would you not immediately discard it, instead of repeating it on public "Dhamma" chat groups? What is your strategy?
I checked the Pali canon just now. SN 12.15 still writes
'All exists': Kaccana this is one extreme. 'All does not exist': this is one extreme.
Case closed.
With love :candle:
sphairos
Posts: 597
Joined: Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:37 am

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by sphairos »

Garfield is not a top Madhyamaka expert.

Top Madhymaka expert is, for example, Mark Siderits. In his interpretation, the true meaning of Madhyamaka is absolute non-being of everything. Everything and anything is literally non-existent. There is not anything.
How good and wonderful are your days,
How true are your ways?
Dan74
Posts: 3948
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm
Location: Switzerland

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Dan74 »

sphairos wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 6:54 pm Garfield is not a top Madhyamaka expert.

Top Madhymaka expert is, for example, Mark Siderits. In his interpretation, the true meaning of Madhyamaka is absolute non-being of everything. Everything and anything is literally non-existent. There is not anything.
Madhyamaka avoids asserting either existence or non-existence. Nagarjuna was at pains to make it clear that he was putting forward no metaphysics. So the point is not that something exists or does not, but firstly to even understand what is meant when we say "it exists".

Siderits says: " [according to] the Madhyamaka doctrine of emptiness, the claim [is] that all dharmas are devoid of svabhāva or intrinsic nature." Moreover, no actual existence (or non-existence) can be established. The Buddha summed it all neatly in the Sabba Sutta. Beyond the range.
_/|\_
sphairos
Posts: 597
Joined: Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:37 am

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by sphairos »

Dan74 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 8:11 pm
sphairos wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 6:54 pm Garfield is not a top Madhyamaka expert.

Top Madhymaka expert is, for example, Mark Siderits. In his interpretation, the true meaning of Madhyamaka is absolute non-being of everything. Everything and anything is literally non-existent. There is not anything.
Madhyamaka avoids asserting either existence or non-existence. Nagarjuna was at pains to make it clear that he was putting forward no metaphysics. So the point is not that something exists or does not, but firstly to even understand what is meant when we say "it exists".

Siderits says: " [according to] the Madhyamaka doctrine of emptiness, the claim [is] that all dharmas are devoid of svabhāva or intrinsic nature." Moreover, no actual existence (or non-existence) can be established. The Buddha summed it all neatly in the Sabba Sutta. Beyond the range.
That's not the position of Siderits.
How good and wonderful are your days,
How true are your ways?
Dan74
Posts: 3948
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm
Location: Switzerland

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Dan74 »

sphairos wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 8:32 pm
Dan74 wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 8:11 pm
sphairos wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 6:54 pm Garfield is not a top Madhyamaka expert.

Top Madhymaka expert is, for example, Mark Siderits. In his interpretation, the true meaning of Madhyamaka is absolute non-being of everything. Everything and anything is literally non-existent. There is not anything.
Madhyamaka avoids asserting either existence or non-existence. Nagarjuna was at pains to make it clear that he was putting forward no metaphysics. So the point is not that something exists or does not, but firstly to even understand what is meant when we say "it exists".

Siderits says: " [according to] the Madhyamaka doctrine of emptiness, the claim [is] that all dharmas are devoid of svabhāva or intrinsic nature." Moreover, no actual existence (or non-existence) can be established. The Buddha summed it all neatly in the Sabba Sutta. Beyond the range.
That's not the position of Siderits.
I think it is. If it isn't, please cite him to support this. His position is made clear here:
The Madhyamaka doctrine of emptiness is the claim that dharmas are likewise
devoid of intrinsic nature. If this is true it means that nothing is ultimately real. For
notice that the Ma¯dhyamika does not disagree with the negative side of the
A¯ bhidharmika’s ontological doctrine—that such aggregates as the chariot, the tree
and the person are only conventionally and not ultimately real. The disagreement is
over the positive side—whether there is anything whatsoever that strictly speaking
exists. Madhyamaka says there is not. This is what makes the metaphysical nihilist
interpretation seem so plausible to Madhyamaka’s foes.5 Those more sympathetic
toward Madhyamaka may take the lesson to be that while there is such a thing as
how things ultimately are, this can never be cognized using concepts, since all
conceptualization involves superimposing on what is ultimately real a nature that is
a mere fabrication. (On this interpretation there is only one ultimately true
statement: that the ultimate nature of reality is beyond conceptualization.) We hold,
though, that neither of these two ‘metaphysical’ interpretations of Madhyamaka
emptiness could be correct given Na¯ga¯rjuna’s repeated insistence that he does not
have a metaphysical view, an insistence that Ferraro, we believe, does not take
seriously enough, as it is patently inconsistent with his own reading.
https://jaygarfield.files.wordpress.com ... rfield.pdf
_/|\_
User avatar
Coëmgenu
Posts: 4587
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm
Location: Whitby, Canada

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by Coëmgenu »

When Venerable Nagarjuna says that the marks of arising, abiding, and ceasing are "like a dream, an illusion, a city of gandharvas," he actually means what he says. I can't comment on the Sanskrit or Tibetan, but here they are:

[7.34]/rmi lam ji bzhin sgyu ma bzhin/ /dri za'i grong khyer ji bzhin du/
/de bzhin skye dang de bzhin gnas/ /de bzhin du ni 'jig pa gsungs/
yathā māyā yathā svapno gandharvanagaraṃ yathā|
tathotpādastathā sthānaṃ tathā bhaṅga udāhṛtam||34||


The Chinese I can actually look at is here:

如幻亦如夢  
如乾闥婆城

如, here meaning "like" or "is likened to," can imply a straightforward equivalence between two things, but it more than often means just what the English word "like" means. Another sense related to this is "as an analogy..." when it is used as a standalone expression.

In the MMK-sastra T1564, Ven Vimalaksa states of "the true aspect of the many phenomena" (諸法實相) that it:
出諸心數法無生無滅寂滅相如涅槃
surpasses all of the phenomena of the mental factors. Unarisen, unceasing -- it is marked by quiet tranquility. It is like nirvāṇa.
His interlocutor picks up on this:
經中說諸法先來寂滅相即是涅槃何以言如涅槃
According to the words within the scriptures, any phenomena which from inception is characterized by quiet tranquility would be nirvāṇa. Why here say "like nirvāṇa?"
(T1564.24b29)

This establishes the usage of 如 as not necessarily marking straightforward equivalence. Why is this relevant?

如 like
幻 an illusion
亦 also
如 like
夢 a dream
如 like
乾闥婆 the gandharvas'
城 city
所說 that of which we speak
生 the arising
住 abiding
滅 and ceasing
其 (of) their
相 marks
亦 (are) also
如 like
是 these

如是, "like these," has a sense of "thus/such" here.

But what does it actually mean for something to be "like a city of the gandharvas?"
When the sun rises, we see a city of buildings with stories, palaces, with people coming in and going out. The higher the sun rises, the more indistinct this city becomes; it is just an optical illusion without any reality. This is what is called a city of the gandharvas. People who have never before seen it and who discover it some morning in the east believe in its reality and hurry towards it; but the closer they come, the more unclear it becomes and when the sun is high, it disappears. Tormented by hunger and thirst, the people who perceive a haze like a herd of gazelles believe in the presence of water and hasten towards it, but the closer they come, the more the illusion becomes blurred. Exhausted, worn out, they come to a high mountain or a narrow valley; they utter cries and groans and the echo replies to them; they believe in the presence of inhabitants and try to find them, but they tire themselves out in vain and find nothing. Finally, when they have reflected and understood, their illusion disappears. In the same way, the ignorant man thinks he sees an ātman and dharmas in the aggregates, the elements and the bases of consciousness which are empty of any reality. Prey to desire, anger and obstinacy, they wander in the four directions to satisfy their desire. Lost and deceived, they are plunged into poverty and misery. But when they have recognized the non-existence of the ātman and real dharmas by means of wisdom, their mistake disappears.
(Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa Ch XI translation by Ven Migme Chodron)

The skandhas, though devoid of a self, are ultimately real in Theravāda, as far as I understand.

If the OP can square Theravāda and the Prajñāpāramitā cited by Ven Nagarjuna based on the fact that things are "like X" and are not "X" in the MMK, then fair enough.
It is because the valleys are empty that they echo. It is because the mirror is empty that it reflects. It is because the flute is empty that it affects sound. It is because the ears are empty that they can listen. It is because the eyes are empty that they can see. It is because the nose is empty that it can smell.

If these were of substance inside, then there would be obstruction in these.

(from the writings of Master Liè, Daoist text, ~370AD)
User avatar
SDC
Posts: 7111
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:08 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by SDC »

Here’s a wonderful and interesting sutta:
Then Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita went up to Venerable Sāriputta, and exchanged greetings with him. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, Mahākoṭṭhita sat down to one side, and said to Sāriputta:

“Reverend, when the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, does something else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Does nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do both something else and nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do neither something else nor nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Reverend, when asked whether—when the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over—something else exists, you say ‘don’t put it like that’. When asked whether nothing else exists, you say ‘don’t put it like that’. When asked whether both something else and nothing else exist, you say ‘don’t put it like that’. When asked whether neither something else nor nothing else exist, you say ‘don’t put it like that’. How then should we see the meaning of this statement?”

“If you say that, ‘When the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, something else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘nothing else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘both something else and nothing else exist’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘neither something else nor nothing else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. The scope of proliferation extends as far as the scope of the six fields of contact. The scope of the six fields of contact extends as far as the scope of proliferation. When the six fields of contact fade away and cease with nothing left over, proliferation stops and is stilled.”
Doesn’t say proliferation recedes, says it has “stopped and stilled” (papañcanirodho papañcavūpasamo). That tendency to diffuse and proliferate has ceased. The basis of Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita‘s question is flawed because it is already directed out into the scope of proliferation, so any answer is going to be heading in the wrong direction. Seems that the arahant can remember that proliferated extent that has now been cut off like a palm stump and grows no further. For one not free of this tendency for expansion, existence is always pushing outward and appears to literally go on forever.

So yeah, not sure who all these people are who say the suttas claim the nothing exists. Also see MN 117 and tell me how many times the word atthi appears in the description of the right view “affected by the taints, partaking of merit, ripening in the acquisitions”. Seems clear that things can be “there” without even broaching the question of whether or not there is existence/non-existence/both/neither.
asahi
Posts: 737
Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2020 4:23 pm

Re: A touchstone for Classical Theravadins

Post by asahi »

Coëmgenu wrote: Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:52 pm The skandhas, though devoid of a self, are ultimately real in Theravāda, as far as I understand.

If the OP can square Theravāda and the Prajñāpāramitā cited by Ven Nagarjuna based on the fact that things are "like X" and are not "X" in the MMK, then fair enough.
Ultimately Real in Theravada means what ? Do you mean that the five aggregates exists ? Did the Buddha taught dhamma in terms of existence or real ?


:thanks:
Last edited by asahi on Wed Jun 16, 2021 11:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post Reply