Buddhist Philosophy Seminar

Mountains are Just Mountains

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Transnational Tulku

Ghost Dog

Samdhinirmocana chapter 7

Here is where members of the Buddhist philosophy seminar can post weekly comments and comment on each others’ posts.


Heart Sutra

Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra


  1. Reading assignment for 27 August:
    Rahula, What the Buddha Taught 1-6
    Edelglass and Garfield, Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, cs. 1, 15, 23. And remember, at least one post each week, and some response to someone else’s!

  2. Hi y’all so I’ll just get the ball rolling with a bunch of questions because the Buddha confuses me somewhat:

    1) The Ultimate Truth, as explained in What The Buddha Taught, reminds me a lot of Descarte’s argument of God. Descartes defines God as all-knowing, omnibevolent, omnipotent, even though he claims that he does not have the capacity to fully understand God, and argues for God’s existence based on that definition. In the same way, The Ultimate Truth has acquired the definition of being absolute, of being the final truth. “TRUTH IS. NIRVANA IS.” (page 40) – it seems that there is this fixed idea of Nirvana, as though it was taken from a dictionary, but there doesn’t seem to be much explanation to how that came about. (or maybe I am not reading closely enough) Rahula compared humans trying to question Nirvana to kindergarteners quarrelling about the theory of relativity, and that Nirvana is “beyond reason and logic.” (page 43) Why then should one strive to reach Nirvana, when one can’t even grasp what it is? It is argued that Nirvana is the Ultimate Truth, but what is it exactly and why is it so?

    2) I am a bit confused by the idea of Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy – Essential Readings. To quote “ while (emptiness) is extrinsically empty – that is, empty of everything other than its emptiness – it is not intrinsically empty, or empty of that which makes it emptiness.” (page 11) What is the “that” which makes something empty, and why does this matter in the quest of ceasing dukkha and finding Nirvana?

    3) There seems to be a lot of talk about detachment when it comes to ceasing dukkha and finding Nirvana. However, the Buddha also teaches us to be kind to others, to have compassion for the world. Personally I feel like compassion goes hand in hand with some form of emotional/mental attachment. I feel a sense of empathy for those whom I want to help – but if one lives without any attachment, how does one find the passion to help others? Or is the detachment merely a detachment from one self, and not from the world?

    4) On page 37 of What The Buddha Taught, the Buddha says “were there not the unborn, ungrown and unconditioned, there would be no escape for the born, grown and conditioned. Since there is the unborn, ungrown and unconditioned, there is escape for the born, grown and conditioned.” Does this mean that there is always a binary in the world, and for goodness to exist, there must be evil too?

    5) A paradox that I would like to highlight just because: “The Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world.” (Page 39, What The Buddha Taught)

  3. Hello all!

    So to get started, the thing which most struck me both in ‘What the Buddha Taught’ and the various readings in ‘Buddhist Philosophy’ is the sheer diversity of thought within this tradition. Although Rahula sets out for the basic tenants that thread across Buddhism, I repeatedly came across seeming contradictions between different ideas of selflessness, emptiness and the possibility of knowledge. For example, Hoa (hi Hoa!) mentions in her second point the extrinsic emptiness of emptiness itself. I was troubled by this as well, but luckily, it seems we are far from alone: “One of the many issues that preoccupied Tibetan metaphysicians was a debate regarding the nature of the emptiness of emptiness.” (Page 11, ‘Buddhist Philosophy’) The text does mention, though, the alternative of emptiness being intrinsically empty. My understanding is that an intrinsically empty idea of emptiness (word flow is going decidedly south) would hold emptiness as a universal – something of convention. The idea of emptiness is further divisible, or has no inherent defining character.

    This raises a question with me: If emptiness is itself intrinsically empty, would we call that idea part of conventional reality? It then appears that we’d be using conventional reality to access/understand the ultimate. If so, this seems to tie in with the Chinese ‘Tiantai’ theory of the ‘three truths’ mentioned on page 173 of BP: “…the third truth…is the truth of the identity of the first two [i.e. conventional and ultimate reality]…We gain and express knowledge regarding the ultimate in exactly the way we do regarding the conventional.”

    Hoa (hey Hoa!), I think the fifth point you raise is related to this emptiness definition issue. I have a feeling adding the clarification of “nothing [intrinsically] absolute” might do something to reduce the paradox.

    In fact, that distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic seems to be where a lot of the diversity occurs… But that should wait until class.

    Looking forward to Wednesday (bye Hoa!),

  4. I think both books are great resources that really help to demystify Buddhism for me, by breaking it down into several important tenets, such as the 4 Noble Truths. That said, I still feel like I need to wrap my head around this idea of dukkha, and also the paradox of the lack of an absolute Truth.

    I’ll elaborate on the latter. While Buddha once told his followers to make up their own minds about Buddhism and not to believe wholesale the stories or teachings of any particular person, I think that true understanding of Buddhism revolves about a few fundamental and common ideas, if you will. It would be hard to say that even these ideas are not unchanging.

    I noticed that Hoa had a similar question (5). What I suspect is that Truths are entirely separate from facts, in that facts are true and the building blocks of our understanding of something, which easily leaves any intermediate products out of the absolutely-true category. But then, I’m not sure if such ‘facts’ exist in the first place.

    Hope we’ll have a good discussion today! Sorry to post so late, will post much earlier in the future.

  5. Whenever the word “empty” appears in the Heart Sutra, I read it as “empty of essence.” According to “Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings,” “dependent origination/ Is explained to be emptiness.” (page 31) So, if form were not empty, it would be independent. If form had an essence, and it is not merely a collation of ever-changing factors, it would be nonempty. Thus, since nothing is independent or permanent, it is empty of an eternal defining quality – there are no “defining characteristics.” If there is no essence to anything in this world, there would be no attachment, no fire, no extinguishing of that fire; one cannot be attached to emptiness. I think this is what is meant by perfect wisdom; if one can truly grasp the concept that all things are dependent, that they have no essence, then one can be emancipated from all forms of attachment to worldly things, and thus reach Nirvana. In this sense, “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, awakened existence” implies a fleeting, temporal existence of the self and the world, and the understanding of this truth would lead to enlightenment.

    I guess the question I have about this is why is it specifically for a son of noble lineage? And while writing out my interpretation, I sometimes subconsciously replaced emptiness with nothingness, and I was wondering if these two concepts mean the same thing? And if all things are indeed empty, doesn’t that make “emptiness” the essence of all things?

    • “Form is empty. Emptiness is form.” This statement from the Heart Sutra first struck me as a contradiction. It seemed to imply that emptiness is both an essential property (“Form is empty.”) and something conventionally dependent (“Emptiness is form.”). But, like Hoa, I then substituted ‘dependent’ for ’empty’. I think this swap helped me shift focus to the nature of emptiness. If ‘form is dependent’, is dependence also dependent? The answer I got from Nagarjuna is a clear affirmative. So in answer to your last question about emptiness, Hoa, my understanding is that ’emptiness’ is not the essence of all things because that very concept is itself dependent and conventional. Emptiness is ’caused’ by conceptual imputation. Nirvana is then the transcendence of these ideas; the stripping of their independent essence so as to gain release from conceptual imputation.

      I have some questions about Nagajuna’s two truths. Nagarjuna claims that conventional reality is identical to ultimate reality. In what sense? Is conventional reality a means of accessing the ultimate, a manifestation of it, or is it truly identical? Those descriptions might not be mutually exclusive. In any case, what kind of relationship is going on there?

  6. “… their minds are unobstructed and they are fearless. They transcend all error and finally reach their goal — nirvana” From this, I gather that the whole idea behind seeing everything as fundamentally empty is to free the mind from the shackles of thought and reflection. When one does not hold on to one particular interpretation or form or sensory characteristic of something, one is free to realise the Ultimate Truth and be guided proper along the path to nirvana.

    While it may seem contradictory at first to see “Form is empty. Emptiness is form.”, I think ‘form’ here could refer to the nature of a thing, and here this line states that the nature of something is such that it is fundamentally devoid of a permanent meaning, and if something can be said to possess a nature, the only nature would be its emptiness.

    I’d like to go on, then, to the things I am confused about. If the only permanent nature of a thing is its emptiness, how can we say it is devoid of permanent features (namely, its emptiness)? In Edelglass&Garfield, it felt almost like emptiness was a tangible property I could wrap my head around and attribute to things, just like another tangible property such as “fragile” or “blue”.

    More crucially, I am confused by Nagarjuna’s arguments. Take verse 5 and 6 for instance. How does questioning how there can be a lasting understanding of the three jewels when there is no lasting existence of Dharma and sangha equate an “undermin(ing) of the existence of fruits”? If nothing exists, then the Four Noble Truths can’t stand forever, and by extension neither can all that we learn about Buddhism? One way to salvage the situation is to think of the Four Noble Truths as part of the ultimate truth itself, so it may have a more tangible existence. However, there is only one ultimate truth (right?), and that is the emptiness of all things. I am afraid I am confused.

  7. Going back to Nagarjuna with an eye toward close reading, I was struck by how ‘un-sutra’ the selection is. I suppose this derives mostly from the fact that Nagarjuna is directly refuting a criticism. Rather than beat around the bush with an intro to authenticate or set the subject, he is being purely didactic about things (with some witty insult thrown in too – I’ll be sure to use the “you forgot you’re riding a horse” one sometime). In fact, he constructs a systematic argument to run his opponent’s view down by reductio ad absurdum – all from the opponent’s first premise that the Four Noble Truths do not exist.

    But there is a point later in the chapter which confused me, where Nagarjuna is refuting the concept of essence. He writes: “[If there were essence] nobody could ever perform virtuous or non-virtuous actions.” How so? Because actions themselves would be impossible without causality? Nagarjuna states exactly that a bit later. However, I don’t follow the conclusion that causality breaks down when you accept the concept of essence. Maybe impermanence does, but causality? Is impermanence really inherent to causality? I feel there might be a premise taken for granted here.

  8. In Chapter 1 of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, when Sariputra says that “The fault lies with those blind from birth, and not with the sun and moon,” I am reminded of what professor Garfield said about wearing a pair of shoes to confront the challenges of the world rather than covering the world with leather. This is one episode when this idea is physically manifested, where the Buddha showed Sariputra the splendid world of jewels, richness and purity, so as to refute the claim that the buddha-field appears impure. It’s very interesting how in this case the way of Buddhism is doubted by its own disciple, after the celebration of both the greatness of the Buddha and the buddha-field. The fact that the venerable Sariputra was “magically influenced by the Buddha,” though, struck me as rather strange – is the Buddha installing doubt into his disciples to better enlighten them?
    The way of Vimalakirti also seems rather strange to me – “he mixed in all cross, yet was respected as foremost of all.” Here, the idea of detachment seems to reach its peak – if one is virtuous enough, there is no need to be physically detached from the world to reach enlightenment. It seems like Vimalakirti is going against all the common practices of the Bodhisattvas, and yet still achieve Enlightenment; I wonder if this is the true middle way – to be a part of the world and be detached from it, rather than to isolate oneself from the world to practice one’s virtue.

  9. Chapter 2: “Knowing the strength or weakness of their faculties, and being gifted with unravel eloquence, he taught the dharma appropriately to each.” The Middle Way is portrayed not as one formulaic path that applies generically to everyone, but rather it is subjective to the individual, and everyone treads the path of enlightenment in different ways. Vaisali is superior in the sense that he achieves detachment without being physically or mentally detached to the world. I was wondering though if enlightenment is a permanent state? Say one has extinguished the flame of desire, is it possible for it to be re-ignited?

    Chapter 3: “You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.” What is the nature of an ordinary person? Is human nature naturally good or bad? It seems that human nature is full of desires, of ego, of greed, and it takes cultivation to get rid of all the bad things of the human nature. How does one then retain human nature while following the Buddhist teachings?

  10. Chapter 3: Oh and the first line “I am sick, lying on my bed in pain, yet the Tathagata, the saint, the perfectly accomplished Buddha, does not consider or take pity upon me, and sends no one to inquire after my illness.” – this sheds a different light on the character of Vimalakirti that I think strays away from the detached way of Buddhism.

  11. Chapter 5: Why did Vimalakirti transform his house into emptiness? He sounds like a fluke now. If he doesn’t really practice austerity then why does he put up the pretence that he does? He is one who is able to balance ordinary existence and the enlightened path, why does he feel the need to hide it from the other boddhisattvas? And what Vimalakirti says about compassion makes a lot of sense to me and resolved my doubt about the paradox of having both detachment and compassion ” Just as my sickness is unreal and nonexistent, so the sicknesses of all living beings are unreal and nonexistent. Through such considerations, he arouses the great compassion toward all living beings without falling into any sentimental compassion.”

    Chapter 6: “did you come here for the sake of the Dharma? Or did you come here for the sake of a chair?” Wow okay. There seems to be a lot of contradictions going on. While there seems to be the idea of upholding both ways of life – that of the ordinary person and that of the enlightened person – Vimalakirti’s reproaches seem to suggest a very strict way of dealing with the world. The concern for a chair may not suggest a materialistic desire – it is a normal thought that naturally occur in the minds of ordinary man. To have concern for a chair, for physical things, but to not let it chain you down and hinder you from learning the Dharma, that seems more of a middle way than what Vimilakirti is preaching.

  12. Chapters 2/3: My main understanding of these two chapters was the necessity of worldly engagement for the boddhisatva. In chapter 2, it is written, “You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.” Total renunciation of material reality is not only ineffective and impractical, but a hindrance to the cause of enlightenment. The ability to hold one’s spiritual/mental state even among the fetters of daily life appears to be the ‘inconceivable skill’. This is the maintenance of “liberation without abandoning the passions that are the province of the world.” I can’t help but be reminded of a quote out of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’: “…the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Not to say that these messages are identical – such ‘independence’ could be very counter to Vimalakirti. Unless, that is, independence is construed in the sense of perceiving, observing and contemplating for oneself rather than imbibing truth from another. Spiritual independence shouldn’t be taken for causal independence. It is not a negation of causal dependence.

    More coming soon…

  13. Chapters 4/5: I’m not clear on these chapters. What purpose does chapter 4 serve? My guess is that it serves for the beginning of chapter 5, wherein the brave Manjusri finally breaks the trend: “Thus, although he cannot be withstood by someone of my feeble defenses, still, sustained by the grace of the Buddha, I will go to him and will converse with him as well as I can.” Unlike the preceding wimps, he doesn’t put himself on the same plane as the ill boddhisatava. The ‘wimps’ refused to visit the boddhisatva on account of their perceived extreme inferiority, as though they could be compared. There is in fact a basic equivalence among them, despite differences in knowledge or advancement on ‘the path’.

    Chapter 6: I’m a bit confused. Conventional reality is the means of access to ultimate reality, yet the conventional tools of language, definition, interest and teaching are so heavily derided. Why?

  14. 3. Everyone doesn’t want to inquire about V’s illness. It appears the reason is because they’re intimidated by him. When the various people explain why they don’t wish to inquire V abt his illness, we learn about the extent of V’s wisdom.

    4. Enlightenment is essentially a great realisation of the truth of the universe.

    5. “A sick bodhisattva controls his own mind in order to overcome old age, sickness, death and birth.” “A sick bodhisattva should concentrate his mind; he should live neither in control of his mind, nor in indulgence of his mind.” While I understand the idea of moderation and not being extreme, I don’t really understand why one should not actually live in complete control of the mind. Because how else would people most effectively devote themselves to buddhist goals?

  15. Hi prof! We met today at our usual class hours and discussed the ever so mind-baffling Vimalakirti. These are some of the insights that we gathered in response to the questions you posed:

    1. The difference in the silence in chapter 7 and chapter 9::

    1.1. The silence in chapter 7: The use of words and lack thereof implies the means through which humans grasp onto definitions and constructs. Words express forms, gender, substances that are not truly reflexive of reality. While we know that these words are not entirely true or are they fair representation of other things, the usage of speech shouldn’t be ceased, as “syllables are neither internal nor external, nor can they be apprehended anywhere else.” (page 66) Words become a means of accessing liberation in the conventional sense. To actually engage with the world around us, we cannot not speak of them. To avoid speech is merely to be ignorant to the world.

    This is related to what we have learnt before about how although the ultimate truth is impossible to articulate, words can still be used to help explain the intermediate meaning and assist others in achieving an understanding of the ultimate truth.

    In this sense, to acknowledge and be amongst all the evils, hatred and folly of the world and still not be tainted – that is true liberation. (page 67) One needs something to be liberated from, to be able to attain liberation. Thus, “the true nature of desire, hatred and folly is itself liberation.” To practice extreme detachment is to reject the follies of the world – what would one then be liberated from? If one truly recognises and acknowledges the world as it is, one can then find liberation. To not speak of it, to not acknowledge it would be living in ignorance, not isolation.

    There is thus a difference in using words to attain liberation, and using words to attain nonduality. To be liberated one must be apart of the world and acknowledge it, instead of being “silent” and running away from it. But to escape the dualistic way and attain enlightenment, one must not dichotomised the world, and here “silence” would be seen as an acceptance of the world as it is. To acknowledge and to accept – these are the steps to achieving liberation and enlightenment. Graham believes that the former is the conventional truth, while the latter is the ultimate truth. Hoa and May kind of agree with Graham but not to such a fervent extent.

    2. The goddess and the changing of genders: there is no duality – there is no woman or non woman. To be a woman is to have form, to have essence. To be able to change out of the woman form, one must first be a woman. The goddess is thus trying to tell Sariputra that all of these labelings and categorisations are merely constructs that assume essence in things. As the goddess said “they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women,” and “nothing is made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed.”

    3. The meaning of the flowers: “ Such flowers have neither contractual thought nor discrimination.”
    When the flowers fell onto Sariputra, he tried to shake them off because it wasn’t proper to have flowers on one’s body. This itself is an attachment to worldly things – caring about how its not proper, not following rituals – to divide the world into proper and improper, this is dualistic. This is contractual thought and discrimination. It is not in the nature of the flower to stick or not stick – it is the individual that makes the flower sticks. The flower does not discriminate, it does not stick on the body of someone improper. The individual who views the flower as improper, though, is the one who discriminates.

    This is related to flowers and point 1.1 about the acknowledgement of the world: “a flower growing from a mud banks of passion” “ocean of passions” (page 75) – one must interact with conventional reality to acknowledge emotions, thoughts, ideas, existence of worldly things. To realise the nature of the world, one must immerse in the world. How would one truly understand the world if one is detached from the ocean of passions, and only fixated on the absolutes, on enlightenment? What does enlightenment even mean, if it doesn’t start from the ordinary, passion-filled man?

    4. When Manjusri described various flowers (blue lotus, red lotus, etc, p75) as growing in mud swamps and banks of passions, he used the analogy to point out that seeds “do not grow in the sky … (but) in those who conceive the spirit of enlightenment”. Vimalakirti is clearly knowledgeable and wise, but he is also a lay person, as opposed to a monk who has renounced the world. What this tells us is that anyone can aspire towards enlightenment, for potential exists in those who are of the earth (lay persons). The important pre-condition lies not in a person’s ‘earthliness’, but in other things, like “having produced a Sumeru-like mountain of egoistic views”.

    Hope you’re having fun in Yale, we miss you!

    • Oh no we missed out 1.2 here you go this goes in between the paragraph that starts with “In this sense…” and “There is thus a difference…” Sorry about that!

      1.2. The silence in chapter 9: The silence here is used to “elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principles of non duality.” Just above, Manjusri commented that all the explanations of the bodhisattva are dualistic. This is because there is no such thing as a neutral statement – there would always be another side to a statement and that would stray away from the idea of non duality. When there is A, there would always be not A – e.g.: the glass is clean vs. the glass is not clean. Thus, the best and perhaps only way to explain non-duality is through silence. Only when there is nothing – no essence, no intrinsic nature – would there not be “the other side” to it.

  16. I thought the readings this week were slightly more difficult to grasp so I am just going to throw my confusion out there:

    What’s a manifold object? And saying that there must be a manifold consciousness to perceive manifold objects presumes that consciousness does exist. What then is human consciousness and what is it made of? I was thinking a lot about the example of how the mind perceives a painting and its colours simultaneously instead of in succession, and I can’t really figure what is the mechanism that is processing all these colours. Are there then as many parts in the consciousness as there are objects and living things in the world?

    – “The Mountains and Waters as Sutras” chapter reminds me of Zhuangzi. There were a lot of paradoxes (or contradictions? or inconsistencies?) ( “These words do not mean mountains are mountains; they mean mountains are mountains.” – page 91) and the idea seems to centre around freeing yourself from your superficial views of the world and joining together the sentient and non-sentient world. While this sutra supports the idea of emptiness and no essential nature (“there is no original water” “Water’s freedom depends on water alone” – page 89) it seems to contradict the idea of duality in the Vimilakirti, as it divides the world into sentient and non sentient, the land of the ordinary and the land of the Buddha. I guess it would be interesting to compare this to the Mahayana, as the Mahayana preaches the layman’s approach to attaining enlightenment, where as this sutra asks the ordinary man to think beyond and surpasses his ordinary senses.

  17. I also found this week’s readings especially difficult, or least difficult to examine in a more than superficial way. We met at lunch to discuss, and essentially reduced all three chapters (4, 7 and 27) to the core themes of non-duality and emptiness. Chapter 4 works to establish that phenomena lack inherent nature by disproving the only two possible types of nature – singular and manifold. As reflected in chapter 7, things are not unitary in nature – they can be perceived in all manner of ways depending on perspective. From the anthropocentric perspective, water is seen to flow. However that same action of ‘flow’ may from a different perspective also be applied to mountains. There is no essential nature of water, beyond water itself. It is not that water does not exist, or is not distinguishable from other material forms. Instead, water is self-explanatory, and any other characteristics of water that we observe are merely products of our limited human mode of perception – or conceptual imputation. Returning to chapter 4, if things do not have any single nature, they cannot be manifold either. To be manifold is to comprise many singular, and thus false and empty, natures.

    Our overall feeling on leaving the lunch table was as follows: We were unanimously upset and not upset by the chapters. Our feelings toward the chapter have no inherent nature, and are neither momentary nor non-momentary. However, all of these sentiments are being expressed through speech, and speech is inherently dualistic. Uh oh.

    I share Hoa’s questions about consciousness. To what extent are the three chapters actually dealing with consciousness itself? I feel consciousness is used more as an example of emptiness than a distinct topic. What does it mean in chapter 27 to say that consciousness is “established in dependence on spiritual ignorance and the prenatal dispositions”? If consciousness is established on spiritual ignorance, what can consciousness mean for the enlightened boddhisatva who remains in bodily, conscious form?

  18. There are a few questions which would be good to clarify on before we move on.

    Firstly, we have established that nothing has a permanent existence. Everything is of dependent origination. How do we avoid falling into the trap of duality in believing this? Non-duality is about not dichotomising phenomena, but to fulfill this we’d have to say that nothing has a permanent or impermanent existence. How does this make sense at all?

    Secondly, on page 52 number 5 it is stated that “uncompounded phenomena like consciousness must be objects known to arise only for a moment”. Earlier it was established that all phenomena are compound, and there exists no unitary gross object. Can there then be uncompounded things that exist, even if for just a flash?

  19. I really liked this one – there is a very in-depth explanation of the essence (or lack thereof) of the world around us and why we take things as they are. The elephant metaphor was extremely helpful in visualising the idea of the imagined nature, the dependent nature and the consummate nature.

    This is a slight backtrack, but if I remember correctly someone who follows the Buddhist way practices benevolence, and has the aspiration to help the world and bring it out of suffering and misery. (I wanted to use the word bodhisattva but I want to include other Buddhist traditions as well and not just the Mahayana? Sorry much vocabulary very confused) To “help” the world here means to help it attain enlightenment and to understand the naturelessness of the world right? It’s not to feed the hungry and pity the poor right? If it is true that the physical world is imagined, then these sufferings are imagined too – they don’t exist, but we imagine them to. It seems that Buddhists nowadays however engage more in physical charitable acts rather than trying to attain awakening amongst the people? I know that modern religion doesn’t really do justice to the religion itself, but it’s just interesting to see how people rear off from traditional teachings. Or maybe they don’t, and I am confused.

  20. On the face of it, the defining of three natures seems itself very bound up in imagination and subjectivity. Another recourse to the conventional with an aim toward the ultimate? I don’t quite understand the inclusion of the consummate in those three natures. The text and commentary certainly mention this, but really, the consummate doesn’t seem to be of the same kind as the imagined and dependent. These latter two natures in fact seem to be reasons that the consummate nature is true. Things are not as they appear *because* they are imagined in an independent way. I can’t quite make sense of how Vasubandhu justifies the relations among the three natures, and how the trio holds together given the apparently ‘higher’ consummate.

    Why does the non-emptiness of foundational consciousness matter? In particular, why does it matter from a soteriological perspective? My sense is that this “substratum of the apparent reality” is the base, the vehicle in which we navigate the conventional world. It’s the only reason any of the natures can be perceived or understood at all.

  21. The idea of the consciousness in Chapter 27 really struck me. All this while the sutras we have read have touched here and there on the consciousness, but never properly expounded on the idea. I was always left to wonder what it is that makes us see existence out of non-existence, something out of nothing. ” It is in the nature of both the observer and the observed to appear as they are not, for neither exists outside of their relationship with the other.” (page 311). Consciousness here is thus defined as any common dependent thing in the world. Without the world, the consciousness would be empty as it is merely a mirror. (page 310) However, I remember prof Garfield saying how practicing Buddhism is about changing the way one thinks and one’s mindset, putting on shoes instead of covering the world with leather. If thats the case, then consciousness cannot be a mirror, because then consciousness would be dependence on the world, and the world would not be dependence on consciousness. It is more convincing to believe that the world and consciousness is dependent on one another, and that without one the other would not exist.

    There are quite a few concepts that I don’t understand in the Samdhinirmocana reading. I don’t get the idea of the imputational character and the different kinds of afflictions ( afflictive afflictions?). The discussion of a hierarchy of conviction is also something that I want to talk about as it seems to be contradictory with the Mahayana ideals? Oh yes and karmic obstructions as well…

  22. Candrakirti’s refutation of Yogacara seems subtle on one hand – he does not disagree outright with the notion of ‘mind alone’ in the sense of the mind’s primary importance in conventional reality. His refutation instead targets the assertion of mind’s ultimate reality, arguing that to accept ‘mind only’ in this way is to “destroy the relationship between the two truths”. The world is ‘mind only’ in the conventional sense, but ultimately even the mind (consciousness) is dependent upon the “necessary conditions [which] create such erroneous perception” – that is, “spiritual ignorance and prenatal dispositions”. That seems to be the basic argument, but I’m actually still fairly hazy on Candrakirti’s approach. Looking forward to class to wring the text out!

  23. Last week, we talked about how sentience and insentience can be distinguished. I found it interesting, then, when on p314, the “sentient world” is described as comprising of sentient beings who receive their individual character on the basis of their own volitional actions and afflictions, while the “insentient world” is produced by action in common to all sentient beings. I’m a little unsure by what is meant by “common actions of all sentient beings”. Does this refer to individual actions committed by individual beings that happen to be similar, such as people helping to till the soil and nurture crops?

    I think the perspective of “mind only” (very well articulated by Graham) as a means to avoid duality is pretty powerful. There’s one part that confuses me, the part on the mind not being established (end of p315-start of 316). When the relationship of the two truths is destroyed, the absolutely reality or mind is not established because it is refuted and efforts to establish consciousness are now pointless. Does this mean that all our perceptions are a product of our mind, but ultimately even our mind does not have an intrinsic reality?

    p318 refers to the provisional meaning of scriptures, and this reminds me of what we learnt last week of mountains being just mountains aka the conventional label of ‘mountains’. The only absolutely truth is that no such truth exists.

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