June 30, 2013

We Are Not Kind Machines

A Radical Rejection of Scientific BuddhismLama Jampa Thaye

Science seems omnipresent in the modern world, and its explanatory force and benefits are hard to deny. Indeed, its success has even led some, including a number of well-regarded figures in the contemporary Buddhist world, to argue that the dharma itself must be made more “scientific” if it is to survive.

I’m not so sure that project could really work, or, were it achievable, even help. It’s not that the dharma needs to be placed in a special protected category reserved for “faiths,” a reservation into which reason is not allowed. In this respect, Buddhism is not like the varieties of theism, the authority of which rest, in final analysis, on the acceptance of divine revelation. Rather, it’s because the dharma need only be defended by direct experience and reasoning that it doesn’t need to borrow these aspects from science.

Besides, it seems like most of what is presented as “science” in discussions is not actually scientific praxis but philosophical theory: scientism and materialism. The insistence that science alone can answer all questions about the nature of reality—often paired with materialism—is actually scientism, a type of quasi-religious faith that holds scientific knowledge as the only viable knowledge. Though it’s kept well hidden, this very belief in science is itself a premise and not a finding arrived at by any type of investigation.

Materialism needs to be distinguished from science as well. While scientific discoveries continue to be made, modern philosophical materialism is in most important respects similar to the ancient Indian theories of the Charvaka or Lokayata systems, which Buddha and the great masters of his tradition knew and rejected. (So much for materialism’s cutting-edge modernity—a notion advanced to bewitch us into thinking that it’s the irresistible wave of the future.)

This modern materialism adds nothing to the old Charvaka theories except the illusion that, if complex physical processes are described in minute enough detail, we the audience will not notice the sleight of hand involved when sentience is magically conjured out of non-sentient matter and Pinocchio becomes a real boy. In fact, materialism cannot explain how life arose out of non-life, how consciousness arose from the non-conscious, with any more compelling seriousness than the theist who declares that God simply said: “let there be light.”

The crucial point, therefore, is that dharma has nothing to fear from, nor any need to prostrate to, science. Science works well in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation, such as the structure of DNA. It is the proper task of science to formulate and test hypotheses about how physical processes work. This inbuilt limitation does not invalidate the usefulness of the scientific enterprise, but it does put it at some disadvantage in describing the nonmaterial, such as ethics, the nature of mind, and liberation from samsara—the core concerns of dharma.

While science itself is not dangerous to the dharma, the appeal for a “scientific Buddhism,” an insistence that Buddhism must accord with the materialist propositions often paired with scientism, most definitely is. Such a Buddhism is not the dharma. Having abolished many of the key teachings to these ends, we are left with nothing, except, maybe, sitting cross-legged and talking peaceably about peace! Such an activity fits into the “Buddhism” sold at the expensive workshops on “spirituality” that currently litter this part of the world, but it’s not a Buddhism that’s ever been known to our predecessors.

It’s not, of course, the case that everyone who discerns an importance in fostering a dialogue between dharma and science is in fact an advocate of such a “non-Buddhist Buddhism.” But even then, one might wonder what the use of such a dialogue might be when one notes, for instance, the emphasis placed on such philosophically trivial matters as validating meditation practice through the study of brain waves during meditation.

Now, it may very well be that brain activity changes during meditation. But it's difficult to see how knowing this could contribute anything significant to the process of dissolving the twin obscurations of disturbing emotions and nescience, a dissolution that alone brings about enlightenment. Would, for instance, Jetsun Milarepa have achieved decisive realization more swiftly if he had possessed a knowledge of neurology? The plain unvarnished truth is that while a variety of physical effects—from the modification of pulse rate to altered frequency of brain waves—may accompany meditation, these effects are not the source of the experience of the meditating mind any more than a lessening of indigestion.

In short, the understandable wish to advance the dharma by linking it with the prestige of science might obscure its actual power. The unique force of the dharma lies in its diagnosis of suffering and its causes and its prescription of the path to the cessation of that suffering. In this regard, Buddhism can speak for itself—even in the modern marketplace of ideas. It follows from this that the best way we can help sustain the dharma is to stay true to it. Right about now that might be the most radical we can do.

Lama Jampa Thaye is a scholar, author, and meditation master from the UK, trained in both the Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.





Previous posts from Lama Jampa

"The Myth of Progress"

"Taking Vows (and Buddhism) Seriously"

"Buddhism and the Age of Compassion"

"The Power of Commitment"

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Jazz's picture

Personally, I do not consider myself as Buddhist, even though I like very much Buddhist psychology and philosophy to some degree, to the concept of Karma, which is to me the same thing as the Christian concept of heaven and hell,...I agree that today prevails materialistic science or rather materialistic scientists, who label their own belives as fact.Although these people are by far the most recognized and appreciated today, they aren't doing much good to science, since their omniscient belive system has nothing to do with science, but much more with hiding behind the mask of science which protects them from unknown things and things in which they do not believe in the first place.''If We Can't Measure It, It Doesn't Exist.'' Although I'm skeptical about rebirth or reincarnation based on Buddhist or Hindu theory, I support the Biocentrism theory(www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com) i like research in areas, that answer us the questions which we as a species are asking already for 1000's of years, ''gives there life after death, what is reality,...''I think that quantum physics on these issues play a crucial role.

keving's picture

This article though it has roused the literalist defenders of science versus" arcane' religion ,doesn't seem to me all that radical or even disrespectful of Science. I can't imagine anything wrong about being aware of identifiable limitations in any system of symbolic representation, abstraction, communication or investigation ? The map is not the territory, is it ?

Wouldn't the truest scientists be equally unwilling to "prostate" to science ,as well as the first to admit it's limitations and amorality. Niels Bohr come's to mind. Certainly science works well for many things and not at all for some things. Does that not jibe with observation and personal experience?

I think the Lama is simply saying Dharma and Science though capable of fruitful interaction still have their separate areas of expertise and influence.

What's wrong with different maps for different territories and purposes ?
Why worship any map?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Defining the entirety of "life/the universe" with just science is like trying to cover a watermelon with a piece of plastic wrap the size of a postage stamp.

candor's picture

How much of the universe (watermelon) is covered by science (plastic wrap) depends on the scientific literacy of the person attempting to cover the universe (literacy in cosmology, astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry, and physics). Admittedly, science as plastic wrap has some substantial holes in it, which religious folks try to claim for god and other supernatural stuff, but it covers the universe as watermelon amazingly well.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Science's mission is to become a larger, more effective piece of Saran wrap with NO holes in it.

candor's picture

Yes and no. Yes, because human curiosity, especially on a planet with 7 billion humans and a good start on science and technology, is insatiable! Humans have always been an incredibly curious primate. As long as war, famine, or disease (from whatever cause) don’t reset things back to 400 or more years ago, science won’t stop discovering.

Also yes, because there are likely fans of science who would love to see NO holes.

No, because even if we could close every hole, which is unlikely, if not impossible, science would die as a human activity that discovers new phenomena or knowledge. For almost all scientists (and even “scientismists”), the journey of discovery is just as rewarding as hitting the jackpot discovery; because once you discover something big, the thrill only lasts so long until you’re back on the journey again -- just like the Buddha taught. :-)

LaughingVajra's picture

Wow what started as a clear and easygoing read of Lama Jampas 'lighthearted' essay turned into a read of posts that resemble some heavy ego war?

Some people despite suggestions that they are seeing things that arent there and reading too much into it continue with assaults on the author as if on some kind of witch hunt,

It seems to me the Lama Jampa is merely clarifying the ultimate differences of Tibetan Buddhist view from Scientific endeavour /exploration.

It seems in the haste to retort and flex their intellect and wordyness some people go entirely 'off piste ' with the various bees in their bonnets with sectarian nonsense and agenda toting, words be nimble words be quick , words resemble walking sticks!?

When someone tells you or suggests you 'chill down' or 'chill out' why not take their advice?? You may be better for it? At least they are trying to be of benefit for YOU (yeah blah blah i know 'you' dont exist as a theory but how many of us can honestly say we have achieved the state of 'no self)

Duality ay!? I contemplate the vajra , the mundane and the ultimate realities intrinsic, conceptual and non-conceptual,

Buddhism, in all its forms , i am pretty sure sets out to be of benefit to beings, as i am sure Lama Jampa intended the publication of this essay,

Throwing stones doesn't benefit beings,

Be of benefit x peace

Outcast108's picture

Lama Jampa Thaye is correct. Science is only really good for a few cool toys (like my laptop) and of course weapons (which employ two thirds of the world's scientists). As for apparent contradictions...

Jigme Dorje's picture

In response to Konchog, describing the Buddha as Lord is adventitious, as is any form of Buddhust fundamentalism , the appeal to authority, shaming and other forms of triumphalism. Stripped of all that Buddhism is practice, not speculative metaphysics, the former being liberating, and the latter, hindrance.

leebert's picture

I don't see "Lord Buddha" as the problem there, metaphysics is just another narrative. It's wholly dependent upon the votary to find an equanimous confidence that well-intentioned derivations and metanarratives (misapprehensions and all) aren't taken as a threat, and therefore don't require a countermeasure.

Konchog is working from within a parochial framework, and it shows. That his habit is to indulge polemics or negative rhetorical tactics is a matter of pride (but not necessarily vain pride). This side or that of gaining vicarious status & getting closer to Buddha by condemning the rabble. Praze Geebus! Or just defending the hallowed grounds and ancestors by bearing witness against the apostates ... we all look the same, round-eyed demons & other ne'er do wells.

It's a pleasure having tea with the proliferatti, I'm inclined to have some myself. But gayze ye not into the abbess, lest she pee-reth back onto you, I always say. Unless, u know, some extra piety points move you up a pew closer to the altar, in which case tactical shaming isnt neorotic, it's fair game, like love & war.

I'm not sure it's worth all the work otherwise, but some of us have so much of the social glue that it's gone to our heads. Tea, koolaid, kettle, pot.....

That said, the laity and moderates of the world DO feel beset by fundamentalists, and the mission to explore the roots of fundamentalism are already ongoing. This isn't modernity's or materialism's game to lose. In recompense, fundamentalism feels likewise beset. It sucks to be us, and this is why an ecumenical field of interpretational narrative deserves exploration here.

Lama Thaye's essay opens a can o' worms, but I'd rather see something constructive come of it than more calumny & invidious rhetoric.

Jigme Dorje's picture

At the risk of making the same no good scottsman argument that thw lama does, this "McMindfullness" meme is conspicuously unmindful. In Korea with its rich Buddhist history, Won Buddhism has arisen as a more secular practice shorn of many of the adventitious religious and authoritarian trappings of the traditional lineages. Unlike Westeeners enamored with the exotic ritual and metaphysical trappings of a practice they seek to appropriate as propriatory Buddhism, Korean Buddhists do not condemn it with loaded terms repkete with negative conceptual associations They embrace ir.

leebert's picture

Chogyam Trungpa devised the Shambala training system as a largely secular dharma. Somehow it's not a concern in all this.

Jigme Dorje's picture

Well done, all! When Leebert attempted to raise awareness about these fallacious arguments by the lama elsewhere (About.com) he was attacked, strawmanned and the thread shut down after a few gratuitous hits. Some important differences are uncovered here, and the only way to have an ingenuous and mutually beneficial discussion is to do so with intellectual honesty. Our mutual friend Jan made her points respectfully in return.


leebert's picture

I don't want to get into any further cheap shots.

I don't feel there's much risk here of my derogation of Vajrayana, it's limited to this forum & considering Lama Thaye's essay the time is ripe to explore what underpins his driving concern.

Every good system deserves a sympathetic metanarrative. With Lama Thaye's essay coming into the fore, maybe a helpful narrative might guide the resultant public scrutiny his essay invited. This, in turn, may (will) incite discomfiture from a VY perspective because it will require a heterodox vernacular. For this I'm sympathetic, but I don't see any other way to ameliorate the sudden sense of dialectic that arose as a result of Thaye's original essay.

As the lay systems-minded person that I am, I don't see the burden befalls me for academic expertise on VY doctrine. OTOH Lama Thaye rather set the stage for this when he waxed polemic about Pinocchio and "Let there be light." Those metaphors were within easy reach, much too facile to warrant much notice or comment but were it not for the venue.

In my case, having had more time to digest & contextualize an underpinning doctrine, my own response has gone from "What in Earth?" to "Oh, is *that* why?"

Well, sorta. I'm still perplexed that VY metaphysics can't be reconciled against a naive materialism, much less a profound one. But then ... that's just me, know what I'm sayin'?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Thanks, leebert: 'Mind is a form of experience...a function of dependent origination' and mahakala: 'Mind is time...an expression of space'

leebert's picture

Yeh, I saw that congruence in passing, thanks for pointing this out. Oh, and thanks to you both (mahakala) for indulging my wild speculations ... :)

Frankly I'd rather be wrong & interesting, than right & dull.

speakerfone's picture

I think there's a place where deeper materialist philosophies and Buddhism can agree on some insights. The classic one that many like to evoke is where quantum physics becomes less material. Thus independent, autonomous particles are less easy to prove existant.

If there's a productive friendly dialogue to be had perhaps this is where is can play out.

Leebert: I contend that your understanding of Buddhist philosophy as 'animist' is incorrect. Leaving this aside though your argument seems based on a political analysis of the power relationship between the Buddhist establishment and the idea of what it means to be Buddhist.

So why get so worked up over the definition of the word Buddhism or Buddhist? If traditional Buddhists are wrong then let them be wrong. Differentiate yourself from these conceited powermongers and call yourselves something new. I'm sure both traditions can live side by side, but since there's a difference in practice and belief we need to differentiate these practices and beliefs to prevent confusion.

The problem comes when the different practices are labelled as the same thing. So 'mindfullness' is fine as a title.

leebert's picture

My analysis is my own, in an attempt to frame lama Thaye's arcane views that led to the rhetoric we saw.

Framing my anthropic mind / animism analogy as beneath the imprimatur of Buddhist personal metaphysics, as though a typical buddhist's experience is more equal than any others, would belie buddhist exceptionalism. This is unbecoming of any liberal religious practice (never mind the nichirenism in our own back yard), that common votarian qualias, those in the domain of human vernacular, imbue a Buddhist with superior insight simply by token of their parochial vernacular.

How is this any different from the utterances of Cardinal Ratzinger, or any other religious leaders leveraging entitlement via some ideal of perfection or quintessence? The world in the broadest view may be perfect as a unary ideal, but surely not our own abilities to conceive of such a thing via structures (& surely not via linguistic ones).

Aside from that my animism analogy was intended only to illustrate the underlying qualia & quandary of anthropic beliefs, not denote & then lend credence to your desire to close the big tent. I'd say it helped illustrate your actual agenda just fine, however.

Ahhh well, hinayana & all that rot...

wonderwheel's picture

I agree with this blog about 99.9%. (Just on principle I seldom say I agree on anything 100%).

The second paragraph from the end that begins, "Now, it may very well be that brain activity changes during meditation." makes a point that is very important. It is the essential difference between neuro-physiological science and psychological science. Today, we have mostly lost this distinction and mistake neuro-physiological science as if it is psychological science, which it is definitely not. Those who have lost this distinction I would put into the camp of scientism. I have nothing directly against neuro-physiological science in itself, except that it has usurped the field of psychological science by calling neuro-physiology the real psychology and denigrating real psychology by calling it "mysticism."

I take Lama Jampa Thaye to be saying that the study of brain activity should not be confused with the study of the psychological activity of mind. To view the world as if the brain is the ground for explaining the world is the physiological leaning view. To view the world as if the mind is the ground for explaining the world is the psychological leaning view. Brain activity is an objectification of mind activity. To the extent that the objectification of mind activity is taken literally as being explained by the activity of brain physiology, then to that extent the view is materialistic. Objectification is to mind what literalization and materialization is to the practice of the Dharma.

wonderwheel's picture

I have expanded these comments at my blog

konchog.rangdrol's picture

"Now, it may very well be that brain activity changes during meditation. But it's difficult to see how knowing this could contribute anything significant to the process of dissolving the twin obscurations of disturbing emotions and nescience, a dissolution that alone brings about enlightenment."

A good point, Buddhism may have little to gain from scientific inquiry into the physiological effects of meditation. But psychologists these days talk about mindfulness therapy as the "third wave," the first two being Freudianism and behaviorism! The reason is that the scientific evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of the therapeutic power of meditation. So it seems sentient beings stand to gain quite a lot from the dialogue of Buddhism and science.

keving's picture

Good point !!

leebert's picture

There's something that at first I found very puzzling about this purported dialectic of traditional Buddhists and materialists. It apparently has become almost a crisis to suggest within certain Buddhist circles that consciousness has any material basis. Part of this crisis rests in Vajrayana teachings reifying consciousness into something nobody else does.

The root of this conflict, however, lies squarely in parochial Buddhism.

Theravada doctrine states that a chain of events leads from one consciousness to another, yet part of that chain is not, itself, conscious. Vajrayana contends however that underlying that is a continuance of Mind.

".... [ This is why Thaye contends that ] materialism cannot explain how life arose out of non-life, how consciousness arose from the non-conscious". According to dependent origination (and its extension, the non-duality of life, i.e. reality), the material (non-consciousness) and the spiritual (consciousness) are joined at the hip. Neither can exist independent of the other. The challenge for scientism is simply to become more attuned to what Buddhism intuits."

The Vajrayana doctrine in particular projects anthropic experience onto *inanimate experiences* & then I suppose reconciles this doctrine (an intuitive view) against other doctrines (sunyata, anatman).

I fully appreciate the framework, but the conflict with modern materialism arises out of a form of animism, Mind-animism, that reifies consciousness to such a level.

The underlying problem here is that "Mind" or "Consciousness" are actually Empty (Sunya).

Consciousness, like Self, is an illusory, evanescent process - Empty. How or why this interpretation of DO has facilitated Consciousness gaining an exceptional status (from either the foundational doctrines of Not-Self or of Emptiness) is beyond any level on inquiry I'm likely to pursue.

It does suggest to me a cultural (animist / shamanic) discomfiture with the doctrines of Sunyata and Anatman led to a desire to ameliorate the perceived conflict by introducing something more comfortable, an Animist Mind doctrine.

Unsurprisingly this doctrine is also in conflict with empirical and material views (empirical doctrines).

This puts Vajrayana in particular in an uncomfortable situation. Thaye's "scientism" comes down to a face-saving compromise between science and scientific materialism ("scientism") while relegating modern materialists as the equivalent of early Vedic or Jainist materialists.

What he doesn't realize is that there is no distinction between modern materialism and science however, as the philosophy of science, of empiricism is fully rooted in a materialist worldview.

I don't see that this is science's or materialism's problem to fix, this Vajrayana doctrine is inherently metaphysical, irrespective of whether it is non-theistic, it is functionally an animist version of panentheism (God is in everything) whereby in this Dependent Origins doctrine, Mind is in everything.

I think I've noted in passing references to Semi-animist Mind in Zen, as part of the injunction "Where is Mind?" koan. But AFAIK, the conclusion settles on "Not there (nor there or there ...)," or "Don't Know." At a metaphorical level I "get" this Mind-Animism, but not taken to a fundamentalist level.

I feel sorry for Thaye now as he can't get budged off the doctrine & (as far as he can conceive it) still call himself Buddhist.

Simply, with Mind/consciousness imbued into everything, an animist Dharma would appear to be under assault from any science seeking to establish how the "animate arose from the inanimate" (much less how the "conscious arose from the unconscious").

This is only because an intuitive, animist and metaphorical view of gestaltic, phenomenal experience has been extrapolated into an intractable fundamentalism. But it is central to the claim that modern materialism and Buddhism have irreconcilable differences.

I don't see that this as materialism's problem to fix.

Tenpel's picture

I think, leebert, you haven’t really understood Vajrayana or how within Tibetan Buddhism „continuum“ is understood.

I had already some experiences in the past with Zen practitioners who strongly insisted on their point of view that Tibetan Buddhism / Vajrayana got it wrong although these Zen practitioners really lacked the background of a proper study of Tibetan Buddhism to be in the position to judge it correctly and fairly.

Everybody who studied Tibetan Buddhism will basically agree with what you are saying:

»The underlying problem here is that "Mind" or "Consciousness" are actually Empty (Sunya). Consciousness, like Self, is an illusory, evanescent process - Empty.«

If you say …
»Theravada doctrine states that a chain of events leads from one consciousness to another, yet part of that chain is not, itself, conscious. Vajrayana contends however that underlying that is a continuance of Mind.«

… you misunderstand that Vajrayana / TB understands „continuance“ just as a name given to a cause and effect relationship of earlier and later moments of mind. Besides this name given to this relationship there is no independent or „underlying“ continuity.

Instead of projecting onto Vajrayana what is not there it might be better to start in the first place to properly understand what VY/TB is really talking about.

I compiled some of the key understandings from my former discussion with Zen people who misjudge Tibetan Buddhism (but even after discussion they lacked the clarity to see and to correct their misunderstandings.)

Je Tsongkhapa states in the Lam Rim Chen Mo, Vol II, p.54:

»"Continuum" or "Collection" are designated to many moments and to many parts, they do not have a self-sufficient essence.«

In his commentary about Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara – Panjika – Prajnaparamati explains the basic understanding within TB/Madhyamikas) of what is meant with "continuum" (p.158-159):

»A continuum (samtana) does not exist as some ultimately existent unity. However, it has the form of a successive stream of moments that have arisen as the condition of causes and effects, because of the nonperceptibility of a distinct moment. Therefore, for the sake of convention, the Buddhas have used the term continuum as a nominal designation in order to explain those moments with one word. Hence, it exists only as a designation. Therefore, one should not insist on that.«

In Geshe Thubten Jinpa’s treatise about the Self – "Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy-Tsongkhapa's Quest for the Middle Way" (Routledge Curzon) – which also discusses the topic of „continuity“ – he quotes Je Tsongkhapa:

»Je Tsongkhapa explains continuum (rgyn) as:

"Like the continuum of a running stream, as it maintains a link through the realatedness of cause and effect, it abides uninterruptedly through birth and death leaving no gaps in between. It is a conditioned momentary event that appropriates all three temporal stages. Such a factor is called a continuum. The individual stages are not mere distinct points of preceding and succeeding instances with no gaps in between, rather they form parts of the whole."«

To those who misunderstand certain texts on the literally level, like the Uttara Tantra Shastra, Je Tsongkhapa says:

»Just as a mirage is not water, yet it deceives animals who thirst for water, so what is taught [on the superficial literary level] will appeal only to the childish but is certainly not a discourse that will delight the nonconceptual cognition of the aryas. Therefore, you should follow the meaning and not be attached to the language.«

Now to broaden understanding I add an interview by Prof. Martin Brauen with HH the Dalai Lama about this topic from „Dreamworld Tibet“, the key point you could note is:

»The misunderstanding consists in the fact that some mix up conventional conditioned continuity with independent continuity.«

---Start Excerpt Interview---

The concept of a line of incarnation for the Dalai Lamas presumes the continuity between two living beings: the precdecessor and his reincarnation. Since this concept often leads to misunderstandings in the West, I asked the Dalai Lama if he could address it and he replied as follows:

Dalai Lama:
Of course Buddhism accepts the existence of the continuity of a being. The Buddhist theory of "selflessness" means that there is no independent self apart from the body, because "self" or the person is designated [by] the combination of body and mind. There is a self, but there is no independent absolute self. So this is the meaning of selflessness in the context of the theory of "no-self." With respect to continuation, not only does Buddhism accept the continuity of the being, but also upholds the notion of a "beginningless" self, that is, a self with no beginning and no end until buddhahood is achieved. Any self is reborn from "beginningless[ness]" and will be reborn endlessly.

There are different kinds of reincarnations. An eminent Buddha [or] bodhisattva can manifest several times simultaneously, lower bodhisattvas reincarnate only in one person, this means once at a time. But anyone, irrespective [of whether they are] a bodhisattva or an ordinary person, is reborn from "beginningless[ness]" and will be born endlessly. Continuity is always there and will always be there, due to karma. Now, at one stage, if you develop a certain spiritual realization, then the birth through karma will cease. Then with willpower you can choose your rebirth. This type of rebirth we call reincarnation.

Today tulku—unfortunately—[has] become almost like the designation of a certain status, a social status. So, among these tulkus, some may have that sort of quality, the possibility to choose their rebirth, some not.

Anyway, whether a person has the designation "tulku" or not, those individuals who [have] already developed certain inner qualities, seek their rebirth according to their wish. So this one calls "reincarnation." In this case too, it is the same being, it is the continuation of the same being. I think the basis of the misunderstanding about continuity is [that] there is continuation, yet momentarily it changes. A continuity, which momentarily is not changing, that kind of continuity is not there. The misunderstanding consists in the fact that some mix up conventional conditioned continuity with independent continuity.

One example: This paper lying here was produced some months ago. Since from the start of the paper up to now there is continuity/continuation. It is continuously there, but it is momentarily changing.
Let's look again at this table. On the table there is absence of— say—[a] flower. There is no flower on the table. So the absence of [the] flower is existing here. Yesterday there was also an absence of [a] flower. Today there is an absence of flowers. So that continuity is not changing.

One can see two kinds of continuity: one is as we were explaining with the reincarnation, that there is a conditioned conventional continuity. So this kind of impermanent conditioned continuity is there. But on another level of existence there is something for which you may use the word continuity or not, for example the absence of flower. Because there is no flower here, the mere absence or negation of [the] flower is there today, will be there tomorrow, will forever be there. This is not changing.

The continuity of non-existence is not changing. But the other continuity is momentarily changing. So from the beginning-less time continuation is there, but it is momentarily changing. To come back to the reincarnation: As a being who changes his clothes is still the same person, equally it is the same being even if it changes the body.

---End Excerpt Interview---

You could argue this would be the Gelug point of view but if you explore the other Tibetan Buddhist traditions they are not very much different to this basis understanding of „continuity“. (I received Kagyue teachings too and also teachings of the Jonangpa’s interpretation of the Heart Sutra by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.)

Your postulation „this Vajrayana doctrine is inherently metaphysical, irrespective of whether it is non-theistic, it is functionally an animist version of panentheism (God is in everything) whereby in this Dependent Origins doctrine, Mind is in everything.“ is again missing the point and only reveals a mind full of prejudices that has not acquired or strived for sober understanding of Tibetan Buddhism / Vajrayana. Nobody is claiming that everything has mind but that where the mind moves – to the objects it moves – there is this very mind. And this is just explaining the relationship between mind and objects and doesn’t mean that everything inanimate is considered to have mind. Vajrayana argues that the omniscient mind of a Buddha perceives all objects of knowledge, hence his mind permeates every phenomena, but this doesn’t mean that inanimate objects have a mind.

I think it is not very useful to claim things about other traditions where you don’t have firm knowledge about. Better to put your energy in the first place into effort to properly understand other traditions. At least one shouldn’t expound the own misunderstandings about other traditions as facts because such attempts misguide oneself and others and contribute to wrong views which in can also fuel hostility and aggression against other schools.

leebert's picture

I want to thank you for posting this information, it is helpful.

Firstly "animism" is not a slur as I framed it. We can't elevate the discussion into the hermeneutic if a broader analysis of the psychology of religion is going to be misconstrued as an affront to inviolable doctrine. Buddhism would lose its heterodox brilliance off we're to boil iit down into irrefutable assertions of stated doctrine. That's the quagmire, the thicket that the historic Buddha inveighed against.

Where I have misstated VY doctrine I'm glad to be corrected. If I'm transparently wrong & I can't see it, it's surely beneficial to me to adjust my thinking. So I very much appreciate your correcting me where I have run seriously afoul, and I'll try to the future to frame such statements as questions in the future. Do understand that I'm keenly interested in elucidating even minor points of doctrine b/c all of a sudden the problem of doctrine has exploded into view. I'd rather develop at least a sympathetic view as to WHY Lama Thaye embarked on his essay in such a manner. Thaye's rhetoric was found to be VERY perplexing by many people, to the point of possibly distorting popular views of Vajrayana.

Our self-contained bubbles and exposure on the internet are at interesting odds with each other, we all become exceedingly transparent.

VY I know has been accused of a great many things - things to which I'm largely indifferent, my view being to each their own. I feel I should mention that b/c I see plenty of bias flying about on the internet & I usually file those types of critique via my moral compass as "arcane peremptory bias." It's a big enough world for everyone to have our own arcane and preferred narratives of a spiritual life... but suddenly it's become a somewhat smaller world that our parochial views are open to scrutiny and transparency as well. It sucks to be us, but then, here we are.


[[ is again missing the point and only reveals a mind full of prejudices that has not acquired or strived for sober understanding of Tibetan Buddhism / Vajrayana. Nobody is claiming that everything has mind but that where the mind moves – to the objects it moves – there is this very mind. And this is just explaining the relationship between mind and objects and doesn’t mean that everything inanimate is considered to have mind. Vajrayana argues that the omniscient mind of a Buddha perceives all objects of knowledge, hence his mind permeates every phenomena, but this doesn’t mean that inanimate objects have a mind.

Well, that's pretty much what I intended (mind you I'm writing on a novel point, with ponderous concepts), and I'm sorry it was taken as an affront to the system. To me, in pure terms of a human psyche & transpersonal metaphysics, my statement isn't inconsistent with what you cite, but I can see how it's too easily misinterpreted, too tersely stated that it incites discomfiture.

Again, the point of Contiguity of Mind, or a Buddha Field interpermeating, in terms of human psyche it's very similar in the qualia-sense of either Panentheism or as I quickly termed it, "Mind in everything." In a quick vernacular panentheism, God is in everything - it's not the same as saying "Everything is God." IOW I'm expected people to *understand* immanence & the beatific, majestic sense that goes with it. If you can contrive a better placeholder for this concept than "Mind-Animism," please, it needs its moment in the sun. Pan-en-Mensaeism perhaps ( goin' for broke here, I'll now offend good Latin along with good Vajrayana ...)

That said, as I take your description, it still strikes me as a functionally anthropic projection of consciousness into other non-conscious processes, even if by indirection. That is, in its literal doctrine VY view on Mind may not be fully animistic, but in its applied sense or use, it is very similar to the theist Panentheism (again, panentheism is a theist variant that is likewise animist by indirection). To imagine the actual *personal* experience one has in apprehending this narrative requires analogy to achieve an intuitive sense. This kind of nuance is constrained by our inherent biases - biases of what anthropic consciousness likes to formulate, and how human minds tend toward similar experiences.

Let me put it this way: ALL humans are functionally animistic b/c we can't conceive any other way of viewing the universe - we project our anthropic mental maps onto a world that is indifferent to our efforts. If there's a better way to frame this than "animism" it's just as well to find the right vernacular for this. I don't know of any, but I'm not a hard-core religious scholar. To me, everybody does it -- projecting any iota of anthropic mind abroad is just a human habit (or a conceit, take your pick) and it ain't a crime to do it, or a slight to comment on it. To me it's completely understandable. That scrutiny might lend to your, and others', defensive posture with me, well go figure. I'm blunt & dumb, but willing to learn. So teach me & maybe I can teach you. Welcome to the internet.

It's not VY alone that tests these waters, as I think I mentioned that in Zen teachings there is the Buddha Field & the interrogatory inspection of the (non)locus of Mind. Clearly my leanings are Zen (or Zen-like) and I hold no enmity toward those views either (although again I'm disinterested). The Zen speculation (as I see this) tends to leave it with a dissolution of metaphor, by resolving it into an empty dialectic - following along with a Mahayanan exegeses. But again, a primacy of Mind-doctrine in Buddhist analysis & regimen seems wont to manifest itself.

I think there's an underlying naturalistic view behind all this, and that's the fungible nature of all phenomena, intrinsic (mind, conscious, sensory) as well as extrinsic. That introduces a whole nother layer of observation-based doctrine, on Sunyata, Anatman, D.O. & so on, and we're constrained by space & time & patience here, so I won't go on ... :)

But again, your concern about impugning VY is well-taken. Consider then my desire to ameliorate the rather urgent tone taken by Lama Thaye. Thaye termed it "radical," others might relegate it to "extreme or fundamentalist."

I'd rather get to the bottom of this than continue to think less of Thaye or the larger TB community. Simply, Thaye's essay -- taken at face value by the uninitiated -- comes across as the construction of a desperate metaphysician (if not quaintly anti-materialist). I'm still amused at his Pinocchio, and subsequent, paragraph where he attempts to dispatch the sum total of material empiricism (I think scientific materialism once again withstood the test .... :) ).

That Thaye (or some, or all of VY) might find manifest some intractable dialectic against the momentous and significant human set of secular materialist doctrines, illustrates a discomfiture with the interaction of materialism with faith. This is nothing new in the world, and the underpinnings of this dialect are well-known. It wouldn't BE THERE without a good reason.

In any case I feel my salient point stands that there are Buddhist metaphysics that if taken in a framework of strict adherence, might explain this apparent conflict with materialism.

My rhetorical position remains the same: There is no framework that needs to be taken in strict adherence. My justification for this view is that the fewer dialectics we cast upon encountering the world, the better.

That is, metaphysics - once let out of the corral of parochial context - inadvertently come to serve the making of distinctions & contrasts, instead of the original purpose they serve as a vernacular guide for a particular process.

The closer we abide by the everyman's dharma of make-do, let go & let live, the better.

Simply, with Mind/consciousness imbued into everything, an animist Dharma would appear to be under assault from any science seeking to establish how the "animate arose from the inanimate" (much less how the "conscious arose from the unconscious").

This is only because an intuitive, animist and metaphorical view of gestaltic, phenomenal experience has been extrapolated into an intractable fundamentalism. But it is central to the claim that modern materialism and Buddhism have irreconcilable differences.

You might dispute the first paragraph there, but then please understand that Thaye's rhetoric lent credence to that view. It's no opinion of mine, it's a speculation, and a working theory, or position. But the nominative word "imbued" corresponds pretty much to VY doctrine as you portrayed it.

Again, to me, an animist-like sense of Mind, ala the Buddha Field, is congruent with a votive vernacular for the Dharma. It's workable, but I still can't fathom how it finds itself at seemly COMPLETE odds with materialism (and I do, in fact, appreciate the sense of interpermeability & contiguity, having delved into other traditions).

But more so, I don't see the purpose of carrying it into an immutable, strictly adhered concept that it results in the urgent-sounding tone that Thaye took. Thaye pretty much quashed any sense of nuance with just a few ill-chosen words.


IOW to me Mind is a form of experience, which in turn is a function of DO. The hazard here is asserting that "experience" is Mind incarnate (and not vice versa), & therefore all phenomena present a reflection of ( some gestaltic) Mind.


This is where I see an opportunity for a kind of ecumenical non-dual view, one that eliminates the semantic confusion surrounding the use of the word "Mind." Borrowing instead from an impersonal information theorist toolkit, "experience" is universal, even inanimate - unremarkable between conscious and unconscious phenomena. IOW any exceptionalism given "Mind" is rescinded, goodbye metaphysical privilege.

In its stead Mind is given a unique status in an impersonal universe, but "Experience" is the Gestalt.

In this manner we can take Special Relativity as a unique example, where for instance, we can observe an atomic clock & its astronaut experiencing the same time dilation together. Their phenomenological frame is consistent a shared telescoping of determinalist (dependently arising, consensual) experience into the future. Both encountered the information of the universe with the same temporal result, the same existential rate of flux, but only one is sentient and aware enough to recognize the phenomenon.

Perhaps in a sense this boils down to more of a semantic quibble than a broader metaphysical one, but then Lama Thaye seems to have put the vernacular before the experience.

I still see no reason for even a naive materialism to be at odds with what you describe above, and I doubt I will ever. But then I'm deign to harden a view (my rhetoric to the contrary :) ). On the contrary I see these ideas (including my own) as, in fact, fungible vernaculars whose purpose is limited to the work at hand.


The problem with getting knotted up with consciousness-versus-materialism is this: The dialectic reifies consciousness into something anti-material.

But if everything is (empty) process, of which consciousness is but a subset, it's consistent with even a naive materialism (never mind a profound one).


Thought for the day:

Hold the idea of a thing and its antipode at the same time. Feel the dialectic. Watch that dissolve into an un-thing, then the 2 opposites fade with it.

Dominic Gomez's picture

re: "Mind" or "Consciousness" are...Empty. According to dependent origination, mind (life) is only empty if considered separate from material phenomena. The glitch is that real life (your mind) doesn't exist in isolation, or in a vacuum. Take a look around you. Your mind is actually pretty full.

leebert's picture

First of all, Mind is contiguous with material phenomenon, but that doesn't mean it's inherent.

Secondly, since Emptiness itself is empty (this is also Karma's karma), everything else under its rubric falls into place in a similar vein.

I wouldn't assert that the present moment is, however.

However, if I'm going to render Mind synonymous with the eternal now, then I've anthropized the cosmos again. Enter metaphysics, etc.

Good, bad or indifferent, those are the parameters I've run into.

Are metaphysics in of themselves, "bad?" No.

Do we have a hard time reconciling metaphysics with the philosophy of science, of materialism? Yes.

Pick the truth you want, both if you want & aren't bothered by holding both ideas juxtaposed at the same time (I do). Truths are fungible.

The problem with getting knotted up with consciousness-versus-materialism is this: The dialectic reifies consciousness into something anti-material.

But if everything is (empty) process, of which consciousness is but a subset, it's consistent with even a naive materialism (never mind a profound one).

It's that simple. Set aside all the doctrine & reframe the problem in simple terms, and the solution avails itself as something utterly Dharmic, without having to fret over rebirth or D.O. being some carrier wave for consciousness.

DO & rebirth are synonymous, but it's not nihilism to de-anthropize, de-animize consciousness into something that isn't contiguous after death. Interpose raw phenomenal "experience" (as in information theory, special relativistic "experience") and it's the same thing, only different.

The process steps are almost identical, the vernacular only changed by token of the symbolic forms, and it becomes congruent with a deep and nuanced materialism.

That's my take on the problem. The outcome for the votary is the same, except the urge for justifying metaphysical speculation (on postmortem atman-like spectra) is simply alleviated.

But if you wanna believe in an anthropic rebirth, you can. I won't stop you. Just the conflict with modern science & materialism is alleviated.

Dominic Gomez's picture

What do you believe "mind" to be? (fyi in Buddhism, mind is life itself, whether "conscious" (Western psychology's take on "mind") or not .

leebert's picture

I wouldnt believe it to be anything, any more than i can conceive phenomenological flux as a "thing" w/out some external reference point.

IOW to me Mind is a form of experience, which in turn is a function of DO. The hazard here is asserting that "experience" is Mind incarnate (and not vice versa), & therefore all phenomena present a reflection of ( some gestaltic) Mind.

This is what i mean by Mind-animism, an implicit view that all phenomena are luminous with Miind. Its a beatific view, and I find it quite appealingg, but I also know its anthro-sentient bias. This view is reflected in the claim that all phenomena are imbued with Mind... it is a very sweet derivation of animism, much the same way panentheism is a theistic animism.

Now the problem with phenomenological experience is that it is impersonal.... a hard sell. But then so might be empiricism.

mahakala's picture

thus have i heard some say that "mind" is time.. which is apparently an expression of space... or vice versa

perhaps resulting in excitement regarding ideas of quantum-superposition and non-locality for the "scientism buddhists" (?) i suppose... im still not really clear on the whole dispute, actually

perhaps it has something to do with being "special", where "machines" are clearly not... although I tend to agree with those who have said that people can be quite mechanical and robotic, (mindlessly repeating pre-established patterns without self-awareness).. although this is more about semantics and analogy than anything else

and speaking of analogies, isnt it possible to regard DNA as a type of machine code?

Most DNA molecules are double-stranded helices, consisting of two long biopolymers of simpler units called nucleotides—each nucleotide is composed of a nucleobase (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine), recorded using the letters G, A, T, and C, as well as a backbone made of alternating sugars (deoxyribose) and phosphate groups (related to phosphoric acid), with the nucleobases (G, A, T, C) attached to the sugars. DNA is well-suited for biological information storage, since the DNA backbone is resistant to cleavage and the double-stranded structure provides the molecule with a built-in duplicate of the encoded information.

The two strands of DNA run in opposite directions to each other and are therefore anti-parallel, one backbone being 3′ (three prime) and the other 5′ (five prime). This refers to the direction the 3rd and 5th carbon on the sugar molecule is facing. Attached to each sugar is one of four types of molecules called nucleobases (informally, bases). It is the sequence of these four nucleobases along the backbone that encodes genetic information. This information is read using the genetic code, which specifies the sequence of the amino acids within proteins. The code is read by copying stretches of DNA into the related nucleic acid RNA in a process called transcription.

Within cells, DNA is organized into long structures called chromosomes. During cell division these chromosomes are duplicated in the process of DNA replication, providing each cell its own complete set of chromosomes. Eukaryotic organisms (animals, plants, fungi, and protists) store most of their DNA inside the cell nucleus and some of their DNA in organelles, such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. In contrast, prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) store their DNA only in the cytoplasm. Within the chromosomes, chromatin proteins such as histones compact and organize DNA. These compact structures guide the interactions between DNA and other proteins, helping control which parts of the DNA are transcribed.

or is that too much of an oversimplification?

konchog.rangdrol's picture

Lama Jampa Thaye is not speaking from the point of view of Vajrayana here; his thesis comes from a Sutrayana perspective, and obtains at the level of any of the yanas. Scientism/physicalism/materialism, or whatever you prefer to call it, is incompatible with the middle way as conceived by any of the schools of Buddhism; the idea that consciousness is just cut off at death is the most representative form of the nihilistic extreme. To reject karma and rebirth is to reject the middle way and, ipso facto, Buddhism.

leebert's picture

Oh, I see!? So *my* Buddhism, without your metaphysics, shall be cast out from your temple. Oddly, you have absolutely no say over the matter as to what I do in my own Sangha.

The extreme here wouldn't be my nihilism (the Buddhist version of the Anti-Christ, woohoo ). The extreme here would be a sanctimonious posturing, trying to shame a laity with claims to pious standard-bearing.

If you set an example for the moderates as to why fundamentalism belies a sense of entitlement, they will eventually take note & go elsewhere.

Perhaps the reason that the Mindfulness revolution is such a threat to Buddhism is that the Dharma, unburdened by orthodox pretenses, is found to *just work.* Being ecumenical, secular and humanistic, it is expanding exponentially, far beyond anything the establishmentarian teachers have been able to foment.

Just a thought.

konchog.rangdrol's picture

Buddhism involves certain tenets. For more than two and a half millenia, Buddhism of all stripes has positioned itself between the extremes of nihilism and eternalism. Now you want to take your materialism and add a few Buddhist concepts to it, and call it "Buddhism." The former is perfectly okay--if it helps you, wonderful!--but the latter is a misrepresentation and a distortion of the Lord Buddha's teachings. The sense of entitlement is yours, because in your pride you think you can just throw out the Buddha's actual words and relabel your prejudices "Dharma." You're welcome to think what you want and to practice what you want--and if it reduces your suffering, and creates the imprints for you to attain enlightenment at some future time, I only rejoice--but why steal the Lord Buddha's name to label your invented concepts? That is what the "fundamentalists" find objectionable about the hubris of the pseudo-Buddhist Batchelorists.

Not to mention your knowledge of Vajrayana (non-existent) or even the meaning of the word "animism" (you mean "idealism") shows your thinking to be totally mixed up. Try learning a little more before you go mouthing off.

leebert's picture

My original post was not a criticism of Vajrayana, it was an attempt to frame the situation in humanist and anthropological terms. And it may come as a surprise to you that it was also a very sympathetic attempt, and will still be even after we're done with our attitude-sharing ritual.

My first response to you is pointing out your preconceived notion, and you reinforced my points perfectly with yet more of the same reactionary impulse. And more is forthcoming in this response, and I'm sure you'll continue to illustrate your own caricature at my behest b/c you lack nuance in your approach. Amusing for now, tedious overall.

Here, as with other venues & fora, these discussions quickly devolve into ad hom & other argumenta that diverge from the salient points (how the process works at an organic and transpersonal level, across traditions and disciplines, in humanistic, anthropological, and psychological frameworks).

This overreaction in soteriological defense belies a fundamentalist impulse. That would be all there is to say about it, but then the argument devolves into slanders against the rhetorical "other," invariably the unstated aspersion is a lack of enlightenment on the part of the secular humanist, Secular Buddhist, or Dharmic practitioner of some other declension.

This underlying agenda is easy to spot, it always is: Quintessential liberation is wholly dependent upon the establishment path. This is about religion, and NOT about liberation, when any attempt at an open vernacular is subject to ridicule, sanctimony, and supercilious lectures. As with Jesus, were the historical Buddha alive today he wouldn't last a minute in these fora without getting shat upon.

That said, everything human is an invented concept. Even the Buddha field, liberation, and direct experience. The vernacular are fungible, the process is universal. Putting the vernacular before the process puts the cleric above the laity, leaving the former in control and the latter scrambling to prove their worth and find acceptance by the former.

And do note, I'm not criticising Vajrayana here, I'm pointing out what HUMANS have done with it, which falls along the lines of venal shortcomings. The typical human conceit of accruing some imagined gain by defending the quintessential truth oft descends into diatribe, and away from discourse. This again belies the background of hierarchical structures, inviolable maxims, and other pretenses that lend sanction to authority and hierarchy.

In an open discussion, one where supreme expertise isn't required to establish a common vernacular, each side of the discussion negotiates to discover where the common points of reference reside in pursuit of common ground. Claims to prior knowledge, expertise and so on, are set aside in pursuit of a heterodox agenda. Ecumenicalism is founded on this approach, and the entire method of arbitration is critical in furthering an ecumenical agenda. It takes an open mind to have an open discussion.

Fundamentalism won't save any religion, it just forestalls the inevitable via compulsory suffering. The polity will work this out for themselves when they stop paying the freight for clerics who set themselves apart from the laity. So long as there are two paths to salvation, the religious order (the plantation state system encapsulating the liberation theology) will continue to decline & degrade as its irrelevance becomes ever more apparent. Buddhism isn't exempt from historical dialectics, nor its human character.

Your quick resorting to invidious statements belies exactly the syndrome of fundamentalism, of righteous entitlement. Any stated wish for ecumenicalism is seen as a deviation from doctrine, and most notably is handled as if it were an actual, existential threat to the belief system. The underlying psychological dynamic is a vernacular process, one that reifies position, but the underlying motive force behind the response is so characteristically scripted along the lines of dialectics - dialectics that betray the threat of *accepting* something that has been decreed unacceptable.

This is, of course, primate social glue at work, but in a memetic vehicle it is reinforced via linguistic processes. Buddhism claims to tackle the linguistic quagmire along with ego, and for good reason: Ego is that problem-solving, threat-assessment engine that protects Self. In the case of beliefs and opinions, they are egoic substitutes for vicarious status, and other status-seeking agendas. Simply, the votary cannot accept a new idea because then they risk allowing for something unacceptable. This is an existential threat, posing the risk of ostracism from their identity milieu. Dialectics aren't inviolable, they are merely karmic artifacts of contrast and reaction, of entropy and homeostatic safety.

But as it is described by Guatama, Nagarjuna, et al, ALL dialectics are empty. When apophases are applied to dialectics, they dissolve, but tetralemma aren't needed to sense the problem. An intuitive sense of abiding grace and unreified Self is something that a playfully awake mentality can access, anytime. The fast-realization schools emphasize this, of course, via various methodologies, Zen and its koans ... the penultimate phase being negentropic (not homeostatic).

But by placing liberation as out of reach, keeping it protected behind invidious statements and other (not so sly) aspersions, you (as in YOU) typically manifest the self-serving agenda to interpose yourself between the Dharma and your supposed opponent - ME. It just happens to be me, but I'm fungible against all the other rabble just like me.

Even when clerics arrogate themselves the privilege to condemn, to impute, judge and deride it reveals nothing terribly unsavory about them, only the taint of mediocrity. That their acolytes are particularly quick to engage in tactical shaming mostly represents the off-loading of the work necessary to keep a large system afloat.

Likewise, with as slow and dogged the road is in Buddhist salvation, my contemporaries will chose to ignore the obstacles being set before them by you and your ilk. Placing the quintessence of the process - awakening - as some impossible and mystical Nirvana, locked up inside a glass cabinet will be seen to only benefit those whose privilege is to hold the key. The laity however, will tire of this game, as they are increasingly everywhere, and find a way to preserve a tradition that actually serves them, by cultivating liberal teachers and clerics who actually care to further the salvation of their congregants & teach the noumenal, supernal moments right under everybody's noses.

This, BTW, is actually what is happening in Sri Lanka, now, as for the first time in two millennia the laity have taken to actually READING the Tipitaka for themselves, sutta by sutta, verse by verse and discussing the meaning - sans Buddhaghossa, without Buddhalotry or patronage or merit-buying. This is what happened in Christendom in the 16th Century BCE, and this Dharma Protestantism - known as the "Dharma Rain Shower" may well come to upend all the entitlement and privilege currently infesting the mainstream Buddhist establishment there, and probably elsewhere in S. Asia.


We can observe a lot just by watching -- flaws and all, baby, flaws and all.

speakerfone's picture

There's roughly 3 differing buddhist takes on the true nature of reality. Hinayana is a kind of atomism where it's accepted that although the self doesn't possess any kind of permanence there are some particles that truly exist from moment to moment.

Mind-only or cittamatra Buddhism believe this to be incorrect instead positing that everything is mind, but then give mind a kind of objective reality. It's maybe this view of reality that is most succeptable to Leebert's criticism that Buddhism is kind of animist.

The 3rd view is called madyamaka and is non-dual. The consequence for materialism is that external phenomena do not exist as independent, autonomous phenomena anyway.

The reality you ascribe to material phenomena is destroyed in Madyamaka analysis. Madyamaka analysis then goes on to destroy the supposed reality of mind as posited by Cittamatra/mind only.

As a result there's no kind of 'animism' like you suggest. Indeed all of Buddhist philosophy could be summarised to be the constant elimination of any kind of belief in essence, whether of self, or of other.

leebert's picture

On the materialist side, when Godel's Incompleteness and Information theory are taken to their logical end, a similar, nuanced and nondual endpoint is found.

Again, these are place-holders for process. Somewhere early in the process are place-holders for naive materialism (Scientism, dualistic Cartesianism...) and spiritual materialism (Animism, Devotionalism, Theism, Buddhalotry...).

But as with Dharmic analysis, why stop there?

A beatific Theism in full blossom brings us to Panentheism. A depth psychology arrives at a Dharmic-like analysis.

A profound materialism, much like this Madyamaka you mention, finds a non-dual continuum of experiences, with indeterministic views being out of reach by empirical rubrics.

The naive views invite black and white thinking. The nuanced views allow for contrasting cases. The profound view embraces contrasts as inherent to all conditioned views.

So when I wrote "animist" I didn't mean it in the crudest sense, but more in the sense of a Panentheism. There's a point where words will fail the description of something characterized by contiguous evanescence, & then even the vernacular are shown to be empty, right along with the self-dissolving dialectics.

But this as opposed to the literalist impulse evinced by Lama Thaye. Did he actually intend to convey such a hardened position? I wouldn't take up after his rhetoric were I in the same camp, I'd have to work hard to reframe his position at all. I'd be better off just setting his essay aside & starting over, and looking abroad & elsewhere for a way to ameliorate this contrived dialectic instead of exacerbating it.

speakerfone's picture

I completely get you when you talk about profound materialism. Profound materialism becomes less of a materialism the more it delves into the 'building blocks' of reality. I have posted elsewhere on how Dharma analysis deconstructs the idea of material phenomena having protrusion in space. In this area there's some interesting convergence maybe.

But, coming back to the main cause of disagreement, if Buddhist practice has worked for 2500 years to help humans have direct experiences of the true nature of reality then why meddle with the program?

If we treat the path like a menu, selecting the bits we like and rejecting those we don't aren't we restricting ourselves to this anthropic view you want to liberate epistemology from? After all, Buddha, if you believe the story, became liberated from this anthropic illusion. The path is a product of this enlightened mind whilst Human additions or subtractions are, well, human!

mahakala's picture

"Matter or substance necessarily presupposes the existence of force or energy. This does not mean that a dualistic conception of the world is necessary. The concepts of matter and force are as relative as everything else. In the Absolute, where all is one, matter and force are also one. But in this connection matter and force are not taken as real principles of the world in itself, but as properties or characteristics of the phenomenal world observed by us. To begin the study of the universe it is sufficient to have an elementary idea of matter and energy, such as we get by immediate observation through our organs of sense. The 'constant' is taken as material, as matter, and 'changes' in the state of the 'constant,' or of matter, are called manifestations of force or energy. All these changes can be regarded as the result of vibrations or undulatory motions which begin in the center, that is, in the Absolute, and go in all directions, crossing one another, colliding, and merging together, until they stop altogether at the end of the ray of creation.

"From this point of view, then, the world consists of vibrations and matter, or of matter in a state of vibration, of vibrating matter. The rate of vibration is in inverse ratio to the density of matter.

"In the Absolute, vibrations are the most rapid and matter is the least dense. In the next world vibrations are slower and matter denser; and further on matter is still more dense and vibrations correspondingly slower.

"Thus instead of one concept of matter we have seven kinds of matter, but our ordinary conception of materiality only with difficulty embraces the materiality of worlds 96 and 48. The matter of world 24 is much too rarefied to be regarded as matter from the scientific point of view of our physics and chemistry; such matter is practically hypothetical. The still finer matter of world 12 has, for ordinary investigation, no characteristics of materiality at all. All these matters belonging to the various orders of the universe are not separated into layers but are intermixed, or, rather, they interpenetrate one another. We can get an idea of similar interpenetration of matters of different densities from the penetration of one matter by another matter of different densities known to us. A piece of wood may be saturated with water, water may in its turn be filled with gas. Exactly the same relation between different kinds of matter may be observed in the whole of the universe: the finer matters permeate the coarser ones.

"Matter that possesses characteristics of materiality comprehensible to us is divided for us into several states according to its density: solid, liquid, gaseous; further gradations of matter are: radiant energy, that is, electricity, light, magnetism; and so on. But on every plane, that is to say, in every order of materiality, similar relations and divisions of the various states of a given matter may be found; but, as has been already said, matter of a higher plane is not material at all for the lower planes.

"We must now realize that the density of vibrations and the density of matter express many other properties of matter. For instance, till now we have said nothing about the intelligence or the consciousness of matter. Meanwhile the speed of vibrations of a matter shows the degree of intelligence of the given matter. You must remember that there is nothing dead or inanimate in nature. Everything in its own way is alive, everything in its own way is intelligent and conscious. Only this consciousness and intelligence is expressed in a different way on different levels of being—that is, on different scales. But you must understand once and for all that nothing is dead or inanimate in nature, there are simply different degrees of animation and different scales.
This means that the denser the matter the less conscious it is, the less intelligent. And the denser the vibrations, the more conscious and the more intelligent the matter.

"Really dead matter begins where vibrations cease. But under ordinary conditions of life on the earth's surface we have no concern with dead matter. And science cannot procure it. All the matter we know is living matter and in its own way it is intelligent."

leebert's picture

I appreciate the framework and I mean no disrespect.

The framework as described above is in fact divergent from the frameworks of science and materialism. Scientism has nothing to do with this, I think that just serves as a face-saving caricature to smooth over the problem.

It doesn't make any difference to me, and I'm pretty much burned out on having gone to the trouble of inquiring as to the basis of all the rhetoric. I now understand the background, and since I did it mostly for my own edification but exposed the process of asking, I also chose to share the result (above).

No offense, but Vajrayana is what it is. Secular Buddhism, just the same. Believe it or not, although the vernacular frameworks are divergent, the functional outcome is probably the same. One is struggling with science and materialism, the other isn't.

What does that tell us?

mahakala's picture

I'm not entirely sure what is meant by any statements involving "_____ is what it is", or what they are supposed to communicate. What I can tell you about the above quotation is that I presented it as clarification of a somewhat well-known modern hermetic/alchemical theory, which is essentially animist. Even in regards to ancient traditions of this kind, these correlations can be found easily. They tend to derive from shamanistic practices, which are characterized by study of (and participation with) both the mind and natural world.

Beyond that, I can also tell you that endless debates about theory are entirely fruitless, IMHO. Rather, they often turn out to be yet another territorial dispute, by way of defensive identification with a particular group. While I have no interest in "proving" or "disproving" a particular abstract theory or philosophy is "right" or "wrong", I will certainly engage in doing so to a certain extent ... for various reasons.

The constant reinforcement of dogmatic belief systems seems to be at odds with buddhism (as I understand it). This includes its manifestation within any institutionalized form of "buddhism" itself - as I doubt that Gotama considered himself a "buddhist". I tend to think that having a lack of fixed views leads to openness towards new possibility, a willingness to not know something, an acceptance of mystery, and so on... but then again, that is just my perspective.

leebert's picture

I apologize for only having given that a cursory reading. I share a parallel objective with yours. I'm interested in an ecumenical vernacular dharma that might ease the contention for hearts & minds. At this point I don't know if it's a vain hope.

I'm familiar with the noumenal transcendentalism you referred to. I wish there were a way to untangle that from metaphor and doctrine.

Alex Caring-Lobel's picture

Someone just brought my attention to Barbara O'Brien's reflections on this essay, which can be found here.

Dominic Gomez's picture

What's swept under the rug is the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination, which helps clarify why "materialism cannot explain how life arose out of non-life, how consciousness arose from the non-conscious". According to dependent origination (and its extension, the non-duality of life, i.e. reality), the material (non-consciousness) and the spiritual (consciousness) are joined at the hip. Neither can exist independent of the other. The challenge for scientism is simply to become more attuned to what Buddhism intuits.

mahakala's picture

I am right
You are wrong
I am better than you
You are worse than me
I win
You lose

gernot66's picture

good point!

leebert's picture

Lama, llama, on the cush
methinks ye reified some dhammas too much
desultory litany o' triumphant decree
til pinocchio's schnozzola belied ego, ye

Alas the laity have herd enough,
how thinking against thinking belies shining truth,
Barbarians at the gateless gate, and now the back pew,
only to find some Damascene highwayman occluding the view.

Well, scoff the shavepate & entourage
spinning skandhas on a stage into a mirage
ye dialectics are as empty, cist and decease,
as a spicey 3-Lllama rhetorical feast.

(amused ... that the other limerick disappeared ...)

mahakala's picture

mmmm... tasty

leebert's picture

How about some Dharma Protestantism, like the one in Sri Lanka, the "Dharma Rain Shower" of renewed independence of a laity in the Sangha?


It's a door opening, not a thief breaking in.


Dominic Gomez's picture

The volume of verbiage this essay has accumulated reminds me of all those electrodes on that poor monk's head.

celticpassage's picture

Laughs...yes...although then it should be that the more verbiage that was accumulated would improve the signal to noise ratio, though curiously the opposite seems to occur...lol.